Harvest at Coursey Graves has come to a close - a nearly perfect vintage! The 2022 growing season began with an unpredictable spring shower, followed by generous sun and cool marine influences. During the mid-summer months, thermal inversion provided ideal temperatures, with foggy mornings setting the stage for vibrant and expressive wines. A pair of late heatwaves kicked harvest into high gear with the estate team hand-harvesting clusters at optimal sugar and acidity levels.
Our Associate Winemaker, Matt Casalenuovo, will now guide the wine through fermentation, pressing, élevage, and bottling before it is ready for you to enjoy! While we wait, we are excited to share a beautiful infographic highlighting the winemaking process and all of the decisions winemakers make after the grapes come off the vine. Enjoy!
Ahead of the Fall Release - a rare Library Vertical of the 2015-2018 BME Blend - we have made an instructional video sharing our favorite way to open aged bottles from the cellar. A two-prong cork puller (Ah-so) is a gentle way of lifting fragile corks from the bottle. If you don't have an Ah-so in your wine toolkit, we will be sending all of our collectors their very own with the Fall Release in September. Cheers!
To become a collector, join the Coursey Graves Allocation. The Fall Release will open September 12th and close September 19th.
International Pinot Noir Day today may be received with more enthusiastic engagement, but National Honeybee Day on Saturday deserves just as much celebration. The correlation between pollinators and fine wine quality may not be an obvious one, but we feel so passionately about the subject that we are committed to observing the role of honeybees in our own regenerative viticulture, focusing on beehives as a catalyst for fine wine.
Although vines are self-pollinating, research shows that the best wines are made from soils teeming with life. There is a lot of existing research showing how bees help cover crops (and vice versa), and how cover crops help the soil’s microbiome, and how the microbiome helps the vines and the taste of the wines. Cross-pollinated biodiversity and a nutrient-rich microbiome are defining contributors to long-term vine health and to the complexity of flavors in wine
During one of our recent hive checks, our estate beekeeper, Joy Wesley, took a minute to answer a few of our questions.
Joy, when and how did you become a beekeeper?
The truth is, I have been fascinated by bees for as long as I can remember. In the summer of 2013, my husband saw a book about beekeeping and without a second thought he bought it for me. Over the years he listened to me talk about my desire to keep bees and wanted to support my passion. When I found myself ready to put down roots, I chose beekeeping in Sonoma County. The bees have shaped my life in this amazing region of California. I am always grateful for the privilege to observe, learn, and love what they can provide me and this planet of ours.
Why are honeybees so important?
Ah! I love this question. The public is familiar with honeybees because, unlike the rest of the insect world, honeybees produce something that is sweet and delicious. They are the gateway to the larger conversation about pollinator health and habitat. Like the honeybees, pollinators such as wasps, beetles, butterflies, bats, moths, hummingbirds, and other bee species suffer from losses of habitat and frequent exposure to pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. When the honeybees are directly affected, humans feel a more immediate effect. Without the popularity of the honeybee, the struggles of other pollinators would go unnoticed.
How many honeybees typically live in a colony?
Depending on the kind of hive, at the peak of summer there may be upwards of 80,000 bees in a hive. In winter that number can drop to less than 10,000.
Currently, how large has our colony grown? And how many colonies do you think this estate can support?
The colony is rebounding after re-queening, and the new queen is doing her best to create a strong population going into winter. While it’s a small colony now, it is healthy. If this colony can successfully make it through winter, it may grow strong enough to complete the cycle and get split (which is a beekeeper-planned swarm) next spring.
Watching how this colony thrives, or doesn’t, and evaluating the landscape for the possibility of wild honeybee colonies in the local oak tree woodlands will help determine how many colonies can be introduced to the local ecosystem. We don’t want to displace any native pollinators and bee tree honeybees. Every property is different. But if we make decisions more aligned with how Mother Nature works, we are being stewards of the land. That that is what I think about when evaluating a property for honeybee colonies and for providing all pollinators with clean, healthy, abundant forage and habitat.
Is it true that most of the bees within a colony are female?
That is true. Female worker honeybees make up most of the bee population in a hive. They do all the hive maintenance including cleaning the hive, feeding the baby bees, guarding the hive from intruders, removing the sick and the dead from the hive, tending to the queen (feeding, cleaning, guiding), foraging for food, water, and sap, regulating the temperature of the hive, creating wax for building comb, locating a new home when it's time to swarm, and many other amazing things!
How far do honeybees travel for food and what do they eat?
Honeybees can fly upwards of 5 miles in search of forage but average about 2-3 miles from the hive in search of food and water. Honeybees gather both nectar and pollen. Nectar is their energy source and pollen is their protein source. Adult and baby honeybees need both! So, if you have the space, even just enough for a few pots, plant a native garden that blooms at different months throughout the year.
