On Wednesday, November 9th we harvested the syrah vineyard just outside the tasting room. The weather had been unbelievable for early November. Sunny, warm, no freezing temps in sight. We could have picked almost any day, but Keith wanted to hold off in order to make this vintage something extra special. We had originally planned to pick on November 1st, the due date for baby Jackson. We let nature take its course. Jackson showed up Wednesday morning, eight days later than expected but on the memorable day he chose for his birthday and our syrah harvest. Jackson represents the 8th generation of our farming family and we wanted him to have a say in this vintage. It's going to be incredible. How can it be anything less? To everything there is a season and harvest season is over. Time for the celebration season. Looking at Jackson reminds us that it's the big things that make the news but it's the small things that make the difference. Wine is life. Life is magic. It's all amazing.
Summer is ending; the grapes are looking great; harvest is near but not quite here. It's enough to drive you crazy! The first half of August was very hot and very dry, so I prayed for rain. Then the rains came and wouldn't quit. Overkill. Next time, I'm just going to pray for money. Skip that whole part of the equation involving work. The pinot noir outside the tasting room will be one of the first grapes we harvest. They have turned a beautiful, almost black color on the vine and show all the signs of being a fantastic vintage. All in all, we are looking at the nicest crop we have seen in several years. We know what to do. Right now it's a waiting game. Patience. All we need are cool nights, warm days, and no more rain. In other words, I would like it to be perfect. Not too much to ask for. This is all part of the process. There is a certain amount of anxiety and paranoia in winemaking that most people never see. That's how it should be. We are trained professionals. Don't you at home try this. For the next few weeks I need to focus on all that has been great about this year and try no to lose sleep over all that could go wrong. Not too much. It's just overkill.
Yes, that's right. Karma Vista did pretty good at the Michigan wine competition this summer. Two Golds, five silver, and a bronze for all the dry reds we entered. Not too shabby. Our Syrah has always been our gold standard ever since we received a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition for our 2012 vintage. To win a gold for our pinot noir has always been on my bucket list. Keith is doing such a fabulous job as winemaker, he keeps crossing things off my bucket list at a much more rapid pace than I had anticipated. Kind of making me a little nervous. Not to worry. Time for a bigger bucket.
It's one hot motor scooter here in the heart of the fruit belt. Middle of peach season and temps are hitting 90 more often than is comfortable. Size is definitely affected by the lack of rain, but the flavor is spectacular! A good omen for what is in store for the wine grapes. Smaller fruit packs more flavor. They say in a dry year you lose sleep, in a wet year you lose money. The moral is, either way you're gonna need a drink! See you soon at the tasting room.
Wow! Summertime is already here and things on the farm are spinning in a state of controlled chaos. Cherry harvest starts just after the 4th of July. There go two weeks with no sleep! Then after a short break, peach harvest for the next six weeks and we are into September. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The long awaited latest vintage of the Devil's Head Red is in the bottle, tasting and selling nicely. So are the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Muscat. More Syrah and Peach Train to bottle sometime before fall to make room for this year's harvest, which by the way is shaping up to be spectacular! This is the first year I can recall where winter never got below zero degrees and there were zero spring frosts. Unheard of! We have no bad weather to blame, so the pressure is really on us this year! We've had a couple nice showers in the past week, gorgeous sunny days, and all the vines and trees are a beautiful deep green. Yes, it's such an embarrassment of riches I am practically blushing. Or perhaps that's the wine?
Ah! Springtime in Michigan. Sun one day, snow the next. Supposed to get pretty frigid overnight and again this weekend. But are we worried? No. We've had a great winter. One of the mildest in a long time. We're starting off with a lot more buds to spare than in recent years. The tasting room is back open and Sue and I are using muscles we haven't used in a couple of months, so that's a good thing. Wine still to bottle, grapes to trim, so much to do....once it warms up. 2016 is going to be a spectacular year. You can just feel it in the air. You just can't feel your lips!
