Harvest State of Mind

Talking with a customer in our tasting room, who was both impressed and very appreciative of what my wife (Sharon) and I have accomplished, I began to reflect and really think about it…

What have we done?

Well, I guess it all depends on your perspective – Some may say, “What the hell were you thinking?”

I can only give my perspective, which is sometimes jaded and sometimes unforgiving, as I feel we have so far to go, we really do. But what have we really done?

We have abandoned our security blanket to follow our dreams; we have committed to work harder every day but with no regrets as this is truly what we were meant to do. We have created a brand but simultaneously created a lifestyle, founded in the earth, which is real, kinesthetic and sustainable.

As our fifth harvest approaches, where do we go from here? We continue, everyday, to deliver a great experience, made from a passion that is unrelenting.

Ten years is the industry standard, make it 10 years keeping your head above water in the wine industry and you’ll make it- that’s what they say. I feel like we’re close; at year eight, I hope they’re right.

What have we done? I believe we have done the right thing and hope to continue to serve and do the right thing for the rest of our lives. Enjoy life! Celebrate with family, friends and continue to have fresh food and wine on your table to celebrate with.

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Summer is here…

So my first passion in life was music. Started taking guitar lessons at 10 from a Hawaiian man, former professional musician, a dead ringer for Don Hoo, prophetic since I was born in Hawaii…

After getting the basics I realized Bass was my calling, worked all summer to save up enough and got my first bass at 14. Wanted to play Rock of course and realized bands were always looking for bass players.

Opportunity strikes! Got my first gig and was playing bass in bands all through my teens because that’s how you get the chicks…

But, I had it right, something struck a chord deep inside about the bass. I felt it, deep down it resonated with me. I had the right mind and rhythm for the bass and became very proficient. I played professionally for many years, moved to Hollywood on the Sunset Strip from the late 80’s to early 90’s.

It was at this time I found Skydiving, one endorphin rush for another but that’s another story. So as I matured over the years, I opened myself up to many styles and rhythms. I enjoy many classical composers. I tend to gravitate towards anything of complexity, music, wine, things can be simple but seem complex at the same time.

G minor for example, an experiment, I am not afraid to experiment in the winery. Greatness can be reached through risk and experiment, calculated and planned to an extent. Knowing our business plan is based on our varietals playing well together. I have decided to co-ferment quite a bit to see if we can achieve a sense of place and some identity with our wines.

G minor is the result of co – fermenting Grenache, Syrah & Tempranillo, 3 varietals that have been blended together occasionally. Sometime two at a time but rarely 3 at a time and to my knowledge never co –fermented.

Back to that music thing, so one of my favorite classical composers is Rachmaninov, his power and finesse reminds me of the Rock music I so love. Rachmaninov has this piece of music, Opus 23 #5 in gminor that exemplifies this power and finesse that I felt Gminor was such a great example of…

Also Grenache blended G minor – So the Grenache is the finesse, allows for a softer experience when the wine first hits the palate. Strawberry and dried cherries with soft lushness, then blue fruits enter as the wine hits the mid plate becoming firmer. The wine then finishes with firm earthy tannins, quite a bit of structure and some of that power that comes from huge hands (Rachmaninov).

While writing this blog, an aHa moment came to me. The experience sharing my wines is very similar to playing in stage or jumping out of airplanes in that every time it’s a new experience, every time its new, different and very satisfying to me…

Blue Skies

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Harvest alarm clock ticking in Sierra Foothills Vineyards

Vintners have an internal clock that’s starts ticking at fruit set. This typically happens mid May for our vineyard. That tick, tick, tick turns into an alarm bell at veraison, typically August 1st for our vineyard.

The Tempranillo graces us with beautiful color and reminds me, crush is just weeks away. This in fact means I have way to much to do and not enough time to get it done. Think fast wabbit, bugs bunny used to say in a tough spot.

So many decisions that have been made starting last fall and are still being made right now by vineyard managers and winemakers to ensure the quality of their harvests, do I or don’t I water, will we drop fruit now, wait a week, go with tonnage because the market and economy is showing signs of life.

Like all business you must have a plan and stick to the plan no matter what mother nature throws at ya.

