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Behind the Scenes

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January 4, 2018

New Year, Same Amazing Winemaker

2018 marks winemaker, Shawna Miller’s seventh year at Luna Vineyards. She began her winemaking odyssey in an unconventional manner by earning a degree in forestry from Virginia Tech. This nature lover became intrigued by enology, which led her to pursue an Extension Winemaking Certificate from the University of California, Davis.

For Shawna, a career in winemaking was a natural professional progression because her background in agriculture prepared her for some of the unglamorous aspects of the field, including the long, dirty harvest days in the cellar. She relishes the challenges associated with the harvest season.

Food and wine are important to Shawna as a means of connecting with family and friends. The wines she is crafting at Luna Vineyards are made in the true Italian spirit, namely, wines that are made to be part of delicious meals and great company at the table. In this tradition, the varietals she loves to work with most include Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Syrah.

 

I love my job because:

It’s the best job in the world.  I am able to taste amazing wines regularly and spend a good amount of my days hiking around in pristine and breathtaking vineyards in Napa Valley.

I got the passion to become a winemaker from:

A fun loving professor took groups of students on amazing backpacking trips during our breaks.  He would bring his favorite bottles to share with us in breathtaking scenery.  My two passions combined and heading to the west coast to pursue winemaking & vineyard management seemed like the perfect thing to do.

My favorite wine is:

Too many to decide.  I love any if I perceive they were made with passion and love.

Favorite wine to wind down with:

Whatever my husband brings me at night!

If I could drink it with anyone I would drink it with, where and why:

I suppose that defaults to my husband if he’s bringing me wine!  He is also a winemaker and we often have hours of conversation regarding winemaking/vineyard philosophies as a result of trying an interesting bottle at night.  Bouncing ideas off each other is a great way to critically think about wines.

You’d be surprised to know that:

One of my favorite ways to drink wine is out of a coffee mug while camping or similar rustic setting.

My favorite vintage is and why:

2013 & 2016 – both are strong, elegant and have the tannin structure to age for many years to show true Napa quality and expression. They’re also the vintages of my kids so I can’t pick just one!

What I’m excited about this year’s vintage is:

Trying new vineyard lots I’ve never made before to see if they turn out as expected.

One thing I hope to accomplish in my life is / my biggest accomplishment is:

My biggest career accomplishment has been growing and continually improving the Estate Luna Black Label program during the past few years.  It’s been a very satisfying and tasty experience to make something fun and different.

During harvest, a day in my life is like:

Leave at 5:30 to walk & sample vineyards.  Enjoy the morning air and vistas. Stop for multiple coffees around the beautiful valley.  Arrive back to winery late morning to taste fermentations and make winemaking plan.   Sort and assess grapes being sorted to crush.  Taste everything again and look at analysis.  Make more plans.  Eat pizza delivered to winery.   Go home, play with kids up way past their bed-time so I can see them.  Sleep and repeat.

Favorite grape to work with is:

My favorite grape to work with is Sangiovese because it is usually the first red grape of the season.  The clusters are big and the berries are fresh.  Each individual vineyard shows extremely differently during fermentation and makes their development interesting to watch.

Biggest obstacle I’ve ever experienced in wine-making:

Mandatory fire evacuation!

Interview courtesy of WhichWinery.com 

on
October 5, 2017

This Year’s Sangiovese Grape Harvest

Rising before the sun is the daily life of our vineyard workers during harvest season. In Napa Valley, harvest runs from mid August to late October. It’s a busy time for all wineries but it’s also the most rewarding time. Winemakers and cellar masters go into action as soon as the grapes line up in 1 ton bins on the crash pad. A year of hard work is realized as they crush the clusters, receiving the “juice” of their labor.

The grapes that become our Sangiovese Riserva are sourced from Game Farm Vineyard along the valley floor in Oakville. This is one of our winemaker’s favorite locations for many reasons. It is a place that holds fond memories for her and her family. Her young daughter, once strapped onto Shawna’s chest during vineyard walks, now helps collect grape samples with her mom.

