Barbera - An Italian Delight

Tuesday 25th of May 2021

Barbera is a red Italian wine made from the third most planted grapes in Italy, and it’s almost one thousand years older than Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet until recently Barbera was very rarely seen on the American market. Why? Because Barbera is one of the most underappreciated among all wines and has traditionally been overlooked in favor of the much more popular Cabernet Sauvignon that comes from the same region of Northern Italy. Even in its hometown, it does not earn the favored growing locations that are the south-facing slopes facing the incoming fog.

Only in recent times has Barbera come to enjoy a more solid reputation due to its pronounced fruity flavor, low tannins, high acidity, and subtle oaky flavor. It covers about 53,000 acres in Italy. The United States is the second largest grower of Barbera grapes with about 7,000 acres. The majority of that cultivation takes place in California. Much of the Barbera grape-growing effort is centered in the Alta Mesa AVA, where some of the finest Barbera grapes in existence are currently being produced. The Alta Mesa AVA is part of the larger Lodi AVA, and because it typically receives low rainfall and a very warm growing season, the grapes produced are smallish but packed with flavor, which is perfect for Barbera wine.

At Harvest Moon, Randy made his first Barbera in 2018 with grapes from the Alta Mesa AVA. He crafted it in the traditional Italian style and it has floral, spring strawberry aromas and spicy, wild raspberry flavors.


The earliest record of Barbera grapes dates back to the 13th century. The wine is traditionally associated with the Piedmont region of Italy. This is fairly dry and hilly country that gets a lot of sun: the ideal climate for growing grapes for wine. Researchers have concluded that the grape was introduced to northern Italy from somewhere else, since it does not appear to be related to the Dolcetto or Nebbiolo grapes. From the beginning, Barbera grapes were used to produce an inexpensive everyday wine that was bottled and sold throughout Italy. Many from the Piedmont region refer to Barbera as “the people’s wine” because unlike Nebbiolo, which even when it’s not being used in Barolo and Barbaresco is still saved for special occasions, Barbera is an everyday affordable stunner.

Because it wasn’t considered special, Barbera was not exported to other European countries or the rest of the world. Quite often, Barbera grapes were blended with other tannic red grapes from southern Italy in bulk wines, and that prevented consumers from having an idea about what Barbera tasted like all by itself.

It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that Italian immigrants brought Barbera grapes to the western world and planted them primarily in California and Argentina. Growing Barbera grapes has taken hold in Argentina, and there are currently about 1,500 acres under cultivation. In modern times, Barbera wines have been enjoying a resurgence of popularity as producers have developed methods for enhancing the grape’s natural charms. One of the biggest boosts to the reputation of Barbera wines came in the mid-1970s when Michele Chiarlo of Asti attempted to transition Barbera from a bulk wine to a varietal wine.

Since Barbera is naturally high in acid content, Chiarlo used a technique of malolactic fermentation, thus converting the harsh malic acid into a softer lactic acid. This process is standard on premium red wines, but hadn’t been used on Barbera in the past. Rather than blending the Barbera with other grapes, Chiarlo produced Barbera as a varietal wine, which increased its name recognition and popularity.

Characteristics of Barbera wine

The wine, while very dark in color, is actually quite light in taste. Barbera has flavors of cherries, strawberries and raspberries, and when young can have intense aromas of blackberries as well. In addition to the fruity flavors that characterize Barbera, you'll also notice subtle notes of clove, nutmeg, and vanilla. Old world Italian Barbera grapes such as those grown in Alba sometimes also include an element of minerals or herbs.

Barbera wines have been successfully blended with other types of grapes, primarily Nebbiolo or Sangiovese. Experimenting has also added dimension to Barbera wines. When aged in oak barrels, the wine exhibits subtle flavors of incense, spice, and smokiness.

Pairing Barbera with food

Barbera is an easy-drinking wine and has a reputation of being food-friendly. It is very low in mouth-drying tannins and high in acidity, which makes it the perfect wine to pair with rich foods like cheeses, meats and earthy mushrooms. Barbera has become an extremely popular dinner wine in many Italian households because it pairs so well with many entrées and appetizers. Its natural high acidity cuts through the sharp flavors of tomato-based sauces, making it the perfect complement to a number of Italian pasta dishes.

Italians also like to pair Barbera with an earthy mushroom pizza topped with truffle oil. The natural acidity of the wine is perfect for handling the strong flavors associated with the pizza. Because it is the ideal complement to so many Italian dishes, Barbera is likely to sustain its popularity in Italy and elsewhere around the world for years to come.

The Wonderful World of Gewürztraminer

Thursday 22nd of April 2021

The very first grapes planted on the Harvest Moon 9-acre Estate were Gewürztraminer. Bob and Ginny Pitts, winemaker Randy’s parents, began growing grapes in 1976 when their neighbors Cecil and Christine DeLoach offered to help them plant grapes. Cecil had just retired from the San Francisco Fire Department and had become a grape grower and winemaker. He encouraged Bob and Ginny to grow Gewürztraminer grapes that he would buy from them.

The two acres where they decided to plant the grapes had been a horse pasture. The two couples worked arduously to prepare the soil and planted every vine by hand. For 26 years, Bob and Ginny sold the Gewürztraminer grapes to the DeLoaches.

In 2000, Randy assumed the farming responsibility at the ranch and began making Zinfandel from the Estate grapes. A couple years later he decided to make Gewürztraminer. He uses the grapes two make three different wines—a still wine, a sparkling wine, and an ice-style dessert wine.

Growing Gewürztraminer Grapes

Gewürztraminer grapes are one of the very few whitish grapes that might be recognizable simply on the basis of their appearance. Much like Pinot Grigio grapes, the skin tends to be a pale pink rather than green. This pigmentation produces a medium to deep golden color in your wine glass.

