Monthly Archives: August 2014

Vitcultural Drones – Just Another Tractor?

MulticopterNature’s signs are ever present in the Kunde Family Vineyard as Sonoma County’s harvest approaches with copious amounts of ripening grapes, yellowing leaves, and hungry birds.  But the morning air whispers a subtle mechanical sound as a 3D Robotics‘ autonomous multicoper lands among the vines.

Drone news is often military related, but drones can be used for everything from agriculture to delivering pizza.  2014 Precision Aerial Ag Show drew 1,000 midwest farmers.  With concerns about privacy the FAA has postponed final discussions on drone regulations until 2015. Current FAA restrictions allow farmers to operate an unmanned aircraft over their own property for personal use under 400 feet and outside 3 miles of an airport.  Japan is extensively using drones in agriculture. 3D Robotics wants farmers to use drones the way they would any piece of farming equipment and is creating products to meet those agricultural needs.

Ryan Kunde, 5th generGrapes Smallation viticulturist and winemaker from DRNK Wines, is surveying the grapes to be harvested in the Kunde Family Vineyards near the old winery ruins in the Sonoma Valley AVA. Kunde Family Vineyards is a remarkably diverse 1,850 acre farm with less than 40% of its land devoted to vineyards and topography that varies from 1400 foot mountain tops, to rolling hills, to a valley floor. The vineyard acreage is home to around 20 varietals grown in a volcanic band of “Red Hill” soil.  Ryan is very familiar with this large vineyard, he grew up here among these sustainably-grown vines talking easily about the the land, the lakes and grapes in a knowledgeable but unpretentious manner.  But today he wants a bird’s eye view of these vineyards to help him assess areas of vigor and stress, because he needs to determine harvest timing and row locations.

This time of the year, growers and winemakers alike are walking the vineyards sampling the fruit and making tDrone 1 Whiteheir most important decision of the year – when to harvest.  But is that really the only question? More and more I am hearing that separating the grapes from different areas of the vineyard so that more complex and interesting wines can be blended at bottling is almost as important as harvest timing. How do you evalutate all of the important or possibly important grape variations within a large vineyard like Kunde Family Vineyards? For Ryan the answer is viticultural drones. Drone photographic images can be accumulated long-term to assess vineyard patterns and perform maintenance. Additionally, they can be used for on-demand aerial images as he is doing today.

Imaging 2Images are created from autonomous, fixed-wing planes and multicopters with a point-and-shoot camera mounted inside. 3D Robotoics software then stitched the images together to generate the 3D model of the vineyard. Color variations in the 3D photographic model of vineyard help select sampling areas for possible seaparation during harvest.  Then it was back to the manual process and out into the vineyard to pick grapes to test for harvest readiness, using additional tools of the harvest (refractometer).

SamplingDrones are obviously not a replacement for a knowledgeable vineyard manager or winemaker, but another farming tool.  Drones can be a cost-effective solution in difficult terrains, newly acquired vineyards, or large properties to assess areas for manual evaluation or maintenance.  This evaluation can include watering or fertilizations requirements, pest control, general vineyard vigor, or harvest readiness. Ryan can send vineyard workers with guided GPS to specific areas of the vineyard to work and make informed decision about grapes to be separated during harvest so that he has the ability to make better decisions and better wine once the grapes are back in the winery.

Imagery is not uncommon to agriculture, but hiring planes or using satellite technology is more expensive and subject to weather and timing.  Planes often need to be hired weeks in advance and satellite images are difficult when clouds interfere.

Drones technology is moving to meet this agricultural need with two trends drivening drone expansion (and reducing pricing) one is open source technology and second is the development of the Maker Movement for do-it-yourself (DIY) techies. Ryan’s interest in technology began with a childhood interest in radio-controlled cars. Today, he owns automous fixed-wing planes and is beta-testing multicopters both models equiped with GPS location systems and point-and-shoot camera technology (Go-Pro).

