After a near perfect growing season for the second year in a row, the 2013 grape harvest began fast, furious and early. The first grapes came through the crush pad on August 27th, about 2-3 weeks earlier than usual. Then an exceptionally warm and dry autumn stretched the harvest out for 10 weeks until the final load of grapes came in on November 4th! The first and last grapes to pass through the crusher this year were Chardonnay, often the first varietal to be wrapped up. In 33 years of winemaking at Frey Vineyards this has never happened! Every year is different and 2013 was no exception.
Derek, Andy & Adam, organic grape harvest, 2013!
Although we had our average of around 50 inches of rain this year, it fell in an abnormal pattern. December 2012 gave us some near flooding rainfall to contend with and we were anticipating a typically wet January 2013 as well, but it barely rained. Next came February, then March, then April, then May. With less than 6 inches of rainfall going into June we were expecting a California drought-like summer, and that is exactly what we got. Wild weather events included a little storm in June, a thundershower on 4th of July after seven days of 100+ degree weather, no rain in August, and an unusually wet storm at the end of September.
Not only was 2013 much drier than usual, it was quite a bit hotter as well. We saw numerous April days in the 90’s. May was next to normal aside from a rogue frosty night on the 28th that nipped the tender flower clusters in some Syrah and Merlot vineyards. June had six days that broke 100 degrees plus another eight days in the 90’s. The dry, windy 111 degree day on Saturday the 8th of June was especially devastating for our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The delicate grape flowers were just beginning to set berries, and in some fields we actually watched them falling off in the breeze. The fruit simply got cooked in the heat.
After surviving 17 days between 100 and 112 degrees in July the vines enjoyed a relatively mellow August in Redwood Valley. With all the stress associated with the dry heat we began to see veraison (grape color change) in mid-July as opposed to early August. We had to kick it into high gear to prepare for an early and potentially fast-paced harvest. We had just completed installing irrigation and planting almost 16 acres of new vines in three different fields when harvest began with a bang!
The first weeks in August were full of activity. We harvested white grapes in the wee hours of the morning to bring them in cold for optimal whole cluster pressing. We spent time working out the mechanical kinks in the equipment and started the process of visiting vineyards to test sugars and acids and lay out the harvest schedule. Everything seemed to be happening at once, but then the weather shifted.
Despite two wet storms in September, October provided near perfect fall ripening conditions. We let our red grapes hang until they were fully physiologically ripe, perfect for organic, low intervention winemaking. With the good weather the sense of urgency lessened and we had one of our longest harvest seasons. It started early and stretched into a slow, lingering finish after 69 days. The wines are still young but are tasting great! We look forward to a great vintage with outstanding quality. Get ready for some delicious 2013 wines. Cheers!
Sometimes it’s what’s under our noses that is most readily overlooked. Take Frey wine for example. Every day, I answer customers’ questions and extol the virtues of our organic and Biodynamic wine being free of harmful pesticides, free of added sulfites, and free of gluten. I explain how we use holistic vineyard management to sustain a healthy balance in the vineyard instead of reaching for chemical sprays and fertilizers, and how we rely only on naturally occurring sulfites on the skins of grapes without adding any extra sulfites. “And yes, all our wines are gluten-free,” I assuredly confirm.
“But why would wine not be gluten-free?” I found myself asking a year ago, just after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, an auto-immune disease that results in gluten intolerance. Traditional wine is made entirely from fermented grapes and yeast, not wheat, barley, or rye, the glutinous foes of any celiac sufferer. I had already switched to gluten-free beer at that point to avoid the barley in regular brew; why would wine other than Frey suddenly be on the chopping block? And, if other wine is at risk from gluten, what is it that makes Frey wine inherently gluten-free?
I went straight to the source and asked our winemaker, Paul Frey. From my conversation with Paul I learned that wine can come into contact with gluten at two different points during the winemaking process. The first is through the barrel itself. At some cooperages, barrel makers put a small amount of wheat paste in the croze, or groove carved into the top of the staves that secures the barrel head, to help seal the barrel. Although this is known to be a traditionally European practice, several California cooperages I contacted, including barrel makers for Constellation Brands, and Stavin, a popular barrel liner company, use an unbleached flour paste to assure a leak-proof seal on the barrel head. At Frey, we ferment our wine in stainless steel tanks, eliminating the need for any barrel contact. In some of our reds, where oak aging is desired, we submerge oak barrel stave chips that have never had contact with wheat paste. These virgin chips impart an oaky flavor that adds a layer of depth and complexity to our wines.
