Keller Estate is thrilled to release its 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir at the May Release Party on Saturday, May 11, 2019. This is the first signature wine made by Julien Teichmann, our winemaker since May 2018, and it is stunning! The salmon colored Rose is a reflection of his and Keller Estate’s winemaking philosophy: letting the wine reflect a sense of place in the cool Petaluma Gap. It is as if Julien’s years of study and work, from cool European climates to multiple stops at lauded wineries across Northern California, all conspired to present the perfect La Cruz Pinot fruit at harvest.
Keller Estate allocates specific Pinot blocks to the Estate Rose, a more French approach to Rose that you would find in the Rhône’s Tavel appellation, or in Burgundy, if Burgundians decided to make rosés. Instead of ‘bleeding’ some of the Pinot juice from the tank as a by-product of standard red wine fermentation, known as the saignée method, Julien employed a whole cluster press, just as he does for the Estate Pinot Noir. Once the grapes were crushed, Julien allowed only 3 hours of skin contact before racking the juice by separating the skins.
The 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, as most Keller Estate wines, is of a lighter, more terroir driven style. The wine is clean, approachable, low in alcohol, and acidity driven, but the resulting fruit speaks of warm summer days and gentle breezes. Notes of tangerine, orange zest and a dash of apricot produces a crisp freshness, soft tannins, and a burst of Pinot Noir fruit. Unfortunately, production was limited to less than 100 cases. Get it while you can!
Winemaker notes: 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir
How have the recent weeks of unseasonably warm weather affected the vineyard?
"Well uh yeah the lack of rain and the early heat tried to wake up the vines but these cold temps and the blow 30 nights have put them back to sleep, they tried to wake up and they have gone back to sleep if we get the rain in the forecast that will help. Vines wakeup due to soil temp, so rain or frost will keep the vines from waking up showing “Bud Break”.
We are currently at 7 inches of rain which is 40% of our normal rainfall, we want to be somewhere between 20 and 25 inches of rainfall by the end of the season, so we are keeping our fingers crossed for the rain. Right now our irrigation ponds give us an ability to have a 2-year supply, and the little rain events that we have had have not increased the reserves, the soil moistures are decent. So we will be good throughout the season. Our landscaping crew will have to use reclaimed water this year to keep the grounds looking good."
What is your prediction of How this will affect the rest of the growing season?
"Right now we have dodged a bullet by avoiding early bud break. If it stays cool through March, we can expect that we will be normal to our growing season. However, depending on how hot it is through April and June will determine when we have to start watering. Generally, our first watering is after 4th of July. Since we are not in a frost zone here at Keller Estate so there is no worry about freezing.
We are going to be doing a water event to add nutrients to the soil in April if all goes well. We might have to go to a more Flair nutrient application depending on if we need to conserve our drip line water. We will need to be a little more dynamic with our farming this year and be able to react to how warm then next few months are. "
Do you have a Bottling Update?
"The 2017 Chardonnay blends will be started in March and will be bottled by the End of May. We are doing a custom blend for the Sonoma County Vintners Barrel Auction that will be happening in April if anyone is interested. It is a unique blend that I make every year for this event, and I am very excited for how this turned out.
We only rack only once and are tasting the barrels and evaluating which barrels are performing well and getting the blends together in my head."
What the biggest challenge right now?
"Our biggest challenge right now is our transition to organic farming, it is a real challenge. We have to break down the estate into three parts, soil nutrition, and herbicides, pesticide/fungicide. So the soil nutrition is probably the easiest to handle and that is going to be a pretty easy transition, however, the fungicide is also relatively easy to transitions over, the biggest challenge is the herbicide. There are very few organic herbicides that are effective, generally, it comes down to manual manipulation i.e. weed whackers or tractor attachments. Either way, there is an additional strain on the labor force to be able to take that on. We are working on the best scenario, to allow for this transition to be made. The growth under vine can increase mold risk and cause competition in the vine. It really comes down to a big monetary investment to transition to organic.
This is the right time of the year to do this, and we are working out our game plan for the complete transition. We are going to a 100 percent organic fungicide program for this year and hopefully implement our plan for organic herbicide as our next steps. I am focusing right now less on the wines, as they are doing very well, and more on sustainability, this year’s action plans, and our transition to organic farming."
At Keller Estate, in the Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast. The 2017 growing season started with heavy, wonderful rains that saturated the parched clay soils. 2017 will be known as a year of extremes and abundance. Record setting rains, followed by warm weather led to the abundance of cover crop, weeds, and vigor. Cultivation and vine row management was delayed in many blocks due to wet conditions limiting tractor access. Saturated soils delayed budbreak 1-2 weeks and bloom and verasion experienced the same delay. However, we experienced only average crop set due to the weather at bloom in 2016.
The average weather during bloom in May starts at 70 and raises to 80 degrees. 2017 had 10 days in May with temperatures above 85 degrees. This led to excessive vigor and laterals leading to an above average “second crop”, which added more manhours to our canopy management. Early wet conditions and high vigor contributed to a difficult canopy management season in a time when the labor force is at a premium.
