Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vellum 2011 Vintage Notes

I say this every year, “This is the finest wine we have made yet!” The expression may be getting a little trite, canned and a few may wonder if I have original thoughts in my head(?) but still... I can’t help myself! The 2011 vintage really is the best wine Vellum Wine Craft has produced to date.

This harvest marked our fifth successful year of production and regardless of the cool, sluggish weather I could not be more pleased with the results. The wines are honed, elevated and grand- even in their youth.

We started off 2011 with the second coming of the much anticipated Vellum White. I expected this to be a great year for white wine. The persistent cool weather and and intermittent rains throughout the summer slowed development and the fruit never really saw any real heat or burn. Nature handed us perfect clusters with a bright expression and the wine practically made itself in the vineyard! Today, Vellum White sits in cool, still neutral oak barrels on its lees. It has been frequently stirred to marry the sediment with wine and develop a full silky texture and considerable length. Lively aromas of gardenia, green apple skin and apricot leap out and they are already integrating nicely with the palate.

The Merlot, likewise was picked in its youth and much like the white, it too gets stirred! This is not usual for a red, but it is an important part of its development. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot needs (for lack of a better word?) - meat! Everything else is there, wonderful (but uncharacteristic for the varietal) cocoa aromas topped with dark brambly fruit for which our vineyard is known. The mouth feel is unctuous and plump and beginning to lengthen. It makes me realize that last year’s vintage was no mistake. The 2010 Merlot is destined to be contribute beautifully to our classic Cabernet!... And, this one will follow suit. I would bottle it tomorrow if I could, but then I forgot... like many of you out there, “I don’t drink Merlot!”. It’s true and shame on all of us! So the best we can do is stir and wait and one day hope for acceptance in a more enlightened wine drinking world...

Fortunately, the anointed Cabernet Sauvignon grape does not endure such bad press. This year however presented a challenge for many, as the cool rainy weather was not anticipated, yields were down and mold ran rampant. For Vellum, the vintage played right into our hands. This is what we have been waiting for - bring on the Ice Age! No mold and we gently pressed out more wine per ton than ever, making for a healthy yield. I am astonished really and I do not know how this happened, but it means more wine for all of you!

Our small lot American clone Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented with flawless uncompromised clusters and finished well under 14% alcohol. This dark ruby wine is succulent not only on the palate, but in the nose. Both carry persistent black raspberry and raw cassis aromas and flavours. It is a little exuberant now for the variety, but it will integrate with care in barrel in the months to come. Like the its predecessors, the understory characters of the vineyard are captured too, but this year I created something new. The flavours underpin the palate and the wine is so complete that it actually folds under the tongue with amazing reach. I can’t let this get away!

Not to be outdone, our French clone Cabernet Sauvignon from Coombsville (pictured above) recently finished and has been put to sleep in barrel today. This as many of you know this is our base and also signature wine that comprises Vellum. It provides not only the structure of the blend but also the fulcrum from which the other wines spring. Even in its infancy I am calling it out and tipping it for greatness! Roasted nuts, vanilla bean and cocoa hover over a bottom note aroma of sweet, warm but herbaceous blackberry. The nose and the palate are in contrast shifting to a strong, pure cassis and only cassis. There is an explosive entrance to the wine apexing with a magnificent high mid-palate adhesion - a gripping quality reminiscent of the best Cuban cigars! It releases and floats down gently to a side palate succulence and very broad length. This is certainly the grand Vellum wine of the year!

April 14th, 2012 cannot come soon enough...This will be another classic vintage and the best(?)! Please save the date to find out and join us for the 2011 Vellum en primeur.

Karl Lehmann, Vellum Co-Founder and Winemaker


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2011 Vellum in Good Hands!

As I have been saying years, Vellum is truly handmade. Now I can prove it! Here two of our closest supporters Bill and Robyn Mathy help us with punch downs by hand on our newly fermenting 2011 Merlot. Not only does this help with extraction, but they are literally ‘breathing life’ back into the yeast.

Wonderfully basic, but gentle, this is a new ‘old concept’ and strangely satisfying. The practice is one that I may consider doing in the vintages to come!... And, the Merlot has never tasted better. I think the Mathys are on to something with their ‘lost art’ of mixing!

I strongly urge everyone to come barrel taste the 2011 Merlot as soon as possible. This wine was made ahead of the curve, and there really is nothing else like it in Napa Valley. Please be the next to find out why!

Well, back to the vineyard for me...More of Harvest 2011 to come!