The second point that gluten can be used in winemaking is during the fining process, which is done to clarify wine. The practice of fining involves using a fining agent to react with color and/or tannin molecules to make them removable by subsequent filtration. Both the fining agent and the color or tannins it reacts with are removed by the filtering; the particles bind to the solids and drop out because they are heavier than the wine. Common fining agents are often protein-based and can include micronized wheat, potassium caseinate (casein is milk protein), food-grade gelatin, egg albumin, or isinglass powder, made from fish bladders. At Frey, we only filter our white wines and we only use bentonite clay as a fining agent. For our reds, Paul Frey prefers other less manipulative techniques to clarify, like softening by aeration. Not only does this mean that our organic wines are free of gluten, but they are also vegan-friendly, because no animal products were used as a fining agent.
Studies have shown that wines fined with wheat show test results with residual gluten levels below the 20ppm threshold required for gluten-free status. And for those wines that are fermented in barrels, most wineries thoroughly pressure wash all barrels with boiling water or steam-clean them before they are used, which would potentially cut down on the possibility of cross-contamination. However, in an effort to control my celiac disease, I‘ve ransacked my medicine cabinet to toss out lip gloss and hairspray made with wheat protein, run out and bought a new cutting board (no crumbs!), and I confine my martini-mixing to potato vodka only. Why would I risk cross-contamination in wine? I do love wine from all over the globe, but knowing what I know now I plan to research a winery a little more ahead of time, seek out wines fermented only in stainless steel, and ask questions about what types of fining agents are used. Most assuredly, I know I can always enjoy a glass of Frey wine with confidence!
All Frey Wines are gluten-free!
Chloe is a musician, teacher and writer residing in Northern California. Her website can be found here.
The Natural Red table wine from Frey Vineyards couldn’t be more welcoming. It is an old friend who may not know the finer details of your every-day life, but who never fails to invite you over for a glass when you most need it. Such is this wine. It is not complex, nor is it showy. It is sincere. It is full of warmth and body. It gives a good hug.
From Pour to Finish
Directly after the pour, blackberries filled the glass. They were heavy and excited, the first bloom of summer fruit. After twenty minutes, the blackberries calmed down, and invited blueberries and black currants to their midst. Apples were the wallflower; barely there but keenly observant, promising to deliver a witty remark later. The bold berries were the life of the gathering, yet unpretentious and approachable. Already, the fruits longed to be balanced by the brooding, hopeful tellicherry peppercorn, roasted in olive oil. Already, white fish was on the menu.
The first sip was surprising. There was small acidic bite, and a fresh body reminiscent of the aroma when I first popped the cork. A bottle full of summer blooms. It balanced quickly as the berries took the main stage, smoothing the texture and solidifying the overall fruity character. And then it was over. No sooner had the berries began chatting, than the apple I detected earlier, peaked, delivered a cutting one-liner, and the finish arrived. It was decisive and strong. The berries exited the floor in a melancholy fashion, kicking up dust, leaving the dryness of empty blackberry vines in their wake.
It was as a day in mid-September, when night falls a little sooner than expected, but no one is worse for wear, because the day was so refreshing. No sooner had the dry soil and empty blackberry vines of Northern California been alluded to, than the undertones of sage and marjoram arrived. They were a pleasant addition to the wine’s character, a sudden depth, and would lead to the ultimate choice for the pairing.
From the aroma alone, I would’ve suggested striped bass with a peppercorn, chili, and lime relish, and an avocado garnish. But after the finish dropped off, a Provençal herbal dish seemed more appropriate, to encourage a more gradual finish. With the right pairing, the finish will echo faintly on the palate, rather than skip away before the dishes are cleaned up.
The Frey Natural Red requires a baked white fish, trout or striped bass, a strong salt-of-the-earth flavor to coax the herbal notes from the wine.
Main dish: Marinate the fish fillets in dried herbs, including thyme, marjoram, one dried bay leaf, several whole garlic cloves, fresh parsley, and a diced quarter of a red onion. Sprinkle Himalayan sea salt over. Bake the fillets in foil. Serve with fresh parsley and a wedge of lemon, on a bed of spring greens (including arugula!).