Gewürztraminer grapes are difficult to grow because they are fussy about soil and climate. The vine is vigorous, even unruly, but does not grow well in chalky soils and is very susceptible to disease. Because it buds early, it is very susceptible to frost. It needs dry and warm summers and ripens erratically and late. Its natural sweetness means that in hot climates it becomes blowsy, i.e., it has an excessive amount of alcohol, with not enough acidity to balance the huge amounts of sugar. On the other hand, picking early to retain the acidity means that the varietal aromas do not develop, and these aromas may be further diluted by over cropping in an attempt to overcome the low yields.

History of Gewürztraminer

Most people know that Gewürztraminer has a strong association with the Alsace region and with Germany, but not many people are aware that it actually originated in the South Tyrolean town of Tramin, which is located at the foot of the Dolomite Mountains. The 'Tramin' part of the wine's name comes from the town, and the Gewürzt in the name means spicy. Since before recorded history, wine grapes have been grown in this region, and winemakers were using wooden storage tanks when the Romans invaded the area more than 2,000 years ago.

The region was settled by Bavarians in 570 A.D., and the South Tyrolean area was annexed to Austria in 1363, before being ceded to Italy following World War I. The vast majority of the population continues to speak German, and that's why names appear on labels in both German and Italian. Whenever a town is predominantly German-speaking, you'll find that the German name comes first, followed by the Italian equivalent.

The wine culture in this region continues to be predominantly Germanic in style, although the viticultural practices were established well before the Romans appeared on the scene. Part of the unique growing process in this region of the world includes cultivating vines in a specific way that makes them beautiful and effective, particularly when growing on hillsides. This viticultural system is known as the pergola system, and it calls for training the vines to grow in a horizontal fashion on the downhill side, so that a row of vines will actually resemble a shelf about three feet wide.

The grapes hang beneath the shelf, protecting them from the sun and inclement weather, while still promoting air flow to encourage maximum photosynthesis and minimum growth of fungus. The pergola system is still prevalent today, although in the last decade or so more modern trellising systems have also been introduced.

Today there are only about 300 acres supporting the winegrowing effort in this region, but fortunately the grapes have been introduced in many other places around the world, including the Russian River Valley AVA.

Characteristics of Gewürztraminer

The first aroma you’ll come across in a glass of Gewürztraminer is its tell-tale lychee aroma. If you’ve never smelled lychee—canned or fresh—this aroma will be more like ‘sweet rose.’ The lychee aroma is usually so intense, it’s one of Gewürztraminer’s ‘tells’ in a blind tasting. If you’re drinking high quality Gewürztraminer you’ll find a great many complex aromatics including Ruby Red grapefruit, rose petal, ginger and a smoky aroma similar to burnt incense. This wine has many similarities to Moscato, although it has a higher alcohol content, lower acidity, and more obvious aromatics.

All these factors make it difficult to drink Gewürztraminer quickly, which has contributed to its reputation as a more adult wine. Not all Gewürztraminer is sweet, although like Moscato and Riesling, it will have a naturally sweet flavor just because of its smell. Gewürztraminer wines tend to taste sweeter than they really are because of the sharper aromatics, lower acidity, and higher alcohol content.

Foods to Pair with Gewürztraminer

Some of the best food pairings for Gewürztraminer are those that include other regions of the world besides France, the US, and Germany. Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines are perfect examples of these kinds of pairings because they feature dried fruits and nuts as well as roasted meats that are paired ideally with Gewürztraminer.

When thinking about foods to pair with Gewürztraminer, you should consider the wine’s floral aromas as well as its distinctive notes of ginger, because this will highlight the actual ginger and rose aromas in any dish. In terms of meats, Gewürztraminer is best paired with chicken, duck, pork, crab, and shrimp. In the way of spices, there are a great many that complement this wine, including almonds, sesame, soy sauce, rosewater, lime leaf, bay leaf, coriander, cumin, shallots, cinnamon, turmeric, allspice, ginger, clove, cayenne pepper, and Madras Curry.

If you're looking for a good cheese to serve as a before-dinner or after-dinner appetizer, the cheeses that are best to use with Gewürztraminer are those that are delicately flavored and do not have a strong aroma of their own. Vegetables that go particularly well with Gewürztraminer include artichokes, eggplant, bell pepper, coconut, squash, carrot, and red onion. Generally speaking, most roasted vegetables and those with their own natural sweetness can be paired very successfully with Gewürztraminer.

Where to find Gewürztraminer

There is not much total acreage in the world devoted to growing Gewürztraminer grapes. The world's largest producer of Gewürztraminer today is the Alsace region, with about 7,000 acres of vineyards currently producing some excellent wines.

The United States has about 3,200 acres of Gewürztraminer grapes under cultivation, many of which were first introduced in the 1960s in California. Some of the cooler regions of the state such as Monterey and Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA produce high-quality Gewürztraminer wines, and you'll also find some excellent varieties at other high elevation vineyards throughout the state.

In recent years, both New York and Washington have begun producing high-quality Gewürztraminer wines because their cooler climates are conducive to higher acidity and excellent Gewürztraminer wine. Northern Italy has about 1,500 acres of Gewürztraminer grapes being cultivated, primarily in the Alto Adigio region. There are also some excellent wines being produced in Australia, where approximately 2,000 acres are currently under cultivation, primarily in the Clare Valley.

All About the Russian River Valley AVA

Sunday 11th of April 2021

An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated grape growing region in the US with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how grapes are grown. AVAs have geographical boundaries defined by the Tobacco and Trade Bureau (TTB). The AVA system is often compared to the French wine appellation system, which is similarly based on geography and climate.

If a wine is designated with the name of an American Viticultural Area (AVA), federal regulations require that 85 percent or more of the wine is derived from grapes grown within the boundaries of that TTB-established AVA and that the wine is fully finished within the state or one of the states in which the AVA is located. These designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic region.

The Russian River Valley AVA comprises 15,000 vineyard acres. It was designated an AVA in 1983 and expanded in 2005 and 2011 to achieve its present broad acreage. It is the home of some of the best wineries in this country, and any wine bottle with its designation attached can be relied upon to be a world-class vintage.


