Charbono is a grape with a labyrinthine past. Some say it originated in Northwest Italy as the grape Bonarda, and that it closely resembles the varietal Dolcetto in flavor and growing profile. More likely it came from the Savoie region of Eastern France where it is known as Charbonneau, or Doux Noir (“soft black”). In the early 19th Century it was the most widely grown red wine grape in France. It also shows up in the historical record as an Etruscan grape, planted nearly 3,000 years ago. Luckily, it was exported to South America where it continues to thrive in pockets of Argentina, before it was all but wiped out in the Old World by phylloxera in the mid-1800's.
Frey 2011 Organic Charbono
Yet for having such a long track record, it is now considered a rare bird, and there is very little of it planted in California today, hovering around 80 acres. Charbono arrived in Calistoga in the 1880’s at Inglenook Winery, where it remained in production straight through Prohibition as a sacramental wine. It is very late ripening, which can require extra hang time in the vineyard, and puts it in danger of early fall rains that can produce mildew within the tight clusters. The fruit is paricularly slow to reach adequate sugar levels and is often picked at 22-23 brix. However, the longer hang time does allow for the development of mature flavors, even as sugars stay low.
In the U.S., Charbono is considered one of the first cult wines, in part because of its exotic heritage, and also due to its unique flavor profile. Charbono displays a wide range of flavors that can often include kola nut, vanilla bean, cassis, violets, and tar all in one. Although a huge proponent of the unusual grape, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard declares Charbono to be “terminally rustic” because of its bold and uncompromising flavors. In the glass, it is traditionally a deep, inky, purple color and was used most often as a blending grape until it caught on more recently as a single-source varietal.
Our 2011 Organic Charbono comes from 3rd generation grape grower Eddie Graziano in Calpella in Mendocino County. The grapes are from two different blocks, one with old vines planted by Eddie’s grandfather, and the other with 12-15 year-old vines. Our Charbono has aromas of wild berry and oak barrel. On the palate, it is gentle and broad without being heavy. Supple damson plum merges with lengthy opulent tannins. Because of the higher acidity and lower alcohol it can cellar longer than some of our lighter-bodied reds. This would be a fantastic pairing with mustard seed-encrusted roast venison or purée of chestnut soup. This limited release is available in our wine shop.
Sitarani Palomar, co-host of "An Organic Conversation" made this delicious soup for us served with an arugula salad with beluga lentils at a recent organic food event.
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 large yellow onion, sliced
¼ cup + ¼ cup Frey Vineyards Biodynamic Chardonnay
5 threads of saffron
2 ½ pounds heirloom tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Core and quarter the tomatoes and set aside.
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when warmed, add the garlic, sautéing until golden, but not browned. Add the sliced onions, sea salt, and black pepper, and sauté until onions begin to soften. Add ¼ cup of white wine and saffron, and simmer until the wine cooks off, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat add tomatoes, and then divide the ingredients between high-sided sheet trays or casserole dishes. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour.
Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and deglaze with the remaining ¼ cup of wine, stirring to dissolve as much of the browned ingredients as possible. Transfer all vegetables and juices to a high-speed blender with vegetable stock or water. Purée until smooth, and pour back into the larger saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached and flavors have melded. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Pairs perfectly with Frey Vineyards 2014 Biodynamic Chardonnay at lunch for its balanced acidity and complementary depth from light oak flavor. Alternatively, enjoy with the velvety richness of Frey Vineyards 2014 Organic Merlot for a satisfying dinner. Serves 4.
The 2015 North Coast winegrape harvest began earlier than ever. At Frey Vineyards we began crushing grapes on August 24th. The early ripening varieties including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc all matured rapidly and came in quick. Yields of these varieties were also lower than average, leading to worry that the entire 2015 crop would be shorter than expected. Most California wineries can rely on bulk finished wine to compensate for light crop yields. At Frey Vineyards we are limited in our ability to source bulk wines since additive-free wines are not available on the open market.
Organic Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
As we transitioned into harvesting mid-season reds some fields helped make up the difference, with good crops on Merlot, Petite Sirah and some Zinfandel. It became clear early on that the overall quality of the 2015 vintage had potential to be exceptional. With no problem achieving adequate sugars for proper fermentation, late red varieties were allowed ample hang time to become physiologically mature. Not only were the sugars high enough but the grape seeds tasted nutty and the skins shed their bitterness. Meanwhile, seasonable autumn weather preserved optimal acidity for overall balanced fruit flavors.
