Winter Is Always About Pruning February 05, 2018 08:00

Pruning defines winter. I am pruning. Everyone else is pruning.
Soon we will be finished, just in time for spring.
This most important job is done only once a year when the leaves have
fallen and the skies are grey.
Chances are all the folks you see out in the vines this time of year are doing pruning.
Every single vine in every vineyard gets pruned.

We prune to remove all the growth from last year except a few chosen buds. Decisions on what and where to cut are important.
This coming vintage will be determined by the remaining buds.
 Pruning directs how the vine will grow and how many grape clusters a vines will set.


The goal is one or two buds per spur
depending on the size and age of a vine.

If you don’t prune you end up with a large rangy vine
with numerous small clusters of grapes that don’t get fully ripe. 


Here canes removed from the vines are chopped up and plowed into the soil to build humus.
Some are saved to fuel and flavor summer grilling.

Orange Wine August 24, 2017 15:26

It is called Orange wine because it is orange in color.  It is a different kind of wine made from white grapes, just like rose is a different kind of wine made from red grapes. Orange wines are gaining in cult popularity, but will never be main-stream. They are controversial because most people are not accustomed to white wine with tannin. Not everybody's expected glass of wine. Those who love it and enjoy successful pairings are big advocates. Great to use when experimenting with food pairings. Goes great with rich foods just like a red wine.

Orange wine has a been around in eastern and central Europe for a thousand years. Imagine enjoying a home made meal and wine with a family in the country side of Georgia. Made with an ancient method in which white grapes are not separated from the skins before fermentation. This gives the orange wine color, complex flavors and pulls tannins from the skins that imparts a red-wine-like body. 

I make my version of Orange wine with Estate Owl Hill Vineyard Genache Blanc grapes.  I chose this grape because it is naturally amber in color.

Grenache Blanc juice and skins foam and ferment together for over a week. The bright color indicates that fermentation is going well.

A new unique and magical orange colored wine flows from the fermenter.

I call my wine Cuvèe Orange. 

Tasting Notes: Orange color. Mysterious aromas of caramelized pear, orange zest, cashew butter and spice.  Deep flavors of dried mango, kiwi, key lime, gooseberry, vanilla, touch of fresh peach pie. Earthy mineral and dry tannin finish.

Orange wine pairs well the a wide variety of foods.  Curry, roast turkey, ham, tajine, pork chops, Korean BBQ, natto, chicken liver pate, squab, eggplant parmesan, sweetbreads, poached salmon, mushrooms, spiced butternut squash, game birds

See more and buy it here:   FRICKWINESTORE


What I Know About Counoise July 30, 2017 19:06

Counoise is originally from the Southern Rhône. The clone I grow is from the vineyards at Château de Beaucastel.

Part of what I know about Counoise was gleaned from readings, readily available to anyone interested. So this discussion is based solely on my personal experience with the grape variety.

Research indicated that it would grow well here in the terroir of my hillside. I tasted counoise wines that spoke of their character and heritage. They were interesting and delicious. I’ve had success with Cinsaut.  Cinsaut & Counoise have similarities like large juicy berries and a love of heat.

So I planted counoise at the top of Estate Owl Hill Vineyard.

top of Owl HillThis section of the vineyard is rough & rocky with two microclimates.  The warmer section, 65% of the total vineyard, is hot with long full day sunlight.

Counoise vineyard section

The other 35% has late afternoon shade and cooler temperature. The sun builds the sugar and rich fruit, the shade contributes savory refreshing natural acidity.

The vines are not vigorous with chubby, pink, upright canes.

They are late to bud, bloom and ripen. Of the 8 Rhône varieties I grow counoise is the last to ripen. The plump berries are a beautiful reminder of grape motifs from ancient ruins.counose clustersI am happy that I added this grape variety. It is a joy to grow. I think the wines have been delicious, decorous & intriguing.

The wine has flavors of earthy blueberry and black currant.Luxardo Maraschino cherries, savory marzipan, fresh prune, black fig and vanilla.

Pairs deliciously with many foods. Drink with pizza, Moroccan spiced chicken, eggplant roasted until creamy, duck confit, crisp garlic bread sticks, juicy pork belly, pasta with peas, vegetable soup, California teleme cheese

Pronounce counoise as "coon-whaz"

More about Counoise 2014 and purchasing information can be found HERE

Killer Heat Wave June 19, 2017 12:07

Growing grapes has a lot to do with weather. Here in Dry Creek Valley we have near perfect weather for growing excellent world class wines.  But weather charts its own course.