The Russian River Valley extends north into Mendocino County California, and in the Southwest it goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The small part of the River Valley that encompasses the AVA starts in the neighborhood of Healdsburg where the river leaves the Alexander Valley region and goes through the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. From this point, it extends in a southerly direction to the Santa Rosa Plains, and then westward into the towns of Occidental and Monte Rio.

The boundaries of the Russian River Valley AVA include smaller AVAs such as Chalk Hill and Sonoma Green Valley. Millions of years ago, the Russian River Valley was shaped by titanic collisions between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. Volcanic eruptions deposited ash over bedrock in the area, creating a type of soil known as Goldridge soil, and this rich loam eventually was used to produce some of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes anywhere in the world. In the area around the town of Sebastopol there is a soil that has a higher clay content that also is ideal for growing Pinot Noir grapes, because it retains less water than Goldridge soil.


Some parts of the Russian River Valley AVA are less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and that produces a climate characterized by cool morning fog coming in off the ocean. This fog generally burns off during the day, but its cooling influence gives rise to a huge diurnal temperature variation that causes a nighttime drop in temperature as much as 35 or 40°F.

The Russian River is a waterway constantly fed by rains that cause it to swell in the wintertime and ultimately provide critical irrigation to the vineyards in the area when the dry season arrives in late spring. During the summertime, warmth is moderated by the influence of the fog, and this provides a long, slow ripening period for the grapes that tends to prevent them becoming overripe or having a baked flavor. Because of this, harvesting in the Russian River Valley AVA generally occurs later than some of the surrounding AVAs. The coolest parts of the AVA are in the central and western areas, and this is where many of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes have been planted. The warmer regions of this AVA are generally in the Eastern section, and they include the sub-AVA Chalk Hill. Since these areas are farthest from the Pacific Ocean, they are also farthest from the moderating influence of the fog, and thus consistently remain the warmest.


Viticulture began in the Russian River Valley AVA in the 19th century, when immigrants from Mediterranean countries arrived in the region and began planting vineyards. Most of these were private vineyards for personal consumption, but early in the 20th century some commercial wineries also sprang up. It wasn't long before there were more than 200 wineries in operation. Many of these wineries went out of business during Prohibition, although some families continued to illegally produce wine.

After the Prohibition era, some of the few surviving vineyards sold their grapes to bulk wine producers in order to survive. It wasn't until the beginning of the 1970s that Russian River Valley vineyards could focus again on producing high-quality wine, and when winemakers could actually be proud of products produced in the Russian River Valley. Significant investments in the region late in the 20th century expanded the winegrowing operation in the area, and winegrowing quickly became big business in the Russian River Valley.

After its AVA designation in 1983, the region began to acquire a very favorable reputation for its sparkling wine production, and its still wines produced from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In the late 1990s, there was an explosion of popularity for some of the wines grown in this AVA, and its reputation for world-class wines became firmly entrenched.

Russian River Valley AVA today

Today, the Russian River Valley AVA accounts for about 1/6 of all the vineyards currently producing in Sonoma County. It has become widely known for its Pinot Noir and its Chardonnays, and some of these rank with the very finest produced anywhere in the world. Any wine bottle that has the Russian River Valley AVA designation on it can be relied upon to have tremendous quality and flavor. For this reason, many wine producers go to great lengths to ensure that this appellation gets affixed to their wines.

The Making of Sparkling Wine - Méthod Traditionnelle

Monday 5th of April 2021

How does sparkling wine actually become sparkling? The key differentiator between still and sparkling wine is secondary fermentation. By adding a mixture of yeast, sugar, and wine called the liqueur de tirage in a closed environment (ie, the bottle), still wines become effervescent. When the secondary fermentation begins, the carbon dioxide released by the yeast has nowhere to go but into the wine, making it bubbly. What distinguishes the finished product is where this secondary fermentation takes place and how long the wine is aged with the dead yeast cells, called lees.

At Harvest Moon, winemaker Randy began making sparkling wine in 2000 using the Champagne method, or méthode champenoise. Because Champagne houses demand that the term champenoise be used only for Champagne, this method must legally be called méthod traditionnelle outside the Champagne region. The méthode traditionnelle is the classic method for making sparkling wine. It is generally believed to make the highest-quality, longest-lived, most complex sparkling wines in the world. It is also generally the most expensive, labor-intensive, and time-consuming.

The Traditional Method

The first step is to grow the very best grapes that will be used to produce a sparkling wine. A true Champagne relies on chardonnay and pinot noir for the base wines. In Sonoma County, grapes including zinfandel, petite syrah, and gewürztraminer are featured in wines made with méthode traditionnelle, giving the sparkling wine aromas and flavors beyond the characteristics of chardonnay and pinot noir. Randy made his first sparkling wine with gewürztraminer, the first white grape grown on the estate. Since then, he has added small lots of sparkling pinot noir rosé, chardonnay, zinfandel, and a red sparkling blend made from pinot noir and zinfandel.

A great deal of care must be taken when harvesting the grapes, because only the best grapes are selected for bringing to the presses. Many serious winemakers insist on hand-picking the grapes to facilitate the selection process and ensure that none of the grapes are bruised or damaged during picking or transport.

When it is time to press the grapes, whole clusters of grapes are pressed at once, but the process is very slow and gentle so the delicate juice retains all its freshness. There may be as many as three separate presses, with each successive pressing producing juice that has less acid and more tannin. The next step in the process is fermentation, and juice that has been freshly pressed is fermented immediately in cold temperatures, generally in large steel tanks. A smaller amount is sometimes fermented in old oak barrels in the traditional manner.

During the fermentation process, yeasts are used to convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and this produces a base wine or a still wine, as it is sometimes known. The assemblage process is sometimes called The Winemaker's Expression because it is the most artistic step in the entire winemaking process. At this point, winemakers generally taste about 100 different base wines in order to craft specific blends of their choosing.

The final result is a reflection of the winemaker's personal vision for any given wine, and this could be from the standpoint of retaining consistency, or with a view toward developing a unique wine from this year's crop. After this artistic step, the wine is bottled in thick glass bottles that are then sealed and capped. This sets the stage for a second fermentation phase, which happens automatically as the bottles age.

