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July 28, 2016 5:00pm Sky Pine Vineyards and Winery Vineyard-Wine Managers |TIM & KANDY WARD Winery | SKY PINE VINEYARDS Region | PINE MOUNTAIN-CLOVERDALE PEAK Bob Dog Wines | Sky Pine Vineyards 5 Noble Bordeaux Varietals Grown Mountain Style with Tim & Kandy Ward Sonoma County is home to many small family owned boutique wineries. It is where folks come to get away and explore their dream to grow grapes and make wine they enjoy drinking. That is the story of husband and wife couple, Tim & Kandy Ward. In 1989, Tim and Kandy were newlyweds. They wanted to trade their urban bay-area city life in for a more peaceful rural country one. From a want ad, they bought 6 acres on Pine Mountain thinking that within a few years they would have a new home with vineyards planted to grapes. Well, after 27 years and now 40 acres large, the grapes have been planted but the dream of a new home is still hanging in the balance. The business according to Tim has been a learn-as-you-go experience. Originally planting just Merlot grapes, Tim has changed his focus to growing all 5 noble Bordeaux varietals that do well in the terroir of this mountain region. Along with selling his fruit to other wineries, Tim has expanded his business into red wine production under the Bog Dog brand. He also produces all the classic Bordeaux's under the Sky Pine Vineyards label. Situated at 2,000 feet, Sky Pine Vineyards is a true Bordeaux estate, claiming their location as the highest elevation winery in Sonoma County. I asked Tim about the history behind the Bob Dog brand. He told me that Bob was their huge lovable Rottweiler that worked the first 11 vintages with them. When it came time to name their brand they wanted something fun and whimsical, so they named the wines after Bob, their dog! The Bob Dog label gets a lot of attention, so it has been a good marketing move for them. On the topic of brand and image, Tim gave me a tip about selling wine. When you are a small grower trying to sell your fruit to high-end wineries you don't want to appear like you are selling "chateaux la pooh pooh" when they are "chateaux la dooh dooh''. That response represents the "don't take yourself so seriously" attitude that the Wards live by. Getting Started: The Clos du Bois Story In the first years of planting Merlot and then Cabernet, Tim developed relationships with large Sonoma County wineries. One of Tim's first customers was Frank Woods, owner of Clos du Bois. Back in the 90's Clos du Bois was large but not the mega winery it is today. Started in the 1970's, they were then producing 100,000 cases annually and were looking to expand their wine portfolio into Merlot and Bordeaux varietals for their Sonoma Reserve Series. Sky Pine Vineyards qualified in three ways. First, they were in the category of the small 50 ton grape grower. This was and still is standard practice for large wineries to supplement and diversify their fruit supplies from multiple smaller sources. Second, they were in the Alexander Valley appellation, a necessity for labeling, and third, the fruit coming from Tim's vineyards was high quality. Early on, it was apparent there was a difference in the Cabernet and Merlot grapes coming from the mountain compared to the same grapes growing in Alexander Valley below. The future brought a need to qualify and legitimize these intensely flavorful mountain grapes. Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA In 2011 Pine Mountain was awarded its own appellation status. This was a significant event for the growth and prosperity of the region. Tim says appellation grapes are the future of the premium wine industry. "If you don't have appellate grapes you won't be getting a price of $50-200 per bottle, and where grapes are grown is everything!" It is now 2016 and the elevated grapes are more in demand than ever. Kendall Jackson is developing 200 of its newly purchased 800 acres into Cabernet Sauvignon. Benzinger, Coppola, and Duckhorn are all currently purchasing fruit from the mountain. Pine Mountain is developing the reputation that "Cab is King". What makes the Pine Mountain grape so special? It is the quality and intensity of its flavor. The following table describes the terroir of this appellation which contributes to the grape characteristics grown here. Terroir of Pine Mountain Cloverdale-Peak AVA ELEVATION Between 1,600 and 3,000 feet WEATHER Summer | hot-dry conditions, above the fog line, providing longer growing days Winter | snows and cold air, rainfall levels higher SOILS Rocky volcanic red soils, well drained, low nutrients TERRAIN Sloping vineyards that add stress and adaptation to the vine This terroir produces grape clusters that are very small and low in density. Tim says 3 tons is average while 4 are a homerun. Last year, 2015, yields were down 50% due to multiple drought years. Pine Mountain - Cloverdale Peak AVA has 7 vineyards/ranches growing the 5 Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Sky Pine Vineyards is the only vineyard that has a winery where you can sample these bold reds. It is open to the public by appointment and there is no charge for the tastings or the extraordinary education you get about mountain wines. Defining the Bordeaux Bold Reds What is Bordeaux wine? The term Bordeaux signifies a region in France where world class wines are produced from 5 specific varietals of grapes. The red wines of Bordeaux are usually blends of two or more of the five grapes. The art of assemblage (blending) is practiced to create power, complexity and elegance in the wine.1 Following are some of the characteristics of these wines. 