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Author Archives: Andrew Murray
We strive to craft a quintessentially Santa Ynez Valley Syrah, where we have the ability to show both the cool and warm climate characteristics of Syrah.
Every vintage has its challenges. Some are cold, some are wet, some are plagued by high or low yields, some are early, some are late. Even “perfect vintages” come with their own challenges. Thankfully, I have been at it long enough to have seen lots of different scenarios. Then a vintage like 2015 comes along and challenges you like no other. Expectations and predictions literally went by the wayside this year.
This has truly been a year like no other. Most other winemakers that I have spoken with agree that this was a “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” kind of year. First of all, the vintage started earlier than anyone guessed. We were still in our bottling season when harvest started in August (many started picking in July). Yes, the drought contributed to the early harvest, but only indirectly. The three years of drought and poor weather during fruit set reduced the yields in the vineyard by as much as 50% in some blocks. These smaller crops of tiny berries ripened very quickly in the hot summer months. Our evenings were not as cold as normal either, which further contributed to the advanced maturity. September, the month in which we harvested most of the Rhône varieties off of the Curtis Estate, was painfully hot. Even night harvesting helped very little, as the nights in September were often in the mid-60’s and sometimes even in the 70’s. The cool snap of fall finally arrived in late September, but it did not last. We ended up nearly completing harvest before the end of September. As I type this letter, we have one more day of picking left, and the weather looks to be turning towards the mid 90’s again. In spite of yields being down, the pace of harvest was just frenetic this year. We essentially completed the entire harvest in just a bit over a month.
I am feeling more exhausted than I can remember. This harvest has taken me to the brink. I feel like I have been living here lately. At least this is an amazingly beautiful place and I get to work with some of the hardest working people in the wine business…they have truly become my Harvest Family.
Moi, Chino, Rudy and Ben in the vineyard, Miguel, Santiago, Victor and Spencer in the new cellar, and Greg up running point at the old cellar. In the end, in spite of my fears and pessimism over the 2015 vintage, the new wines are tasting really good, some of them even AMAZING, even at this early stage. Like every vintage before, this year taught me so much about winemaking and even a few new things about myself. Crazily enough, I am enjoying the craft of winemaking more than ever. I hope it shows in the quality of wines that we are growing and bottling for you. I am confident that we are currently releasing the best wines we have ever crafted. Thank you so very much for joining me on this wild ride!
One of my perennial favorites, from one of the oldest blocks growing over at Thompson Vineyard. It is dark and rich and yummy…and limited.
When embarking on the exciting journey of exploring the pleasures of fine wine, it doesn’t take long before you encounter the standard tasting order in which wine is “supposed” to be drunk: look, swirl, sniff, sip (and spit). Over time, these steps have become gospel, repeated over and over in wine magazines, books, and websites.
To many people, this seems an overly complicated process. After all, we already know how to drink, so what’s with all of the extra steps? Is this legitimate, necessary stuff or just another example of snobbish bores trying to turn wine’s simple pleasures into a tiresome rite of passage?
The truth is that these steps aren’t necessary for drinking fine wine, but they are essential if you want to get the most pleasure possible out of a glass of vino. What’s often missing from these list of steps is why each one is important to wine appreciation. Here’s a deeper look at what’s behind each of the steps and how you can perform them without triggering the snob alarm to your friends.
Step One: Look
If you’re like most people, you only give a passing glance at the food and beverages that you consume. When it comes to wine, however, not taking the time to observe it in the glass is denying yourself one of the most underappreciated vinous pleasures. Fine wine often has a gorgeous color; you can encounter everything from light salmon to deep strawberry red, and that’s just for rosé wines!
A good look at a wine can also clue you into potential faults, such as premature aging (if the color seems excessively brown for a young wine), or other issues (if the wine seems excessively cloudy). Fortunately, these are relatively rare occurrences.
You needn’t make a spectacle of this step. It only requires finding a decent source of light, a relatively light background, and a few moments of your time. The colorful results are usually worth the modest hassle.
Step Two: Swirl
It’s been estimated that fine wines contain about 200 odorous compounds, making them one of the most complex beverages we ever imbibe. Those compounds are primarily volatile, meaning that they require air for us to be able to detect them. Swirling a wine in the glass exposes more of the wine’s surface area to oxygen, helping to release those complex aromas. This step is particularly important for young fine wines, which tend to develop slowly. Think of swirling as giving the flavors a gentle nudge to open up a bit.
Fortunately for fine-wine lovers, swirling a glass of wine carries little stigma now unless it’s performed with over-accentuated flourishes. This simple but essential step can be performed quickly, using a circular motion, and it does the wine a world of good. Just be sure that you don’t try it with a glass that’s been filled too high unless you plan on forking out for the dry cleaning bill of whoever is standing close to you when you try it!
Step Three: Sniff
In terms of wine appreciation, sniffing is the single most important step in the tasting process. Almost all the complexity that a wine delivers is aromatic, including most of its flavors (which we experience retro-nasally when the wine is in our mouths). There’s solid reasoning – both chemical and biological – behind this one, so if you’re going to focus on one step first, make it this one!