Side dish: roast whole Tellicherry peppercorns in a cast iron pan, add a liberal amount of jalapeño olive oil (if unable to locate, add a pinch of finely diced jalapeño pepper to Extra Virgin olive oil), and let sit for two minutes. Dice a dozen or so cherry tomatoes, and fry until cherry tomatoes are soft. Top with fresh parsley.
Also heat a loaf of rosemary bread in the oven, serve next to the side dish. Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano would go well over either the main dish or the side dish – take your pick.
All in All
If you’re looking to recreate summertime in the late fall, pair this wine with a richly earthy herbal fish dish. For dessert? Try a lemon meringue bar topped with a couple of fresh blackberries. So, pick up a bottle and a couple of old friends, and make a late summer feast with a couple bottles of this Frey Natural Red. Hugs all around.
It’s been a very busy summer here. Our 2013 crop is shaping up very well. In spite of the various weather extremes, frost at the end of May and heat spikes in July, the grapes are thriving. Cabernet Sauvignon looks particularly robust. It’s a one in five year heavy crop set. Cabernet continues to be our most popular red varietal and we have a delicious 2011 offering right now.
The grapes are moving into veraison, a term that indicates the berries beginning to change color. Green Chardonnay grapes soften to a frosted gold and begin to acquire their individual flavors reflecting this particular time and place. Each year the wines tell a different story. For example our 2012 Organic Chardonnay is filled with distinctive, crisp fruit and a caramel golden finish; a mirror of the great harvest of 2012.
Veraison of Frey organic Zinfandel grapes.
Pinot Noir berries are the first reds to reach veraison, moving from green to a luscious purple. It looks like a great Pinot year, which is a good thing since our popular 2012 Pinot is selling so briskly that it will soon be gone.
There are now 14 new acres of grapes, Tempranillo, Muscat, Barbera and Malbec.
The Malbec will probably become part of one of our popular blends, Natural Red, Organic Agriculturist and Biodynamic® Field Blend. We’re discovering blends have the capacity to become a complex intriguing whole that is more than their individual parts.
Frey biodynamic zinfandel vineyard and row of olive trees.
Thirteen billion bottles of wine are consumed annually -- that’s a lot of corks left over when the drinking is done! At present, the majority of corks end up in landfills instead of in re-use applications; in the hands of ReCork, they can have a second use. ReCork is North America’s largest cork recycling initiative and is giving wine corks new life in the form of footwear and other upcycled products.
With the help of over 1,700 recycling partners, ReCork has collected over 44 million corks. ReCork frequently partners with wineries, restaurants, wine bars, grocery stores and hotels to collect natural corks. Once collected, the corks are ground down and repurposed for use in new consumer products. SOLE, ReCork’s parent company, produces cork-soled footwear for women and men. In addition to shoes, recycled cork can also be used in flooring, gaskets, bulletin boards, sports equipment, and even used as a soil amendment in compost (natural cork is a valuable source of CO2 retention).
Compared to aluminum screwcaps and petroleum-based plastic plugs, the production of traditional cork wine stoppers has the smallest environmental footprint. While some alternative closure manufacturers are beginning trial recycling efforts, natural cork is still the easiest and best material to recycle: it is biodegradable, renewable, energy efficient, sustainable and 100% natural.
Unlike many forest products, cork oaks are never cut down for their bark. Cork oaks (Quercus suber L.) provide an ideal sustainable crop during a life cycle that lasts over 200 years. A mature, 50 year-old tree can be harvested approximately every 9 years for the life of the tree. Here in California, you can find giant cork oaks on the grounds of the State Capital in Sacramento, on the campus of UC Davis, and a few scattered around as specimen trees in Mendocino County. However, the Mediterranean basin is where most of the world's cork is sourced. There are nearly 6 million acres of cork forests in the Mediterranean regions of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France, with Portugal being the largest producer by far. The Mediterranean cork oak forests are the basis of an ecosystem which is unique in the world, and which contributes to the survival of many native species of plants and animals, including the endangered European gray wolf and the Mountain Iberian wild goat. It is also a source of employment for tens of thousands of agricultural workers. In addition to their recycling program, ReCork has partnered with QUERCUS (the Portuguese National Association for Nature Conservation) and Criar Bosques, a tree planting initiative in Portugal, and planted over 8,000 cork oaks in the Mediterranean.