The most important factor in any harvest is still the man or woman guiding the process, our wonderfully talented growers and winemakers, but using every available tool to make the best decision can give you an edge.  Ryan is producing some incredible wines with a complexity that I love.  So perhaps it isn’t just another tractor, but a new innovative tool to allow a talented winemaker to improve his winemaking starting in the vineyard!

3D Robotics Logo 3D Robotics was started in 2009 by Chris Anderson, former Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine, and Jostrdi Muñoz.  At 20, Muñoz hacked a Nintendo Wii controller, wrote his own code, and equipped a remote helicopter with microcomputer boards to build the first-ever autopiloted drone. He recorded the flight with a camera and uploaded the video to a new website called, which was created by Chris Anderson. After Anderson saw the video, he sent the young inventor $500 so Muñoz could continue his work.  Without ever meeting in person the duo started VC-backed 3D Robotics 2009.  3D Robotics is vertically integrated and manufactures its own hardware and software. While vertical integration increases up front development costs, it offers greater control for the company to market its products to specific industries, such as agriculture.

DRNK Wines PNis a Dougherty-Kunde family partnership with Dale Dougherty, Ryan Kunde, Nancy C. Dougherty and Katie Kunde. DRNK uses the latest winemaking techniques to create elegantly crafted and balanced wines, each expressing a focused sense of place. The inaugural release of DRNK’s Cavers Cuvee Pinot Noir received a 97 at the North Coast Wine Challenge.  Ryan says, “Winemaking begins in the vineyard, and we begin evaluating our fruit from the time of inception to harvest from all perspectives, from under root to over the canopy. An intimate relationship with the fruit continues through crush as each lot is carefully hand harvested and sorted in the vineyard and again at the winery before crushing. All fermentations are carried out in small batches and punched down by hand. The wines are then transferred to barrel in our underground cellar, an ideal winemaking environment. The utmost care and consideration is given to each barrel individually before final blends are made.”   Tours & Tasting by appointment only. or call 707.889.1000

#DRNKWines #3DRobotics #Wine #Drones #Viticulture #SCHarvest14


Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnays

CharlieWest Sonoma Coast Vintners West of the West Festival Seminar #2 “Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnays” was an appropriate topic as this is and has been for 20+ years a premier sources of grapes for many of the winemakers utilizing West Sonoma Coast grapes.

The Heintz Vineyard, owned by the Heintz family for almost 100 years consists of approximately 100 acres of which about half are planted with a combination of Chardonnay (25 Acres Clone 4 AXR1 rootstock), Pinot Noir (20 Acres, Clones: Pommard,115, 113, Swan and Berringer plus 2 Acres Swan clone), and Syrah (3 Acres, Clones 174, 470 and a “Field Select” from Hugh Chappelle all on 330).  Although Charlie encouraged us all to try his beloved Syrah (during the Grand Tasting), this seminar focused on the Chardonnay.

Panel2The Panelists were lead by Alder Yarrow of Vinography with color commentary by Ehren Jordan of Failla (who does not use Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay grapes, but tried to obtain some for cement eggs during the seminar).  Ehren stated his job was to keep everyone honest.  Joining this group was Charles Heintz, Hugh Chapelle consulting winemaker at Heintz Vineyards, Andy Smith of DuMol, and Ted Lemon of Littorai.  Ryan Zepaltas of Zepaltas was originally scheduled but his wife gave birth at 8 am the morning of the seminar.

Charles Heintz said the Chardonnay plantings in 1982 were originally intended to be hawked to Korbel Cellars for sparklinWine 2ag wine, but due to the depression of the 1980 was never accomplished.  Within a few years they realized they could ripen Chardonnay for still wine and sold some via Warren Dutton, but their early client was Sebastiani.  These grapes on grown at about 900 ft. elevation on the second ridge in from the Pacific Ocean in what Charles Heintz describes as a rain cloud.  Even in this drought year, he indicates that his resersoirs are full.

