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Iron Horse Blog

Joy Sterling
 
June 17, 2018 | Joy Sterling

A New Feather In Our Cap

Dear Friends and Family, The world is coming to San Francisco for a global environmental summit convened by Jerry Brown in September and Iron Horse will be the toasting wine for 600 dignitaries at the opening night dinner prepared by Alice Waters.

The ambition is to pick up the momentum set by the Paris Agreement and launch greater worldwide commitments. I couldn’t be more proud of our Governor and our state for taking the lead.

A propos the Governor, I thought you’d get a kick out of this selfie from last week in Sacramento:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am also very happy to report that we have set in the vineyards and it looks very good this year.

Set is when the grapes form behind the blossoms after the flowers blow away, determining crop yield.  Now we are training the vine shoots upwards through the wires, pulling off lateral growth and excess leaves, and suckering the unwanted shoots at the base of the trunk - all by hand.

This is when the vineyard crew really shines. I was very happy to see Dora Arreola supervising the work on our Thomas Road Vineyard, pictured here with our foreman Victor Arreola (no relation).

The goal is to direct all of the vines’ energy to the grapes, creating a canopy to protect the fruit from the sun and provide for good air flow.

Our Winemaker David Munksgard walks the vineyards every morning.  He says being immersed in the sheer beauty of the place is kind of a spiritual experience that inspires his winemaking.  Plus, he says, the vines like to have visitors.  And I love knowing we have a special guardian keeping watch.

You can’t help but feel protective of the baby clusters and want to cheer them on to size up beautifully and develop all the deliciousness they can achieve.

In the winery, we have laid down the bubblies for 2017, including the Wedding Cuvee which we will enjoy in three plus years … and magnums of Joy! to be disgorged in 2030.

And, it is so gratifying to see Iron Horse listed as the top two of the “Best Summer Sparklings” in the current issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine.

I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Father’s Day. Of course, around here, every day is Father’s Day and Mother’s Day!

Sending all best wishes,

as always,

Time Posted: Jun 17, 2018 at 8:38 AM
Joy Sterling
 
April 11, 2018 | Joy Sterling

Talk About Stormy

There is nothing quite like spring at Iron Horse. Even five inches of rain in a 30-hour continuous downpour couldn't put a damper on it.

It was a crazy storm - a "pineapple express", thankfully not that intense, but unrelenting, turning us into Island Iron Horse.

Cazadero got seven inches. San Francisco recorded the biggest one day of rain since the Gold Rush. Yosemite flooded and closed.

Undaunted, our Winemaker David Munksgard and I sat down to taste our about to be released 2014 Rainbow Cuvee, which is a Blanc de Blancs this year, and our 2010 Brut LD, our first LD in four years. We had a great conversation about the future and what better thing to do, even if the creek is rising. Both bubblies are being disgorged and labeled and will make their debut in our May Wine Club shipment.

 

We were flooded at the main entrance all weekend, but it was a great relief to see that the iris and most importantly the vines had stood up to the storm.

Fortunately, nothing deters our wonderful fans and club members. I am very proud of the intrepid tasters who made the trek around the back way onto the property, especially for our first Oyster Sunday of the season.

 

This year, The Oyster Girls are offering freshly shucked, raw and barbecued oysters, cooked shrimp and a caviar tasting. The dates are every Sunday through October from 12 noon to 4 pm (or until they run out). Please, please, please make advance reservations for tasting.

 

Sometimes it can be an adventure coming to Iron Horse, but always worth it. I firmly believe the beauty of the place is part of our special terroir. The grapes know they are growing in a gorgeous spot and are not to make anything less than the most delicious, memorable and pleasurable wines.

 

All of us in the Iron Horse family hope you will come visit and drink in the view.

Photo: Rob Akins

 

With all my very best, 

Time Posted: Apr 11, 2018 at 9:54 AM
Joy Sterling
 
March 11, 2018 | Joy Sterling

Spring Forward

Dear Friends and Family, Happy daylight saving!  By some accounts,  the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin, while living in Paris, the idea was to turn forward the clocks to take advantage of the extra hour of sunlight to save energy, which in those days meant candle wax. Since then, it has gone through many enactments, adjustments, and repeals.  Today is the 100th anniversary of the current practice, observed in about 70 countries, including the US except for Hawaii, parts of Arizona and now possibly Florida. It marks the unofficial start of spring and the equally unofficial release of the new vintage of Iron Horse Spring Rose.

 

The official debut of Spring Rose is March 21, but patience is not our strong suit. It is in our wine club shipment going out this week.

I am happy to report we are very close to bud break and finishing up pruning. We’ve tested the frost protection system and have a good amount of water (knock on wood).     We’ve been lucky to have a cold spell, which has thank fully slowed things down a bit.  If you look closely, you can see a dusting of snow on Mt. St. Helena.