Just like that, the year is over. Our last day at the tasting room is next Monday, December 21st. The shortest day of what has been a very long year. We have had a wonderful, mild fall that looks like it will spill over into a wonderful, mild winter. We deserve it. We've earned it! After two of the toughest winters on record we are looking forward to temps that stay above zero. We have removed about six acres of vines that were either killed or crippled by the last two winters. I'm actually excited to see the open ground and by the anticipation of the great new wines that will come from the varieties we are replanting there. To quote the prophets (Red Hot Chili Peppers), "Destruction leads to a very rough road, but it also breeds creation." We have learned a lot about what to plant and where to plant it, and as Dad always said, "You can't put a price on an education!" (However, your banker will make you come up with an educated guess.) The vineyards on our best sites have done great. Our pinot noir is just coming out of its final fermentation and is a fabulous bright cherry color and flavor. The chardonnay is still going through malolactic fermentation before we put it into oak for six months or more. The fruit for both was beautiful and the wines will show it. The riesling and sauvignon blanc just continue to get better every year. Our syrah vineyard took a beating, but the best corner of it is still producing some spectacular stuff. Keith says that wine just makes itself, but he is being modest. He has produced some of the finest wine in Michigan and he is just over 30 years old. All the more reason to dwell on the future and not the past. Some of these wines won't be available at the tasting room until 2017, but we have to keep sampling them ourselves to measure the progress. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it!
We are looking forward to our long winter's nap, reopening on Friday, March 4th when the cycle starts all over again. Sue and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have become such good friends and "vistanistas" over the last 14 years. We couldn't have drunk it all without you!
Wine is life, wine is family.
Wine is best served with conversation. Improve the wine, improve the conversation. Cheers!
The results are in from the 2015 Michigan Wine Competition and, once again, the Devil's Head Red was selected as the Best of Class in the semi-dry red category. Just the piece of good news we needed to get us through a long, crazy summer. The Devil's Head Red won the same trophy two years ago, so we entered it again this year just to keep the judges honest. Sure enough, they picked it a second time. Keith has done a spectacular job of converting all of the 2014 harvest into wonderful wines. That has not been easy considering that 2014 was our most challenging year both weather and grape wise. Karma Vista also took home a double gold medal at the same competition for our Peach Train, a fantastic peach wine made from our own fresh peaches. Granddaughter Gwen is in charge of quality control for the peach crop and is currently inspecting the fruit for the upcoming vintage. "Now that I'm in charge, I think we can get a triple gold next year," Gwen has been overheard thinking. Summer is almost gone and the grapes are turning color. The 2015 crop looks incredible at this point. We've had more rain than we need and are envisioning a warm, dry fall. The tasting room is busy and only going to get more so as we head into September and October. We have to remind ourselves to take the time to really appreciate the beauty of the vineyards and the sky around us. Don't rush it. Let the moment come to you. It's a great time of year. The beauty of nature is its own reward, but the trophy is nice too!