Currently we have been dropping fruit in the vineyard, taking shoulders off the Tempranillo, thinning the almighty Grenache and hedging the vines, preparing them for netting soon to come… The fruit is incredible this year! Small berries with very regular set, long loose Syrah clusters and smaller than average Grenache clusters. I am very optimistic about the quality for 2012 in our vineyard.

We net the vineyard when sugars in the fruit start to reach a brix level in the teens, it is at this time the birds come and do damage to the clusters. The exception is Tempranillo, the birds love it, the minute it shows color, no matter how tart. They savor it, like I do a fine steak on my plate.

The clusters damaged by the birds are unusable as yeasts and bacteria from the skins and now juices from pecked berries start a microbiological experiment that we want no part of in our wine.  Keeping the birds away gives us the opportunity to make more cases for you to enjoy!

Stay tuned, for part two in this story “how we let the natural or indigenous yeast on the grapes do their thing” and if you have any questions about what you read here on this page, feel free to email me anytime.

Blue Skies


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Is there really a price though, that can be put on passion?

Summer in the vineyard, is a time for hard work during warm or hot sunny days. Though, it also is a time where we breathe a sigh of relief and or assess the damages of spring. This spring was just about perfect and has set a nice path for the rest of the growing season.

During spring, which is my favorite time of year, I wake up every morning and go to bed every night with just a little, well much anxiety over what could go wrong. How can this be my favorite time of year, you ask…

The colors, sky so blue, grasses so green and the vineyard coming back to life, sunset graces our property with incredible colors and a vista that sooths the soul. In the morning the smell of the breeze coming down out of the sierra, bringing cedar and pine aromas is just as refreshing.

All this serenity is mixed with the anxiety of frost watch, while soft green shoots are emerging in the vineyard. During May I am watching for storms as the vineyard goes into bloom, the aroma of bloom is incredible but at the same time, all that bloom could be knocked off by a hail storm. It takes about a 10 days for all the varietals to start and finish bloom so typically you will find me glued to the Doppler if there is a storm bearing down on us. When in this mode, you will hear Sharon ask “how’s the Doppler honey?”.

When summer approaches, I am excited about what’s to come but there is a part of me that is already missing the great things that spring brings, it outweighs the anxiety that much.

Summer also means there is much work to be done and we get started by sampling leaves and petioles, the small stems that connects the leaf to the cane. These samples are sent to the lab where they analyze the nutrient status. The lab has given us a report confirming the vines are healthy and we have been giving them all the love they need to produce some great fruit and the fruit has set well.

We are now in management mode, suckering laterals and dropping leaves to ensure balance in the vines. Balance in the vines at various stages in the fruits development is essential to the quality at harvest. Berry size on the first day of summer looks good and in the coming days we will be opening up the east side of the canopy to let light into the clusters, helping to develop the fruit.

During the growing season we will continue to assess and manage the canopy based on the vine and berry growth, taking into consideration ongoing weather conditions. Some ask about the cost of wine and why it can be so expensive and like in the case of many things produced by hand it’s labor, labor, labor.

Is there really a price though that can be put on passion?

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Hello, Winter!

When Sharon and I first had the conversation about becoming vintners, we were sitting at a coffee house in Willow Glen, California. As we did on many a Saturday morning, we walked the mile or so to town, seeing many of our friends in the neighborhood as they did the same.

Upon the completion of this year’s harvest, our third, and with wine work going on in the winery, it hit me:  I am a vintner. It isn’t my job—it is who I am.  It is the first time in life that I can say that…

This 10 + years have been so many things, filled with so many emotions and experiences. To say we are blessed would be an understatement; to say we have worked hard to get here would be also.  To hear friends, family and people I have never met, but some day hope to, say we love your wine, great job…that feeling is nearly indescribable.

Nothing can put this emotion into words. We thank you for this and we hope to continue hand crafting wine that will please and deliver a unique experience each time it is shared.

Times are tight; there are so many people in need. The holiday season is upon us and there is so much to do.  It is at this time of year I remember more of these memories growing up and then living as an adult in Willow Glen.

Putting lights on the house, going to town and getting the Christmas tree, the town lit up with holiday lights and decorations. These are great memories and things I do miss. It reminds me that we should all slow down a bit and enjoy what’s around us at this time of the year.

Here at the farm we are creating new memories and experiences with each passing day and we hope you are as well, and that you are close to your loved ones this holiday season.