The Game Farm Vineyard is also cherished for its extraordinary fruit quality. It was selected for its Brunello clone and shallow, rocky soil. In these soils, the stressed vines produce the superior quality Sangiovese we pick.

This harvest, we picked the Sangiovese in mid-September during the cool, fog-covered hours of the morning. The crew works fast, very fast. Acres of vines can be covered in just a couple hours as the men and women use their sharp, crescent-shaped knives to remove only the finest clusters. It’s truly a skill that is memorizing to see firsthand.

Once the berries are collected and filled to the brim, buckets weighing about 40 pounds are carried overhead to the tractor-pulling bin. All at once, the berries are flung into flight, landing perfectly on the bed of purple fruit.

All we can say, is thank you to these hard workers who make each glass of wine possible.

 

on
September 20, 2017

What is Noble Rot?

Photo taken by Geoffry Hansen

The Luna Pinot Grigio Vineyards are in a very special location. Their proximity to the San Francisco Bay and the Napa Valley River provide morning fog, creating ideal growing conditions to make a fully botrytized late harvest wine.

These grapes are left on the vine until 30 brix. At this time, naturally occurring botrytis sets in the grape clusters, also known as Noble Rot in classic Sauternes production. But what is Noble Rot? According to Wine Folly…

‘Noble Rot’ (aka Botrytis cinerea) is a type of Ascomycota within the Funghi kingdom. Other ascomycetes include the antibiotic penicillin, Stilton blue cheese and the fungus responsible for athelete’s foot. Botrytis cinerea can occur on fruits, vegetables and flowers –imagine a moldy strawberry. However with wine, it’s considered a good thing. Wines such as Sauternes from Bordeaux; Tokaji Aszu from Hungary, and Spätlese level German Riesling all are made from ‘Noble Rot’ grapes.

The botrytis intensifies the sweetness of the grapes naturally, creating uniquely concentrated dessert wines. For us, it produces luscious honey notes and mouthfeel which perfectly complements the grapefruit and delicate floral aromas of our Pinot Grigio.

Want to taste botyrytized Pinot Grigio in action? Uncork a bottle of our Mille Baci. Only 200 cases of this rare wine are produced yearly, making it a hard find in Napa Valley. See why it’s the perfect pairing for hard cheeses, strawberries, and blue cheese and honey.

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September 13, 2017

Luna After Dark

Luna’s nightlife has been very active lately. Harvest season is in full swing which means our crew has been working long hours, day and night, to bring in this year’s fruit. All of our grapes are harvested by hand at night or early morning. We do this to take advantage of cool temperatures. Not only are the temperatures more tolerable for the workers, but they benefit the grapes as well. Picking in 50°, as opposed to 90°+, ensures the grapes are firmer, making them easier to work.

This photo gallery showcases our unsung heroes of harvest as they pick Pinot Grigio at 3:00 a.m. from our Estate Vineyard in Napa, California.

on
September 7, 2017

Early Morning on Howell Mountain

“It’s not ready” says Luna Winemaker, Shawna Miller as she expels the seeds of a Cabernet grape. We’re walking through Luna’s special Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard which sits at an elevation of 2,200 feet on a remote part of Howell Mountain. It’s 6:30 in the morning and the sun is just starting to make it’s appearance over the eastern mountains. Fog is lining the Napa Valley beneath us and the morning is peaceful.

During harvest, Shawna makes weekly, sometimes daily trips to all of Luna’s vineyard locations to check on the ripeness of our grapes and put a plan in place for when they are ready for picking. Today, we traveled to our farthest reaching vineyard site at day break to get a head start of the process.

Planted in 1990, Luna’s Cabernet vineyard on Howell Mountain struggles to produce two tons of grapes per acre, but yields Cabernet Sauvignon of extraordinary intensity and structure. This vineyard is dry farmed specifically for low yields to produce incredible tannins. As a bonus, these grapes are certified farmed organic.

Only a couple more weeks of hang time and these exceptional grapes will be on Luna’s crush pad at our Napa Estate – stay tuned!