One of the more exciting things we are doing at Karma Vista is experimenting with the conventional wisdom of what vineyards should look like. We have eliminated herbicide, or weed spray use on the vineyards completely. Instead of a bare strip of ground underneath the vines, we have grass all the way up to the trunks. If you look at the vineyards with fresh eyes, the beginner's mind, you begin to realize the folly of spraying poison in the root zone. What could possibly go wrong with that? Right? Weed sprays became all the rage sometime around the 50's when we decided that hoeing and mowing was too much work. Better living through chemistry and all that. Those strips of bare ground underneath the vines and trees became the definition of what good horticulture looks like. The grower would decide what would live and what would die on his land. You are the master and the soil is your servant. Bare ground meant there was no competition for moisture for the trees, vines and fruit and everything would be bigger and healthier. Unfortunately, there is nothing natural about bare ground. A bare strip of ground should be cause for alarm. There is something causing the ground to be barren. There is no life in the soil. Nature abhors a vacuum. Even nastier, more pernicious weeds pop up in the bare soil, so you spray again, often with even nastier more pernicious chemicals. What could possibly be wrong with that? Right? So just for the heck of it (and to drive all the university experts crazy...an added bonus), we've decided to just deal with the grass rather than the weeds. After all, we are caretakers of the whole thing, not just the vines. It's about the soil, the space between the vines, the whole vineyard ecosystem we are called to take care of. It is a lot more work than blissfully driving around spraying poison in the root zone, but the vines look happy and the wines taste great. Unlike our vineyard buddies on the West Coast, we have the embarrassing problem of having way more water than what we need. The grass underneath will help wick away much of that moisture and leave our hillsides intact. When the fall comes and we hit the real rainy season, less of the moisture will be drawn up into the grapes which will make them stay smaller and sweeter. We like to think that at Karma Vista we are on the cutting edge of doing nothing. Can you dig it?!
Our 2014 Riesling won a silver medal this week at the Tasters Guild International competition held annually in Grand Rapids. So that’s kinda cool. Just bottled a few weeks ago, it is easily the tastiest riesling we have ever made. Bright apple; crisp; just the right amount of cowbell. So we've got that going for us. Temps have warmed up and spring may actually hang around this time without the usual nasty frosts as in prior years. So that’s kinda nice. Next up is bottling the Muscat, Marquette, Peach Train and Devil’s Head, all of which are tasting great in the cellar next door. I've got a fever, and only more wine can quench it! So that’s kinda groovy.
This past winter was cruel once again, but let's try not to dwell on that. Some of the vines that were dead last year, are still dead this year. So that's kinda lame. It is not a crop for the faint of heart. I keep reminding people that this is a dangerous business. I am a trained professional, don’t you at home try this. Occasionally, I have to remind myself of that fact. I have been at this a long time now and I still think it is safe to say that 2015 will be an odd year. So we’ve got that to look forward to. See you soon!
Since we won a silver medal (2012 Reserve Syrah) at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January, we thought we should travel from the west coast of Michigan to the west coast of California for the medal winning tasting on Valentine's Day in San Francisco. Amazing wines, amazing weather. Daughter Kelly went with us and we joined up with Patrick, a St. Joe ex-Pat who now works in the techie tech world of northern California. It was a few hundred wines, a few thousand of our closest friends, and a beautiful day at Fort Mason, on the bay between Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. Stayed in Healdsburg for three days, traveled the Russian River to the ocean and back, and experienced some wonderful wineries along the way, returning on the red eye to O'Hare the morning after a nasty snow storm. We've had another brutal winter here in God's country (southwest Michigan in case you're interested, God). Fortunately, we always know that we begin our journey blessed with more fruit buds and brain cells than are necessary for a happy life. If winter lasted any longer, we might run the risk of running out of both. As it is, no one is quite sure what the right amount of buds and brain cells are to begin with, or to end up with. It's all quite relative (and you know which relatives I'm talking about!). The tasting room is now open again (six days a week until about Christmas) and we are thrilled to be back at it, and seeing so many people who are just as thrilled to be back tasting wine. How groovy to have a job where you can pour yourself into your work, and at the end of the day, pour your work into yourself! Karma is a wonderful thing.
What a nice way to start off the year. Our 2012 Reserve Syrah just won a silver medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This now completes the trifecta for our Coloma syrah vineyard. It's the vineyard you see on your right entering Karma Vista. The vines have such pretty color in the fall that people are always stopping to take their pictures among them. We now have won bronze, silver and gold medals in San Francisco for three separate vintages of our Reserve Syrah. This is the largest competition in the country with over 6,000 wines entered this year. Ours was the only medal winning Syrah in its category not from the West Coast. So that obnoxious honking you hear is us tooting our own horn! The public tasting for the event is in a few weeks on Fisherman's Wharf and you just might see us there soaking up some of the competition. So you see, even though the winery is closed, it's still work, work, work, for me and Sue. Keith is busy crafting the 2014 vintage, the smallest harvest we've ever had at Karma Vista. What we lack in quantity looks like will be more than made up for in quality.