5 Noble Bordeaux Varietals: Universal Characteristics Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc Malbec Petit Verdot Used for power, structure and aging potential Used for rich fruit flavors and as a smoothing agent. Used for smoothing texture and adding earthiness Used for dark rich color Used for structure and body Dry Red wine Dry, Red wine Dry, red wine Dry, red wine Dry, red wine Full, strong intensity Medium to strong intensity Medium intensity Medium intensity Medium intensity Ripe dark fruit, dark berries, currants, mint Ripe fleshy fruit, plums, cherries Red berries, blue berries and red plum fruit Red plum, earth and spice notes Dark berries, earth flavors High acidity Medium acidity High acidity High acidity Moderate acidity Very tannic Moderate tannins Low to moderate tannins Low tannins Moderate tannins The idea behind the ‘Bordeaux Blend’ is to accentuate the good and eliminate the less desirable attributes of particular grapes. (i.e. Cabernet adds the structure and body while Merlot provides the supple, lush fruit). It is all about the balance between acidity and tannin, and the mixture of these grapes produces some of the greatest wines the world has ever known.1 I asked Tim at Sky Pine Vineyards to compare the region of Bordeaux France to the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA and the wines coming from both. He started to laugh, and then proceeded to tell me there was little to compare other than there is a reference to the Bordeaux name but in style only, the varietals are the same, and that there is blending going on, and that was it. Otherwise, their terroirs are very different, and the fruit is as dissimilar as the terroirs. Bog Dog Wines | Sky Pine Vineyards: Branding Tim and Kandy Ward, as mentioned before, have (2) brands. The Bob Dog Wines are artisan styles of wine that are crafty in nature and largely experimental blends. Because Sky Pine is an estate that grows all 5 blending grapes, this allows a lot of opportunity to play around with different recipes of blended red wines. Their second brand, Sky Pine Vineyards, came later with the idea of returning to classic Bordeaux blending exhibiting traditional characteristics. Harvesting Practices Tim and Kandy Ward have a practical and common sense approach to growing grapes. When asked how they determine when to harvest they replied, "Pick when it's most mature…Put it in your mouth and when it tastes good it's ready." The full criteria list includes how it looks, how it smells, how it feels in your hand, and ultimately, how it tastes. They will also follow-up with standard testing practices to complement their subjectivity. Mountain grapes are the last grapes to be harvested in all of Sonoma County. Bordeaux varietals will fully mature sometime in October. At Sky Pine Vineyards the harvest sequence Tim expects is Malbec comes off first, Cabernet Franc second followed pretty quickly by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is fourth and the last to come off is Petit Verdot, which trails significantly. Harvesting is a start and stop process. Tim's grape customers will dictate when they want their fruit picked. Tim manages labor through a farm labor contractor called Vine Pro who deploys the same crews to designated vineyards year in and year out. Tim's standard crew of 14-16 men will hand harvest in 6-8 weeks. Tim is predicting the 2016 harvest to be different. The early and continued spring rains along with the spikes of July heat is ripening the fruit early. Verasion started in late July which is several weeks early. He also predicts that the fruit might not stagger out and might come in all at once. He has discontinued aggressive vine management, which includes spraying and canopy containment, and is starting to irrigate where the need is indicated by the vine. Tim points out something important that makes estate wineries special. Unlike independent wineries, estate wineries are in full control of field practices and harvest picks. Having this level of control is a huge advantage in producing premium wines. Winemaking Priorities, Styles and Philosophies I asked Tim and Kandy to describe the winemaking process they follow. Priority-Destemming to Start of Fermentation The grapes come from the fields to a QC station worked by 6-8 people. They sort and weigh the grapes and prepare them for entry into the destem machine that is set to process 2-3 tons per hour. From there the grapes fall into 4x4x3.5 foot open top Teflon bins where natural fermentation begins. From vine to this point