Intermittent rain events created botrytis pressure, with even more demand on labor passes in the vineyard.
The high wet winter, caused the first 12 inches of the clay topsoil to become extremely hard and limited our ability the cultivation of our cover crops. Our irrigation regime started 2 weeks later, which was some benefit, because we would end up needing that water later in the season.
Verasion in the Petaluma Gap was late and slow to finish due to the abundance of early morning fog where many days didn’t blow off until 1pm. We were green thinning in mid-August and phenolic development was anticipated to be finished September 7-15 on most blocks.
The last weekend of August, most Pinot Noir blocks were still two weeks delayed and the sugars were 20-21 brix. August 26th started 15 days of extreme heat above 95 and 7 days above 104. Diligent watering saved us from catastrophic damage but prompted us to pick our early blocks immediately. The next week set off a furious picking schedule that could not keep up with demand. Labor Day weekend followed with three straight days above 105 degrees without any of the cool Petaluma Gap winds by night. We normally pick our Pinot Noir blocks in a span of about one month to ensure a range of phenolic maturity. In 2017 we picked our entire Pinot Noir in 10 days. In a cruel twist of fate, temperatures dropped after the heatwave to below average temps for 10 days. Many blocks that survived the heat went backward in brix and have turned out to be some of our most intense, opulent lots in our cellar.
When the heat wave hit, Chardonnay was only 17 brix, and got a jolt of sugar, without much phenological maturation. However, once the heat subsided and we had 10 days of below average temperatures with a breeze, Chardonnay was able to get back on schedule and has turned out to be an exceptional year from early indications. We are looking forward to some beautiful Keller Estate Chardonnays! One positive from the heat was the fact that it dried up any botrytis pressure that was previously in the vineyard.
Syrah was generally unaffected by the heatwave due to the fact it was still finishing verasion during the worst part. According to the Sonoma County Grapegrowers Association all reporting AVA’s in Sonoma have recorded the highest “degree day summation” on record for 2017.
Without those 15 days of extreme heat, our opinion is that 2017 would have been one of the better vintages of the decade. With the heat, we can say, the vintage went from exceptional to a wonderful vintage here at Keller Estate.
At Keller Estate, we have two sources of water: ponds and wells. The priorities around here are: Humans, Animals, Vines, Olives and last but not least landscaping. Because of our proximity to the ocean, our soils and our wells tend to have a lot of minerals and there is hard, we use this water for house use. We have to buy all the drinking water, trust me, you do not want our well water in your coffee, but for all human activities we use this water.
Our rain water is collected, and we are thrilled to say that our ponds are completely full, the soil is saturated. However, this does not mean that we will irrigate the vineyards later, or less: Harvest 2017 will be determined by many factors such as the temperatures in March and April, more rain, summer. One of our ponds is specifically kept for wildlife preservation, so, we will continue to see birds using it throughout the year as a safe haven.
At this stage, what is concerning is that the pressure the water is exerting on our ponds is so much that we fear mudslides and possible damage to our ponds. Water is over flowing but we have a small crack on one curtain, which is alleviating some pressure. However, as rain continues to pour, we continue to worry.
For a long time now, we’ve taken our planted for granted and need to understand that the drought, followed by the massive storms, all are related to our habits as humans. Do not use more water than you need, check your toilets, plant drought tolerant plants, take a slightly shorter shower, question your winery how they save water.
At Keller Estate we’ve been growing grapes for 28 years (since 1989) and making wine for 16 years. All of our wines have always been 100% estate grown. For myself, and for our family, this is a source of great pride.
From the beginning, we decided we were only going to make wines from fruit that we could grow on our property. At the time, I don’t think we realized the commitment. It’s a little like having kids: you know they are going to be hard work, but reality always surpasses your imagination!
Sometimes when I see friends who buy fruit from different vineyards, I feel a bit of jealousy: they can go out and find the aromas and flavors they want! For us, we are stuck with ourselves. In order to make different wines, we need to look for the diversity within our vineyard. Sometimes, the different vineyard blocks and their clones are enough, however we have to be very specific on our pick dates, so that gorgeous fruit forward strawberry that we find in pinot noir clone 777, is just right. And then, we must make sure that the opulent 828 gets a bit more time to mature so that we get very intense, ripe cherry flavors. That my friends, is a luxury. From that luxury we begin to make wines just how we envision them. After that, winemaking takes its course, gently guiding the fruit through native fermentations and a gentle process until they arrive to the carefully selected barrels for that specific clone of pinot noir. The barrel must compliment the fruit, never overpower it. With time, we’ve learned, and each year we continue to fine tune this matchmaking.
I’m on my way back from a trip, and it is always good to come home. The wines, now are all resting, maturing, evolving, so we can all focus on making sure wines get to their new owners in time to celebrate the holidays and ring in 2017!