Heintz Vineyards sells to a whose-who of great winemakers (Amici Cellars, Banshee WinesBrack Mountain Wine, Ceritas WinesDeLoach Vineyards, DuMol WinesFetzer, Flowers WineryFreeman Family Vineyards, Heintz VineyardsKesner Wines, Landmark, Littorai, MigrationMoone Tsai, Pearl MorissettePeay Vineyards, Peirson Meyer WinesRadio Coteau, Realm Cellars, Ultramarine Wines, VonHolt WinesWilliams Selyem, and Zepaltas Wines) and has maintained long-term relationships with many of these growers, he named 20 years with panelist Ted Lemon of Littorai and 14 years with Andy DuMol of DuMol.
Wine2The Chadonnay from this vineyard has a pronounced acidity and textural difference in its mouthfeel that Charles Heintz felt was unique.  About 20 years ago, Ted Lemon asked him to begin organically farming the grapes that Littorai was purchasing in the West Block.  Although this has been challenging over the years, Heintz has continued to organically farm about 5 acreas of his Chardonnay.e

The first was a comparative of picking range available in the Heintz Vineyard with two 2012 Chardonnays from Ceritas and Zepaltas (harvested 2 weeks after Ceritas’ grapes) which was  followed by three tank samples showing a comparison of neutral wood (Heintz) versus stainless steel (Littorai) versus hogsheads (DuMol).  None of these were final wines, but indicated some winemaking nuances and the room liked all three samples, but seemed to slightly favor the stainless and hodsheads.

Three distinct but similar wines from 2011 Ceritas, 2012 Heintz, and 2012 DuMol were blind tasted to showcase similarities in qualities of the vineyard produce.  The crowd was almost equally divided on which one they liked the best which was another strong indicator of the diversity and quality at this site.

Grand Tasting followed.

#Amici Cellars #BansheeWines #BrackMountainWine #CeritasWines #DeLoachVineyards #DuMolWines #Fetzer #FlowersWinery #FreemanFamilyVineyards #HeintzVineyards #KesnerWines #Landmark #Littorai #Migration #MooneTsai #PearlMorissette #PeayVineyards #PeirsonMeyerWines #RadioCoteau #RealmCellars #UltramarineWines #VonHoltWines #WilliamsSelyem #ZepaltasWines #Chardonnay #WestSonomaCountyVintners #WOWSebastopol

The Evolution of California Cuisine & Wine

Panel1West Sonoma County Vintners kicked off West of the West Festival with two strong seminars, the first “The Evolution of California Cuisine & Wine” and the second “Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnays.”

Co-Moderators & Sommeliers, Paul Einbund and Peter Palmer, lead a distinguished panel of chefs from some of the hotest trending San Francisco restaurants featuring Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions, Evan Rich of Rich Table, and Cortney Burns of Bar Tartine for Seminar #1 “The Evolution of California Cusine and Wine.”

Wines 1Six Pinot Noir were paired two at a time with a dish from each chef/restaurant.  The first two 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir were Alma Fria Dona Margarita Vineyard and Gros Ventre Campbell Vineyard.  The wines were tasted individually and then paired with a bay shrimp ceviche with blue lake beans and coriander.  The Alma Fria aroma of forest floor was layered with black fruit and spice, medium acidity and a medium long finish, but the best pairing with the bay shrimp was the Gros Ventre which rocked black raspberries and spice with a lively acidity that made this pairing sing.  I need to try more of this wine – my first introduction to this vineyard is extremely positive.

PairingThe second two 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir were Furthermore Nevina’s Vineyard (a new vineyard named after Chad’s daughter) and 2012 LIOCO Hirsch Vineyard.  The pairing was with a Smørrebrød (dense dark brown bread) with Kale, Yogurt and Sunflower Tahini.  The Furthermore offering was earthy with spicy notes balanced with acidity, although the LIOCO with a black raspberry, cedar, and spice aroma and lively acidity was the pairing star for me.  Chef Cortney indicated they sprouted the seeds and worked with the bread to help digestability of the dish.

