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Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Holiday!

Yeah, you know the one. Even if you didn't buy all the Rosa d'Oro wine you should have (shame on you), have a good one. We got our present early, a nice newly-pruned olive orchard.Niiice.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

As we experience our own little arctic blast, work continues. The 2007 Primitivo was bottled over the last two days, a record (for us) 260 cases produced. And the pruning work which dominates Spring starts early with the olive trees getting a much needed trim, and the unfortunate realization that we missed a lot of olives!

Monday, December 8, 2008

We are still here - more to come soon

Thoughts are now on bottling olive oil, our 07 wines, and how to sell in a bad economy without a distributor or Robert Parker to help. Thankfully we have our cool tasting room, the heart and soul of it all. Feel free to visit! We have released our 2006 Barbera and will be releasing our 2007 Sangiovese any day now. We also have our off-dry Moscato Giallo for tasting room customers only.
Rosa d'Oro Tasting Room - 3915 Main Street, Kelseyville, CA 95451
Tasting room hours:
Wednesday thru Saturday 10:30-6:30,
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday 11-5
(707) 279-0483

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Grape pressing basics

How do you press them grapes? Well, after you stomp them real hard and you have decided that they are ready to press (which depends on lots of factors such as tannin, extraction, fruit versus depth, complexity, etc.) you:set up the old "Idropress", the Italian standby used the world over. It relies on a rubber bladder in the middle the fills with water, gently pressing outward toward the wood staves of the basket, which are held together in two separate parts by metal brackets. The press wine is then caught in a sloping moat, allowing it to gently cascade away into the catch basin from where it is pumped to another tank (or drum/barrel for fining before being mixed in with free-run).The clips are holding a plastic mesh screen just inside the staves.The next step is to find a shovel monkey, preferably one with an ethnicity that tastefully frames your wine within its varietal paradigm. We can call this guy Lucca, say he is from Lucca since he is shoveling Sangiovese - and boy does he eat a lot of pasta. (Actually his name is Brett, we hates wine, loves guacamole burgers and only drinks Tecate).The press is loaded to the top, with some gentle tamping down, the lid is screwed down, the hose turned on, and slowly it rises to about 40 psi in our case, tasting all the way to make sure the press wine is desirable - it can be very tannic, sometimes seedy tasting, but good for colloidal stability and adding some earthiness to the wine. We fined the Primitivo this year but have left the others alone as they were plenty tasty. After 15-20 minutes, when it slows to a dribble and we grow impatient, the two haves are separated, and you are left with the press cakeor pommace that is broken down into a bin, and later taken back out into the field for reincorporation into the soil. The press holds approximately three to four barrels worth of skins, so a 12-barrel batch would take three press loads. Nice, simple, contollable, gentle, and basic. Perfect for our size. And here is the press naked, ready for more work,unlike Brett, I mean Lucca, who seems to disappear on numerous lunch breaks throughout the day.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Two things that don't go great together

Ah, the whole family picking olives, what a great way to spend quality time together. This has been a very odd year. Our grapes are slow, Sonoma and Napa were claiming super early. Guys a mile away have already picked their Cabernet and our undercropped Barbera still isn't ready. But, the olives are! About two weeks early too. The walnuts fell five days ago, and they usually follow our Aglianico after November first. Oh well, it is actually slotting in nicely.
On the wine front, we pressed the Dolcetto today: stats are about 9 1/2 barrels, sitting at 3.6 pH (they are low on malic acid so probably will stay just below 3.7 pH), dead on 13.9% alcohol, 15-day maceration (4 day soak)and pressed at about 3% residual sugar to finish up. It looks great, not super complex (it never is) but a very nice rich fruit blast with some chocolate and almonds, and good grippy tannins that make your mouth water and want more of that ragu. We are feeling pretty good about it. The Primitivo is also at about 3% sugar and again showing that it is way more delicate than a big burly Zin. The Primi is always the nail biter, tending to go wildly in many directions, making decisions like pressing very difficult. 2005 went Zin-style. 2007 has become a bit lighter in body but darker in flavor, almost Burgundian with dark back-palate and black cherry up front with real fine structure (this one should turn out real good folks). When we figure out where it wants to go, this time, we'll let you know. Oh yeah, Sangiovese is underway too. Weather forecast is good for another 10 days, and we are barely half through with our Barbera (some for rose), our Aglianico, and the big daddy Nebbiolo a mile down the road still hanging.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tools of the trade

