To say that 2020 has been a ‘different’ kind of year would be an understatement.
Between the global pandemic, the months of fires and smoke in wine country, and the changes these phenomenons wrought, it’s been a year full of immense challenges. Yet, it’s also been a year full of family bonding, staying close to home, supporting local businesses (more than ever before), and taking the time to focus on areas of our lives and business that we might not otherwise have time for.
Covid has brought so many changes for us this year. When our children left we thought that was it. But to have four of them back living at home, plus one husband, has been an amazing opportunity. At home this year, we’ve had Chelsea and her husband Dane, and our other sons and daughters Luke, Royce, and Hilary.
Chelsea is working on her Masters in Biology and helped us out this year during harvest. Luke is working as an intern at a fantastic local winery, while Royce also took on work at a local winery, and Hilary has been doing her college coursework online (she’s in her first semester at UC Davis, studying Environmental Engineering). Katherine, the one who hasn’t been living with us, lives on a farm not too far away where she works as a Vet tech.
With so many of the kids back at home, and with such limited options for socializing outside our own households, I decided it would be a great idea to build a night club at the house (for the kids of course…)! It’s a long and funny story.. but suffice to say that building bars at home has become quite popular this year so I had to one up this idea and go all out by building a ‘night club’. Don’t knock it til’ you try it. This is what happens when you are homebound for months with your entire family..
Our vineyard development has continued on the new Stonemason Hill vineyard. I can’t tell you how excited I am to get this done. The schist soil at this site is mind blowing. So we have pulled the vines, added the fertilizer, ripped, and shaped. Then, we added grass seed and covered it with straw for the winter. In the Spring we will work on drainage and then proceed to planting!
I have been making wine since 1982. I have seen frost wipe out many vintages. I have seen catastrophic hail. I’ve seen floods such as Cyclone Bola in New Zealand, where the rivers went over the bank right before harvest in 1988 and growers were literally handing in their keys to the bank. I saw the same in Mendoza in 1996.
Then, there were the fires here in Northern California in 2008, 2017, 2019, and now 2020. And the fires in Okanagan every year I’ve been there (2012-2020) and in Chile in 2013, 2014, 2017, etc. If I add up all of the vintages I’ve taken part in, I’ve been through 10 vintages where we had to deal with smoke and smoke taint.
I thought by now I would be an expert, but for some reason 2020 feels so different. Why?
Firstly, this year it was the timing. The first fires if you recall, started in late August.
So why is early an issue? Well of course we were miles from harvest. So we couldn’t just go out and pick the fruit early.
There were basically four fires that provided smoke to us for around six weeks, so the (yet unripe) fruit had plenty of time to absorb smoke. This was not the case in previous years where the fires hit later/closer to harvest and we could either harvest fruit early, or the time period during which there was severe smoke was short enough that the (very close to ripe) fruit was safe from smoke taint.
As far as I’ve seen, all 2020 later ripening varieties were affected this year in Napa and Sonoma County. This means medium bodied to heavy reds were affected (including our vineyards), while early ripening varieties (primarily whites) were still able to be harvested.
All of this is to say, what a year! To see people lose wineries, homes and businesses was just devastating. We were living in a constant state of near evacuation (we did evacuate for two nights), struggling to make crucial decisions without information, and trying to keep workers safe and calm. I know we are not alone as the devastation to hospitality as well due to Covid just adds to the volume of issues this year.
The bright note is that vineyards do not burn and the winery was not damaged and all of our employees were safe.
We sent out more of our wines to be rated and scored this year than in previous years and many did very well! We’re proud to have accumulated the following positive ratings from some of the most important publications in the country, over just the past few months!
- 2017 Yardstick – WS 90. An amazing Napa Value
- 2018 Fidelity Red Blend – WS 90 and best buy
- 2016 Hilary Oakville – WS 93, Som Journal 93, San Francisco wine comp 93, WE 90
- 2018 Katherine Alexander Valley – Somm Journal 92, made WE’s best values of 2020
- 2018 Chelsea Alexander Valley – Somm Journal 92,
- 2018 Fidelity Zinfandel AV – WS 92 and best buy
- 2016 Yoeman AV – WE 92
- 2016 Game Ranch – WE 92
- 2015 Game Ranch PLUS – WE 92
- 2015 Yoeman PLUS – Wine and Spirit 91 best buy
- 2018 Forefathers Lone Tree – 94 Planet Grape (Just in as new release)
Scores from earlier in the year:
- 2019 Forefathers Wax Eye – 92 Sunset
- 2018 Singing Tree – 93 Planet Grape
- 2017 Singing Tree Dutton – 91 Tasting Panel
- 2016 Ultimatum – 97 Tasting Panel
Hilary Charming Creek was named Top Smart Buy in Wine Spectator for 2015 and 2016 vintages:
In summary, it’s been a crazy year with a lot of challenges, but also some positive experiences that we have cherished. We are very much looking forward to the New Year, and the continued positive changes we believe that it will bring.