Bruliam in 2010 (Part II)

As you recall from Part I, we’re moving our production to Mauritson Wines in 2010. Next up in this series:  Sourcing Premium Wine Grapes (or, can Kerith bake our way to another 90-point wine). 

Under our previous winemaking arrangement, choosing grapes was simple - all we had to do was select from a menu of pre-arranged vineyards.  Now that we’re out on our own, finding just the right grapes from just the right growers is yet another major endeavor that we are undertaking on our own.

We should have many choices.  There are over 1,800 wine grape growers in Sonoma County alone.  And between Napa, Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino counties, 444,000 tons of grapes were harvested in 2009.  That translates to a whole lot of juice (roughly 270 million bottles of wine – give or take). 

But, as we’ve learned, not all grapes are created equally.  Even by restricting ourselves to pinot and zinfandel, a number of factors come into play:  location, clone selection, rootstock, soil, growing practices, water, etc., etc.

Adding to the puzzle is that this business is all about relationships – relationships that have been in place for years, if not generations.  So when a couple of yuppie winemaking-wannabes show up at a grower’s door looking for fruit, we’re about as welcome as a sales call just as you sit down to dinner.

Fortunately, we do have a couple of things going for us.  With the confluence of a bad economy and big crop production in 2009 (and likely 2010), the current supply of fruit far exceeds demand.  A lot of superior grapes are either being dropped (not harvested) or falling out of contract.  This provides unique opportunities for upstarts like us to step into deals that were unheard of three years ago.

And lucky for us, we already have a head start.  Our 2009 Rockpile zinfandel is currently in barrel and we’ve managed to not piss off the lovely Mauritson family too much, so a 2010 Rockpile zinfandel from our very own vineyard bloc is already in the works.

As for sourcing pinot noir fruit, we had to start from scratch.

From the beginning of the process, we knew that we wanted to keep continuity appellation wise – which meant focusing on the Santa Lucia Highlands (where our Doctor’s Vineyard pinots have come from), Anderson Valley (where our 2009 Hayley’s Vineyard pinot is coming from) and the Sonoma Coast (where our 2009 Split Rock Vineyard pinot is coming from).

As we examined each appellation and looked at the various opportunities that could be available to us, we decided to take a top-down approach.  On a piece of paper, we listed out our favorite two or three winegrowers in each appellation and pledged to only make wine from an appellation if we could get grapes from one of the producers on our list.  We knew this was a somewhat ridiculous approach, but being ridiculous is pretty much the norm over here.

And with many months of hard work, calling, cajoling, baking, begging, more baking, some hand-written thank you notes, and even more begging, the end result is that we have good news and bad news on the pinot front.

The good news is that while nothing is 100% final, we think we’ve finagled our way into grapes - not from one of our top choices - but from our number one top choice grower in each appellation.  Even with all of our guile and chutzpah, securing small lots from growers of this stature is almost unheard of.

The bad news is that since nothing is 100% final, we can’t disclose where our pinot is coming from in 2010 just yet.  Sorry! 

But, we are very much looking forward to making those announcements since we think you’re going to just as thrilled as we are. 

Stay tuned for some fun and exciting news in the coming weeks!