 

 

Here you can see a drop of sap at a fresh cut point, where the new growth will be.

 

 

Everything crossed for a great vintage.

 

ICYMI, I want to share with you a very nice story about an environmental restoration effort to re-oak wine country in the wake of the fires.  It’s a volunteer operation, spearheaded by the California Native Plant Society, with more than 1,000 neighbors who collected acorns. So many people signed up to gather, box, and mail in acorns from the North Bay that it briefly crashed the Plant Society’s server. (Source: Sonoma County Gazette http://sonomacountynurseries.com/articles/restoring-oak-trees-after-the-sonoma-county-wildfires). Now those acorns are sprouting.  Once they grow into oak seedlings, they can be planted in the ground and will be given out to residents and landowners to replace an estimated at 50 square miles of oaks.

We pride ourselves on our oaks here at Iron Horse. They are as much a part of the Sonoma landscape as the vineyards.

Finally, we have a new Joy! It has become our pattern to release a different Joy! every six months. This bottling is a blend -  68% Pinot Noir 32% Chardonnay, whereas last fall’s Joy! was a Blanc de Blancs.  Both are vintage 2004. This new, spring Joy! is aged six months longer and disgorged last week, after 13 years en tirage. A total of 360 bottles produced, exclusively magnums. Delicious! If I do say so myself.

 

I hope we will have the pleasure of welcoming you here at Iron Horse this spring. Remember, the Oyster Girls are back for our weekly Oyster Sundays beginning April 8 through October. Please make reservations to partake.

One benefit to daylight saving time is that wine o’clock comes an hour early today.  So, I say, cheers to that!

With all my very best, 

 

 

Time Posted: Mar 11, 2018 at 8:30 AM
Joy Sterling
 
September 4, 2017 | Joy Sterling

Harvest Update

With so much happening around us, there is something very centering about focusing on harvest. 

 

Photo: David Munksgard

All the fruit for Sparkling and Pinot Noir has now been picked. We will probably be done by the end of this week, which seems very early, but remember, our harvest started on August 4 for bubbly, so, that’s a month … and this weekend’s heatwave accelerated everything. 

Photo: David Munksgard

So far, Vintage 2017 is all about extremes – even just speaking climatically, we went from extreme drought to record rain fall to record breaking heat.  This weekend is certainly one for the record books. It was 106 degrees in San Francisco Friday.  70 degrees here on Saturday at 5am. That never happens.

Extremes always lead to more work.  And I could not be more proud of our vineyard and winery crews. This is the first vintage for our new Assistant Winemaker Megan Hill. It has certainly been challenging, but her smile speaks volumes. 

Photo: David Munksgard

It’s hard to pry a quality assessment of the vintage out of my brother Laurence and our winemaker David, but I spied a hint on a sample of Chardonnay free run juice. The labels says “F-Low” (for the lower part of   block F on the Estate) – “the beginning of a great BdeB (Blanc de Blancs).”

 

Photo: LG Sterling

Free run juice straight out of the press also makes a delicious Sparkling cocktail, which you can only have here at Iron Horse and only this time of year. We call it the “Sterlini”.

One of my favorite though little-known quotes is from (I believe) JFK, talking about something he learned playing touch football, “When you see blue sky, go for it.”

In that spirit, Happy Labor Day! I hope you are celebrating with the fruits of our labor and join us in sending all of our positive energy to our many friends and my cousins Rand and Pamela in Houston.

Time Posted: Sep 4, 2017 at 9:18 AM
David Munksgard
 
July 28, 2017 | David Munksgard

The Run Up to Harvest

As harvest draws near, the excitement grows and grows; not just with me as the winemaker, but with everyone here at the winery.

Photo: Elieen Vasko

You know harvest is nigh when we have veraison, i.e. when the grapes start taking on the color you see at harvest. Pinot Noir starts off green, then turns purple. Chardonnay starts off green, then turns a pretty, translucent, straw gold.

Photo:  David Munksgard

Other early indicators include the Naked Ladies ...

Photo:  LG Sterling

... and the onsalught of squash.

Photo:  LG Sterling

Here in wine country, vineyards are everywhere. Even if you are not involved in the wine world, it is hard not to feel the anticipation. My neighbor,  a senior airline pilot,  noticed the changing color of the grapes on his daily commute, prompting him to knock on my door to ask when I thought harvest might begin this year.

On Wednesday (July 26) we did our very first vineyard grape samples. This is when we randomly pick a cluster here and a cluster there, then mash them up in a bucket. The juice is then tested for Brix, or percent sugar. Based on this sample and general observations, I’m holding by my prediction that we’ll start the second (or possibly third) week in August.