While the bottles are resting, the yeast is at work the entire time producing more flavor, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. Since the bottles are sealed, no carbon dioxide can escape, so it becomes infused into the wine and produces bubbles. This is the step when the actual sparkle is introduced into sparkling wine and it acquires its distinctive style. This is also the time when additional flavor and aroma are introduced into the wine, and the longer this second stage fermentation is allowed to continue, the richer and more delicate the wine produced.

In the next step, called riddling, each bottle is gradually tilted downward and rotated in small increments. The yeast is constantly at work and multiplying during the fermentation process, producing sediment in the bottle. The riddling process removes the sediment from the wine and releases proteins that modify the wine flavors from simple fruitiness to flavors such as creaminess and nuttiness.

Following the riddling phase, the yeast deposits that have collected in the bottle's neck are removed by freezing the upper part of the wine bottle. Then the bottle is unsealed so that the pressure will eject the yeast and leave behind a wine that is perfectly clear. Following this, a good sparkling wine is generally finished with a slight blend of reserve wine and cane sugar, and that helps to determine the ultimate style and personality of the sparkling wine produced.

This is another artistic step in the winemaking procedure, and it helps to define the ultimate style of the wine, whether that be a drier wine or a slightly sweet one. After this, the cork is added and wired in and the bottle is allowed to rest for several months so the wine can recuperate. It's also important to allow this rest period so that the reserve wine added in the previous step can fully integrate with the rest of the sparkling wine.

The last step in the process is simply to allow this high quality sparkling wine to age gracefully. The winemaker decides when the wine has aged long enough and is ready to be released.

Making sparkling wine in the méthode traditionnelle is a very long and labor-intensive process, but the end result justifies all the work and time invested in creating the wine. Winemakers are extremely meticulous about every single step involved in the creation of a good sparkling wine, and it becomes a labor of love to ensure that each step is performed according to exacting standards. In this way, a true work of art can be produced, and a world-class sparkling wine can be the result.

The Making of Rosé

Monday 29th of March 2021

From its pretty pink hue to its refreshing taste on a warm summer day, rosé has become the “it” wine over the last several years, and it shows no signs of fading. Rosé itself isn’t even a varietal of wine—it’s just a color of wine like white or red. “Rosé” doesn’t really describe what’s in the glass. Rosé can be light or dark pink, mineral or fruity, lush and floral or crisp and acidic.

Rosé can be made from any red grape and cultivated in any wine region. Two of the best grapes are Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. At Harvest Moon we have used both of those grapes to make rosés.

Rosé is a winner when it comes to food pairings. Best known for its al fresco-friendly sipping style, this blush wine pairs well with almost everything, including spicy foods, sushi, salads, barbecued meats, roasts, and rich sauces.

History of rosé wines

Rosé wines have a long and colorful history, going all the way back to ancient Greece, where almost all wines were consumed in a dilute state because it was considered barbaric to drink pure wine. When grapes were harvested, workers routinely crushed white and red grapes together with their feet while they held onto suspended rope to keep their balance.

They put this juice in huge ceramic containers and allowed it to ferment, resulting in an oxidative style. The pink juice that resulted from this process was somewhat off-dry and tannic because of the contact it had with grape skins, seeds, and stems, and this is a far cry from rosés produced in modern times

Eventually, both the Greeks and the Romans began exploring ways to separate grapes by color, giving rise to red and white wines. Many of these early red wines were tannic and difficult to drink, so for a long time the predominant preference was for lighter colored wines that were less harsh. Rosé remained the beverage of choice for centuries.

In the sixth century BC, grapevines were introduced to Greece from an area that is now modern day Marseilles, France. The wines produced from these grapes were blends of white and red grapes, and thus naturally light in color. These wines became popular all around the Mediterranean and were the wine of choice for most.

When the Romans expanded their territory to France, they were well aware of the famed pink wines produced in the area. Roman influence caused these rosé wines to become enormously popular throughout their empire. Even today, southern France is considered one of the strongholds of rosé wine throughout the world.

During the Middle Ages, a violet-colored rosé wine was produced in Bordeaux and acquired the nickname claret, which comes from the Latin word claritas meaning clarity. This wine became fashionable all around France, and when Bordeaux fell under British rule, claret wines became extremely popular throughout England. By the 1900s, rosé wines had become a symbol of leisure, glamour, and luxury, and were popular among tourists visiting France and England. From here, the popularity of rosé wine spread throughout the world, and the wine achieved its present highly coveted and admired status.

Primary flavors of rosé wine

Depending on the type grapes used to make the rosé, many different flavors can be achieved. There are several flavors of rosé wine that are more dominant than all the others. They include melon, citrus, flowers, and red fruit, and these flavors will often be accompanied by a crunchy green finish that is very much like rhubarb or celery.

The flavor also depends on the location of the winemaker. For instance, in Italy a very deeply colored Italian Aglianico rosé has a zestful flavor of cherry and orange. A very popular Grenache rosé from Provence in France has the flavor of lemon, celery, melon, and honeydew. Harvest Moon’s Rosé of Pinot Noir is crisp with aromas of strawberry and flavors of Kiwi and orange zest, whereas our Rosé of Zinfandel has a bouquet of fresh cut strawberry with flavorful notes of raspberry and peach.

The next time you sip a glass of rosé, close your eyes and try to determine which flavors you are able to taste.

How to make rosé wine

There are several ways to make rosé wine, but by far the most popular method is the limited skin maceration process. Simply put, maceration is the process of soaking crushed grapes, seeds, and stems in a wine must to extract color and aroma compounds as well as tannins. This is where red wines get their color and tannins and it is the lack of maceration that makes white wines so light in color and nearly tannin free.

The limited skin maceration process involves crushing grapes and allowing the juice to remain in contact with the skins for a precise amount of time. If left in contact for an extended period, the wine will end up being red. In the case of rosé wines, skins are left to soak for a very limited amount of time.

