A Very Successful Harvest Season

The 2015 harvest season is going to be remembered as the earliest on record. It all began with a mild spring with above average temperatures that triggered the vines to start budding out a bit earlier than usual. August was particularly warm with many days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This caused the white grapes to ripen very quickly and with some of the reds not far behind, a situation that was logistically challenging for a small production cellar….at one point we had every tank full and could not receive more grapes until we emptied a tank and moved into our neutral barrels.

We began harvest with our estate grown Viognier that was picked on August 16th, seven days earlier than in 2014, ten days earlier than in 2013 and twenty days earlier than in 2012. As it is clear, there is definitely a trend here due to “climate change.”  The quality of the white grapes was very high, with very balanced chemistry and not overly ripe. We were extremely focused this year at the vineyard level, walking the vineyards and sampling them often to make sure they didn’t accumulate too much sugar and also that the acid remained high. And that hard work paid off since overall, we produced some of the best whites we have yet produced so far, with a few standouts like Arneis, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, Tocai Friulano and Rosé of Grenache.

The extreme heat did not allow some of the red grapes we work with to stay on the vine for a long period of time developing flavors and lowering their natural acidity. This situation can result in a bit of an imbalance in the chemistry of the must; too much acid that wasn’t respired or burned out while still on the vine. Having a higher acid translates into having a lower pH, which in some instances can be a desirable thing since it contributes to wines that have a longer longevity. This is especially true for wines that are notorious for having a high pH like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, there are instances where we deal with varietals that are notorious for having too much acid and already a low pH such as Italian varietals Petite Sirah and Carignane. In theses cases, we had to wait as long as possible to pick these grapes so that the acid could be lowered, but always keeping in mind the sugar level so that it wouldn’t go too high.  At the cellar level, we focused on managing the red grapes that came in with too much acid so that they wouldn’t contribute to having a sharp edge and hard finish in the palate. The great news is that most of the red grapes came in with a very good balance of sugar/acid and looking very healthy. There are also some standouts such as Pinot Noir, Nero D’Avola, Negroamaro, Carignane and Grenache.

The fermentations were very good and sound from a microbial point of view. We inoculated (added commercial yeast) to all the whites but relied on native yeast (wild yeast that comes from the vineyard or that is in the winery) to carry out primary fermentations on all the reds.  Fermenting with native yeast leads to healthier fermentations with a constant fermentation rate and without heat spikes, both very important since yeast cells are very susceptible to drastic changes in their environment, a situation that can lead to having a sluggish or incomplete fermentation.

To summarize, it was a very early harvest season and we hustled with the intensity of picking grapes so early in Mendocino County (or anywhere in California). It was not only an early one but also a very fast.   We had whites and reds coming in at the same time and we had to work hard logistically speaking to keep everything under control and running smoothly. The quality of the grapes was kept high resulting in white wines that are fruit-forward and very balanced, and with red wines that have full and bold flavors in most instances with a few of lots benefiting from having a little extra acid in them. It was a very successful harvest season. I will conclude by saying, I believe this year will proved to be one of the strongest vintages yet!

Time to Celebrate

Gary Michael Breen was born a few years ago on this day.  There is some discrepancy about the actual year, as he actually believes he is younger than it says on his birth certificate.  Whatever the date, it is time to celebrate.

We celebrate Gary not just because it is his birthday, but because all of us who work with him here are Campovida, are better because we know him.  He has taught us about passion, perseverance, humility, productivity and purpose.  We would all not be working here if it wasn't for his deep curiosity and love of life.  That is the honest truth and for that, we are eternally grateful, humbled and blessed in Hopland and Oakland.  Happy Birthday Gary...may the year ahead bring more love, life and laughter.  May you sleep well every night knowing you are loved and appreciated.



Now that our 2014 white wines have been bottled, I would like to share a brief overview of all the intricacies involved before and during bottling, a very exciting process.

As a winemaker, the process and preparation usually starts a couple of months before the actual bottling. The first thing to do is to confirm and schedule a bottling date with our mobile bottling service. Once confirmed, being able to multitask is important to meet the bottling date. The area that we usually give priority to is on purchasing the best packaging for our beautiful wines. We give plenty of time so we can handle any issues that arise with vendors.

Packaging involves glass, corks and labels. Because we sell direct to our consumers, we made a decision to no longer use tin foil, as it is a huge waste and has an incredible carbon footprint and no real impact on the quality of the wines’ storage. My role is to make sure to order the necessary quantities, and order the correct cork size and grade. In addition, we are careful to ensure the correct bottle shapes and colors and that all of the information on the labels is correct. Labels is requires rounds of editing and government approval. Once we submit a new label for approval, it can take up to a month to get it approved and we cannot print the labels unless they are approved by the TTB. This timing is built into the bottling process each time we bottle.

At the same time this is happening, we have to take all of the wines out of barrel and then put them in tank so that we can start cold stabilizing them, a process that can take up to a month depending on how unstable they are. While the wines are undergoing cold stabilization, we continue working on labels and making sure that the rest of the packaging is ready to be ordered.