can be as little as 30 minutes. Priority-Fermentation The fermenting bins enter the winery where Kandy takes over the fermentation process. Her first step is to add yeast and nutrients to the individual bins. Once activation takes place the contents of the bins are mixed and she starts the "punch down" method of crushing. She continues punch down every 4-5 hours for 3-4 weeks to promote a good medium for the yeast to convert the grape sugar into alcohol. She knows when this process is finished by the ease of stirring. The original hard "cap" of skins and seeds will softened and fall to the bottom of the bins leaving liquid wine. She will monitor sugars and temperature at this point. She continues by transferring all the bin contents into a hydraulic press to separate the juice from the solids. Bacteria are then added to promote the start of the malolactic fermentation process. The wine is now barreled to continue malolactic fermentation. It will stay in the barrels through the winter where the liquid stays cool. Come February or March the wine is removed and the barrels are thoroughly cleaned. The wine is returned where she adds sulfur which kills the remaining bacteria and aging begins. Kandy chooses to ferment and age in neutral barrels. She wants to promote the purest fruit flavor on their wine. She will add different oak adjuncts, French, Hungarian, etc., allowing her full control of any oak flavor. Style Kandy says "We try not to do too much winemaking by chemistry". She prefers to work with what the grapes from that year give her. When all of the varietals have been individually tasted, the art of blending begins. She will often ask her visitors to taste experimental blends for their opinions. Vintage years are a combination of the flavor of that year's grape plus traditional blend percentages as well as creative unique recipes that are one of a kind. Philosophies When asked about women vs. men winemakers Tim had this to say. "Women winemakers are the best and not because I am married to one…they have the best palates and ability to discern aromas". Tim also commented that his women winemaker customers are easier to work with, they are collaborative, cooperative, team oriented, and they respect Tim's viticultural practices. His general opinion is that female winemakers will let the wines be themselves more than men will. They have less of a need to dominate the wine and make it their own. Overall they both live with the same philosophy about making wine. Do not impose your will on the grape. Let the wine make itself while supervising, continue to learn graciously from your mistakes, and simplify when you can. There has been no formal education to enlighten them or family lineage to draw from, and that's why Tim says he feels they are outsiders looking in on the huge winemaking community. Kandy is upfront when she says they still know very little about formal mechanics and chemistry of winemaking. What they continue to do is tell their story about how they have made their dream come true. They put a good deal of time and effort into educating their visitors and are generous with opportunities to share. Bob Dog | Sky Pine Vintages Sky Pine Vineyards 2006 Casi Noviembre Port $30 A combination of the bright red fruit of a ruby port with the flavors of pear and caramel of a Tawny…..a lovely port with cheese and dried fruit or crème Brule, and Maduro cigars Sky Pine Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon $42 This CAB is truly a magnificent blend of several vineyard blocks making for a classic dark, luscious, complex tasting sensation. Grill that big steak, and open a bottle. Perfect! Sky Pine Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Franc-late release $46 A traditional Cab Franc, with its peppery quality, dark color and full fragrant bouquet. Flavors of dried sweet cherries and a hint of currant. This vintage was aged 12 additional months in oak to provide a much more sophisticated and remarkable flavor profile. Bob Dog Wines 2010 Mountain Merlot $24 Aromas of dried cranberries which segue into the flavors. Dry and dusty on the finish with hints of mint. A great wine to pair with grilled filet mignon wrapped in bacon and topped with blue cheese. This wine needs, takes on and dominates the richest entrée you can pair with it. Sky Pine Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon $40 A classic Cab; harkens back to a time of low alcohol pure cabernet wines, complex within its subtlety. Flavors and aromas of red plum and hint of mace. The bottle you go to when you want a true Cabernet at dinner. Sky Pine Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Franc $41 Bright mouth feel with hints of dried cherries. And the spice of a classic mountain grown Cab Franc. Great with all spicy cuisines from around the world: East Indian; Thai; Szechuan, Hispanic, or Cajun. Sky Pine Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Franc $39 The latest of our ever popular spicy wine, so great with all sorts of cuisines which themselves have a spicy nature. Pine Mountain creates this very tantalizing wine. Another