This week we are having 5 consecutive days of 101F+  weather. Some days as high as 108F. 

There is going to be some damage before the fog rolls in this weekend. Most of the established vines will weather this extreme. But I am watching the 2 acres that I budded earlier this year  The new buds and their growth is tender and susceptible to what is going on.  On my vineyard walk this morning there were already some totally welted and burned growth.  I am afraid the “take”, new buds that survive, will not be where it would have been without this heatwave.

This is tender young bud grown.

There is no changing the weather so as a grape grower you know to take the good with the bad. This period of extreme heat is not going to hurt the 2017 vintage, but it will kill some young vines.

Winter in Frick Vineyards January 11, 2017 08:59

Days are short and often gray. This season the storm door has been open. Rainfall to date (January 11, 2017) is 201% of normal. All lakes and ponds here in Northern Sonoma County are at capacity with water rushing down spillways into full flowing creeks.

Frick Crick is flowing and Frick Fall is cascading.


What to do on a day like today but stay dry and write a blog.

The rain is needed. We have seen so many back to back drought years that all this water is making me giddy. Everyday the grass gets greener. The vines are going to love having this water to drink when they wake from their dormancy.

In the vineyards all the leaves are gone. The activity you will see in the vineyards is pruning. It has begun in the periods between rainstorms. Pruning is the biggest and most important job this winter because it is setting up the vines for the entire 2017 growing season. 

 There are few things in life that more pleasurable than pruning grapevines. In the middle of a vine year after year it becomes very familiar and a good friend.

The process of pruning is assure that you will get good wine from the vine. Each cane is cut back to just 2 buds. Next harvest each bud will yield 2 bunches of grapes.

Perfectly pruned old vines. A beautiful winter sight here in Garibaldi Vineyard.


Blends November 29, 2016 09:57


Blends dominated before varietals were introduced in the 1960’s Now they are coming back into popularity in the USA.

Varietals are a delightful pure expression of a grape variety. Blends are often the expression of the winemaker that go beyond the characteristics of one grape. Blends are not better nor worse than varietals, just different.

 Three ways of creating a blend.

 1. A Cellar Blend is made in the winery. Different varieties are first made into a 100% varietal wine. A varietal wine is then mixed with others by the winemaker to create the blend. The winemaker is in control There are no restriction on what varieties or how much go into a blend. Different formulas are mixed in the lab and then tasted to see what is the BEST.  Examples of my cellar blends are Cotes-du-Dry Creek, Lucia, C2 & C3 Understanding the characteristics of my 8 grape varieties I put them together in a way that they will contrast and compliment. Fruit with tannin. Earth with acidity. Leanness with richness.

 The process of creating a cellar blend. Each glass contains a different percentages of the base wines.

 2. A field blend is made in the vineyard (field). It is created by planting different varieties mixed together in the same vineyard plot. This was the common way to grow wine 100 years ago. All varieties are handled the same, harvested together and ferment together so you have many grape varieties, one wine. Example of my field blend is Garibaldi.

Freshly harvested GARIBALDI. 10 grape varieties (red & white) are in this bin.

3. In a Co-fermented Blend different varieties are harvested separately from their individual vineyards then brought to the winery, crushed and in the winery fermented together. I do not use this technique because my varieties do not ripen at the same time.

COTES-DU-DRY CREEK, my signature blend comes as RED and WHITE wine.


Brix October 02, 2016 10:52

Degrees Brix is a unit of measure indicating amount of sugar in grape juice or other solution.

In winemaking it is a tool in determining grape ripeness and when to harvest.

Brix is also the name of some restaurants and wine shops because it is cool sounding common winemaking word.

Named after creator Adolf Brix, it is a good indicator of sugar level and therefore helps determine the ripeness of a grape. One degree Brix is approximately one percent sugar.

Brix is handy for grape growers and winemakers because it is a fast and easy test using a portable hand held refractometer.


 After tasting grapes in the vineyard I use a refractometer to monitor ripeness.


