Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Robert Rex on the Winemaker's relationship with Growers

Deerfield Ranch Winemaker, Robert Rex, wrote this in response to a fan's questions about our grape sources:

Hello Mark,

We do have an estate wine. It is Estate organic Syrah. We have relationships (contracts and handshakes) with 29 Sonoma County vineyards, which allows us to choose wine from where they grow the best. Cabernet nor Pinot Noir would grow well on our property, too much soil for Cab, too hot for Pinot. I like Chardonnay from east facing slopes and Sangiovese and Cabernet from mountain tops. We get Old Vine Zin from Dry Creek Valley, the best place in the world in my opinion to grow Zinfandel. Pinot comes form the Sonoma Coast (Stage gulch district) Merlot comes from four different spots. Malbec and Syrah from the valley flow, which gives them more dark berry flavors. Many of our partnerships with these growers go back 20 to 30 years or more. As we grow we add new vineyards very carefully. It is as much about the relationships as it is the grapes. We, the grower and the winemaker, need to be on the same page.

One of my main jobs as the head winemaker is to take an active role in the decisions made in most of the vineyards, especially when to pick the fruit and often from which rows. It takes about five years to learn how to make the best wine from a given vineyard so the long term relationships are vital. It sort of like having estate vineyards but we didn’t have to shell out the millions to by them and farm them. I’d rather pay for this in the price of the grapes. You will find the vineyards listed on our labels, even often in the blends. This type of relationship is the most common in California, way more common than wineries who own all their own vines.

There are plenty of grapes grown. In fact the best grapes are grown by people who don’t make wine. They are both specialized crafts. The winemaker needs to spend a lot more time in the vineyard than does the grower in the winery. Today our vineyard crew is out taking suckers off the vines and making sure the cordons are tied to carry the coming weight. My friend is spraying our vineyard and another we lease (Petit Verdot, which could also be called “Estate” because we do the farming) with an organic mixture of mildew inhibitors. I, on the other had, worked on two wine blends this morning in anticipation of the next bottling in July. I also started our barrel program list so I can order barrels. This gives you some idea of the division of duties.

We own about 62 acres of land in Kenwood, both sides of the ridge where the winery is. We have planted only 7 acres. The rest, by design has been left as habitat. The land you see around the vineyards is wetlands and we are protecting and restoring it. We own the forest behind it. It is one of only about 10 places in the U.S. where sizeable wetlands meets a forest. This provides a very rich habitat for flora and fauna. We have many wild animals including a black bear (his habitat is from our forest to Sonoma Mountain, mountain lions, bob cats, foxes, fresh water otters (occasionally seen in the pond) and hundreds of other smaller species. If you were there this past weekend you might have seen the five baby Canada geese just hatched last week, cute as the dickens in their chartreuse green down. We would never consider cutting down the trees and filling in the wetlands to plant more grapes. We think it is important to protect what wild land there is left in Sonoma. It is one of the things that makes Sonoma County so special. There are plenty of great grapes grown by our friends, as our wines attest. Thanks for asking the question.

Regards, Robert

Friday, October 26, 2012

Deerfield Ranch Winery Sets the Standard for Clean Wine



There is a growing demand for Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable wine. Last year, the food industry grew 1 percent, while the organic food industry grew 8 percent. Consumers want food and wine made without using synthetic chemicals such as pesticides, growth hormones and other additives. Wine consumers want wine made using farming practices that support a self-sufficient and healthy ecosystem – benefitting the environment. These biodynamic practices follow principles such as crop rotation, composting, homeopathic fertilizers and animal life.  As a result of the increased demand for these two production processes, came official certification and labeling standards that had to be met by producers in order to label their wine ‘Organic’ or ‘Biodynamic’. The USDA sets the standards for which wineries can label their wine ‘Organic’. Strict guidelines must be followed such as not using any of the chemicals on the ‘Prohibited Substance’ list and undergoing periodic inspections before a winery can label their wine as ‘Organic’. The Demeter Association grants biodynamic certification for wine. This association requires wineries that place the Demeter Wine stamp of approval on their bottles to adhere to requirements such as agronomic guidelines, livestock guidelines, post-harvest handling and processing procedures. In order to be a certified organic winery, the winery must adhere to the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) guidelines and undergo annual inspections by the CCOF. Deerfield Ranch Winery has been a certified organic winery for four years now.