All the winter rain along with late spring rain gave our vines a huge gulp of water. The vines reacted by growing more leaves than I’ve ever seen in my career. Too many leaves cause shading of the grapes as well as raising the humidity in the fruit zone - conditions perfect for mildew and bunch rot. I want beautiful, fully mature grapes that are free of those ugly things. The best option is to remove that excess foliage, open up the fruit zone and allow fresh air in. This is done by vine hedging mechanically as well as removing lateral growth and individual leaves by hand. It’s a "bunch" of work, but so worth it. The vineyards are looking really good. The crew has been working very hard; they are my heroes.

Wish us luck!

David Munksgard, Winemaker

Time Posted: Jul 28, 2017 at 8:51 AM
Joy Sterling
 
January 27, 2017 | Joy Sterling

State of the Winery


Greetings from thoroughly drenched Green Valley. We have received 22 inches of rain since January 1. Green Valley Creek which bisects the vineyard is a tributary of the Russian River and that whole swath of the estate is in a 100 year floodplain.


Photo: LG Sterling
For several days you couldn't see the tops of the posts on the bridge. We call that doing our part to replenish the aquifers.

Of course we need the rain. A year ago, 43 percent of the state was gripped by "exceptional drought". Now that figure is two percent. (Source: US Drought Monitor) And after 40 years here at Iron Horse we are seasoned at riding out a wet winter.
We are very lucky that our vineyards are hillside and our sandy soils drain easily. The rainbows have been inspiring. But we are going to have to hustle to get the pruning done before bud break.

Photo: LG Sterling 
January is the traditional time to report on the state of the winery and I am proud to convey that the state of the winery is strong - a soggy mess after what has seemed like boundless rain from the start, but gamely moving forward.
 
There are some things about 2016 I would be very happy to repeat. Number #1, our many successes as a vineyard, winery, business and family. I am privileged to get to work with an exceptional team. And, last year, in some areas, we surprised ourselves.
 
I smile when I think about how smoothly we transitioned to tastings by appointment on the weekends. The response surpassed all expectations. We had the pleasure of welcoming 33,000 guests here last year and the San Francisco Chronicle named us one of the top 50 Tastings Rooms in Napa & Sonoma.
 
Now we ask that you please make reservations on weekdays too. It truly elevates the experience. Please look at the reservation program to see how easy it is.

Some of my fondest memories of 2016 involve toasting with "Cuvee 50" for Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, which now feels so far back in time, and "Spirit of 76" celebrating the 40th Anniversary of when my parents acquired Iron Horse in 1976.

 
Both were one time only, limited production bubblies, never to be replicated.

2016 was in no way an easy vintage. The crop was low and there was so much uneven ripening that in many blocks we picked just half the crop - strictly the mature fruit, and then went back two three days later to pick the rest once it too had fully ripened. The resulting wines have set a new bar for us and the year will always stand out as our 40th harvest at Iron Horse.

From the beginning the goal has been to strive for the highest quality, so it is especially gratifying to see Iron Horse in the current issue of Wine Enthusiast at the same table with the very best in the world.

Looking forward, the next release of Joy! is Friday March 17, St. Patrick's Day. It's bound to be a lucky day. This will be our third time hosting a Joy! Release Tasting. So far they have been very successful.  There is no doubt that the first one, last March got the most excitement because we had been out of Joy! (Joy!less) for three years. Still, the November release did extremely well and received a near perfect 98 point rating. The November Joy! was 50% Pinot and 50% Chardonnay. I say "was" because as of last night we had 18 magnums left. The upcoming Joy! is the same vintage - 2003, but Blanc de Blancs and aged six months longer. Please make reservations here.
 
I am also very excited about how our Earth Day event is evolving.


The theme is the future of food.

The participating wineries are DeLoach Vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Freeman Vineyard and Winery, Hartford Family Winery, Iron Horse Vineyards, Lynmar Estate, Marimar Estate, Rubin Family of Wines.  

The keynote speaker is California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross.

Acclaimed San Francisco Chef Traci Des Jardins is on board to showcase the "Impossible Burger", made entirely from plants, served it at the Paris Climate Change Conference as tartare.

Ronstadt Generations will perform live, honoring the family's musical traditions with the Southwestern and Mexican songs of their heritage blended with original material.  Special guest: Linda Ronstadt.
Imperfect Produce is providing a beautiful display of "ugly" produce as crudités.

We have enlisted Copia, a mobile app that helps businesses and events connect excess edible food to feed communities in need, instantly.

I hope you will be able to join in. Net proceeds will benefit Sustainable Conservation, a non-profit organization uniting people to solve California's toughest environmental challenges, chosen by Secretary Ross to be the beneficiary.  
 