Quick quiz: What is the bizarre looking implement to the left? A javelin? Irrigation pipe? Blow gun? No silly, it is an aeration rig. It is the Macgyverish nature of small vineyards and wineries to create interesting devices to get around practical problems. Usually involving PVC, zip ties, or hose clamps. In this case, we want to aerate our fermenting must for the sake of yeast health and also acetaldehyde bridging for tannin structure and color. The cool kids all use racking or pump-over carts for this, far too pricey for us. So instead we hook this rig up to the air compressor, the ball valve at the top keeps it at a low pressure, and the diffuser at the bottom has a bunch of very fine holes, hopefully adding oxygen to the must. Hand punch downs usually accomplish this my submerging the cap in small portions with air trapped in the floating skings, reintroducing it into the ferment. Nice, simple, and easy, though nowhere near as cool as the pump-over carts to remove seeds for delestage. This we are trying to approach now by pumping over out of the racking valve primarily to avoid pumping seeds and hastening seed coat breakdown in our more tannic wines, like the Dolcetto and Aglianico. The Primitivo has a disposition toward grainy astringency so we are being careful with it, though it seems a little too delicate to gobble up much oxygen. Our Primi is not big, jammy Zin style. The Nebbiolo will be hand punched only, just like grandpa used to do it. We are rustic, but smart enough to know how the real guys do it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fire up the wind machine... (again)...

The picture has nothing to do with this post. It is just a reminder that winery dogs are dumb and pedestrian. Winery cats (like squids here) eats everything from bugs to lizards to gophers, requires little attention (an occasional brushing), and doesn't ever smell like a wet dog. Anyway, things are getting a little tense here. Possible frost the next two nights, and we are still waiting on most of our crop. Flavors have almost hit a dead stop, and what was supposedly an early season is starting to look typically late. Tomorrow I will start selectively picking the Primitivo, a few days earlier than we would like based on flavors, but sugars are soaring, acid is dropping, and weather is iffy. Right now the berries are very hazelnut and delicate-floral heavy, no raspberry jam and black pepper Zinfandel flavors in sight, even if the clusters (pictured last post) look the same.
Next week we should have Sangiovese and the Primi fermenting away. Barbera, Aglianico, and Nebbiolo are two weeks away at least. We are low alcohol/low oak and don't want to pick over 25 brix as a general rule, and this causes some anxious nail biting as October wears on. Our frost damage was minor compared to some. But the bit of rain and near-freezing nights slow everything to a crawl. Not to mention that we can't heat our outdoor fermentation tanks, and the Dolcetto is still below 70 degrees; a whole other anxiety issue. It will all work out as it always does, but it won't be easy. In addition our light olive crop will be ready next week possible. Hopefully we can get a half-ton together, the minimum to make pressing worth it. The arbequinas we might just cure ourselves, hopefully to be eaten in a future, food serving tasting room on a charcuterie plate. Keep your fingers crossed.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Frustrating Crljenak Kaštelanski