way to compare this vintage is to also purchase the 2009 and 2010 Cab Francs for a really exceptional vertical tasting experience. Sky Pine Vineyards 2011 Pine Mountain Cloud $28 A special blend of merlot and cab franc; and our first attempt at a Claret style Bordeaux wine, prompted by the cooler and wetter growing year that was 2011. We call it the “French” year due to its similarity to the cooler French growing season, compared to our own Alexander Valley. Our Pinot people relate to this wine for some reason. Bob Dog Wines 2012 Mountain Merlot $22 A revealing blend of the Bordeaux’s most versatile grape. Mostly Merlot with hints of Malbec and Petit Verdot. Dry and dusty on the finish with hints of violets. A great pre dinner wine with that cheese and meat plate; stuffed mushrooms, or rumaki. Sky Pine Vineyards 2013 Petit Verdot $32 This rare wine is 100% PV making it a great tasting experience as to why PV is used in the Bordeaux blends. Round mouth and smooth velvety texture. Sky Pine Vineyards 2013 Malbec $43 Finally, after years of effort the first 100% Malbec, with its traditional fruity flavor reminiscent of blueberries. Very few cases were bottled of this remarkable tasting experience. Tim's Concern for the Future of the Wine Industry I asked Tim about the future state of the wine industry and the concerns he has about his own vineyards. He said labor shortage is a concern for everyone. He pointed out that in the valley mechanization is supplementing labor help but for him that solution is not possible. His vineyard blocks are too sloped to allow the use of picking machines. He adds that government regulation is becoming so invasive that it complicates his daily workload and costs him unnecessary expenses. In terms of the whole wine market, he sees a strong recovery from the 2009 economic fall. The higher bottle prices are coming back along with a new culture wanting “an experience” from consuming wine. He is a remote winery that is difficult to get to yet he receives visitors from around the world wanting to taste his mountain Bordeaux blends. They are finding him mostly through Trip Advisor. He believes that within 5 years Sonoma County is going to get to where Napa is today, with a moratorium on development. He sees more restrictions on vineyard development and winery expansion. The future is going to be about how to strike a balance between the expanding wine industry and the satisfaction of the people that live it. Wrap Up I asked Tim and Kandy after nearly 20 years of growing grapes and making wine what they enjoyed and didn't enjoy about the wine business. Tim expressed that on the growing side fulfillment is reached when the harvest is in and the final winery trucks have loaded their fruit and are rolling down the mountain. Then, after a couple weeks, a check shows up in the mail and you say to yourself, "Oh, that's why I am in this business." For the wine side, it’s after a wine tasting and someone says "Can I buy that wine?", or a non-wine drinker becomes converted after a food pairing and they walk away with a new vision of how wine is to be consumed. That's rewarding! The downside, and there are many he says, generally can be summed up like this. Owning a small family estate vineyard is a 365 day job, 24 hours a day, and there is always some task to do or problem to fix. When it's just you and your wife, a day off is not heard of. That's not so rewarding! A little bit of luck and a lot of hard work is the formula for the success at Sky Pine Vineyards. Since the approval of the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak appellation in 2011, the mountain grape has a reputation as a premium blending grape and wineries are paying top dollar for the fruit. That's the luck. The hard work is a daily requirement, but Tim and Kandy Ward are there every day giving it. They are strong and tough just like the mountain they live on, and they are living their dream even though it has changed a bit from its original vision. "WE GROW THE GRAPES AND WE SUPERVISE THE VINTING. THE WINE MAKES ITSELF." Tim Ward - dirt farmer extraordinaire References 1 http://www.pastoralartisan.com/blog/uncategorized/a-simple-guide-to-the-5-noble-grapes-of-bordeaux/ personal interview with Tim and Kandy Ward 07-29-16 e, prompted by the cooler and wetter growing year that was 2011. We call it the “French” year due to its similarity to the cooler French growing season, compared to our own Alexander Valley. Our Pinot people relate to this wine for some reason. Bob Dog Wines 2012 Mountain Merlot $22 A revealing blend of the Bordeaux’s most versatile grape. Mostly Merlot with hints of Malbec and Petit Verdot. Dry and dusty on the finish with hints of violets. A great pre dinner wine with that cheese and meat plate; stuffed mushrooms, or rumaki. Sky Pine Vineyards 2013 Petit Verdot $32 This rare wine is 100% PV making it a great tasting experience as to why PV is used in the Bordeaux blends. Round mouth and smooth velvety texture. Sky Pine Vineyards 2013 Malbec $43 Finally, after years of effort the first 100% Malbec, with its traditional