Finally, Gung Hay Fat Choy. Saturday is Chinese New Year. And naturally we are pouring our Year of the Rooster Cuvee in the Tasting Room.

Please come join us in a toast.

Time Posted: Jan 27, 2017 at 10:16 AM
Tarin Teno
 
October 12, 2016 | Tarin Teno

Sabers & Bubbles -- A Brief History

 
 
The Iron Horse “marketing ” team is lean, to say the least, but we think big and are quick to move on a great idea.  A new product launch becomes part of an illustrious and dynamic legacy. Standards are high, and family expectations are higher. So when Joy informed me that Iron Horse would be releasing a new gift item, I was intrigued. That curiosity grew to excitement when I discovered that item would be a saber. Shiny and beautiful but also useful and extremely efficient towards the end goal of unleashing delicious bubbles. An engraved saber that comes in a branded wood box is the perfect accompaniment to Iron Horse Sparkling Wines.
 
I jumped at the chance to understand why Joy selected this particular item to add to the family’s special cache of Iron Horse offerings. Maybe because my wedding party sabered bottles to fuel a champagne tower at our reception or maybe because sabering is enjoying a pop culture renaissance ....  either way, I dove in. Which required research. My mini investigation transformed me briefly into my AP World History student-self, this time with the joys of the internet and none of the dust of the library. The discoveries were as enchanting as the sunrise in Green Valley and as rooted in French history as the winemaking methods at Iron Horse.
 

 

The lore of sabering takes different turns depending on your source. Most agree it all starts with Napoleon. After the French Revolution of 1789, The Napoleonic Wars raged across Europe. Napoleon’s soldiers mounted fast horses and dressed in lavish uniforms. Oil paintings depict young men in long cloaks with furs draped over broad shoulders. Most importantly, they were armed with rifles … and brass handled sabers. Early victories came easily for this force, who charged home through villages where revellers tossed them bottles of Champagne.
 
But it seems riding a horse while fumbling with a bottle secured with cork, wire cage and foil-wrapping didn’t fit the dashing portrait of Napoleon’s men. So they improvised, discovering that a quick stroke of a saber blade to the neck of the bottle both released the “drink of the stars” and did so in a decidedly heroic fashion. The upturned bottle with a dangerously sharp tip added to the overall vision of youthful brashness and celebration.
 
 
The  “Widow” Clicquot makes an appearance in accounts of saber lore. This famous female Champagne house owner symbolises quite a bit for the women of Iron Horse (a story for another blog). But in this context, the story goes that the savvy business woman opened her mansion to Napoleon’s officers and then  armed them with her bottles on their way back into battle. Wishing to display gratitude, or perhaps hoping to capture the fancy of the wealthy lady, the young men would perform the saber ritual for her before racing back to the front lines. Swoon.
 
It is comforting to me that the best things through history seem to endure. And that is truly the case with sabering. I caught up with several Iron Horse friends who were happy to chat saber etiquette and procedure. Meet Master Sabreuse Catherine Fallis aka the Grape Goddess, Master Sommelier David Glancy founder of San Francisco Wine School, Brad Kinder of Kind Wines, who represents Iron Horse through Florida, and Petra Polakovicova, Wine Director at Epic Steak in San Francisco. All have a slightly different take on the art of the performance. But all share their concern for safety above all else.
 
 
David Glancy explained, “Sabering really started out as a quick and dirty tactic. You used a sword or knife or a blunt object to knock off the neck of a champagne bottle. It started with Napoleon’s troops who employed this method very sloppily I’m sure. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.” He told us that the key to the whole show is to get the champagne REALLY cold. Especially the neck. We’re talking ice bath cold, completely submerged for at least an hour.
 
David emphasized this point saying, “Bottles DO explode. I’ve gotten very tiny shards of glass in my wrist and in my neck even from what seemed to be perfect sabering.” Catherine Fallis is also a fanatic about the well-chilled, near-frozen temperature in her sabering performances. Our favorite Grape Goddess added that she prefers magnums, which are easier to take contact with along the seam to the lip. And she reminds us the sabering is an unright motion, not a downward “decapitation” (an appropo reference when speaking of the French Revolution).
 
Michael Rosati Photography
 
But if all goes well you can be assured that party goers will clamor for more. It seems to put a punctuation mark on the event. As Brad Kinder told us, “Bubbles are the beverage of celebration and nothing really kicks it off in a better way than sabering the bottle. It draws attention and is super cool especially for people who have never seen it before.” He went on to say, “It’s showmanship and that’s what bubbles are all about. It’s a perfect pairing.” Do not try this at home, but Brad has been know to “saber” a bottle using the bottom of a wine glass.  “The danger and the uncertainty of success adds to the fun. I’ve sabered many bottle but I always get an adrenalin rush.”  
 