Primitivo, the descendant of Crljenak Kaštelanski along with Zinfandel, shares the same maddening nature. Notice the green shot berries (hens and chicks), a couple poorly colored berries, a few perfectly ripe berries, raisins (which we hate), and maybe even a touch of black rot. This is what Zinfandel sometimes looks like, and what some of our Primitivo always looks like. Alegedly introduced into Apulia in the 1700's, Primitivo is brother or sister to Zinfandel, and if you Zinfandel aficionados have any question, they look the same (though we believe our Primitivo has a different structure). I removed a lot of shoulders on clusters this summer, and now realize that trimming the wings seems to have balanced out the uneven growth, just like those high-priced, classy guys in Sonoma County do. Part of the charm is that the variable ripeness (supposedly) gives some depth to the wine, with tart acid underripe grapes alongside overripe jam bombs. This is a varietal that you will lose sleep over, unlike Dolcetto and Barbera, but somehow it ends up working like magic in the end. The skins are very thin this year, so structure is questionable, and flavors seem thin - floral and nice, but thin. Carlyle Zinfandel this will not be. Our Primitivo is actually split amongst three blocks though, all with different growth patterns, and right now they are all about a week apart. I am very worried, but the magic in the fermentor can still come together, especially with a long maceration. All I know for sure is that the birds prefer it to all other grapes in our vineyard. They have ruined probably half a ton. We'll take it as a complement.

Dolcetto is cookin'

The Dolcetto looks good. The 2007 was on the more traditional side, a touch tart with a light body in the Piemonte Alba-type style. The 2008 looks to be more like the 2005 - fuller bodied, fully dry chalky tannins, with a round mid-palate (we hope). The Dolcetto likes to be a mid-cropper, and we were at about 3 1/2 tons for the acre - right on target. The berries juiced readily but the flesh was in good shape. It was a touch over 25 brix, just under 14% potential alcohol, right on target. The acid, well, this is Lake County,"high" elevation, very dry, lots of heat, almost no irrigation. We are starting of with native yeasts (the Dolcetto block is right in front of the winery and gets a lot of pommace recycled into it) and then will innoculate half way through with BM 4x4, a newer version of the BM45 Brunello yeats we frequently use. Color is fantastic after two days. The flavors are a bit simple, but hopefully we can help it to open up. My personal dream is to built a Sagrantino di Montefalco style out of it. The Dolcetto can't match the aromatic complexity of that particular Umbrian varietal, and we can't get the haunting blackberry Bordeaux-like element, but the tannins and backbone line up well, and the Dolcetto can make up for it with a firm cherry blast. Next up will be the Primitivo, and it is all over the board, probably to be picked in three installments. So much for a simple harvest. It looks to be much more challenging than the Dolcetto this year.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Progress report 10/1

This is where I start to get excited. Nick gets that stressed-out, headache look, but I love harvest. It only comes once a year (for grape growers anyway) and you had better not screw it up. The Dolcetto will start us off as it normally does on Friday, and what we thought was a nice, spread-out harvest is compressing into one big free-for-all. Water stress means we will start pulling select Primitivo vines on Saturday as some vines are starting to defoliate (most look good though). Trying to dry-farm is tough. It all looks good and then a heat spike throws it all away. Three days over 100 a few weeks ago made for serious fragility.
Crazy thing is: the olives are virtually ready. The crop is incredibly light, almost too little to pick. We are thinking of curing them this year, maybe. The picture shows the tale. This was the most dense selection I could find.
The first picture is our Dolcetto about 12 days ago - cropped o.k., happy and healthy. It looks good this year - possibly really good. The second picture is Barbera - a very heavy cropper normally. Look how light the crop is with no thinning at all. The Barbera on the west side of our property had heavy frost damage. It looks to be at around two tons to the acre (this picture). Our back block of younger vines has been thinned and is probably around four to five! They are only 400 feet apart, but the younger vines are closer to the wind machine! The heavy crop will go for Rose this year, and our older vines will produce the mega-Barbera. I will try to post a little map as each block has a specific place-ness (don't use the t-word!) to its growth patterns and soil issues (except for the gophers, which are everywhere). In a few years, with some increased vine age, dry farming should work.This year, everything got one shot of drip irrigation in August, at veraison. Right now though, it is a delicate balance. It has been a very dry, hot year. The vines sort of stalled out a week ago, but now flavor is picking up noticeably everyday. I have my fingers crossed that our Nebbiolo one mile down the road looks as good.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why does Amazon hate us?