The amount of time will depend on the style of rosé being produced and can be anywhere from six hours up to 48 hours, as opposed to the several weeks or months required by many red wines. The longer the maceration period, the more richly flavored and the darker the rosé. The winemaker has total control over the wine's color and can remove the red grape skins when he or she thinks the wine has achieved the ideal color.

After the soaking period, the juice is racked or removed from the skins, and the rosé- tinted wine begins fermentation. This process is used to make a great many styles of rosé wine, and the particular wine being produced depends on the variety of grapes used and the length of the maceration.

How to Ace Tasting in Wine Country

Sunday 21st of March 2021

If you’re a wine lover, going wine tasting is one of the most exciting things you can do. But if you're new to the experience, it might seem overwhelming, and even a little intimidating. Some people have avoided the wine tasting experience because they have little or no knowledge of wines and are afraid of committing a breach of protocol during the wine tasting experience.

We have compiled tips to help you prepare for your wine tasting experience. Most people thoroughly enjoy their wine tasting sessions, and if you can go armed with some of the handy tips below, you will probably have a wonderful time on your wine tasting excursion.

Tips for wine tasting

Wine tasting during the COVID-19 pandemic requires a bit of planning ahead. When planning your wine tasting adventure, be sure to familiarize yourself with local safety measures. While many wineries across the country have re-opened to some extent, gone are the days when you could jump in the car and spontaneously hop from winery to winery. As pandemic regulations vary greatly from state to state and from county to county, be prepared for different options and experiences depending on where in the country you are based. In California, wineries in most counties offer only outdoor seating and require a reservation. Reservations are typically for a 90-minute tasting experience. Be sure to be on time for your reservation and do not exceed the 90 minutes allotted for it.

What should you wear? Most wineries are casual dress. Jeans or shorts and a nice shirt are totally acceptable. Some people like to dress up a bit if they are going on a wine tasting tour with a group. A nice dress or a more dressed up casual is a good choice. Always remember to wear something comfortable. Dress in dark colors (the better to hide spills) and avoid dangling sleeves so you don’t cause spills.

If you’re scheduled for an outdoor tasting, making sure you’re dressed for the outdoors is the key to your comfort. The region and time of year you’re visiting will impact your style, but it’s safe to plan for sunshine and warm weather in case there aren’t umbrellas. It’s smart to pack a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, and wear clothes made of comfortable, breathable materials. Because daily temperatures can fluctuate significantly in Wine Country, bring layers, such as a sweater, jacket, and/or a scarf.

Smell is a huge part of tasting, so be mindful not to introduce any unwanted aromatics to the tasting area—it's just proper tasting-room etiquette. This means you should factor in what you put on your body. Perfumes, colognes, and scented body lotion can interfere with the subtleties that make wine so divine. There’s nothing worse than trying to take in a wine’s delicate aromas only for it to be masked by the smell of a fellow taster’s strong cologne.

If lipstick is part of your signature look, go easy on it while wine tasting to avoid leaving lipstick marks all over the glasses that are hard to remove. Do not brush your teeth, chew gum or eat mints right before tasting wine because it will ruin your ability to actually taste or smell the wine.

Be sure to eat a light meal before going wine tasting. Tasting wines (and maybe drinking some too) on an empty stomach is a recipe for getting drunk quickly and not being able to enjoy the rest of the event. Some tasting rooms offer light snacks and many sell cheese and charcuterie boards. Purchasing one helps you avoid getting drunk and is also a fun way to see which wines pair best with different cheeses and meats. Be sure to drink water in between wines to stay hydrated.

Use the proper technique when sampling wines. Don't hold your wine glass by the bowl, because that can warm the wine and impact its flavor. Hold the glass by its stem and swirl the wine around in the bowl a before you sip the wine. That will increase the oxygen content in the wine and help it to breathe, thereby imparting the very best possible flavor.

Before you take a sip of any wine, breathe in its fragrance so that you can become acquainted with all it has to offer. It can take a good deal of practice to differentiate all the individual notes of a wine, but once you've been at it awhile, you may become fairly proficient. When going from one wine to another in a tasting, it's usually not necessary to rinse your glass. If you rinse with water, you might dilute the wine—and yes, if there is chlorine in the tap water, it might affect the wine's smell or taste. If you do want to rinse your glass, it’s better to use wine.

Remember that it's a wine tasting, not a wine drinking. When you've been poured your sample of wine, it's just that—a sample. A taste. Don't complain if you think your taste is smaller than someone else's. Wines are often poured without a measuring device like a jigger, the way they would at a bar, so some pours are larger than others. If you don't feel that your sample was large enough it's okay to revisit a bottle after you've tasted through the lineup.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many times you are being served by one of the owners, winemakers, or long time staff that can answer all your questions. There are no dumb questions! Many small wineries have great history and stories they love to tell their customers. So ask questions like: How long have you been making wine? What wine is your favorite? Where are the grapes grown they use for their wines? What food pairs best with this wine? Don't forget to ask questions about anything in the wine growing and wine producing processes that you're curious about. You might want to jot down questions you have before you even begin your wine tasting session.

Be open to trying new things. If you are new to wines and wine tastings, try a bit of each one on the tasting list. Even if you think you only like whites, or only full body reds, you may be surprised by one of the other types as you try them all. Each one is made with different ingredients and hard work from the winemakers.

If you don’t like a wine, don't be embarrassed to dump it in the dump bucket. That’s what it’s there for. This is completely acceptable behavior even among seasoned wine tasters, so don't worry about any breach of protocol.

After you have finished your tasting flight, buying a bottle is totally your choice. If you find a wine you really like, you can buy a bottle to enjoy later at home. Wine also makes a wonderful present or souvenir if you are wine tasting somewhere far from home. There is no pressure to purchase a bottle, so you can taste the wines and pay the tasting fee and leave if you like.

The most important thing when wine tasting is to have fun! Some people get very serious when they’re tasting wines, but remember it’s OK to smile and have a good time too. You’re there to enjoy the experience and learn more about wines, and you will not be quizzed at the exit door.