There also exists a demand for wine that has low histamines and sulfites. More and more people are realizing that the reason they get negative reactions to wine such as headaches, redness in the face and other allergic reactions is because of winemaking practices. Robert Rex, winemaker for Deerfield Ranch Winery, has been making Clean Wine for thirty-years and has established the standard in the wine industry for producing low histamine, low sulfite wine. PJ, Robert’s wife, is allergic to sulfites and gets red wine headaches. Robert, a chemist, was determined to make wine PJ could drink – with his chemistry education and over 40 years of winemaking experience Robert Rex sets the standard for clean wine making, and yes, PJ can drink Robert’s wine.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Clean Wine Story


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For those of you who haven’t heard the Deerfield story, PJ Rex came from Iowa to California to go to school and meet a California boy. At Berkeley, she met Robert, who said he was from L.A ( Osage, Iowa actually). Robert kept PJ’s Alfa Romeo running (takes an Italian) and as a thank you, PJ gave him a winemaking kit. Robert is a chemist by training, chef by avocation and artist by nature. PJ says a winemaking kit was the perfect gift for Robert... It proved to be more than that when Robert won Best of Show in the California State Fair for his 1972 Zinfandel, his first wine.

The irony behind PJ giving Robert a winemaking kit is that she is extremely allergic to many of the by-products created during the winemaking process and in fact, can’t drink most wine. With the public accolades reinforcing Roberts confidence in his winemaking, Robert now had another goal in mind - he was determined to make wine PJ could drink. Through trial and error, his knowledge of chemistry and his passion to not cut corners in the winemaking process - the concept of clean wine was born. Robert began producing wine that the “canary (PJ) in the (23,000 square foot) cave” could drink.

Today, hundreds of Deerfield Ranch Winery fans are able to drink Deerfield wine without the negative reactions they get from other wines. What started as a token of gratitude has evolved into a concept that we are passionate about sharing with the world. Help us spread the clean wine message and share with friends that can’t drink wine at all or drink wine but get reactions to the sulfites or histamines that there is clean wine - Deerfield wines. Tell your friends, family, co-workers and fellow wine enthusiasts that a movement has begun. Join the clean wine movement! Drink Deerfield and discover the difference.

P.S. PJ is still driving the Alfa Romeo... and finally got her own label!

So, What exactly is clean wine and what techniques do we use to make it? Find out here - http://www.cleanwine.info.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Robert Rex's Brain Child - the @Wine


When texting doesn’t fit the bill, when real face time is what you need- this wine is where it’s @”. The @wine, a by-the-glass wine that exceeds all expectations is Robert Rex’s, the Winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery, brain child. By merging the social, dynamic, interactive form of the internet with the inherently social characteristic of wine – a new brand with a meaning is born - the @wine.

Robert Rex has been making wine at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Sonoma County for over thirty years. Robert says “winemaking is 60% cooking and 40% chemistry”. A Chemistry major from UC Berkeley and a decorated Master Chef, Robert blends his hobby and vocation to produce some of the best wine in the World – as evidenced by over 250 wine awards. Yet, Robert wanted something more – he wanted a wine for every occasion, an everyday wine you could be proud to serve your friends. By using the relationships he had created over the years as a winemaker for Deerfield, Robert put together a lineup of the four most popular varietals in the world - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet, from appellations and vineyards famous for their respective varietals. There is a Chardonnay from Santa Maria and Napa, reflecting the difference in terrior. The @ Merlot from Mendicino is the perfect BBQ wine and Pinot Noir from the Edna Valley on the Central Coast where ocean breeze and mild summers produce award winning Pinots. Finally, the Cabernet is from the Sonoma Valley where elegant cabs are produced. The @wine comes in screw top bottle for easy access and no planning needed when the time is right to open a bottle. The varietal is largely displayed on the front of the bottle in bright, lively colors that are easy to associate with each varietal, producing a package that is eye catching and friendly. The concept of the @wine is to introduce and educate people about wine and the lifestyle associated with wine. Creating a label and wine brand that is recognizable and fun, not intimidating. “Over delivers” is key to the @wine philosophy. There is an increasing interest in wine in today’s culture and Robert strives to educate and inform this growing audience of wine drinkers with the @wine and give his Deerfield fans an everyday wine for every occasion. Unlike some wines that scream “wine snob” and “exclusive”, the @wine appeals to people that just enjoy wine. The @wine team asks new, interested wine drinkers to pick a wine or two – go to the @wine website and we will give you a recipe for the perfect pairing and a shopping list with instructions on how to impress your friends – welcome to the wine world.

This doesn’t mean that the @wine is just for new wine drinkers though. The wine has an excellent price to value ratio that everyone can appreciate. We know the $125 bottle of DRX gets tucked away for a special occasion. Sometimes, however, you just need to entertain some guests with a nice, reasonably priced bottle of good wine that will be appreciated by all. That’s where the @wine comes in.