What role can honeybees play in agriculture or even regenerative agriculture?
Agriculture and insects (including the honeybee) have been intertwined in a dance that allows both to thrive when they are in balance. Both can also fail if pushed too hard to work in an extractive system instead of a regenerative system. Bees are a keystone species. My vision for how best to tend to the pollinators in agricultural settings has been to benefit the planet by reintroducing a varied living landscape. This can promote a resurgence of insect and animal life, giving regenerative cycles of life and death the opportunity to provide a multitude of living beings with nourishment. That sounds a bit poetic, but essentially the honeybees (and other insects) contribute to the biodiversity above ground, so that cycle can contribute to the biodiversity below ground in the soil, so the soil can contribute to the biodiversity above ground. This is the dance.
When you look at this estate, what excites you about establishing honeybee colonies here?
The enthusiasm and curiosity of the people here is what excites me the most about moving forward with the pollinator program at this property. From the winemaker to the estate host, everyone is excited about the honeybees. Folks are equally excited about supporting the native pollinators as well, and even excited about the plants that support the whole system. When folks see how interconnected the plants, insects, and humans are they truly light up and want to contribute to the wellbeing of all that inhabits a place.
If someone wants to know more about the amazing things honeybees do, what book do you recommend they read?
I highly recommend The Lives of Bees by Dr. Thomas D. Seeley. His story is captivating. As a scientist, he shares what is being learned about the behavior, social life, and survival strategies of wild honeybees. And he offers the principles and vision for beekeeping in alignment with the natural habits of honeybees.
Bennett Valley, Sonoma County
Framed by Sonoma Mountain, Taylor Peak, and Bennett Mountain - Bennett Valley is geographically the smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Sonoma County. The rocky mix of soil, maritime climate, and coastal stratus create exciting conditions for farming prestigious Old World varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Composed of small, grower-operated estates, the 30+ vineyards in the AVA each average less than twenty acres.
What’s an AVA?
An American Viticultural Area (AVA, or appellation) is a nationally recognized grape-growing region with specific features that distinguish it from surrounding areas. There are AVAs in 34 states, but California is home to the vast majority, and Sonoma and Napa Counties account for almost a quarter of the state’s recognized appellations. Sonoma County stretches from the Pacific Coast in the west to the Mayacama Mountains in the east, with 60,000+ acres of vineyards across 19 appellations. Napa Valley was the first AVA recognized in California and the second in the nation. Within Napa Valley are 16 smaller, nested appellations, including Howell Mountain, Oakville, Rutherford, and Stags Leap.
An appellation is defined by a combination of specific geographic and climatic features such as elevation and altitude, topography, latitude and exposure, air currents, and more. And while there may be broadly swathed varietal similarities within an appellation, the greatest wines will reflect the unique terroir of their sourced vineyard.
Our Terroir: Graves Vineyard
The Graves Vineyard has a terroir unlike any other in California’s premier grape-growing appellations. Eighteen acres of low-yield vines are generatively farmed on the steep, sunny slopes of Bennett Mountain. Daytime temperatures are moderated by coastal stratus and onshore winds, but a nighttime temperature inversion warms the vineyard through the night and into the early morning. The craggy hillside of the Graves Vineyard is also a place where the distinction between rock and soil is unusually blurred. A mixture of varying sizes of fragmented basalt and andesite rock and volcanic sediment is uniquely sparse of the moisture and biological material that would otherwise deem it as soil.
Low-yielding vines produce grapes with unprecedented concentration and complexity (aroma, flavor, and texture) with well-draining volcanic soil and a cooler maritime climate. But concentration is not necessarily ripe flavors, rather, there is less juice relative to pulp and skins. These premium grapes have an unrivaled concentration of color, tannin, and acidity.
Acidity is the key structural element balancing tannin and alcohol. A high concentration of acidic compounds provides the backbone needed for long-term aging. The iron and potassium in this type of volcanic soil lend to an exciting tension, edginess, and savory quality in the wines they produce. The sensation is one of minerality. The abundance of stone, metal, and mineral nutrients in the soil is reflected in the wine. A purity of aromatics and fruit, without an imbalance of phenolic dryness, results in supple, mouthwatering wines.
The connection between an appellation and the character of the resulting wine from grapes farmed there is romantically anecdotal, but when we understand the finely tuned role of geology and climate, we can discern its influences and measure its worth in a wine. There is an intricate kinship between air, sun, soil, and grapes that can only be captured by a site’s terroir. The truth is, great wines come from great sites, not zip codes.