Once again all of us here at River Road Family Vineyards and Winery would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year! This past year has been a busy one and we are thankful for a chance to reflect and recharge to get ready for a great 2024! Every growing season has its unique set of events or circumstances that define it for grape growers and winemakers. The 2023 vintage is certainly no exception. The three things that will stay with me are how late the season was, how large the crop was, and how good the quality of wine produced is. Across the board the growing season was about four weeks behind than what has been typical for the last few decades. Grapes that are usually harvested in August and September were still on the vine in October and November. A timeframe that was typically in the 1980’s. A true “throwback” vintage according to veteran growers and winemakers. The large size of the crop was a surprise. Going into the season the shared sediment was that the crop was going to be average. We experienced a cold and drawn-out bloom phase at the beginning of spring which caused shatter in Pinot Noir and smaller cluster size in Chardonnay. In a typical year these conditions would certainly limit the crop size but because of the extended hang time the berries sized up more than usual. This increased tonnage in most vineyards. Perhaps the best result of the vintage is the quality of the wines! The long cold growing season produced wines with lower alcohols, higher acids, and great structural components. These are the main attributes that contribute to durable and classic wines. I’m excited to see the wines develop as we head into the New Year!

Mid-December stormy day. First real storm of the season, we received over five inches of rain over three days!

Winemaking in California

I’m very grateful for being able to be a winemaker in Sonoma County, California. The more I learn about California winemaking history, the more honored I am to carry on the work of the early pioneers that helped to shape our industry into what it is today. California’s wine history is a captivating journey that began centuries ago. The roots of the state’s winemaking date back to the late 1700s when Spanish missionaries planted the first vineyards. These early vines were mostly used for religious ceremonies, featuring grapes like the Mission grape. In the mid-1800s, the Gold Rush brought an influx of settlers, including European immigrants with winemaking traditions. Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian immigrant, planted the first commercial vineyard in Sonoma Valley in 1857. This marked a turning point, showcasing the potential for a thriving wine industry in California. The late 19th century posed challenges, especially with the spread of phylloxera, a pest devastating to grapevines. Despite setbacks, the early pioneers persevered, contributing significantly to California’s winemaking heritage. Prohibition in the 1920s cast a shadow on the industry, leading many wineries to close or resort to producing limited, legal wines. Post-Prohibition, figures like Robert Mondavi and Andre Tchelistcheff played crucial roles in revitalizing the commercial wine industry. Napa Valley and Sonoma County emerged as focal points, gaining recognition for producing exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

The 1976 Judgement of Paris was a groundbreaking moment when California wines triumphed over French wines in a blind tasting, marking the state’s arrival on the global wine stage. This event reshaped perceptions and established California as a serious player in the world of wine. Today, California is a winemaking mecca with diverse regions and a wide variety of grape types. The state’s commitment to quality winemaking, combined with its dynamic history, has solidified its place as a leader in the global wine industry. The story of California wine is not just a tale of grapes and vineyards; it’s a narrative of resilience, innovation, and a passion for crafting exceptional wines.

On behalf of the entire team here at River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, we wish you all a very happy New Year and continued good health!

Be Well,