For most people, short, deep sniffs will work best. What you’re doing with these sniffs is trying to get as many of the wine’s aromatic compounds as you can to your epithelium, a dime-sized olfactory organ that’s capable of detecting a huge array of smells and is wired to the portions of your brain that are responsible for emotional responses and memory. In normal breathing, only 10 percent of the air we take in makes it to the epithelium, so focused sniffing is a must if you want to pick up all of the aromatic subtleties of a good wine.
Step Four: Sip (and Spit)
Of course, the ultimate point of enjoying wine is to drink it. However, there’s a bit more to wine appreciation than the pleasant feelings imparted by its alcohol content. A wine’s volatile compounds activate even more when exposed to the warmth in your mouth, releasing flavors and further aromas. Getting the wine in contact with your gums and tongue is the only way to experience its texture, from crisp and vibrant to silky, tannic, and hefty. Finally, a wine’s finish (how long its aspects linger after it’s been tasted) can only really be experienced after it’s been in your mouth. Sip as much wine as you need to fully appreciate it, but it’s best to avoid large gulps.
At this point, you’ll have to decide what to do with that sip. If you’ll be tasting many wines in a short period, such as at a large tasting, you’ll need to make use of the spit buckets (don’t fret too much about technique; experienced testers know that there’s no totally graceful way to do this). Remember that, even if you spit, you’ll still be absorbing some alcohol with each taste, so plan accordingly.
This great article and infographic is from fix.com and Joe Roberts (1winedude). Original article can be seen here.
The Firestone family, the proprietors of the Curtis Winery and the 200 acre estate upon which it sits, asked me in the spring of 2013 to take over the day to day operations of the Curtis Winery, all while shrinking the Curtis Wine production to a very limited and exclusive level. By now, we hope that you have heard something about this via the Curtis Website, through visits to Curtis or tastings at our Los Olivos Tasting Room, or in the last Cellar Crew Newsletter. It was mutual admiration that led the Curtis owners and management to choose Andrew Murray Vineyards (AMV) to take over the day to day operations at their beloved Estate. They admired our 20+ year history in Los Olivos and our consistent dedication to Rhone varieties. They respected our numerous 90+ reviews and our commitment to quality and the environment. They were further confident that we would handle such an important and historic transition as carefully and elegantly as possible. In turn, I admired EVERYTHING about the Firestone family. I admired the near lunacy that prompted Brooks Firestone to continue growing upon his father’s folly of planting the first vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, well over 40 years ago…and watched with great pride as Adam Firestone, a Marine, returned as a veteran of the Iraq war to become the 3rd generation of the Firestone family to grow grapes and craft wine. I was there when they first opened Curtis Winery to the public, as we had begun Andrew Murray Vineyards about 5 years earlier. I was so excited to see them focus on my beloved Rhone varieties. Each member of the Firestone family, from Adam to Andrew, has a deep love and passion for crafting wine and growing grapes on the Curtis Estate. They selected my wife and me and my small (but growing) team of tasting room/hospitality associates and cellar crew to gracefully transition away from the Curtis Wines and to replace them with AMV wines. I will be frank with you all. It has been no easy task, and we have not handled all situations as well as I would have liked. I have fallen on my face more than once since the transition began. But, I can also hold my head high, because I have been at Curtis each and every (yes every single day) day of this year so far. We have had much to learn and even more to prove. We are learning every day and leveraging our 20+ years in the wine business in order to provide to you all the best wines possible with the best customer service, in the best darn winery and location in Santa Barbara County. We have a long way to go before we can say mission accomplished. But, please know that we will work tirelessly to prove ourselves worthy of your time, attention, and business. We have enjoyed the opportunities to meet so many of you at the Curtis Winery and at the events that we have held this year in your honor. We have greatly appreciated the praise of our wines and we have taken heed of your concerns and suggestions. Please see our event page for more upcoming festivities.
I also want you to know that we embarked upon a significant re-model to the Curtis Winery hospitality center with only one goal in mind…to be able to better serve and interact with Wine Club Members. To that end, we started outside with the addition of a Members’ Terrace, under the shade of the native oaks. On the inside, we have carved out two distinct and private spaces where we can accommodate small group, sit down tastings for up to 12 people. We hope to be able to sit down with you and share a more in-depth experience centering on the wines that we are crafting off of the Curtis Estate. We have added a Member’s bar where we anticipate offering different and exclusive wines just to Members. We have added a wine on tap system so that you can purchase glasses, carafes, or even “growlers” of special and limited production wines. We have even added a low-seating lounge area where you can order flights of wines to enjoy away from the traditional bar setting. In short (too late, I know) we have designed several spaces and new “experiences” where members can interact with myself and our team in order to gain a deeper knowledge and appreciation for our wines. In turn, we will be lucky enough to get to know you better.
We look forward to your next visit to the new and improved Andrew Murray Vineyards.
Hello all…it is official. We are so very excited to let you all know that we have expanded into the Curtis Winery facility…we have been working on this in partnership with the Firestone family for months now. It has been one of the worst kept secrets as of late, but this very thoughtful piece from Richard Jennings, provides all of the details. We are humbled and thankful to Firestone family for trusting us with expanding upon their pioneering legacy in Los Olivos. I am truly giddy with enthusiasm and energy for this next chapter of Andrew Murray Vineyards. We hope that you continue to come along for the ride.
It was a treat and an honor to be included in the Top Twelve wines of 2013 over at Winethropology . Humbled and thankful! Cheers Steve! Now everyone, please treat yourself to following this thoughtful blog.