Typically grapes are harvested in the range of 22 to 27 degrees Brix. 22 is marginally ripe and usually ferments a lower alchohol wine (around 13%). 27 is very ripe and will ferment a higher alchohol wine (possibly 16-17%).  Individual winemakers prefer different degrees of ripeness based on the style of wine they want.

To decide when to harvest, in addition to Brix to determine ripeness I also pay attention to appearance of the berries, flavors in the juice, acids, color of the seeds and flavors in the skins. For me balance is the key to perfect ripeness.

This is what a perfectly ripe cluster of Viognier looks like. Translucent (you can see the seed inside) and glossy rich color. This grape tested 24 degrees Brix.

Varietal or Variety? July 13, 2016 15:26

Varietal or Variety?

Talking wine. Here is some insight into wine terminology of VARIETY and VARIETAL.  These words sound close and are often incorrectly used.

  • Definition of Variety is a kind of grape. Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, Cinsaut.  So grapes growing here in Owl Hill Vineyard are of the SYRAH VARIETY.
  •  Definition of Varietal is a WINE named after a grape variety. The wine I make from the syrah variety and label Syrah is a SYRAH VARIETAL.

You see many varietal wines. Even ones I don’t make like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay.... By law these wines must be 75% of the grape variety stated on the label. My Varietals are 100% of the grape variety stated on the label.

Say “varietal” when you are referring to a wine.

Say “variety” when you a referring to a kind of grape.

Summer Time and My Shipping Moratorium June 18, 2016 11:23

Shipping Wine in Summer. Why a Summer Shipping Moratorium?

Now until fall. Summer heat is a problem for wine packed in a box and sitting in a truck for days. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can damage wine. Therefore until cool weather returns I hold and store wine orders that will require more than a few days of transit time.

Wine is a real living thing and is delicate. Think about this when you transport wine yourself this summer. Take care to insulate bottles. Don't leave it in a hot car. Ideally carry your wine in a cooler just like you would for potato salad.

Shipping to locations outside CA is not likely until Oct. Shipping within CA and coastal West Coast can happen during passage of cool fronts.

Within CA I ship in summer by Golden State Overnight (GS0). Overnight is the key. This means less time in transit and less time exposed to the elements.

If you are outside of CA you can and should book your wine order now for fall. This guarantees you access to wines that may be sold out by fall. Your selection is reserved for you and stored in coolness here at the winery until fall.

Most shipments are packed in insulating styrofoam, a good way to protect wine from the elements. (See past Blog Post - Packaging for Wine Shipping. What is the best?)

Bloom May 19, 2016 10:00

BLOOM is a major event in the vineyards. It is happening now.

 Grape berries begin as tiny buds.

When all goes well the buds bloom into small unimpressive flowers. If you get close to a vine in full bloom you will detect a delightful subtle aroma. The flower self pollinates and you get a small green grape about this size  

Bloom is an important vineyard event because it creates the entire crop for the vintage. Thus some lore has developed around this event. Like -

Stay out of the vineyard during bloom.

Do not talk loudly around blooming vines.

Hope for dry weather during bloom because rain can wash pollen away.


Perfect “set” is when you get a full complete cluster of berries.

 But in some vintages you get “shatter”.

Grape shatter is when buds don’t pollinate evenly or when the small green grape falls off the cluster. Heavy rain, extreme temperatures, timing and unknown things can cause shatter. After shatter you end up with less berries in a cluster and a smaller crop.

  When all goes well. Three months later. Plump clusters ready to harvest.

Cinsaut is Back April 12, 2016 10:34

Cinsaut is no longer sold out.  Here is a story about this wine.

Cinsaut has been in California for centuries known by a synonym Black Malvoisie. It was blended but probably never used as a stand alone varietal. This is not unique to Cinsaut, because varietal wines were uncommon before the 1970’s.  Most varieties were blended.

My grapes grow on 60 year old head pruned vines (no trellis) in a 2 acre Dry Creek Valley vineyard. Without irrigation the vigorous tendency of the vine is natural subdued. Clusters have juicy, distinctively oval berries that are dusty purple color. These gnarly old vines represent classic California grape growing at its best.

Total Cinsaut plantings in Sonoma County is 7 acres compared to 11,490 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.

  Lovely Cinsaut cluster.