At the same time we are holding our breath as the nighttime low temps hit their winter worst. A freak wind out of the East is robbing us of our lake effect cushion and last night we were colder than the Chicago side of the lake. That doesn't happen very often. The recorders in the area showed about -8 degrees this morning, and it could get much colder tonight. Still nowhere near as bad as last year, but enough to make you nervous. Ok, maybe not you, but it makes me nervous. If that's the worst that we get we should still be in good shape. Any time the vines have as much time to relax as they did last year they are usually super hardy and loaded with buds. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, it's a good time to celebrate with a glass or two of Syrah and a few thousand of our friends in California. Like I said, work, work, work.
It's middle of November; snow is blowing; 21 degrees outside; I'm guessing summer is over. What can we say about 2014? It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. It was a dickens of a year. On the farming end we could complain about the vagaries of Mother Nature, or perhaps the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but that's been done before. For the entire long year we have poured ourselves into our work. Now it is time to pour our work into ourselves. Might as well remember the year fondly. We have had a great season at the winery. Won some pretty fantastic awards for our efforts and added an eighth generation to the family along the way. Introduced a few awesome wines and incredible new labels (like Noirvana) to our portfolio. Like all great wines, we are aging nicely! Our last day open at the tasting room is Monday, December 22nd. Then we will go dormant for two months opening back up the first Friday in March. I use the time to meditate, chant, and contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and the time-space continuum. And I nap a lot. I feel sorry for people who don't have winter. They don't understand the zen of a dormant season. Those boring days of endless sunshine and heat. Who would want that? No time to think about spring and rebirth, mistakes of the past, opportunities of the future, the importance of snow tires and why isn't the furnace working? Of course I wouldn't want to live any further north. That's just crazy! What are my predictions for 2015? It will be an odd year. I'm pretty sure of that.
"Golden years, gold, whop, whop, whop!"
---- Golden Years, David Bowie
Karma Vista won two more gold medals at the Michigan Wine Competition in Lansing this past August. Our 2013 Marquette, a great red wine made from the Marquette grape was awarded the first gold medal. Our wonderful 2013 Sauvignon Blanc won gold as well. Not too shabby! Gwen was equally excited that the Razz M'Tazz that she helped bottle won a silver medal. "I want to leave some room for improvement," Gwen was heard to be thinking. "Silver will do for now, but I've got a lot more tricks up my sleeve. Once I get some sleeves, that is!" Gwen said this is far and away her best summer ever, and, always the optimist, she expects this fall to be an unprecedented harvest.
"I'll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years. Golden years, gold, whop, whop, whop!" D.Bowie
"I can see clearly now, the rain is gone..."
Summer is finally, officially here. Winter is now a distant memory and nature is trying to act like it never happened. So are we. We have been busy bottling the 2012 reds. Trying to get caught up before we start cherry harvest and summer gets away from us. Nice crop of cherries. OK crop of peaches. Half a crop of grapes; but not to worry. We have a healthy supply in the bottle and several varieties are looking good. Like mom always said, "Watch the donut, not the hole." That, followed by, "Clean up all those donut crumbs, Joe! You're such a slob!" But I digest. The vineyard in the photo is our cabernet sauvignon on the home farm. What you don't see is the other end of the vineyard which is froze to the ground. This will be one of those years when the farm will have a heck of a time staying out of the hole. But the wildflowers are beautiful and the sun is shining and we do have at least a partial crop. Some vineyards won't even have that. The new wines are tasting fantastic, and traffic at the tasting room is great and things can only get nicer from here on out. We did win that gold medal in San Francisco this year. Let's not forget about that! And then there's grandbaby Gwen! How could life get any better? I think about mom and the donuts a lot. I often close my eyes and meditate, "see the donut, be the donut, become one with the donut." Mmmmmmm. I feel better already.