Lots of press is spinning over the Amazon wine sales future. But, if everyone takes a moment, deep breath, and realizes that there are already 100 other websites to buy wine from, we might realize that the proper response is: so what, and who cares?
Amazon is a press-spinning whirlwind, eternally full of bluster and pointless press releases about this and that trivial thing. I spoke with the Amazon wine director in Sacramento when we were pouring for our medals in early July. He liked our wines and invited us to join. He communicated with me personally at one point - a decent thing to do. So, why aren't we on Amazon?
1. Amazon requires a $420 fee for each label they carry, which is to say each varietal each year. As a small winery in a bad economy, that, my friends, is a huge amount of up front cash to be renewed each year, each varietal.
2. Early on we were informed that Amazon would be paying a little less that wholesale. What? What! Less than FOB wholesale - what the hell. We do not have a distributor. We are independent and self-distributing. I would be curious to know what sort of price structuring Amazon would stick us with.
3. Rumors swirl as to questionable past dealings with organizer Mr. Gelvin. These are probably open to interpretation and apocryphal - but some say he is not the wonderful man he seems to be.
4. For us, go to They skim a whole 10%, that is it, just a processing charge. Their infrastructure was set up in such a way that even a bunch of computer illiterates (such as ourselves) were up an running in one hour. They are fair, equitable, and the nice lady called us three times when we signed up to see if everything was o.k. They do not warehouse - we ship the package ourselves. But, they do not have the marketing muscle that Amazon has, and this is their (and our) hill to climb, but given the nature of the competition for us and them, we will stay small and honest to the end. No thanks Amazon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is that? Could it be?

Yup. Nebbiolo in a barrel. Making Nebbiolo means no more sleeping. It is like raising a child that has a 10% of turning out well. This is also the Lampia clone (FPS 01) which has the least color of all the clones, but according to the man himself, Alberto di Gresy, Lampia has the best flavor but is the most difficult to work with. We are taking our cue from a forgotten book written in the 90's that followed the making of Gaja's Sori San Lorenzo, a modern-styled Nebbiolo but the cellar practices are the focus for me. Nebbiolo has largely failed in California, and whether it is the winemaking or the viticulture no one is really sure (it is probably both). I will just say that the flavor is incredible. Bob Parker would say: huge extract, loaded with glycerol, 45 second finish, low acid, fat, and all other sorts of things that make no sense and are better suited to Coca Cola descriptions.
As for harvest, the Dolcetto hasn't budged past 23 brix and it rained yesterday - hopefully giving a brief rest to the vines before a final push. Everything feels two weeks away, not counting our end of October rain-waiting game for the Aglianico and the rest of the Nebbiolo and (the half barrel above was from Dunnigan, hence the early harvest at a nice 24 brix with great flavor at 3.6pH and the bit of younger old-school complexity we hope to blend back in). In fact I am drinking Graziano's Enotria 2000 Nebbiolo from Mendocino right now, lamenting 36 months in french oak and a 13% Dolcetto addition - an absolute crime and a Nebbiolo disaster to me (but rather shocking at $18).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Picked Chardonnay today.

Here is the deal folks. The wine industry is full of press-spinning liars. There, I said it. The wine merchandising henchmen proclaimed 2008 a "stellar vintage" a month ago, and I wished a plague of locusts, white flies or aphids on them because nature will always have the last laugh. Here we are, cruising along nicely, everything in tune and on time, and then BAM!, consecutive 105 degree days. We stopped at a vineyard in the Sacramento Valley and saw their Sangiovese already at 24 brix, about 2 weeks ahead. Wilted, dripping Sangiovese, like half-empty leather eggs. Lots of these guys are irrigating constantly, not the ideal solution. Stellar vintage? We will see.
On a brighter note, we picked our measly acre of Chardonnay and crushed a whole ton. Yes folks, a touch over a ton. Frost damage took some, gophers and eutypa took more. This will be an interesting one for sure. Our Chardonnay has a tendency to be rather Viognier-ish, and this year could be over the top. The rest still hangs in the balance. We will have a better picture in a few days.
The media machine wants you to believe that lower yield = higher quality, the frost takes some and we proclaim a grand year. Guess what, balance beats low yield any day, and time will prove it. Wine reviewers have generated this low-yield ideology with Pinot Noir (which truly is yield-dependent) "old-vine" Zin and vegetative Cabernet. Low yield does not necessarily equal quality. Never has, never will. What do you think when you find out that Screaming Eagle 1994 was second growth? That some of the Ridge stuff was over five tons per acre? It is a complicated picture, too complicated to forecast a month before harvest.
Weaving in and out of the subject matter, the not so pretty vine pictured above is a Chardonnay vine that we left the stronger suckers on, and we will trellis these suckers up and eliminate the older cordons that are tired and damaged, maintaining our 14-year old rootstock. Out with the old, in with the old - a nice old-fashioned Italian solution. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Beast