Deerfield’s sister winery, the @winery, is located at the Family Wineries Tasting Room at 9380 Sonoma Highway in Kenwood, CA. There is an elegant, spacious, beautiful back yard that is the perfect spot for a picnic or outing with a friend. Come by the Deerfield Ranch Winery tasting room in our 23,000 square foot cave and we will give you and a friend an @wine 2 for 1 tasting card. We will also order a picnic lunch for you and your friends to be delivered to the family wineries tasting room - which should definitely be your next stop!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Tasting

Fruity. Spicy. Powerful.”, were the words heard around the Deerfield table at the 2012 Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Tasting, as Winemaker Robert Rex quickly filled the glasses of the boisterous Zin-thusiasts. These adjectives, used by Winemaker Robert Rex, describe the varietal that Deerfield Ranch Winery is increasingly becoming known for “Zinfandel”. The wines Robert was describing were the “fruity” 2007 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, the “spicy” 2008 White Perry Zinfandel and the “powerful” 2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel.  As Robert Rex explains it, “We’ve learned more from making Zinfandel than any other wine.” The challenges brought on by the Old Vine Zinfandel have called for new techniques to be created and old ones to be honed. With this experience, the other Zinfandels have become more balanced, better tasting and more intriguing over time. Our Zinfandels were once again received positively by the tasters at this years ZAP event. It became common-place at the Deerfield booth to hear, “This is the best Zinfandel I’ve tasted today”. With over 200 wineries present, this was quite the compliment. So what exactly has made Deerfield ‘Famous for our Zinfandel’?

If accolades determine what is ‘famous’, then this is part of the answer. Deerfield has received various awards for Zinfandels over the years. For 12 out of the past 15 years we have recieved 90 - 95 Points in the Wine Enthusiast for our Old Vine Zinfandels. The current release 2007 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel and the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel won Gold medals in this year’s Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Other recent reviews and awards for Deerfield Zinfandels include: Best Pick in blind tasting by the Tennessean Magazine and silver in the 2010 SF Chronicle Wine Competition for the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel; Best Red Wine in the 2010 Winefest in Edmonton, Canada and Wine of the Show in the Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival for the 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel. These awards are definitely appreciated and something the Deerfield family is proud of - but as Robert Rex says “ We are not in the business of accumulating awards”. There is more to what makes Deerfield Zinfandels both spectacular and special. Just look at the history.

The first Zinfandel in America was planted in Sonoma Valley in 1850, the White Perry Vineyard is on the very same property as the first Zinfandel Vineyard. The Deerfield 2007 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel has 38% of its grapes from the White Perry Vineyard. The rest of the fruit is from the Los Chamizal Vineyard which is a stones throw from the first planting. This heritage brings an abundance of quintessential Zinfandel flavors such as dark berry fruit and white pepper. As Robert puts it, “If you want to know what Zinfandel should taste like, this is it.” Our Old Vine Zinfandel comes from vines that have been producing grapes for 125 years. We have been making wine from these vines for over 30 years. This powerful Old Vine Zinfandel is a challenge to produce. The vines don’t ripening evenly, the grapes lack sufficient nutrients for the yeast and high alcohol causing the fermentation to stop or stick before all the sugar is converted. These problems have taught us how to make great Zinfandel. As you can see, Deerfield Zinfandels have a rich and rare history to back them up. This history brings along with it characteristics that make the wine very special.

The positive reviews, top awards and rich history Deerfield Zinfandel carries with it are merely additions to what makes all Deerfield wines what they are. Our motto at Deerfield is “Taste The Passion”. We use the best barrels and grapes that come from growers that are just as dedicated as us, we triple hand-sort the grapes, use the most gentle production techniques, experiment with the latest ideas while operating from the foundation of tradition. The wines are lovely in appearance, fruity in the nose, balanced and delicious. Deerfield wines are also clean, meaning they have very low histamines and sulfite levels so that they produce no headaches or allergic reactions. Essentially, Deerfield Zinfandels are spectacular Deerfield representatives, but try them all!

Heritage of Meritage

There are many people in the wine world, even expert wine enthusiasts and professionals, that pronounce the word ‘Meritage’ incorrectly. They have a tendency to Frenchify the word ‘Meritage’ by pronouncing its last syllable with a ‘zh’ sound, as in ‘garage.’ The Meritage Alliance specifically states that the word should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘heritage’- MEH-rih-tij. This is a made-up word, registered as a US trademark, that wineries use to identify their Bordeaux blends.

