Eleven months sounds like both a short time and a long time. It’s as though either a lot can happen in 11 months, or very little can happen. It’s less than a year, but more than a passing season. At Willow Creek Estate, 11 months has gone by so quickly but look how far we’ve come.
To begin, let’s clarify the timeline. We moved into Willow Creek Estate the day after Thanksgiving in 2016. But we didn’t take official possession of the property until the second week of December. So as of this writing, we began working on property improvements more than 11 months ago. Technicalities …
Projects like this never go the way you imagine they’ll go. Sometimes, you’ll get a happy surprise, which is always nice. More often than not, though, you get a setback you didn’t expect or a hurdle that is higher than you thought. That’s the way it was with Willow Creek Estate. And in the end of these past 11 months, we’ve gone farther than expected and not gotten as much done as we wanted.
As I’ve written before, the regulatory process had its ups and downs. We got Federal permitting more quickly than expected. Then State permitting took longer than we hoped. It didn’t help that we changed regulatory course midway through the process (that’s a whole other story). Thankfully, those issues are now behind us.
The vineyard continues to be a challenge. When a farm has been neglected as long as Willow Creek Estate has been, it takes hard work and time to fix things. Our drip system is mostly rebuilt, but our trellises haven’t been touched yet. Our soil is healthy, but a vast gopher problem is keeping our vines from getting the nutrients they want. We have spots of vine dysfunction and, in some cases, entire rows are missing. So, yes, the vineyard will take much more time.
Harvest went reasonably well. Not knowing the farm’s personality makes the first (and probably the second) harvest tricky. It doesn’t help that we’re growing Zinfandel, a fruit known to have a difficult personality. And then there was our brutal heatwave leading into the harvest season, which triggered a difficult decision to pull the fruit earlier than planned. We took about three tons of grapes. That’s a ton less than we hoped. On the bright side, the juice looked and smelled amazing.
Winemaking is fun. There are literally thousands of decisions that go into the process. And with each decision comes the anxiety of the unknown. What if we’re not doing “the right thing?” Our 2017 vintage will include our Estate Zinfandel and a Petite Syrah made from fruit grown in San Miguel. From those harvests we will end up with three wines. We’ll have a 100% Zin, a 100% Petite Syrah, and a blend of the two. But aside from what wines to makes, a winemaker must find “a voice” or a process philosophy. We’ll be organic and sustainable, as well as minimalist. Many things can be added to wine to “adjust” color, taste and aroma. For Willow Creek Estate wines, we’ll only use additives if Mother Nature messes with us somehow.
Finally, the business side of a winery demands sales. It’s all about club membership. We’ve added our first three club members. No names listed here. You know who you are. High-5s and great thanks to you for your support. For more information, check out our club membership page.
Stay tuned for more exciting developments from Willow Creek Estate. It’s sure to be an exciting ride.