With Thanksgiving around the corner, now is the perfect time to talk about the importance of bees to our food supply. Most people aren't aware of the fact that 1/3 of the food they eat wouldn’t exist without honey bees and other pollinators! In order for a flower to turn into a fruit (anything with seeds on the inside—so this includes all sorts of things we normally think of as veggies, like cucumbers and pumpkins), it must be pollinated by a honey bee or other pollinator.
In order to spread awareness of how essential bees are to our food supply one of our generous sponsors, Whole Foods Market, created the image above. The first photograph shows a normal Whole Foods Market produce section, while the second shows the same section without all the produce that comes from plants dependent pollination (52% of the produce!) This image shows what supermarkets everywhere will look like if bees continue to die off at their current rate of 44% per year (up 3.5% from the 2014-2015 year!) Our diets will be severely restricted, and a lot of the nutrients we need to be healthy will be missing. Your Thanksgiving dinner will have no pumpkin pie, no cranberry sauce, and no green beans, and your stuffing will be missing a few key ingredients!
These photographs highlight the seriousness of the situation. We need to help the bees in order to help ourselves. This Thanksgiving, add bees in the list of things you're grateful for. If you're in the giving mood, you can always say "thank you bees!" by donating to Planet Bee Foundation, and helping us spread our message to thousands of children across Northern California. Keller Estate is proud to support Planet Bee Foundation and we hope you'll consider the bees too! Join us for our Honey Harvest 2016 and support the planet!
With all the forecasts predicting a strong El Nino winter, Keller Estate increased the pounds of cover crop seeds by 50% to insure maximum coverage and to help eliminate soil erosion from the potential heavy rains. The winter conditions turned out to be ideal in all regards with constant light rains mixed with good sunshine. The cover crop stood 2 feet tall by December. Good steady rainfall from Nov-Jan gave the Petaluma Gap a great start in exceeding its normal rainfall. However, February was very dry and resulted in zero rainfall after all forecasts predicted the heaviest El Nino event ever. February recorded 17 days above 70 degrees, topping out with 82 degrees on the 15th. This unseasonably warm weather led to early warming of the soil and we saw our first bud break in the last week of February.
The rains reappeared in March to help reinvigorate the early growth of the vines. These March storms came with unusually cool northern winds and helped counter act the warm February with a more traditional growth cycle.
New additions to Keller Estate’s commitment to sustainable vineyard practices are 20 “Baby doll” sheep to graze within the vineyards. They help in promoting root growth in our cover crop to set nitrogen in the soil and help to reduce the need for roundup beneath the vine row. They also help to eliminate the need for mowing the cover crop, hence reducing our carbon footprint. Currently, the sheep are grazing in the Olive orchards because they still are tall enough to reach the tender grape shoots.
April has been a fantastic growing period with most of our vines increasing to 3 feet or more of canopy growth. All the vines within the Estate have responded extremely well to our ideal early growing conditions but along with that comes an early spray regiment. This is a welcome trade-off since our early sprays are gentle organic oils.
The weather in May has been slightly unpredictable with the presence of early bloom coupled with light rain. The addition of warm weather following the rain reduces the negative impact of rain during bloom which effects fruit set, as was the case in 2015.
We are thrilled to start the year joined by our fellow club members who shared with us their goals for 2016. I’m also thrilled to know that some club members actually read all our newsletter! I hope you will enjoy the book « Hungry for Wine » by Cathy Huyghe. A friend of mine invited me to a dinner party where I had to bring in a bottle that I was «hungry to drink ». I knew there would be media people there since the dinner was with Cathy herself, so I debated what wine to take: Should I bring in a Keller Estate wine? We were having dinner at a fellow winery so I thought it might not be appropriate? In the end, I remembered a bottle I had bought in Paris at a small shop where I had finally found a bottle of one of my Cote de Rotie heroes. I had bought that bottle so that eventually, I could set up a comparative “educational” tasting at the winery. I suddenly realized that I had cellared that wine for over 2 years, and at this rate, I would never actually set up that tasting; I was Hungry for that wine. We opened that bottle, and made it last for all 14 guests, so I probably had a very small pour, but every sip was glorious! I truly wish that you may all have a wonderful 2016 sharing stories and laughs with family and friends, being hungry for wine, and if you can sneak a bottle of Keller Estate, I won’t mind!
Now on to Keller Estate’s Goals for 2016. We are off to a great start. By the end of February, we will have our Sustainability Certification for both the vineyard and the winery. Now the next phase will be to create our new set of action items for next year’s assessment.
Water is at the center of our attention, measuring, reducing and improving our quality and quantity of water used. Our new flock of babydoll sheep just started mowing and fertilizing our vineyards. Olde English Miniature Babydoll Southdown sheep are an ancient breed with sweet, teddy bear faces. Because of their diminutive size, miniature Southdowns make outstanding weeders for use in orchards and vineyards -- they are only 24 inches tall when mature, and so can't easily reach tree branches or trellised grapes. Their small hooves help break the soil surface without compacting it. They move easily up and down hills, and can get into a field or vineyard much earlier than machinery can. And not only do they provide an organic alternative to pesticides and expensive mowing operations, their recycled grass (manure) helps improve soil fertility as well.