Grab that someone special and hang on, tell them how much you care for them. Take time, slow down, and appreciate them truly for how special they are and how much your time together means to you, even if it’s just sitting across a table having a cup a coffee.

Thanks my love!

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How Did We Get Here?

So, as I was helping my wife, Sharon, load up her Pot Bellied Pig, Bella Bella Baiocchi, in the car for the long drive to make her starring role in the new movie “Skeeter and Fetch,” it hit me… How did we get here?

Twenty years ago, I started down the slippery slope that a friend and fellow winemaker calls, the first sip. I was 26 years old; another friend (and fellow skydiver) was more refined than I was, bartering his talents for wine from a few Sommeliers who wanted to learn how to skydive.

This experience led me to cut my palate, as they say, on some of the best wines from around the world: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany and Napa. Time and life move along, and as they do, so too do maturity and refinement, with wine and with us. Passion for wine has driven this maturity in me.

Twelve years ago, I met my wife. We started on a new road together, a great road of ups and downs, twists and turns that led us to El Dorado County.

Sharon is an accountant, and as smart as they come. She owns a successful business, has clients that adore her and trust her implicitly. I trust her implicitly as well, because “book smarts” waved good-bye to me long ago…

Our love for each other and my passion to grow premium wine grapes with which to make world class wines brought us here, to this little piece of dirt—our piece of dirt—in the Fair Play AVA, where great Rhone wines can be made and compete on a global stage.

After several months of driving around countless viticultural regions in California, looking at many criteria and even more properties, saying no, no, no, we were frustrated. Then one weekend, with our lists and high hopes for Fair Play, that we would love everything about it, we were hopeful that we would find the right site to plant our vineyard, within our price range. The weekend came and almost went; our hopes had been dashed again, our morale was low, and we were tired and on the road out when we saw the sign. “Hey, that’s not on our list,” I said, “Let’s go look at it!” With reservation, Sharon agreed.

There it was! That’s it! The property had an offer, but not on the list. We stayed over another night, met with the realtor and bada-bing, bada-bang, we moved to Fair Play in June of 2005. We started developing our vineyard site and planted our vines in 2006.

While the vines were growing and reaching up to that first wire to hang on to for the rest of their lives, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by many people in the local wine industry. Bradley Brown at Big Basin Vineyards and Marco Cappelli at Miraflores took me under their wings and trained me. During this time, I was taking winemaking classes at Davis. Let me tell ya, going back to school was more fun than I anticipated, maybe because this time I wanted to learn…

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A word about balance

When reading wine reviews or wine descriptions, the word balance is used often, but describing what exactly?

Balance by definition can be used as a noun, meaning a state of equilibrium. It can be used as a verb with an object, (to balance a book on one’s head). Or, it can be used as a verb without an object, (this account does not balance). It can even be used as an idiom: while the jury deliberated, his fate rested in the balance.

The definition also refers to mental stability, and while in many cases this may be relevant to a winemaker, I believe that the word balance, when used in reference to wine, has more to do with the noun equilibrium.

In fact, “To compose or arrange so as to create a state of harmony,” is my favorite definition in reference to wine.

So then, in what components are we hoping to achieve balance in our wines?  To name a few there are fruit, oak, acid, tannin, and alcohol.  Alcohol—that’s been a hot topic in the world of wine writers, sommeliers and the like.

I get a bit wound up when I hear high alcohol bashing in the industry. High alcohol is bad, high alcohol wines don’t pair with food, high alcohol this and that…

Wines that are in balance, that have a harmonious equilibrium between all the components, where the alcohol at any level is well integrated with the other facets of the wine, will not seem high or low in alcohol.

Besides giving the wine lover a harmonious warm and fuzzy feeling, the function of a wine’s alcohol content is to add texture, body, mouth feel and weight. These are some of the positive descriptors in wine reviews that refer to the alcohol content in wine.

When the alcohol level in a wine is not well integrated with fruit, tannin, acid, and oak, it may seem hot or bitter. It would not be a wine that anyone, let alone a sommelier, would recommend.

Helen Turley has been making some of her wines with over 16% alcohol for years and has been heralded as one of the best winemakers in the world. Her wines have gained critical acclaim and commanded high prices. However, some of the same wine writers who were touting her greatness are the same that are bashing high alcohol wines now.