Everything You Need to Know About Alta Mesa AVA

Sunday 14th of March 2021

An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States. The boundaries of AVAs are defined by the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a component of the United States Department of the Treasury. An AVA is based on the general climate and geography of the area, making it similar to the wine grape-growing system in France where designation is based on geography and climate. In order to claim that a wine has been produced in a specific AVA, at least 85% of the grapes used in the wine production must have come from vineyards within that AVA and the wine must be fully finished in the state where the AVA is located.

In California, there are approximately 107 American Viticultural Areas, which means there are that many different combinations of geography and climate for grape-growing. The largest of these is the Napa Valley AVA. Although it accounts for only about 4% of the overall grape harvest in the state, it was the first AVA designated in California and continues to carry considerable status to this day.

The Alta Mesa AVA

The Alta Mesa AVA is located roughly halfway between Lodi and Sacramento in the Central Valley region of California. Established in 2006, it is a subdivision of the larger Lodi AVA. The AVA was named Alta Mesa, a Spanish phrase that means “high table,” because it rises slightly higher than the rest of the area around Lodi.

The Lodi AVA is in Sacramento County and is characterized by dense clay and heavy gravel, low annual rainfall, and summers that are quite warm. These conditions combine to provide some of the best growing conditions for wine grapes in the entire region. Local wine growers have known and taken advantage of this for quite some time.

During wintertime, this frequently produces fog because the standing water collides with cold air from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east. Since the soil is dense and combines with low rainfall to produce relatively small vines, all the energy of grapevines growing in this area is devoted to producing a deep, robust flavor that is greatly appreciated by wine lovers.

Why Lodi AVA was subdivided

The larger Lodi AVA was established in 1986, and it was 20 years later that it was broken into seven smaller AVAs. The local wine commission decided that in order to achieve the kind of prestige and respect that wine growing regions such as Burgundy enjoy, it was necessary to regionalize the wines more specifically according to their climate and geography.

Many serious wine lovers insist on knowing exactly where the particular grapes were grown for the wines they drink. Because the specific area where grapes are grown has such a huge impact on the quality and taste of any given wine, it was recognized that larger AVAs needed to be broken down into sub-AVAs as a means of identifying the origin of particular grapes associated with any particular wine. The Napa Valley AVA was broken down into 16 different sub-AVAs for this same reason. There are so many different distinct varieties of grapes grown in these different areas that it has become necessary to designate each one separately so it can achieve its own level of prestige and recognition.

Grapes Grown in the Alta Mesa AVA

The Alta Mesa AVA is 55,400 acres and acquires its distinctive characteristics of climate and geography from the alluvial soil deposits left by the Cosumnes and the American Rivers. Most of the rest of this region has a flat topography and does not have the river terraces that are contributed by the two rivers. Because it is cut off from the cool ocean breezes of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, the AVA is warmer than most of the rest of the surrounding region.

The soil in the Alta Mesa AVA is composed of extremely heavy, dense clay and gravel, which means the roots of the grapevines cannot penetrate very deeply into the soil. The topsoil throughout this region is characterized by thick layers that must be subjected to extensive ripping before grapes can be planted. The specific climate that denotes Alta Mesa AVA is one of very low rainfall and warm summers, making this one of the hottest regions in Lodi.

Because there is so little rainfall, the grapevines respond by producing smaller grapes that are loaded with flavor. This results in red and white wines that are extremely rich and intense, which appeals to a great many wine lovers and aficionados. Some of the most popular grapes grown in the Alta Mesa AVA include Barbera, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Some of the lesser-known wine grapes planted in this region include such varieties as Verdelho and Torrontes.

Oddly enough, there are no wineries based in Alta Mesa. Instead, growers in this region cultivate their grapes and sell them to outside producers all across the state of California, and in some cases even beyond state borders. Many of the Alta Mesa grapes and wines are categorized under the more popular and better known Lodi AVA. One of the biggest vineyards in the Alta Mesa AVA is the renowned Silvaspoons Vineyard. This productive 300-acre vineyard produces at least 20 different varieties of grapes, most of which are of Portuguese or Spanish origin.

The Unexpected and Delicious History of Pinot Noir

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

Growing Pinot Noir grapes to process into wine is notoriously hard, and if the wine is stored incorrectly it can quickly degrade to vinegar. Because they grow in tight bunches shaped like pine cones, the grapes are very susceptible to fungi and rot, especially when humid conditions prevail. The grapes have a very thin skin that cannot protect them against various types of pests. It also makes the grapes much more susceptible to heat and drying out, as well as to bursting after a heavy rain.

Pinot Noir grapes also are very low in tannins. Tannins offer protection against ultraviolet radiation and pests. In addition, Pinot Noir grapes only thrive on soil that is well drained, and they require dry, but not excessively dry, conditions. Because they are a cool climate grape, they don't grow well in countries that traditionally are very hot, e.g., Argentina, Spain, and Africa. In these warm weather locations, the subtle flavors of the Pinot Noir grape actually get cooked inside the skin by excessive exposure to the sun.

So why is all this difficulty and temperamental behavior tolerated? Pinot Noir has established itself as the unquestioned king of Burgundy and has inspired fanatical loyalty from followers for hundreds of years. Since it was first popularized in Europe by conquering Romans, the dark, pine-shaped grapes have created wines that are appreciated and adored by millions of wine lovers. Continue reading to learn about the fascinating history of this beloved variety of grapes and the wine it produces.

Early history

During the centuries of Roman influence, vineyards were established throughout Europe to produce Pinot Noir wine. The contribution made by the Cistercian monks of the Middle Ages was priceless in the ongoing development of the wine. The monks were the first winemakers in history to establish the concept of terroir. In about 1000 A.D., they began cultivating the rocky hillsides of the Burgundy area, believing that hard labor improved their relationship with God. These monks were responsible for producing hundreds of different vintages, and with each one, they kept detailed records of how and where grapes either prospered or failed. Their records also included full descriptions of how these wines tasted. This process constituted the very first record keeping among wine producers.