Karl Lehmann, VELLUM Winemaker

Thursday, September 29, 2011

VELLUM Merlot block is ready for harvest - THIS SATURDAY!

VELLUM Cabernet Sauvignon has just a touch of Merlot - adding a depth and vibrancy to the aroma of our wines. We harvest just one row of Merlot from a beautiful vineyard block in St. Helena.


Here are some photos and a quick video (below) to whet your appetites!

Stay tuned for news from harvest - we will be picking the Merlot on Saturday morning.


Jeff Mathy, Founder

Friday, September 16, 2011

VELLUM White is back for 2011 !!!!

Another harvest is upon us in Napa Valley!

Hard to believe, that here in September we usually anticipate the sweltering heat and the blazing sun beating down on the vineyards for the rapid push to quick cluster maturity. Not this year! As the saying goes, if you have nothing to talk about, then talk about the weather! It seems that is true for all of us here. No one can stop talking about the cool to cold but even temperatures we have had this year. Perfect for white grapes and the reds...but that is a waiting game.

We had fully developed clusters this summer and no sunburn in our Sauvignon blanc and Semillon. The sugars stayed low and the acid naturally bright, all while flavours concentrated at the right time. 2011 will go down as a white "vineyard year" for the region and one of the most notable ever I suspect for VELLUM White!

The response to the inaugural 2010 micro-production of VELLUM White was overwhelming and now, tragically gone, but this year we got smart! VELLUM White is still a very small production, however we did make a little more. The fruit has been successfully harvested with a healthy yield, pressed gently, and now it is fermenting carefully in neutral oak barrels and hitting all the signature way points of the 2010 vintage.

This again, is a classic Bordeaux style white on the nose and it combines the best of our protected mountain vineyard for a palate unlike any other. For those of you who already know and love it, you will get your share - I promise this time! For those who don’t, welcome, VELLUM White is one of the most exciting and intriguing white wines to come out of Napa Valley in a long time... I am excited to share it with any and all takers next spring after its march to bottle. But! Anyone, who is nosy enough to poke around the winery may get a "preview", and rare look into what it takes to create it. Perhaps it is true that fortune does favour the bold, but for the rest, the patient purists, our tasting notes are soon to come!

- Karl Lehmann, VELLUM Winemaker

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Balance is More Than a Word

Anyone that knows us, really knows us, will also know our palate, what we dream about, and what we chase in a wine. We are after balance , the “B” word as some people in the wine world refer to it. Everyone claims they have it, and for marketing purposes no winery will live without it. A proclamation of balance to the right ears can turn even a ordinary wine into liquid gold - it's that easy!

Marketers and critics aside. To really understand the true meaning of the word as it relates to wine, one must look to the past to find those benchmark bottles that originated balance long before the world was given a new buzz word.

Ironically, and contrary to what most people think of winemakers; we drink very little of our own wine. VELLUM is for all of YOU! The past does not mean our past vintages. We look to to others' pasts in Bordeaux for inspiration and capture it in our own way.

Not too recently, a couple of those dream wines fell into my lap. I had the privilege to drink a 1975 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou out of the grand cellar of Dr. Robert Shannon of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not to be outdone, the encore was a 1998 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou from an anonymous and generous collector of San Francisco, California. It is hard to know what to say after these wines. Empty buzz words need not apply here. Balance, simply is the essence of their existence.

They are what Jeff and I have been going on about for years, and before this time, I have only had the second labels from this producer. Even then, I was duly satisfied, but nothing could prepare me for the harmony and elation that these two vintages truly yielded.

The ‘98 Ducru was a modern effort in wine and a little nervous even at thirteen years. It had a touch of Brettanomyces (an infection) but the “horse sweat” component that Brett produces was in all the right places on the nose and palate. Dark fruit, bramble and fresh tarragon cropped up everywhere. The wine fell as a solid gentle sheet then flapped successively on the finish, as if a quick strong breeze picked up its flank. The sensation had power and purpose, but the uniform wine displayed no aggression. It was designed for a sort of heraldry and precision cadence. This balance of repetition clearly proved that this wine knows its purpose and is not afraid to show it.

Going back 23 years, it was evident that Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou has passed down their on the tradition of harmonious winemaking to the next generation. The ‘75 Ducru took patience as any old wine should, but it had the same heightened awareness and balance as its offspring. The nose was smartly complex. In a half an hour span, it went from oxidation to mushroom, to tarragon and Herbes De Provence then cured meats and finally brandied cherries.