"It's gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day!"
"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now"
--My Back Pages, Bob Dylan
For all you old Warriors out there, time to ring out a hoya! We have officially released our 2013 Marquette. In fact, we received a silver medal for it at the International Taster's Guild Competition two weeks ago. Pretty impressive for a dry red just harvested last fall and bottled a couple weeks prior to the competition. Marquette is a great new grape variety just released seven years ago. Being an alumni (the untucked class of '77) I was compelled to plant a small block. Keith has done a wonderful job in the cellar handling the mix of extremely high sugars and high acids in the grapes at harvest. It has a little Pinot Noir in its DNA and we add a splash of our Pinot Noir to it for good measure. It's a team of destiny. A dark, complex wine with a hint of Bing cherry in the finish. Summa Cum Laude!
After less than three months on the job Gwen has been temporarily elevated to assistant winemaker. She has exhibited a wonderful (and very cute) nose, a very sensitive palate, and is certain to grow into the job. "Some people wait their whole life for an opportunity like this," said Gwen's mother Amanda. "Well, technically, I guess she did too." Gwen obviously has her mother's smile, her father's eyes, and her grandfather's hair. One can only imagine what a little bottle time will do!
The new Razz M'Tazz is now available. Comes in a small package.
The wait is finally over. The Devil's Head Red has arrived! After winning the trophy last summer for best semi-dry red in Michigan we quickly sold out. Now our 2013 vintage is ready for tasting and it is better than ever. It has the black pepper like our Syrah, but with a softer, low acid finish. We think we will have enough on hand to get us through to the end of the year, but you never can tell. After all, it is one helluva wine!
"So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you."
Seems like it's been a long winter doesn't it? Mid April. Still cold. May spit snow tonite. How heartless can mother nature be? On the other hand...We are finding many more live buds out there on the farm than we have a right to expect. Winter low temps were somewhere in that 15 below zero range a couple of times. Probably don't have the right to expect any live buds at this point, but we've got em. We're kind of in uncharted territory here. Just don't need to lose any more to spring frost. Haven't got any buds to spare at this point. What's the best way to avoid spring frost you ask? Just so happens the best prevention is a late, late spring. The later the weather breaks, the less likely we are to have freezing early morning temps. Once the plants finally come out, they are off to the races and can make up for lost time quite quickly. So while everyone else is cursing mother nature right now, we are keeping our mouth shut and quietly slipping on heavier clothes. Last average frost date is around May 10th. That date looks pretty close right now, but let's not jinx it by talking about it. Perhaps if we don't curse mother nature, she will return the favor.
Instead, we are busy bottling. We just released our 2013 vintages of Valvin Muscat and Peach Train. Some fantastic stuff, if I do say so myself. April is Michigan Wine Month and we hope to have many more new releases bottled before the month is done. In order to accomplish that we need some cold weather so we are not distracted by all there is to do outside on the farm. Fortunately, the forecast is in our favor. At least for the next week. Are we lucky to live in Michigan or what?
Everyone wants to talk about this winter and how cold and nasty it was. Was it? We didn't notice. We were a little preoccupied with the arrival of Gwen Renee Herman, Keith and Amanda's new baby and our first grandchild. She arrived two weeks early on February 1st in order to better enjoy Valentines Day, which was her original due date. Our other nice surprise this winter was the gold medal we received at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition in January for our Reserve Syrah. We were the only gold medal winner in this Syrah category that wasn't from the west coast, so that's pretty cool. Kind of the second big deal to happen this winter. The tasting room opens March 1st, so spring must be just around the proverbial corner. We have a lot of wines to bottle. Still have a lot of snow to shovel. Grapes to trim. But being around Gwen reminds us how important it is to get a good nap once in a while. She puts everything in its proper perspective. What an amazing winter!