An inch of rain in early September knocked the dust down and gave the vines a drink to help stall what would otherwise have been a rushed harvest. The rains then held off for another month avoiding any issues with rot and maintaining easy access into the vineyards for harvest equipment.
While we were working to wrap up the earliest harvest on record, my wife Eliza and I also welcomed our second child, Iris Ann Dahlen, into the world. Born on October 12th, in the heat of the last week of harvest, we all felt a sense of relief as the 2015 crush was nearing the end. The final load of grapes, on October 17th, came out of the 50 year-old Easterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard on our home ranch in Redwood Valley, and it was as perfect as its ever been.
Post-harvest organic vineyards in the mist.
Cover crop seeding and fall compost spreading soon followed and went smoothly. We finished in time to take advantage of early November rains. The rains gave the cover crop seed good germination and helped incorporate the compost into the soils. These practices help to feed the soil microorganisms that are the foundation of organic agriculture.
As we put the vines to rest for another winter we can reflect on the previous year. So many things went so well, yet there is always room for improvement. Every trip around the sun we learn from our previous mistakes and inevitably new challenges arise. The only universal constant is change and it is our task to adapt to whatever changes may arise.
Healthy soils, hearty vines, honest wines, happy people! Long live organic wines and family farms!
In our quest at the winery for a carbon neutral impact on our climate, we are always looking for new ways to green our packaging and eliminate waste. In 2013, we began a campaign to modify our wine labels to use 100% post-consumer waste, FSC-certified papers. Now in 2015 we are beta testing a new style of wine bottle closure that is the world’s first closure with a zero carbon footprint. The Select Bio closures from Nomacorc are made with renewable plant-based biopolymers derived from sugarcane. This innovative technology prevents cork taint and oxidation, the closures are produced with 100% renewable energy, and they are 100% recyclable.
Nomacorc's Select Bio closures made from non-GMO sugarcane.
The sugarcane used in the Nomacorc line is grown on non-GMO plantations in Brazil. The sugarcane fields are dry-farmed and replace degraded pastureland, helping to recover soil erosion and increase the carbon content within the depleted soil. Residues from production are closed-looped: they are recycled as fertilization or turned into “bagasse,” a sugarcane bi-product used to produce energy.
Another exciting feature for us is that the Select Bio closures are Demeter® certified. Select Bio closures conform to Demeter’s functional specifications for Biodynamic wines, including the stipulations that a Biodynamic® product must not come into contact with packaging containing chlorine, herbicides, or pesticides.
Our current corks are made from compressed cork shavings fused with a food-based polymer. We have experienced many years of success with them, but we’re always looking for ways to improve our practices with the least amount of environmental impact. There is a general assumption in the wine industry that 3-5% of all wine bottles using a natural cork show some signs of spoilage. The most common reason for spoilage is from oxygen ingress that can occur through the space between the bottle neck and the cork, or through the cork itself. In the case of unsulfited wines like ours, oxygen is a particular culprit in affecting the delicate nature of the wine, so finding the proper closure is imperative. We will be running trials with the Select Bio closures over the next year to ensure that this is the right choice for us.
Frey Vineyards likes to offer customers a wide range of organic and non-sulfited wines. Among other things, this has led us into producing both Syrah and Petite Sirah wines. The similarity in the names leads many to lump them together. In reality they are distinct varietals with unique histories, characteristics and flavors.
Syrah and Petite Sirah are both technically French Rhone varietals but Syrah enjoys a much richer and storied history. Syrah is one of the parent grapes of Petite Sirah, and one of the most widely planted French varietals, while Petite Sirah, although developed in France in the 1860’s, is almost non-existent in Europe!
Syrah is a Noble grape variety and firmly rooted in French winegrowing. Its origins are ancient and legends of its beginnings abound. Syrah may have been referenced by Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder. Some believe it was brought to France by a crusader returning from his journeys and planted in Hermitage, one of the regions famous for its Syrah wines. DNA profiling in 1999 found Syrah to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France: Dureza and Mondeuse blanche, grown for at least 2,000 years. Syrah is a primary component of Côte du Rhone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends in France. In Australia it is Shiraz, the most cultivated grape Down Under. Syrah is the seventh most planted grape in California.