The wine is pleasing. I say "wonderful". It approaches you with lush fruit aromas and a sip brings on complexity of more red fruit flavors. Soft restrained tannins lead to a long soft finish with a little nutmeg spice. Its character allows you to pair the wine with a wide range of foods, from vegetarian to fish to steak.

Pair with: roast turkey, summer fruit salad, cambozola cheese, pasta primavera, BBQ chicken, eggplant parmigiano, hummus, halibut, squab, quail, guinea fowl, duck comfit, margarita pizza

I have been making single vineyard varietal cinsaut for 24 years so it is an old friend.  Every vintage has been consistently spectacular because the grape has flavors and balance and that are compatible with my traditional hand winemaking practices.

 Cinsaut Spelling Story

You may see the grape name most commonly spelled two different ways; Cinsaut and Cinsault. Labels for my first bottling were rejected because of the Cinsault spelling. I was lucky and got a one-time dispensation, but told not to use this spelling again.

I now use the spelling "cinsaut" based on requirements of TTB the federal agency that governs wine in the USA. Every wine label in the country must be approved and certified by this agency.

TTB has a comprehensive list of allowed grape variety spelling. This is the section of that list that includes cinsaut. 

No matter what the spelling this grape makes a marvelous wine.

Owl Hill Vineyard March 01, 2016 08:53

Owl Hill Vineyard. One of my unique estate vineyards.

The soil here is made with Dry Creek Conglomerate. Millions of years ago a volcanic eruption created flow of clay, gravel and rocks that moved across Dry Creek Valley like a wide deep river. The flow stopped and left 40 feet of this mixture that has broken down into the soil here.. The rock and gravel controls the natural tendency of grapevines to produce too much fruit.

 A variety of exposures make micro climates that create complexity. Here on Owl Hill there is a blend of hot south facing hillside and cooler north sided hillside. This gives the grapes a mix of rich ripe grape flavors and complex acidity.

Vines love a view. I do so I assume they do too.

The varieties that excel here are Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Mourvedre and Syrah.

Counoise                  Grenache Blanc                       Mourvèdre                               Syrah

Four varietals grown on Owl Hill are now available as a Special 4pack Sampler in the Club Colllection until March 7.                 

Topping Oak Barrels February 24, 2016 08:04

Fill a barrel to the rim. You come back 3 weeks later and the wine level has gone down an inch below the rim. 


A barrel does not stay full naturally. A barrel looses wine naturally. A little wine disappears every day. So an important ongoing cellar job is "topping" or refilling barrels back to the top. The goal is keep the barrel completely full so the wine is not exposed to excessive oxygen.

Where does all that wine go? The fanciful (and best) answer is the wine disappears because it is drunk by angels,  the "Angels Share".  Another answer: Barrels are oak. Oak has very fine pores, small enough not to leak. Porous enough to allow invisible evaporation.

Barrels are the best vessel for maturing wine because of this subtle movement though the wood. Some liquid leaves which concentrates flavors and a small amount of oxygen enters softening the tannins.

  This barrel has just been topped.

Verticals February 01, 2016 10:00

A vertical is a group of the same wine from from consecutive vintages. An example of a vertical is 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 vintages of Syrah from the same winery & vineyard.

Many folks like aged wine, but some folks don't like aged wine. A good way to find out is to experience a vertical to see how a specific wine changes with time in the bottle.

Having a vertical is fun and interesting. When you taste through a vertical you discover both vintage differences and effects of age. If you are able, treat yourself to a vertical.

Verticals are rare. It requires forethought and many years to accumulate a batch of wines that qualify for a vertical. I am so fascinated with verticals that I try to share wines selected form my library with my club members though special offers. 

My proudest vertical is the mega Cinsaut vertical featured in the Frick List Wine Club this month. Just seeing and reading the labels represents an amazing history.


Pruning January 26, 2016 17:53

Precise pruning is absolutely necessary in order to grow quality wines. To have a good harvest in September now is the time to set it up.  Pruning is the most delightful of winter jobs. I love pruning because it focuses your attention to look and feel the vine and to make your cuts the best possible. This is all you think about.  Pruning is a meditation. Time passes quickly without regard for anything else but the vine.


  These vines are dormant. Most of that growth from last year needs to be cut away leaving the perfect number of  buds to grow in spring. Leave to many buds and the crop is bad, take away to many buds and there will be very few grapes to harvest.

.   The cut.  