Taking a risk on an innovative approach can be the most powerful strategy.  If this YouTube video involving a golf ball doesn’t make you jump out of your chair, I don’t know what will.
 
However you decide to go about it, here are some performance and safety MUSTs which I gathered from our experts:
 
 
  • Pre-planning is key.
  • The bottle needs to be as cold as it can be before the wine turns to slush.  That “tames” the bubbles. With a warm bottle, the cork is likely to fly out.
  • Wear protective eyewear, sunglasses are a dramatic, easy option.
  • Some experts recommend gloves. Our friend Catherine Fallis favors opera gloves for protection disguised as glamour.
  • Crowd control is a must. Select a safe space with a clear opening, set up something to aim for, and make sure people aren’t in your path.
  • Aim at something soft which might absorb the impact … or the great outdoors.
  • Common sense should also lead you to remove the wire cage from the neck, to avoid a boomerang effect.
  • Taking off the cage is the most dangerous part - remember it has the power to take your finger off with it!
  • The maneuver is not about force … or even a sharp edge.
  • In fact, a butter knife will work.
  • They key is to run the saber along the seam of the bottle, hitting the neck at just the right angle.
  • A smooth, clean stroke works best.
  • Form is everything.
 
Petra Polakovicova presides in a well-known dining room and can attest to the celebratory vibe created by even a traditional pop of the cork. But she too is moved by the elevated experience  of the  sabering ritual. “Sabering adds drama. When you open bubbles with a sword, there’s an anticipation. The anticipation of something really cool.”
 
In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it. -Napoleon

Welcome to the family, Iron Horse saber, Sebastopol Edition.

 

Time Posted: Oct 12, 2016 at 1:44 PM
Tarin Teno
 
October 12, 2016 | Tarin Teno

Sabers & Bubbles -- A Brief History

 
 
The Iron Horse “marketing ” team is lean, to say the least, but we think big and are quick to move on a great idea.  A new product launch becomes part of an illustrious and dynamic legacy. Standards are high, and family expectations are higher. So when Joy informed me that Iron Horse would be releasing a new gift item, I was intrigued. That curiosity grew to excitement when I discovered that item would be a saber. Shiny and beautiful but also useful and extremely efficient towards the end goal of unleashing delicious bubbles. An engraved saber that comes in a branded wood box is the perfect accompaniment to Iron Horse Sparkling Wines.
 
I jumped at the chance to understand why Joy selected this particular item to add to the family’s special cache of Iron Horse offerings. Maybe because my wedding party sabered bottles to fuel a champagne tower at our reception or maybe because sabering is enjoying a pop culture renaissance ....  either way, I dove in. Which required research. My mini investigation transformed me briefly into my AP World History student-self, this time with the joys of the internet and none of the dust of the library. The discoveries were as enchanting as the sunrise in Green Valley and as rooted in French history as the winemaking methods at Iron Horse.
 

 

The lore of sabering takes different turns depending on your source. Most agree it all starts with Napoleon. After the French Revolution of 1789, The Napoleonic Wars raged across Europe. Napoleon’s soldiers mounted fast horses and dressed in lavish uniforms. Oil paintings depict young men in long cloaks with furs draped over broad shoulders. Most importantly, they were armed with rifles … and brass handled sabers. Early victories came easily for this force, who charged home through villages where revellers tossed them bottles of Champagne.
 
But it seems riding a horse while fumbling with a bottle secured with cork, wire cage and foil-wrapping didn’t fit the dashing portrait of Napoleon’s men. So they improvised, discovering that a quick stroke of a saber blade to the neck of the bottle both released the “drink of the stars” and did so in a decidedly heroic fashion. The upturned bottle with a dangerously sharp tip added to the overall vision of youthful brashness and celebration.
 
 
The  “Widow” Clicquot makes an appearance in accounts of saber lore. This famous female Champagne house owner symbolises quite a bit for the women of Iron Horse (a story for another blog). But in this context, the story goes that the savvy business woman opened her mansion to Napoleon’s officers and then  armed them with her bottles on their way back into battle. Wishing to display gratitude, or perhaps hoping to capture the fancy of the wealthy lady, the young men would perform the saber ritual for her before racing back to the front lines. Swoon.
 
It is comforting to me that the best things through history seem to endure. And that is truly the case with sabering. I caught up with several Iron Horse friends who were happy to chat saber etiquette and procedure. Meet Master Sabreuse Catherine Fallis aka the Grape Goddess, Master Sommelier David Glancy founder of San Francisco Wine School, Brad Kinder of Kind Wines, who represents Iron Horse through Florida, and Petra Polakovicova, Wine Director at Epic Steak in San Francisco. All have a slightly different take on the art of the performance. But all share their concern for safety above all else.
 