Flavors and styles of Syrah are greatly influenced by climate and growing conditions.
French Syrahs are known for subtle flavors of leather, tobacco and “animale,” an almost indescribable flavor hinting of animal, sweat, man or raw meat. Yum! Australian “New World” Shiraz wines are fruit-forward, spicy and full of jammy plum flavors. California Syrahs vary depending on growing region, and here at Frey Vineyards our winemaker Paul Frey always says it is his favorite to work with. Our Syrahs offer a marriage of the two styles: full-bodied, with forward plum juiciness and a subtle finish of rich earthy tobacco and chewy tannins.
While Syrah and Petite Sirah both made their way to California in the late 1800s, original plantings of Syrah were wiped out by the root-eating Phylloxera louse and weren’t reintroduced until the 1950s. Syrah has gained wide acceptance and is now a common grape, still far behind Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but with over 7,000 acres in production. Petite Sirah plantings in California are older than most other varieties, but it is not widely planted with only an estimated 2,500 acres today.
Unlike Syrah, the origins of Petite Sirah are clear. Petite Sirah was originally named Durif for the viticulturist Francois Durif whose nursery first produced the grape in the 1860s. Durif was bred from a nursery cross-pollination of the noble Syrah grape and Peloursin, an obscure varietal that is now almost extinct in France. For the first century of its existence Durif was seen as nothing more than a useful grape for strengthening weak blends, as it has lots of tannins and color and good acidity.
Durif made its way to California in the late 1800’s where the name Petite Sirah gradually overtook Durif, due to the fact that it is generally less vigorous than Syrah and the berry size is smaller. Local Mendocino County growers commonly refer to their Petite Sirah blocks as their “Pets.” The high skin to juice ratio makes Petite Sirah an inky and full-bodied wine, relatively high in acid with characteristic spicy and peppery tones. Here as well, it was a blender, a common component in field blend plantings where vineyards are planted out to several varieties that are harvested, fermented and aged together. Petite Sirah was not yet embraced as a varietal wine in its own right. That changed in the 1970s and 1980s when California was a hotbed of winemaking innovation and experimentation. Winemakers began to prize Petite Sirah for its unique flavors and cellaring ability and it is now grown throughout the state. In the last fifty years, the grape became more established in the hotter climates of California, Australia, Israel and Mexico than its native Europe.
Frey Vineyards’ Petite Sirah is grown in a relatively cool section of our Redwood Valley Home Ranch, with afternoon shade and cool breezes blowing down the Enchanted Canyon of Mariposa Creek. Our Petite is medium-bodied, with a subtle herbal bouquet, plum and blueberry flavors, and a lingering tannic finish with a touch of spice.
Syrah or Petite Sirah are both well adapted to our hot and dry climate in Inland Mendocino. They are full-bodied rich wines with lots of flavor and color. We encourage you to explore their uniqueness and similarities and look forward to many more vintages of each of these outstanding wines!
Cheers and Happy Springtime!
Peach tree in blossom in Frey organic Syrah vineyard.
April Fools Day dawned early for those who were foolish enough to sign up for vineyard frost protection. The first of April brought our first spring frost in the early morning hours and the first night of Frost Patrol. Temperatures dipped into the low 30s and grape growers throughout Mendocino County scurried about, running overhead irrigation to protect tender new grape shoots from freezing. Looking ahead into April we are anticipating much colder temperatures than we experienced in February and March. We expect many more nights of freezing temperatures before danger of frost ends in mid May.
The current fabled California Drought has created some of the most incredible vintages in recent memory. So far, 2015 has started with the warmest winter on record in California and consequently one of the earliest bud breaks observed on the North Coast. Every variety including Cabernet Sauvignon awoke from dormancy before the first of April. We are fortunately at our average seasonal rainfall for our region now and are looking forward to April showers to bring May flowers - grape flowers, that is!
Mustard cover crop in Frey organic Cab vineyard.
With the cover crops in full bloom and the fields abuzz with insects and birds, we are starting spring field cultivation. We are in the process of spreading composted grape skins, stems and seeds from previous harvests that will be incorporated into the soil when the cover crops are mowed and disked in as a green manure. This introduction of organic matter into the soils year after year is a cornerstone of our organic soil fertility management.