    The final two buds on a spur

  The tool.

  Most pruned canes are chopped and mulched into the soil. Some are saved for their buds to be used for grafting. A few bunches are stored by the grill for summer barbecues. In July it is delightful to enjoy a glass of cool counoise with juicy chicken grilled over counoise wood.

Shipping Wine in Winter January 12, 2016 12:43

When shipping in winter the goal is to avoid a frozen bottle of wine. Wine does not mind being cold. You may get some precipitation of tartrates. I have never found a wine to be wrecked by freezing. But when it freezes into ice problems can happen. Wine like any liquid expands as it freezes. Inside the bottle there is not a lot of room for expansion. This is not good for the package. Two things can happen. You may have simulated this by putting a bottle in your freezer to cool it down quickly and forgetting it.

 Cork Push (This is a dramatic extreme example.)

  1. The cork gets pushed out. This is called "cork push"
  2. The bottle cracks. 
If you have cork push the wine is fine, but the package has been compromised. Worst things could happen.. you should have a nice glass of that wine soon.

The steps I take to safeguard shipments from winter weather extremes are:

  • Package shipments in styrofoam. (See Nov 15, blog- Packaging for Wine Shipping. What is the best?)
  • Closely monitor forecasts and time shipments for the best weather conditions.
  • Institute a full shipping moratorium; save and hold shipments until spring or until the extreme cold front passes.

There is seldom an absolute shipping moratorium. It depends on timing and place. Weather in winter. January and February are the most brutal months in the north for cold. If you live in the north you know this. Just today the high in Mound Minnesota is 2 degrees F. But this is a big country with a lot of climate variation. The high in Miami is 68 degrees F.

Steely Images. Pictorial. A beautiful thing at Frick Winery December 15, 2015 19:03

Here are pictures of my tools. It is great working with these things. Please take a look.

                                                        press basket


grape hopper screw                                                       barrel washer


stemmer cowling                                                       reducer


screen                                                                    stemmer screw


stemmer cage                                                              tank outlet


sight glass                                                               fitting clamp


tank valve                                                                   punch



One of the reasons I love winemaking is the tools of the trade.                                             

Packaging for Wine Shipping. What is the best? November 30, 2015 17:23

For shipping wine you start with a cardboard box that has inserts to protect bottles from breaking.

The three main options for the insert packaging are:

  1. Folded cardboard shapes to hold and cushion a bottle
  2. Paper pulp to cradle and insulate a bottle
  3. Styrofoam to cradle and insulate a bottle

For years I used the lay down paper pulp option because I hate styrofoam.  Cardboard shapes offered zero insulation.  Pulp served as a good padding material, but I questioned its level of insulation.

The reason I hate styofoam is that the environment is a big issue for me. Recently because of serious concerns with protecting wine shipments from temperature extremes I changed to styrofoam thinking this offered the best for insulation. This was just an educated guess that styrofoam was best and I needed to verify this.

I set up a test. Paper pulp vs. styrofoam shippers. 


I enclosed max/min thermometers inside each shipper type and set the shippers outside to expose them to night temperatures that dipped well below freezing.


Readings indicated that temperature inside the styrofoam shipper was significantly more stable and actually never went below freezing. Not so with the paper pulp.

Conclusion is that styofoam does offer superior insulation from temperature extremes both cold and heat.

P.S. Within California I am often able to ship full case orders in regular wine cases because temperatures are moderate and transit time it shortThis significantly cuts down on the amount of  packaging and the entire package is recyclable.


The insert notice for shipments that require extra protection:

ABOUT THIS WINE SHIPPER I hate Styrofoam. So only after much consideration & testing did I settle on this package.The environment and convenience are important issues for me. But my ultimate concern is the protection of your wine during transit.

 The value of styrofoam is that it offers the very best insulation and padding of shipping materials available. My goal is for your precious, delicate wine to arrive in great shape by being shielded from the elements and breakage to the greatest degree possible. Cheers to taking care of good wine. Bill Frick



What's the Deal with One Cent Shipping November 22, 2015 12:00

California ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) prohibits giving gifts and giving away anything for free. Free shipping violates this regulation.

Fall at Frick November 12, 2015 14:46

Bright sunny days and cold nights bring on the bright colors of this season.

Frick Estate Owl Hill Vineyard.