 
David Glancy explained, “Sabering really started out as a quick and dirty tactic. You used a sword or knife or a blunt object to knock off the neck of a champagne bottle. It started with Napoleon’s troops who employed this method very sloppily I’m sure. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.” He told us that the key to the whole show is to get the champagne REALLY cold. Especially the neck. We’re talking ice bath cold, completely submerged for at least an hour.
 
David emphasized this point saying, “Bottles DO explode. I’ve gotten very tiny shards of glass in my wrist and in my neck even from what seemed to be perfect sabering.” Catherine Fallis is also a fanatic about the well-chilled, near-frozen temperature in her sabering performances. Our favorite Grape Goddess added that she prefers magnums, which are easier to take contact with along the seam to the lip. And she reminds us the sabering is an unright motion, not a downward “decapitation” (an appropo reference when speaking of the French Revolution).
 
Michael Rosati Photography
 
But if all goes well you can be assured that party goers will clamor for more. It seems to put a punctuation mark on the event. As Brad Kinder told us, “Bubbles are the beverage of celebration and nothing really kicks it off in a better way than sabering the bottle. It draws attention and is super cool especially for people who have never seen it before.” He went on to say, “It’s showmanship and that’s what bubbles are all about. It’s a perfect pairing.” Do not try this at home, but Brad has been know to “saber” a bottle using the bottom of a wine glass.  “The danger and the uncertainty of success adds to the fun. I’ve sabered many bottle but I always get an adrenalin rush.”  
 
Taking a risk on an innovative approach can be the most powerful strategy.  If this YouTube video involving a golf ball doesn’t make you jump out of your chair, I don’t know what will.
 
However you decide to go about it, here are some performance and safety MUSTs which I gathered from our experts:
 
 
  • Pre-planning is key.
  • The bottle needs to be as cold as it can be before the wine turns to slush.  That “tames” the bubbles. With a warm bottle, the cork is likely to fly out.
  • Wear protective eyewear, sunglasses are a dramatic, easy option.
  • Some experts recommend gloves. Our friend Catherine Fallis favors opera gloves for protection disguised as glamour.
  • Crowd control is a must. Select a safe space with a clear opening, set up something to aim for, and make sure people aren’t in your path.
  • Aim at something soft which might absorb the impact … or the great outdoors.
  • Common sense should also lead you to remove the wire cage from the neck, to avoid a boomerang effect.
  • Taking off the cage is the most dangerous part - remember it has the power to take your finger off with it!
  • The maneuver is not about force … or even a sharp edge.
  • In fact, a butter knife will work.
  • They key is to run the saber along the seam of the bottle, hitting the neck at just the right angle.
  • A smooth, clean stroke works best.
  • Form is everything.
 
Petra Polakovicova presides in a well-known dining room and can attest to the celebratory vibe created by even a traditional pop of the cork. But she too is moved by the elevated experience  of the  sabering ritual. “Sabering adds drama. When you open bubbles with a sword, there’s an anticipation. The anticipation of something really cool.”
 
In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it. -Napoleon

Welcome to the family, Iron Horse saber, Sebastopol Edition.

 

Time Posted: Oct 12, 2016 at 1:44 PM
Joy Sterling
 
September 2, 2016 | Joy Sterling

On the Waterfront: In Case You Haven’t Heard, California Is Still In a Drought

 
El Niño was a big help to our long term water woes, but not the savior many had hoped (read our blog’s past predictions for the Great Wet Hope here). Winter storms brought normal snowpack in the Sierra, but once the flurries stopped and the seasons changed, melt-off from the high country proved swift and disappointing.
 
The Department of Water Resources projects that the mountains produced about three quarters of normal runoff during the months of heaviest snowmelt. This shorts the rivers and reservoirs that typically provide a third of California’s water, cementing a fifth year of historic drought for the Golden State (news coverage here). Now the Governor has used his executive powers to enact permanent measures, acknowledging that water conservation has to become a way of life.
 
 
“Permanent” turns out to be through January 17 when the state Water Resources Control Board can revise the regulations. For the next five months we are off mandatory water use management and onto voluntary cutbacks.
 
Instead of a statewide decree, cities and towns are now allowed to manage their individual conservation efforts. This measure acknowledges the obvious - that water, like every resource, is not naturally equally distributed statewide.
 
Back in 2015, the Governor mandated a 25% reduction in water use compared with a baseline of 2013, with the 411 water districts reporting monthly (full story from the Sacramento Bee here).
 
Post-El Nino, California officials feel we can afford a break in certain parts of the state, especially in the North. It has now been determined that we can ease off draconian, one size fits all measures. Local communities are empowered to decide their own conservation needs based on a three year stress test. Monthly reporting remains honoring a motto of “Trust, but verify.”
 