It was not until I was finished experiencing these notes that I took my first sip. There again was oxidation, but front to mid-back palate the wine was complete. It had some slippage of the tannin like loose powdery talc on a smooth floor. So I waited. Almost an hour later the wine exploded after aeration, and it went high mid-palate to the roof of the mouth then dove seamlessly straight back to the finish with succulence of brandied cherries dusted with Herbes De Provence. It was so focused and quick that I lost track of time caught up in the fleeting moments with each sip. I could not say when it finished, but I understood then - the true dynamics of wine. Not only did I see why the French love tarragon so much, but I saw what this fine producer from Saint Julien sees.

Wine is a living breathing thing with many moving parts, cautiously and sometimes begrudgingly working together - a lot like us. Balance is the efficiency and harmony of a system where briefly everything works. Even to aspire to this state, parts must be there from the beginning and over time have a willingness to come together for a larger purpose. I suspect at bottling, balance was perhaps guessed at; where all of these structures in the wine fought for position in their youth and found their rightful place in life to glide as a well timed unit across the palate years later.

These two simple bottles, tomes even, taught me that balance is not a word. It is a point where time and space agree. VELLUM hones this event with each vintage in a mindful approach. Looking back, this is why I make wine, to capture a moment in a bottle - and wait.

- Karl Lehmann
VELLUM Winemaker

Thursday, January 20, 2011

VELLUM 2009 Discovered!

Last year I wrote a little about how we at Vellum Wine Craft blend our wines to bring one final offering to the world. Back then, I mentioned that blending essentially is the art of good planning. This still rings true! Jeff and I carry on this tradition of “good planning” at the beginning of each year. What has escaped me, is that whilst I made a fair assessment of what blending is and is not, I never came around to describing the individual wines and why they are so essential to VELLUM. I am kicking myself now! All that wine is integrated and bottled, so the 2008 VELLUM vintage is soon to be released! For the lucky few that have a bottle, there’s no guessing what’s what. Again, my apologies - all around.

This year I resolved that for the 2009 VELLUM vintage I want to bring clarity and understanding to every palate. You should know what you are buying. We keep no secrets here and we feel that a more informed palate is certainly a happier one! VELLUM, as many of you know is comprised of four distinct blocks of wine - two Cabernet Sauvignons, a Merlot and a Petit Verdot. Here is rare a look in at some of my 2009 notes:

Petit Verdot:

A nose of baking spice, toast, briar oil and dark fruit translate neatly to a full, but complete and lightly structured wine with a considerably persistent finish. This wine has all the depth and elegance I could ask of it.


Classic caramel nose with additional notes of raw cocoa and an undertone of tar. This wine is surprising and has gone through a marked transformation especially on the nose - with a little guidance. It is supple and light with buoyant bright cherry fruit hitting front, middle and back continuing to a sleek finish. I have a rocky relationship with all Merlot, but I nominate this one for Comeback Wine of the Year!

Clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon:

The nose is of particular interest in this wine. There is the signature espresso grounds and graphite, but there is also roasted meat, freshly chopped hickory wood and hawthorn berries. I could smell this for a very long time. The wine has a wonderful high fore-mouth entry which comes down gently with counterpoint flavours to the nose of Bing cherries, raw cocoa and understated dark stone fruit skin. The finish is weighted but long and balanced. I get the sense that it is wanting to be bottled?

Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon:

I am struck by this nose displaying leather, cigar box and cedar oil- some of my favourite things. However, none of that can be found on the palate. This wine broods. There is layer after layer of dark briary fruit and it unfolds in waves. Each one is complete and focused and outdoing the one previous. I am not sure when the finish is going to end but I truly love it. It’s good that we have a lot of this!

Please forgive some of my language when tasting, I get a little passionate, caught up in the moment and the words gush out in real time. Maybe all winemakers are like this...I hope not? I do want to mention that it is easy to imagine when putting any blend together there would be little difference in the end as the largest volume would absorb the others. Wine does work that way, but there is a percentage limit where component wines do become noticeable. In VELLUM, we maintain tight control of proportions - not too much of this or too little of that. That part is the balance we preach and practice in the vineyard and likewise in the cellar...and it shows.

This first critical tasting of 2009 VELLUM was full of surprises for the two of us, and we expect VELLUM will be elevated in a bolder direction. Also, there is so much going on with each of the four wines that they should to be able to stand alone if the need arose. And that, for 2011, may indeed happen (hint, hint...)!

Barrel tastings are always a pleasure for us. Please come discover what makes this vintage is so special!

- Karl Lehmann, Winemaker