Through centuries of cultivating Pinot Noir grapes, monks discovered some invaluable information about these very special grapes. These devoted wine growers in the Middle Ages discovered that Pinot Noir grapes are given to frequent mutations, and these mutations provide differing levels of tannins, taste, and color. Known as clones, these genetic mutations have given rise to other types of wines, e.g., Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier. Rather than being dark like the original, Pinot Gris are gray-skinned grapes that appear slightly pink, and Pinot Blanc grapes are basically white. There are actually more than 50 different clones of Pinot Noir, and all of these have their own distinctive taste and fragrance.

The Cistercian monks were unable to sell Pinot Noir in any kind of quantity because Burgundy had very little commerce, since it wasn't situated on any kind of major trade route. Unlike the very popular Bordeaux or Champagne, which were well advertised and purchased in high volumes by appreciative Europeans, the Pinot Noir wines were basically limited to the Burgundy area.

Another factor limiting the popularity of this wine was the fact that the monks were motivated by religious fervor as opposed to monetary gain. Over a period of time, this gave Pinot Noir wine the reputation for being of extremely high quality and relatively scarce. It is said that Pope Urban V declined returning to Rome during the Middle Ages simply because Pinot Noir wine was not available in Italy, as it was in the Burgundy area.

Pinot Noir today

Having spread to the North American continent, Pinot Noir wine began to be cultivated for pleasure rather than for religious reasons. American vintners discovered the temperamental nature of Pinot Noir wine across a wide variety of climates in the country, especially in California and in other places along the West Coast. In the post-Prohibition era, Pinot Noir wines were also grown experimentally in New Zealand and Australia, where growers again discovered the variable nature of growing Pinot Noir grapes.

The country that produces the most Pinot Noir wine today is France, which comes as no surprise. France produces almost double the amount of any other country in the world, with the United States being a distant second. Following the U.S.,relatively significant producers of Pinot Noir wine are Germany, Moldova, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland.

An interesting aspect of Pinot Noir wine history is attributable to the American film industry. In 2004, a movie called Sideways, starring actor Paul Giamatti as a Pinot Noir aficionado, was released. This film established the wine as a very trendy type of wine in the US. The film was distributed globally and caused a virtual explosion of Pinot Noir production and consumption around the world. More than anything else, this one movie helped to popularize the wine and to increase awareness of its distinctive flavor and appeal.

Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley AVA

The vast Russian River Valley region provides a great variety of microclimates for perfect Pinot Noir growing conditions. Moderate in climate, the region experiences a cooling fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean, typically at night. Pinot Noir excels in the region, with the cooler temperatures helping to shape the precise acidity and the region’s sandy loam soils creating palate richness. Aromatically, the Pinot Noirs typically yield notes of wild strawberry, black cherry, smoke and earth.

Harvest Moon Winery’s Estate vineyard produces a "classic" style of Russian River Pinot that often features lively acidity, cherry and berry fruit flavors and aroma that often includes earthy notes.

How to Barrel Taste Like a Pro

Monday 15th of February 2021

Many people have gone wine tasting and enjoyed the finished wines from the bottle, but far fewer individuals have experienced barrel tasting of wines that are not yet ready to be bottled and released. You can learn a great deal about wine and the entire winemaking process by participating in a barrel tasting session, making it a wonderful experience for any wine lover.

Before wine makes its way into bottles, it goes through a maturation process in much larger barrels, where secondary fermentation takes place. You can get a feel for the direction a wine is headed by tasting it out of the barrel, but it won't taste like a fully mature wine that has completed its fermentation and barrel aging process. Here are some of the facts and interesting tips about barrel tasting to help you prepare for it and get the most out of your experience.

Steps in the production process

There are five primary steps involved in producing wine—harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation, clarification and bottling. There are lots of deviations and variances that winemakers like to take, but all wine production has to follow at least these five steps in order to create a finished product. For the purposes of this discussion, fermentation will be the area focused upon because this is where all the magic takes place in wine production.

If left on their own, grapes naturally begin to ferment within 12 hours of being picked, and the fermentation process is accentuated by naturally-occurring yeasts in the air. However, this is a very uncertain process and cannot be controlled by the winemaker, so in many cases the winemaker kills off these natural yeasts and introduces a desired strain of yeast so that the end result is more controllable and predictable.

After fermentation has begun, it continues until all of the sugar in the fruit has been converted into alcohol and a dry wine has been produced. The fermentation process generally takes between 10 and 30 days, and the alcohol content in any given wine varies based on how much sugar was originally in the fruit. It's fairly standard to have an alcohol level of 12% in wines produced in cooler climates and an alcohol level of 15% in warmer climates.

Sweeter wines result when the winemaker interrupts the fermentation process before all the sugar in the fruit has been processed into alcohol. This calls for precise timing during the fermentation process to achieve just the right level of sweetness in the finished product. Care must be taken after the barrel aging is complete and bottling begins, because “bottle shock” can set in. Bottle shock is a condition where wine flavors become disjointed or muted, thereby significantly interfering with the wine’s normal flavor. Any heat or motion at this critical juncture can produce bottle shock. Fortunately, after a few days of rest, the wine will generally revert to its naturally appealing flavor.

Why barrel taste?

One of the great things about barrel tasting is that you get to learn what contributes to the wine you are tasting, including the kind of weather that was experienced when the grapes were growing. You don't usually get a chance to meet the winemaker and ask questions, but generally this happens during barrel tasting experiences.

You should take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to ask questions you have about the wine production process and the specific grapes of the wines you are tasting. If you get the chance, compare the barrel wine you're tasting against a bottle of the same varietal because that will show you where the wine is headed and how close it is to getting there.

Tips to maximize your experience

To get the most out of your experience, do a little research on the vineyard you're visiting and the type of wines they produce. Make a point of thoroughly examining the vineyard itself, and ask as many questions as you can of all the workers and wine producers there. You should always go with a plan for how you want to approach the barrel tasting, but be open to any unexpected pleasures which may occur. It's entirely possible that you discover a new wine you have never tasted before and it becomes your new favorite wine. As with any wine tasting, it's a good idea to bring water with you so that you don't get dehydrated, and you should also pack some snacks or a picnic lunch so you don't get light-headed while sampling. Remember that you should always have at least one designated driver in your group who will not be partaking of the wine samples.