Map of Official Monitoring Stations in the Delta region
 
In the first month on this “honor system,” the state averaged 23% reduction. July’s numbers will be released soon, concrete evidence of continued commitment to voluntary water frugality.
 
As an active observer of California Water Policy, I can’t imagine anyone thought El Nino would provide a panacea for drought. Complete recovery requires several more years of “average” rainfall but it definitely was a boon here in Sonoma where soils were saturated and reservoirs refilled.
 
Long term, the Governor is right to plan for perpetual drought, which experts says is a very real possibility. Some anticipate a time when water may become more valuable than land, positing that land without water won’t be worth much. Shocking.
 
Theories like these are motivating significant action on a large scale. In an extremely controversial move, Southern California’s powerful Metropolitan Water District recently purchased 20,000 acres, scattered across five agricultural islands in the North’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
 
 
 
Shown above, the area is called the “Delta” because it forms a triangle of roughly 1,000 miles of waterways from Antioch to Sacramento to Stockton and is the hub of California’s water delivery network. Metropolitan says they were interested in purchasing the islands so they could restore natural wetlands habitat for plants and wildlife. Such restoration projects are required of water districts to offset the effects of their reservoirs, dams and canals. Two of the islands are in the path of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to build two tunnels underneath the Delta. And owning the islands also grants Metropolitan senior rights to pump water out of the Delta.
 
Critics say the purchase was an old fashioned water grab. It was challenged in court, but allowed to go through (coverage here and more here).
 
This story is not without a happy update: Stanford researchers have detected a potential new water source in the Central Valley. Perhaps as much as three times more groundwater than previous estimates.
 
Previous studies only looked at depths of up to 1,000ft (300m). This one went deeper - and investigations show there’s three times as much fresh water at 1,000–3,000ft (300–900m) below ground.
 
But the potential “windfall” comes with caveats. It is very deep thus prohibitively expensive to extract and could be salty. Drilling for it could lead to further land subsidence, already a major problem. And much of these hitherto unknown water sources happen to be close to oil and gas wells, which puts them at risk of being contaminated.
 
Shut-down desalinization plant in Marina, Cali image via NewsDeeply.com
 
The Central Valley is home to California’s most productive farm belt, but the region’s groundwater is so severely overdrafted that in some places that the land has been sinking two inches a month. Problems with subsidence started decades ago, but have been made worse by the current drought. With surface water so scarce, one study shows we are currently pumping water out of the ground at twice the rate that the aquifers can naturally recharge. At this rate, pulling more water out of the ground wouldn’t help.
 
The scientists are not advocating the use of this new-found source … at least not just yet. As the old saying goes, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
 
It'll take a while to figure out how to tap those very deep aquifers … and how to replenish them. In the meantime, we need to approach this new source with caution. Premature efforts could pollute the precious water AND inadvertently poke the “sleeping bear” - a term my friend and fellow water policy wonk Phil Grosse uses to describe the network of fault lines underlying the state. But this is California, where imagination and ingenuity are two of our greatest resources in overcoming technical difficulties and ultimately sway public policy.
 
In a press release on this topic, the Stanford scientists were cautiously optimistic despite the proximity of the groundwater to a potentially hazardous oil and gas operation. But they noted that the contamination risks are great enough that we should be paying attention. We might need to use this water in a decade, so it's definitely worth protecting. Find further reading on this important finding here and here.
 
I believe science will move us forward in the long run and I remain hopeful that technology will yield a sustainable solution. But for now, I’m relying on good old fashioned conservation. My wish list includes more normal rainfall, ideally from Thanksgiving through February and preferably at night, like Camelot.

 

Last day of harvest 2016 for Sparkling at Iron Horse. Photo: Laurence Sterling

 

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Time Posted: Sep 2, 2016 at 6:47 AM
Tarin Teno
 
June 23, 2016 | Tarin Teno

Behind the Scenes: Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Iron Horse

A discussion with our inimitable in-house Hospitality Director Dixie Bohlke illuminates plans to celebrate this summer’s milestone, the Sterling family vision, the importance of small details in creating the extraordinary … and how to join the celebration with a new limited production bubbly.
 
Dixie pouring Iron Horse '76
 
As Joy shared in the previous blog, the Iron Horse family is warming up to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our first vintage.
 
First, the skinny on the summer soiree we have affectionately dubbed “The Spirit of ‘76"
 
Date: July 3, 2016
Time: 11AM - 2PM
Where: Iron Horse Vineyards
Festivities begin in the beautiful garden of the Sterlings’ Victorian home. Then it’s  a short walk to the corral for lunch at noon.
Who: Friends, Family and Wine Club Members
 
Next the full bodied exploration behind the scenes setting up such an event ….
 