Once we have received the corks and glass and all new labels have been approved by the TTB, the printing process begins, a process that can take up to three weeks. At this point, we make sure that the wines can warm up slowly before filtration. Two weeks before bottling, there is a lot of science that goes on to ensure the wines are roughly filtered so that the bottling line can operate. We also run through a full analysis which provides us with the conditions of the wine, and some of the information from the analysis is actually required by the government.

Of all these parameters, winemakers pay special attention during this time of prep to ensure the highest standards of winemaking are followed.

By now, it is a day before bottling and time to go home to get somerest because tomorrow we begin bottling at the winery at 6am. We will begin by sterilizing the bottling truck and making sure all wines are ready to go.

Bottling date has finally arrived and there is no room for error at this point. Everything must align. The wines start going into the bottle one by one, in the correct order, into the right type of glass, with the correct size of cork and that the label height is adjusted to match the previous vintage.  Every detail matters.

But besides making sure all the packaging details are beautiful, we also have to make sure to check other parameters as the wine is going into the bottle. We oversee every scientific detail to the bottling process. During bottling, it takes a whole team to make it happen. We are in constant communication with our team and the bottling truck crew.

We just bottled our amazing 2014 white wines with a couple of new faces like Riesling and late harvest Viognier and we hope you are able to enjoy them at our Taste of Place soon. Watch for their debuts…May is a perfect time for the release of our new Rosé di Grenache.


We have this moment to care for our earth.  we intend to leave it better than we found it.  our historic american elms are dying and in their place, we will plant native sycamore trees that we hope will last many lifetimes.  be a part of this historic moment by helping plant our trees.


Post Harvest Thoughts...

I wanted to do a recap of the 2014 harvest season, which was a very interesting and unusual vintage all around.

Fernando, Sebastian, Gary, Miguel and Allan

Due to the more moderate than usual temperatures during springtime, the vines started to bud break very early in the season, a situation that translated into harvesting grapes two to four weeks earlier than an average year. This was especially true for most of the red varietals that usually need a longer hang time to ripen and develop flavors. Also, an extreme drought in California prevented grape growers from irrigating properly, a situation that in many cases was beneficial and in others brought stress to the vines.

Winemaking is all about creativity and problem solving. There is definitely no such thing as the “perfect” vintage, although we can all agree that some years are very good, some excellent and some not so good. However, regardless of the vintage, winemakers are always going to face special situations that will require our full creativity in order to succeed.

For me, this was definitely one of those vintages where nature challenged me to bring out my best in order to make world-class wines. This was one of the most challenging harvests I have ever experienced.

Everybody knew that it was going to be an early harvest season, but it is very difficult to know by how much since every vineyard site is different. This was the first challenge we encountered because we often rely on historical data in order to establish a tentative picking date. We quickly realized that even though we were indeed facing an early harvest season, it was not a predictable one. In other words, not all varietals were ripening earlier at the same rate. Some were earlier by one week and others by four weeks, throwing off all of our plans, so we needed to visit vineyards more often than usual in order to assess the state of ripening. This was especially true for dry farmed grapes that tend to ripen much quicker than irrigated grapes when faced with extreme weather conditions.

Because a lot of the red varietals were coming in at the same time as the whites, it created the second problem of the season: limited tank capacity to carry out the fermentations. We have done a lot of experimentation at Campovida to determine what type of fermentation is more beneficial for each varietal, including tank vs. barrel fermentation on whites, for example. We have determined that Marsanne, being that is a very neutral varietal, benefits from a long and cold fermentation in order to retain more aromas prior to transferring to neutral oak barrels for aging. This year we fermented Marsanne in barrel instead in order to open up a tank to ferment reds. This does not mean that because we fermented the Marsanne in barrel instead of tank that it will not be as good as it would have been. White wines that are fermented in barrel tend to gain other aspects that a wine that is fermented in tank lacks; it is a trade-off.

The third challenge came when we started receiving red grapes with high sugar levels (at least for my liking). Yeast has a very hard time finishing fermentations all the way down to zero sugar when the starting sugar levels are very high. The drought plus a heat spike in the middle of harvest season increased the sugar levels very high and it translated into having a few fermentations that were very challenging to manage and get them to go dry. Fortunately, with commitment, creativity and a bit of luck we were able to succeed and all of those fermentations were able to finish as they should and are now in barrel waiting to undergo malolactic fermentation.

Whenever there is a “sluggish” fermentation it presents a challenge for winemakers, one of the hardest to address and one that can lead to other issues greater than just having some residual sugar left in the wine. Those wines can actually accumulate excessive amounts of volatile acidity (vinegar mainly) if there are bacteria present in the wine that start consuming that sugar and making vinegar as a bi-product. That is why it is very important to be on top of all fermentations and check their brix levels and taste them every single day during the fermentation period, so that we can predict if there is a potential problem and act in a fast and appropriate manner.

All of the already mentioned challenges contributed to our last challenge of the season: the level of intensity. Because it was such a cramped season and everything came in at the same time, we felt the workload a lot more than in a regular season where the workload is more spread out. Because of the intensity of harvest, we missed seeing our families. This is part of the winemaking are we are lucky to have understanding families who support our passion.

Looking back at everything that we went through during harvest season, I can say that I am really happy with what we accomplished. We were facing a very early harvest season and an extreme drought that brought many challenges, and we had a successful harvest and we are excited and very proud about the wines we are making.

We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.