Young plantings of Tempranillo, Barbera and Malbec from 2013 at our Road D Ranch are getting established right on schedule for a first vintage of 2017. This site boasts USGS classified Red Vine Clay Loam soil, renowned for growing hearty red grape varietals in Redwood Valley. We look forward to experimenting with and adding these varieties to our portfolio of organic, additive-free wines.
After three flawless vintages, we are expecting Mother Nature to dish out some heavy weather in 2015. There is an Old Farmer’s Wive’s Tale that for one in every ten years of farming the conditions are perfect, and that is considered the norm. The nine years in between always bring something to complain about. We don’t need 2015 to be an extraordinary year, we’d be perfectly happy with another “normal” vintage! Cheers and good wishes for a happy and healthful spring season!
Crows search for worms and bugs behind the plow.
Harvesting Frey Organic & Biodynamic Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Due to a warm spring and hot dry summer conditions, the 2014 harvest started 2 weeks ahead of average. The first three weeks were very busy because all of the white varietals got ripe at the same time. September and early October were hot, and all berries reached optimal sugar levels ahead of other years, so clusters were allowed to hang and reach physiological ripeness, with nutty seeds, non-bitter skins and gentle tannins. We got some much-needed rain during harvest, but it wasn’t enough to alleviate drought conditions or damage fruit. Across the board, the quality was exceptional and yields were near average.
Vineyard Manager Derek Dahlen at the weigh station.
Frey Vineyards is now farming a new ranch here in Redwood Valley! The Walt Ranch is planted with Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet and Petite Sirah grapes and was managed organically by veteran grape grower Tony Milani for the past 25 years. Tony passed away in March and we look forward to carrying on his tradition of organic grape farming on this beautiful land.
Adam Frey rescues a Pileated Woodpecker.
This year we had visits from several wildlife friends: deer, fox, turkeys and woodpeckers, who live in the adjacent forests and venture out night and day to feast on grapes. We have a mama bear and 2 cubs visiting our apple and fig trees, nightly. Adam Frey rescued a wounded Pileated woodpecker at Road D Ranch and nursed it back to health. Although they eat valuable fruit, we are happy to be surrounded by forests that provide habitat for healthy populations of wild animals, no matter their occasional nibbling!
Moving into November, cover crop seeding, Biodynamic horn manure spraying and compost spreading are nearly completed for the season. We are getting some nice rains this week to enliven the soil for the horn manure and ensure good germination of the cover crops. The grape leaves are turning to fall colors and the vines are headed for dormancy for the winter. The vineyards and their keepers are looking forward to a lull until pruning begins after the winter solstice. In the meantime, we are praying for more rain. Please join us in that endeavor!
We look forward to sharing an excellent 2014 vintage with you soon. Cheers!
Harvest 2014 is over!
Éva-Marie Lind, parfumeur and CEO/founder of EM Studios Arome in Portland, Oregon, provides us with her next installment of tasting notes for Frey organic and Biodynamic wines. EM Studios Arome specializes in aromatic and olfactory artistry, with a concentration on whole earth ingredients, sensory attunement, and botanical beauty. We love how Éva-Marie’s poetic descriptions take us out of the ordinary Wine Tasting 101 textbook and into a fecund and ethereal world.
2013 Organic Sauvignon Blanc
Sheer delight met my nose as cherries, vanilla and the inference of the sweet, honeyed 2-penylethyl acetate found in freesia danced forward. In the mouth, a symphony of tropical fruit, the blush of apricot feathered with bergamot, and the fragrance of blackberry flowers where they join at the vine. She unfolds as a mountain creek tumbling over rock, opening into deeper and brighter clarity that is held fast to the zest of Sicilian lemon embellished with the slight tang of star fruit.
2013 Organic Chardonnay
Near luminescent in her aroma, she blossoms into hints of pale early spring tulip petals and the inner breath of white lotus, kissed by moon glow, just before dawn. This one jumps forward with a lovely clarity, yet she is surprisingly voluptuous in the mouth where a momentary splash of pink grapefruit announces the structured waltz of d’anjou pear with the inner blushed heart of a pink lady apple, delicately hugged by a butterscotch cape and offering a lovely crisp, well-lingering finish.