The final palate temptation featured local ingredients including Liberty Duck and local mushrooms and blackberries in a State Bird Provisions dish of very lightly smoked duck, which was paired with the final two 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard and Flowers Sea View Ridge Vineyard.  The Flowers Pinot Noir displayed black cherries and herbs in a balanced wine, but the star pairing in this duo was the Joseph Phelps with bright red cherries and cassis aroma with a full mouthfeel and long finish, great balance with the duck.

This array of food and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was not so much about one being better than another, but displayed the high quality of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (as it is currently being made) as an excellent pairing with the ever evolving and adventurous California cuisine. The chefs on the this panel were very interactive discussing how they are always challenging the foods that can be combined with Pinot Noir.  They are thrilled that the wines being produced on the True Sonoma Coast are wonderfully food friendly and enhance the amazing culinary offerings being created by California’s talented chefs.

PaulThe sommeliers were asked why California wines are not dominately featured on their wine lists and they honestly answered that it is changing for the positive for a number of reasons.  California wines, especially the kind displayed here are becoming more food friendly in general.  Additionally, visitors to the area don’t want to taste wines (with their meals) from other areas, but want to experience the best California has to offer.  California’s wine is evolving to match the talent of our California chefs.  We might be young, but we are learning rapidly.

This was a first class seminar and one of the many reasons The West Sonoma Coast Vintners West of the West is a not to miss event.

#WestSonomaCoastVintners #WOWSebastopol #AlmaFria #GrosVentre #Furthermore #LIOCO #JosephPhelps #FlowersVineyard #PinotNoir #BarTartine #StateBirdProvisions #RichTable


IPOB Wines from the True Sonoma Coast

Platt2When growers started planting Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley, everyone said it was crazy and now winegrowers are pushing the limits on the far West of the Sonoma Coast and achieving spectactual results at elavations and locations that were thought maniacal.  Through new eyes, a desirable low fertility soil managed impeccably with sustainable, organic, and biodynamic style farming practices are producing world-class grapes which makes finding incredible Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from this region a wonderful adventure.

A few years back IPOB was created by Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and RN74,a and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, to celebrate wineries striving to produce balanced pinot noir and chardonnay in California.  Amazingly of the thirty-three member wineries in IPOB 2015, ten of them (almost 1/3) are member wineries in the West Sonoma Coast Vintners.  I think this says something about the quality and types of wines, especially pinot noir and chardonnay that are coming out of this region.

Nine of those wineries will bPinotBabiese participating in the Grand Tasting for the West of the West Festival and The Barlow Center on August 2-3.  Hirsch Vineyards is not participating due to family commitments, but the rest of these small production, hard to get wineries will be on hand and offering their wares.  I would highly recommend trying some of these wineries, which include:

Ceritas led by the husband and wife duo of John Raytek and Phoebe Bass who talk about simplicity which they describes as “allowing our vineyards to be the teachers, with us as the students. It means the ongoing process of listening to and learning from each site, every vintage, to discover and share what that site is capable of expressing. It means honoring our commitment with our grower partners to farm every vineyard sustainably and organically.” Their fall release includes 2012 Porter-Bass Vineyard Chardonnay and 2012 Pinot Noir from Hellenthal Vineyard and Escarpa Vineyard.

Cobb Wines led by two generatigrapes5ons of the Cobb family, father and winegrower, David Cobb (one of the pion
eers of pinot noir viticulture on the far Sonoma Coast) and son and winemaker, Ross Cobb (a noted pinot noir expert, making wines at Cobb Wines & Hirsch Vineyards and consulting winemaker for Banshee Wines and Claypool Cellars with Katy Wilson of LaRue Wines).  Ross has said that beyond what occurs in the vineyard, 90% of winemaking is the picking decision.  Ross favors lower alcohol wines that reflect a sublte expression of ripeness.  Spring release included 2011 Pinot Noirs from Coastlands Vineyards, Emmaline Ann, and Rice-Spivak, so Fall release should include Joy Road and Jack Hill Pinot Noir.

grapes4Failla led by husband andwife team of winemaker Ehren Jordan and CFO Anne-Marie Failla, makes a diverse portfolio of wines, but I expect they will be featuring Sonoma Coast wines like 2012 Whistler Vineyard Pinot Noir and my favorite 2012 Pearlessence Pinot Noir at the WOW Grand Tasting.  Although Ehren came to winemaking in anything but a conventional manner he has created an empressive resume between Turley Wine Cellars and Failla.