The Meritage Association was formed in 1988 by a small group of Napa Valley vintners increasingly frustrated by U.S. regulations stipulating wines that contain at least 75% of a specific grape must be labeled as that varietal. Interest was growing to create Bordeaux-style wines, which by their blended nature fail to qualify for varietal status. Wineries sought to create a recognizable name for their high-quality blended wines and it was getting hard to keep track of them all. As these wines cannot call themselves "Bordeaux" without infringing upon the Bordeaux region's legally protected designation of origin, the Meritage Association organized this collaborative effort to define a "Bordeaux Blend" of grapes that was done on non-French soil. They had over 6,000 people submit choices for the name of this blend, and "Meritage" won. This is a deliberate combination of the words "Merit" and "Heritage". By 1999, the Meritage Association had grown to 22 members. Shifting its focus from trademark policing to education and marketing resulted in swift growth. By 2003 the Meritage Association had over 100 members, including its first international participants. In May 2009, the Meritage Association announced that it has changed its name to the Meritage Alliance. As of August 2009, the Alliance had over 250 members.

So now that you know the history and correct pronunciation of the word ‘Meritage’, lets get into what exactly makes up a Meritage wine. First off, its a blend of Bordeaux varietals. No grape can be over 75% of the blend or else it is designated as that varietal. In order to be considered a red Meritage the blend must be made up of at least two of the following grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot. A white Meritage must be made up of at least two of the following grapes : Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon. Also, in order to earn the name "meritage" the wine can't be a mass-marketed wine. The winery's release of a Meritage must be under 25,000 cases. It has to be a "high-end" wine for the winery - it can't be their bargain basement offering and is intended to showcase the high quality wines.

At Deerfield, we take pride in our Meritage wines. Winemaker Robert Rex makes two different types of these blends with unique specifications. The Deerfield Meritage is made from the above mentioned Bordeaux grapes from a single vineyard. The Deerfield DRX is made from the best tasting barrels of the Bordeaux varietals in the wine cave (marked with an “X” by the winemaker). These our our flagship wines!

Chardonnay

Crisp, fruity, lean style chardonnay or oaky, buttery style chardonnay? What’s your preference? Some would say they love a glass of “ California Chardonnay” that is big, expressive, has lots of vanilla, butter and oak. Others prefer a Frenc...
h style Chardonnay with fruit characteristics leaning toward the crisp fruitiness of apples, pears and lemon.

During the 1980’s the buttery, oaky style Chardonnay was at its peak of popularity. Partially due to the advent of the “Spago” style menu, with choices likes Chinese chicken salad, breast of chicken salad and the pasta craze; the American palate developed a liking for the smoothness of Chardonnay with the butteriness of a pasta or chicken dish. During this time Oaky, buttery Chardonnay also became a popular cocktail substitute for women at bars. Soon this oaky, buttery Chardonnay hype created a negative conotation for this type of wine.

Depending on the type of oak the wine was aged in will determine the specific oak characteristics. French oak adds smoke, caramel, vanilla or butterscotch ; while American oak creates dill and coconut tastes. The problem with oaky Chardonnay and the emergence of phrases like ‘ ABC’ or ‘ Anything But Chardonnay’ by restauranteurs was that winemakers began over oaking chardonnay. This grew as a phenomenon because winemakers were attempting to emulate the legendary white Burgundies. In Burgundy, barrel fermentation and aging are standard practices for the finest wines. But the weather is very cool there, and Chardonnay grapes struggle to fully ripen, producing fruit with low sugar levels and high acidity. This fruit can stand up to the use of oak barrels, absorbing subtle complexity rather than harsh woodiness. In warmer regions, such as California, the fruit produced is riper with high sugars and lower acidity. If this kind of fruit is subjected to intense oak regimen, it often becomes woody and the lush fruit character of Chardonnay is overwhelmed.

Butter is often ascribed to oak. This is a common misconception. A process called malolactic fermentation is used to convert the tartness found naturally in grape skins into lactic acid which creates a buttery, creamy feeling and taste and adds roundness to the wine. A Chardonnay can be buttery without being oaky.

Many claim that the natural varietal taste and smell of Chardonnay is often disguised by the dominating winemaking signatures. Chardonnay’s primary fruit characteristics lean toward crisp, fruitiness of apples and pears but the varietals body is capable of supporting characteristics such as oak, butter and vanilla. In an effort to reproduce the great whites of Burgundy, Chardonnay has often been subjected to excessive oak fermentation and aging, These wines lose their varietal and regional signatures.

Not to say that french, more acidic, lean style chardonnay is better than it’s oaky, buttery counterpart. It’s simply a matter of taste.

Deerfield Ranch Chardonnay is more Burgundian in style. We focus less on oak and butter and more on the subtle nuances of flavor from the fruit, plus balanced acidity and layered complexity.