2013 Organic Pinot Noir
Meeting my nose appealingly soft with a subtle floral heart sidling to a blush of blueberries and a whisper of balsam fir and clean earth. What appears more simple and straight forward, begins to triumph in the mouth as her elegantly crisp, drier bouquet opens into a more pronounced impression of golden osmanthus blooms and a layering of fruity leather, a touch of tabac, a sheathing of black licorice, and a smooth velour finish.
2013 Biodynamic® Merlot
The delightful surprise of slight toffee malt and new bud spruce meets your nose, with an inference of tamarind, greeting a blushing orchestration of dark berries on the vine. In the mouth, plush and full-bodied, expressing a marion berry compote, teased by the outer shell notes of pink pepper playing tag at the edges, holding hands with the sheerest inference of the sweetened dry-down notes of saffron. Tannins fill the mouth, drawing all these chords together into a brilliant subtlety, as when standing at the center of an orchard at nightfall when sunset blushes upon warm fruit and exhausted air settles into a harmonious center.
There has been a lot of talk about drought this year in California, and two months ago we were in the middle of one of the driest winters on record. Thankfully, since the beginning of February we have seen nearly 30 inches of rainfall in Mendocino County. Lake Mendocino, which provides water locally and for heavier populated Sonoma County downstream is finally filling up. Now, looking around, all of our ponds are overflowing, the hillsides are radiating brilliant shades of green, and the grapevines are awakening from their winter dormancy by sprouting fresh shoots.
Organic Syrah budding out, Frey Vineyards.
While grapes can survive in extremely dry climates, water is crucial to grape growing in areas of California like ours for frost protection. While the vines are breaking bud and the tender new growth that will become the fruiting wood for the season is emerging, we often experience killing freezes that can jeopardize the fruit and decimate a vine’s ability to produce to its full potential. To avoid frost damage grape growers use overhead sprinklers. When the nighttime temperatures approach freezing we turn on sprinklers which keep the temperature at 32 degrees and prevent damage to young shoots and leaves. We are still expecting to see some spring frosts, but so far nothing of consequence. This is good for two reasons: it allows us to save our precious water for irrigation during the dry months and it allows grape farmers to get some sleep instead of prowling the vineyards checking thermometers in the wee hours of freezing nights.
The month of April is quite often rampant with the anxieties of spring fever, and this year is no exception. We are wrapping up our vine pruning and tying work. Pruning is very important because it allows a farmer to control crop load, which directly affects quality. We are also moving full speed ahead with our mowing and cultivating operations. The grape prunings are chopped with a shredder and incorporated back into the soil. Disking in between vine rows incorporates organic matter from cover crops and also locks moisture in the soils by breaking capillary action that allows evaporation through the ground.
Long-range forecasts are calling for a hot and dry summer. During hot summers with temperatures over 100 degrees, Mendocino County enjoys temperature swings of up to 50 degree between day and night. This provides the setting for excellent fruit quality because the daytime heat leads to good sugar development and the cool nights keep the acid high, yielding rich and balanced fruit. Although there are still at least five months until we begin harvest, with quite a few variables to consider, I am beginning to believe that this year is going to be a top-notch vintage!
Spring chickens (and a duck) in organic Syrah Vineyard.
We created Organic Agriculturist Blanc exclusively for Whole Foods customers nationwide, later to be available everywhere. It comprises a delicious blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling grapes. Blended as a counterpart to the original Frey Organic Agriculturist red wine, the Blanc follows suit as a food-friendly and versatile white.
Fermentation in stainless steel and minimal manipulation in the cellar keep the flavors crisp and clean. Aromas of honeysuckle lead the way to refreshing tropical fruit flavors, nuanced by starfruit and lychee. Lush Chardonnay forms the body of the blend and Sauvignon Blanc delivers a hint of sweetgrass. A whisper of 5% Riesling provides a delicate touch of citrus-honey on the finish. Like the floral wreath engraving on the label, the Organic Agriculturist Blanc is the epitome of summer’s bounty waiting to burst forth.
Pairs well with grilled fish topped with peach salsa, or Vietnamese lettuce wraps with a sweet chili dipping sauce.
The label features Lily & Rosie Frey at work in the vineyard. The "A Day in the Life..." column reminds us that we know how to intersperse the hard work with good times here at Frey Ranch. The QR code leads to our upcoming video about young organic farmers and our commitment to caring for the earth for future generations.
Look for Organic Agriculturist Blanc at your local Whole Foods market later this spring!
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