Finally. After corking 4 vintages manually, we have bought a pneumatic corker. No, it isn't any faster than our home winemaker's floor corker pictured below that served faithfully over 40,000 bottles. Yes, it will pay for itself in chiropractic savings and general quality of life at the end of the day. We bottle our own wines, unlike most wineries that hire mobile services. We glue our own labels by hand if they are not hand-placed self-adhesives, front and back, on non-silk screened bottles (we have 100 cases of Syrah and 150 of Chardonnay to label right now with glue, 210 cases of Muscat and Rosato with stickers). We use a six-spout filler, then down to the corker, then to the capsuler. Usually it is just two people working, so there are two people for three stations, but without a big red corker in the middle of the floor blocking traffic flow, our little line runs much more smoothly. We can bottle 150 cases comfortably in about 8 hours, so though it is my most hated task, it really is just part of the game - and you get to know that we crushed, pressed, barreled, racked, and bottled every darn bottle.

Friday, August 8, 2008

New Summer Releases

We now have for sale our 2007 Muscat Canelli - which is a dry Muscat, about 3.2 pH with about 7 gm/L or 0.7% residual sugar, so think a Euro-styled Sauvignon Blanc with no vegetal tones and an unmistakable Muscat profile. Trust me, this stuff is dry, but with the signature Muscat marzipan nose that creates a true food wine (and cheese wine!) out of the traditional sweet and flabby (but still gorgeous) Muscat.
As we run low on our Nebbiolo Rosato (which has aged nicely and become more complex) we will begin selling our 70% Sangiovese/30% Barbera Rose, not quite as floral as the Nebbiolo but more crisp and food oriented. We have also bottled our last run of Lake Syrah (2006) which is a smoky, meaty Rhone style with minimal oak without any of that violet and vanilla New World style stuff.
Nick's Chardonnay (we are bottling this tomorrow) is the best yet in my opinion. Unctuous in texture (California style) but without any new oak (not California style), our Chardonnay plot was planted in 1994, and the vines a starting to show some of the mineral structure and strength that comes only with age. Enough acid to hold a straight backbone but with a body fit for Univision, and without the distracting butterscotch flavor of so many California Chards, this holds a respectable Burgundy angle as well (but it was proudly done without any batonnage!

Rosa d’Oro Vineyards at 2008 California State Fair

(Press release 7/15/08) Kelseyville, California - July 10, 2008 – Rosa d’Oro Vineyards was invited to pour their estate-grown award-winning wines in Sacramento on July 10th after being awarded twice “Best of North Coast Appellations” for their 2005 Barbera and Primitivo bottlings. The family-run winery built upon a gold medal for their estate-grown Dolcetto in 2006 and four silver medals awarded this year.

Owned and operated by Nick Buttitta, a second generation Italian-American, the vineyard and winery also produces its own olive oil and vinegars.

Rosa d’Oro Vineyards is committed to crafting unique wines of historic interest, such as Moscato Giallo, Refosco, and Aglianico that honor traditional Italian winemaking while highlighting the superb growing conditions of Lake County.

The Buttittas have grown premium wine grapes in California since 1953 and are proud to continue their family’s unique agricultural tradition. All products are available through their tasting room in downtown Kelseyville or online at