What are wine futures?

Barrel tasting is not only fun, it gives you the opportunity to purchase futures—wine that is still in the barrel and will be bottled and released at a future date. If you like how a wine tastes out of the barrel and speculate that it will be just as good or better after it’s bottled, you can reserve an allocation by paying for the wine in advance. Most wineries offer deep discounts on futures. Many wholesale buyers operate exclusively in this manner, i.e. they purchase only wine futures and make their profits when the wine actually matures and is released. By that time, its value has increased significantly and the speculator can earn a tidy profit.

You’re also helping the winery when you buy futures. Selling futures helps a winery’s cash flow and enables it to pay off debts incurred over the course of the vintage sooner rather than later, when the wines have been barrel aged, bottled and are ready for release.

The Fascinating History of Verdelho

Sunday 7th of February 2021

Verdelho grapes are now grown around the globe, but it wasn't always so. Originally, the grapes that produce this traditionally sweet varietal were grown only in Portugal, and their beginnings extend back to the 15th century. The wine was first developed on the island of Madeira, and in the nearly six centuries since then, the grapes have been grown continuously and the wine is considered by connoisseurs to be a “noble wine.”

The island of Madeira is only about 12 miles x 30 miles. It is located in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 370 miles from Morocco and falls in the latitudinal area of 33°. This is good for grape cultivation because it provides very hot summers and warm winters that are ideal for growing grapes. Since all land on the island is put to use, the vineyards are located on steep cliffs, where small terraces have been developed over the years.

These terraces are approximately 3,000 feet above sea level in many places, and the best grapes are those that grow on vines planted on the southern slopes of the island, where there is typically the most sunshine. Rainfall on the island of Madeira is generally quite heavy, partly due to its mountainous geography, and also because of its specific position in the Atlantic Ocean.

Characteristics of Verdelho grapes

Verdelho grapes are very sweet and hard and have an oblong or elliptical shape. They are green or yellow and typically grow in dense bunches that generally ripen to a golden-colored hue. The vines used to produce Verdelho grapes grow very tall and have reddish or brownish shoots that support the grapes.

Leaves on these vines are medium-sized, rounded, and wavy, with some hair both above and beneath. The best Verdelho vines produce a very high yield and ripen early in the season, allowing for early harvesting. This happens to be very convenient on Madeira, because it allows for other grapes to be harvested later and there is no scramble to harvest all grapes at the same time.

Characteristics of Verdelho wine

Verdelho is primarily used in the production of medium-sweet white wines, but modern winemaking techniques have developed some very interesting characteristics from the original Verdelho grapevines. One of these techniques, known as pellicular maceration, involves causing the skins to bubble together for a full day before the wine pressing takes place. This treatment has delivered some rather surprising characteristics from this particular grape.

The wines that result from it are quite aromatic, and frequently have a citrus kind of flavor. They deliver a full middle palate, having substantial oak treatment, and they carry some decidedly nutty characteristics that are typically found only in some of the richer Chardonnay wines. Today there are four basic types of Madeira wine, each of which is named after the particular type of grape used to produce it.

Sercial was originally thought to be a Riesling grape, and it is used to produce the driest and lightest Madeira wine. Malmsey wine has a sweet and rich flavor, with a distinct honey taste that instantly identifies it. Bual wine has a decidedly sweet style, with added features of smokiness and a baked kind of taste all its own. Verdelho itself continues to be the tangy, medium-sweet wine that it has been for centuries and continues to charm wine connoisseurs all over the globe.

History of Verdelho

After several centuries of exclusive growth on the island of Madeira, Verdelho made its way to Australia when wool pioneer John MacArthur toured several countries in Europe with the express purpose of discovering new varieties of wine that he could take back home. MacArthur and his two sons returned to Australia in 1816, which was well before the collected strains of grapevines were shipped there. Some of the specific types they shipped from Europe included the Verdelho, Pineau Gris, Frontignac, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro, and Grenache. When the new grapevines arrived, MacArthur and his sons planted them in vineyards in Camden Park and Penrith.

Their initial plantings did not take well. After several attempts, the MacArthurs nearly gave up in frustration, thinking that the Australian soil was simply not conducive to growing the exotic vines that had flourished in Madeira. However, they eventually realized that some of the growing peculiarities had much less to do with the Australian soil and more to do with the quirks of the vines themselves. Then their efforts began to bear fruit, and some of the Verdelho vines began to flourish.

By the late 1820s, the MacArthurs had produced two distinct varieties of Muscat wine and had a successful vintage of Verdelho. They had a very small vintage at first, but after their techniques improved and their knowledge grew, their production increased significantly, and the two vineyards became quite productive and popular in the country.

Current state of Verdelho production

During the 1970s, the Verdelho vines were devastated by phylloxera, which is a microscopic aphid that consumes the roots of the grapevines and kills them. Hard work and a great deal of dedication on the part of several growers were the only things that saved the Verdelho vineyards from becoming completely obliterated.

After the devastation brought on by phylloxera, emergency steps were taken by Madeira vintners, and some of the surviving vines were grafted on to American rootstocks. With phylloxera now under control, the Verdelho wine made a comeback from the brink of extinction, and there are now four separate varieties being grown on the island. Along with pure Verdelho, there are also strains known as Malmsey, Sercial, and Bual, and all these three have come to have their own admirers and fans around the world.

Harvest Moon Verdelho

The grapes Harvest Moon uses for its Verdelho come from the warm climate of the Alta Mesa AVA. This area of California has warm days and nights, giving the Verdelho grapes everything they need to ripen and produce the aromatic wine folks enjoy in our tasting room. This delicious summer sipper is light bodied with bursts of tropical fruits, notes of pineapple, pear and peach with a hint of lime and grapefruit.