Want to know how to get involved? The simplest way is to drop off your corks at a ReCork Public Collection Partner in your area. We’ve been collecting our corks at the Frey Ranch and then dropping them off at our local Ukiah Food Co-op, but you can use ReCork’s nifty drop-off locater to find a location near you. If there is no partner in your area, you can send your corks directly to ReCork in 15lb increments, shipping charges paid. 15lbs equals about 1650 corks (that’s a lot of Frey wine!) so we recommend banding together with your neighbors or workplace to make a joint effort in collecting. By recycling a simple cork stopper we can visualize the product source, its evolution into a useful natural product, and its potential for an extended life far beyond its first use in a bottle of fine wine.
"The Organic Vineyard Alliance (OVA) is a group of winemakers, retailers and distributors who have come together to educate, inform and enlighten you about the benefits of organic wine." - From the OVA Website.
For those of you who love staying informed about the latest in the organic wine industry, a great new website has just been launched. The Organic Vineyard Alliance has been spearheaded by seasoned industry members and offers knowledge and clarification around organic wine.
The site is easy to navigate and full of great information. There is a series of videos featuring our executive director Katrina Frey and other organic winemakers. Also check out the awesome table that lays out the differences between wine categories including USDA Organic, Made with Organically grown grapes, Biodynamic and more.
As time goes on this website is sure to become a clearinghouse for the savvy consumer who wants to keep up to date on the latest and greatest that the industry has to offer. Start exploring now!
We've long known that Pinot Noir is widely popular among this planet's wine lovers. What we didn't know was which brand is likely favored in the galaxy at large. George Takei (Sulu) of Star Trekfame gives his best guess, spotted recently in Los Angeles by our intrepid regional rep Lee Boek. Looks like only organic wine gets beamed up! Thanks for the photo, Lee!
Sulu preparing to beam up.
Our lovely vegan-friendly Organic Chardonnay has been nominated for Vegetarian Times' 2013 Foodie Awards!
In January of this year, Craig Wilkinson, founder of Quantum Culture, a venture creating and trading biodynamically produced and processed goods, visited us here at the winery during the annual Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC) meeting. Craig had been looking forward to conducting an experiment with Biodynamic® dyes for some time, so the weekend BDANC conference at Frey Vineyards was the ideal testing ground. Craig prepared biodynamically grown cotton tee shirts and bandannas in a mordant of alum, and formulated three dye baths: one made from grape lees, another from a filtered grape juice, and one from actual finished wine. Of his experiments, Craig provides the following notes:
- The first dye bath was made from a slightly diluted soupy batch of grape lees, which are the sediment left following the grape crush. The mix was heated for several hours and again the following day. The colors it produced were the lightest of the three baths.
- The second dye bath was made from ‘waste wine,’ which is grape juice collected from the pre- and post-pumping process. The colors were very nice with darker results.
- The third bath was made from nearly a case of 2005 Frey Biodynamic® Syrah made from biodynamically grown grapes. The color was beautiful, and the darkest of the three. The color set very quickly for both the juice and wine, and required no filtering, which made it easier and efficient to work with. Luke Frey and I enjoyed a glass of the Syrah while opening and pouring bottles of wine into the dye vat.
We’re excited about the range of colors, the colorfastness, and the potential for a volume dye bath made from biodynamic winemaking byproducts, and we’re appreciative of Craig’s dedication to the project. Please visit quantumculture.com to view the scope of the research project and find more products made from biodynamically grown cotton.
Ann Krohn & Eliza Frey in tee’s dyed with grape juice and the 2005 Frey Biodynamic® Syrah pictured here.
It's April and things are jumping in our Biodynamic vineyards! We've just completed pruning, and now are tying the newly pruned canes onto the trellis.
Alex Babbitt returning for his third year with us, here among the crops of fava beans, field peas and clovers that have fixed atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, and now are being mowed.
The April days are warm, but frost still threatens some nights. Our valiant frost team of Adam, Derek, Tommy and Jonathan are alerted by remote thermometers when the temperature dips to 36 degrees. Then they arise from warm beds and head to the fields to be poised to turn on sprinklers just before temperatures reach the freezing point. The moving water protects the tender grape buds and stays on until the sun rises. It's common to have frosts in April, and not unheard of to have a frost or two in May.
Preparation is also underway to plant 12 more acres of vines. We're very excited to be introducing six new varietals into our vineyards. Two acres each of Malbec, Grenache, Moscato, Barbera, Tempranillo (Spain's noble grape) and Vermentino, also known as Rolle, are all varietals that should thrive in our climate. If all goes well, we'll begin making unique organic wines from them in 2016!