Flowers Vineyard and Winery originally led by former nursery owners Walt and Joan Flowers turned their passion for agriculture, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir into a world class winery. In 2009, Huneeus Vintners (Huneeus family, owners of Quintessa Vineyards) bought a substantial interest in Flowers and Joan and Walt Flowers retired. Flowers produces Chardonnay and Pinot from its estate vineyards.  The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a fine representation of the true Sonoma Coast along with a number of other estate cuvee and vineyard-designate bottlings including Andreen-Gale, Moon Select, Camp Meeting Ridge, Frances Thompson, and Sea View Ridge vineyards.

IMG_1776LaRue Wines led by Katy Wilson is a perfect example of a renaissance woman.  In following her passion for agriculture and creativity into winemaking, she may have adopted a hands-off style of winemaking, but is no ways hands-off in the day-to-day operation of the winery where she spends long hours doing most jobs herself.  These wines are a must try!  She is pouring her 2012 Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  Her 2012 Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir is in bottles, but won’t be released until Spring 2015.

LIOCO led by partners Matt Licklider (former wine importer) and Kevin O’Connor (sommelier turned winemaker).  LIOCO currently produces wine from Sonoma, Mendocino, and Santa Cruz counties with a focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Carignan.  I would expect offerings in their non-invasive style such as 2012 Hanzell Vineyard Chardonnay or 2012 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir.  Fun-loving yet with a true passion for winemaking.

TedLittorai Wines has been a long time favorite of many pinotphiles because Ted Lemon is consistently looking for BD (not certified but nature friendly) ways to grow great grapes. Ted has been a leader in the community of growers in moving to this method of viticulture and his wines reflect his love of the land.  Ted and Heidi Lemon have run this small, but world-class winery since 1993. I would expect Pinot Noirs from Hirsch Vineyards as well as estate vineyards, The Haven and Pivot.  Look for the Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay at the Seminar on Saturday as well as the Grand Tasting.

Peay Vineyards is a partnership between Vanessa Wong, and Andy and Nick Peay making wine since 1998 near Annapolis.  Wines are created from meticulously managed non-certified organic style vineyards.  I would expect their 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and well as 2012 Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir.

wow wineRed Car Wines led by winemaker Carroll Kemp and General Manager Peter Willmert. Red Car is one of the few wineries in this group with a formal tasting room, although still a limited production facility focusing on the True Sonoma Coast.  Now I use the word formal to mean open to the public regularly, because this is truly a fun, dynamic group of individuals that make wine tasting fun and educational.  They will be pouring an impressive array of wines including 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 2012 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2012 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Falstaff Vineyard Pinot Noir, and 2010 Red Car Estate Syrah (see photo).

The Prince of Pinot recently said, “Today, Pinot Noir lovers are experiencing an embarrassment of riches. It took thousands of years for Pinot Noir to emerge as the primary red grape of Burgundy, and many more centuries for Burgundy’s complex wine culture and accomplishments to develop. In California and Oregon, the process has been mirrored in barely half a century, spurred by a dedicated group of winegrowers and vintners who took their cues from the Burgundians, but put their own stamp on Pinot Noir.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Enjoy these any many other fabulous wines at West Sonoma Coast Vintners West of the West Grand Tasting on Aug 2-3 at The Barlow Center in Sebastopol.

#WOWSebastopol #Ceritas #CobbWines #Failla #FlowersVineyard #LaRueWines # LIOCO #Littorai #PeayVineyards #RedCar