Harvest 2012 Q&A with Our Three Sticks Winemaking Team
If you’ve been following the Three Sticks blog this past year and read our September feature, "Harvest 2012 & Never Looking Mother Nature Directly in the Eye," you might remember the reticence of our vineyard team to make any declarations on the quality of the 2012 vintage. The most we were able to extract was, “We have no complaints,” delivered with a restrained smile from our Viticuluralist and Assistant Vineyard Manager, Jackie Mancuso. At the time, it looked as though harvest would begin full swing within the next couple of weeks, and picking would wrap up fairly quickly.
And then, Mother Nature did her thing: the weather cooled and the fruit hung for nearly a month longer. Luckily, the weather held beautifully and the extended hangtime gave us what may be one of California’s finest vintages in decades.
We recently visited with Winemaker Don Van Staaveren, as well as our newest members to the winemaking team, Enologist Jenny Schultz and Production Enologist Todd Arnold (and Shaka, winery dog) for a little Q&A on harvest and their personal experiences.
Three Sticks: Don, we’ve been talking to other winemakers and vineyard managers, and we’re hearing consistent raves about the quality of the 2012 fruit, with yields generally up about 30 percent over the past couple of years.
Don: Harvest was very compressed. The early ripening fruit hung longer, and the late maturing fruit caught up. Everything came in during a very tight two-week window -- last year was six weeks. The quality is absolutely there; we’ve seen healthy fermentations, as well as excellent acidity and pH. As far as yields, Durell Vineyard is very self-limiting, which is why the estate delivers us exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit year after year. We’re up over 2011, but less came in than our projections. Durell does what Durell does, and that’s what makes it such a special site.
Three Sticks: Over the past few years, Three Sticks has selectively expanded our portfolio to source fruit from other top vineyards along the coastal AVAs of California. How did harvest look in these vineyards and what should we expect to see from these small-lot bottlings?
Don: For our Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which is actually mountain fruit, we’ve seen excellent grapes from the Bismark and Bald Mountain Vineyards. [Don grins] I’m especially impressed with the stellar Cabernet Sauvignon we sourced from the Moon Mountain District, which will be new to the 2012 blend. For Pinot Noir, we’ve got THE JAMES Sta. Rita Hills and Silver Eagle Ridge from the Sonoma Coast. 2010 was the first year we sourced Silver Eagle Ridge Pinot Noir – the first release will be in 2013. All looks top notch. For whites, we again have a tiny amount of Pinot Blanc from the Carneros, and another new source, Chardonnay from the One Sky Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.
Three Sticks: Todd, you’re pretty new to the team here, but you’ve been working in winery cellars since 2006, learning on the job and expanding your experience. What was new for you this year, and what was your take-away from 2012?
Todd: The biggest thing for me this harvest was lab work with Don and Jenny. Basically, Don had Jenny and I switch it up, where she spent most of her time on the floor handling production and me in the lab. It’s a great example of how Three Sticks strives to build our team’s knowledge base and continually pursue excellence. It was great. On the harvest side, like Don said, the high acids and steady pH in all the wines is nothing like I’ve seen. We almost didn’t need our sorting table this year.
Three Sticks: Jenny, you’re our newest member of the winemaking team. After getting your MS in Viticulture and Enology at U.C. Davis, and then working harvests in New Zealand, South Africa, and California, what’s been your overall experience here, and what was it like getting out of the lab and onto the floor?
Jenny: Learning to drive a forklift was a highlight. My time on the winery floor also gave me a greater perspective on how the science of chemistry directly relates to the art and flat-out hard work that it takes to make great wine. I think the best example is that Three Sticks harvests its grapes in 40lb bins, unlike most wineries that use one-ton bins. People think we’re crazy. They have a nickname for our bins – I won’t share here. Yes, it takes much longer to harvest and then process from 40lb bins, but the pay off comes in the quality of gently handling the fruit. Instead of feeling frustrated by the extra hours, I actually experienced a sense of pride like I’ve never felt before anywhere else.
Three Sticks: Don, any final thoughts?
Don: Right now, everything is looking very good for 2012. We’ve got a bit more fruit and some new sources in tank and barrels -- and cement eggs -- so this will help with tight allocations for our growing number of friends and fans. In the end, as is always the case, a vintage will take time to truly reveal itself – and this is just one of the many reasons we love the challenge of making great wine.
CLICK HERE to join our Allocation List.
We also encourage you to reach out to our new Hospitality Director Hayden Schmidter with any questions concerning allocations and future releases at Hayden@ThreeSticksWines.com.