Why: We’re honoring the vision of our founders which was nothing short of revolutionary when they purchased Iron Horse in 1976, the restoration of the Sterling’s beautiful Victorian home built in 1876, and of course the all American spirit of 1776.
 
How: A reception in the garden of the Sterlings’ home with the Caviar Cowboys serving California Osetra on buckwheat blini fresh off the griddle, a roving Oyster Girl shucking fresh Myagis from Tomales Bay and free flowing bubbly.
 
Such a special occasion calls for a special limited edition bubbly, naturally called “Spirit of ‘76”, which we also be pouring in the Tasting Room for the holiday weekend and which is available on-line.
 
Joy and David came up with the idea of creating a special cuvee about three months ago. David picked the 2011 Blanc de Noirs in magnum for the base wine. Mark Berry designed the label. We have just 22 cases (132 magnums) and Joy says there’s no better place in time to enjoy them especially in commemorative flutes with our logo, the rampant horse on a weathervane and the addition of “Est 1976”.
 
Dixie perfected a cocktail called the Iron Horse 76, which we make with our own brandy called Audrey, distilled by Germain Robin using 1987 estate grown Pinot Noir.  
 
 
Recipe:
1.5 oz Brandy*
3/4 oz Fresh, Strained Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1 bar spoon Apricot Preserve**
4-5 oz Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut
Shake ingredients (except sparkling) vigorously with ice, strain into a Pinot Noir style stemmed glass, slowly pour in the bubbly, garnish with a lemon twist.
*We use the Iron Horse Audrey Brandy (made from 1987 Iron Horse Estate Pinot Noir distilled by Germain Robin). Substitute with VSOP Cognac
**Dixie’s homemade
 
Recipe Backstory:
Based on the classic French 75, made from gin or Cognac, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar. It is also called a 75 Cocktail, or in French simply a Soixante Quinze (Seventy Five). The drink dates to World War I, and an early form was created in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris—later Harry's New York Bar — by legendary barman Harry MacElhone, a defining figure in early 20th-century bartending. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun.
 
Directions:
Shake ingredients (except sparkling) vigorously with ice, strain into a Pinot Noir style stemmed glass, top with bubbly, garnish with a lemon twist.
 
Old labels
 
Back to the event….
 
After the one hour reception, the party moves to an old, redwood, 1920s corral led by “Uncle Sam” and a 20 person brass band called The Hub Bub Club. Here, the party decor includes gorgeous vineyard views, deep red roses growing on the fence of the Corral, red and white geraniums in pots sitting on top of old wine barrels, and scattered hay bales covered in the stars and stripes.
 
The menu includes everything you'd want for a July 4th celebration: lobster rolls, bison burgers, fried chicken, an unbelievably delicious potato salad.
 
Always thinking ahead to dessert, back in mid-May we delivered flat upon flat of local Sonoma cherries to our favorite Patisserie Angelica for classic cherry pie.
 
Naturally, the wine theme is red, white and bubbly.
 
Thematic Extra-Credit: Dixie has collaborated with Joy and the Sterling family to perfect the day’s theme, bountiful food, and run of show but then she has taken it a step further with a fashion show in an homage to 1776, 1876 and 1976 with five fashion models showing costumes from each era. The models in this “Fashion Show with a Fashion Statement Honoring Three Centuries” will appear at various times  throughout the day to show off the beautiful vintage clothes and mingle with guests. The background music will waft sounds of San Francisco circa 1976.
 
A sweet note and some final thoughts ….
 
One of the pleasures of staging this fete has been reminiscing about the early days, going through old photographs and compiling a time capsule exhibit of memorabilia, including decades of winemaker dinners and White House menus featuring Iron Horse wines.
 
In the words of the supremely talented Hospitality Director Dixie Bohlke, this summer soiree honors “the fulfilment of what Audrey and Barry Sterling’s dream was then and what it has become.”
 
Dixie notes that this event carries as truly special feeling for her. Her planning has been driven by a desire to property recognize the vision of the founders that would ultimately shape so much. But most importantly, acknowledge that their vision and “revolutionary” spirit has determined the way forward for the vineyard.
 
As we celebrate the past with the Spirit of ‘76 Cuvee, we also toast to the future. “It’s going to be an incredibly special time capsule for Audrey and Barry, but they are also moving ahead to the future. When you look around to the new planting, you can see that. “ For all the history and the pleasures of nostalgia, Iron Horse is an exciting and dynamic place.
 
Couldn’t agree more.
 
What else does a party need once you have identified the theme, the venue, the food, the wines … as the ultimate party planner will tell you, it's the people who make the party. So we raise a glass to our guests! Happy Spirit of ‘76.

 

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Time Posted: Jun 23, 2016 at 9:44 AM