Balance, that harmonious equilibrium of all the components, is the element that enables a wine to deliver an experience you remember for a lifetime.

Thoughts, as I admire our first effort at 16.5% alcohol….

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Why farm? Why make wine?

A few thoughts on a rainy day when there is not much farming to be done…

As much as I love what I do, and don’t question why I’ve chosen this path, there has been a little something on my mind lately:  Why would anyone in their right mind become a farmer in California today?

The California farmer is the most regulated, ridiculed, under paid, mistreated, misunderstood figure in our society today. Others might argue that title belongs to teachers. Regardless of who gets top billing in this unfortunate position, the fact remains that farmers do not have an easy time of it in today’s economic and political climate.

I am a vintner, but I am a farmer first. And, while not all vintners are farmers, the great ones understand farming. I love the soil in my hands. I look at the decomposed granitic soil that our grapes love so much. I see the gold flecks of fools’ gold. I can’t explain it, but I know that having that type of connection to the land is just part of what it takes to be a farmer.

Looking at the soil crumble in my hands, smelling it, tasting it…Mmmmm. I think about the roots of our vines pulling that minerality up to the fruit, bringing complexity to the grapes and the wine.

Switching gears to more practical matters at hand…

I attended a social media presentation for farmers. When you have a chance, check out KNOWACALIFORNIAFARMER.COM. This website is where farmers get to tell their story, and share their life with the public. The event got me thinking about how many farmers there are in California – over  40,000 of us putting everything we have into our businesses. Like any business in other industries trying to do their best, the difference is that in today’s culture, ironically enough, California farmers seem to be at the bottom of the food chain, while actually they should be close to the top.

Throughout history, California has had a great farming culture, and wine grape growing has always been a big part of that culture. California wine making has taken its rightful spot on the global stage.

My passion for farming and wine making is fueled by these wines and all the individuals who touched and created this beautiful opportunity. Many of these hands belonged to farmers, farmers who love what they do, as I do.

There is a saying in wine making: “You can make bad wine from great fruit, you can make good wine from good fruit, but you cannot make great wine from bad fruit.” This being said, our prime ambition at Baiocchi Vineyards is to follow our passion while adhering to our core principles regarding the making of great wine, which is to say, the growing of high quality grapes – our way. And here we are back to farming.

We don’t ask how much – how much we will spend, how much time we will devote, etc. We farm to a philosophy, and that philosophy is, ‘do it and do it right for the product you want to create’. Sharon and I have worked tirelessly and spent every dollar we had, and even some that we didn’t, to adhere to this philosophy and achieve our dream. Soon, the first cycle in this process will be complete when we bottle our first vintage and share our passion with others.

Until next time…

Viva la Rhone,


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Handcrafted Wines

When does handcrafted truly mean handcrafted?

Ahhh, that is the question.

Handcrafted winesAs consumers, most of us try to search for quality, value, and support in every product we purchase. In addition to third-party reviews, when they’re available and depending on the product, we have no choice but to at least partially rely on what the products themselves tell us – and with wine, that means reading the label. One of the quality terms being used (thrown about, maybe?) in the wine industry right now is “handcrafted.”

Recently, as I trolled the depths of the internet, I was amazed at the number of wineries or wine sources using the descriptor “handcrafted.” I even started to question my own use of the term on the Baiocchi label.

The wine producers who were sharing this adjective were not alike; I had always associated the word “handcrafted” with only premium quality wines. Yet, I perceived that many of the labels using this descriptor were marginal at best. Certainly not premium, as I understand that term.

For winery/vineyard owners like me, who have an incredible amount of passion for what they do, the question of how we communicate that to the people who love it, our customers, becomes a top priority. What words do we use to express the emotion and passion put into delivering that final experience, while still accurately portraying the product?

I am equally passionate about the experience created through the relationships I have with my customers. Perhaps this is because I know that wine has an incredible emotional tie to our interaction with family and friends.

In a recent article at wineloverspage.com, John Juergens mentions this in his piece about another murky topic, cult wines:

“…a truly handcrafted wine where only the best quality fruit is used and each grape is selected for consistent ripeness, along with other special handling techniques to produce a superbly complex wine.”

To be clear, Juergens was commenting on price points, and not defining “cult wines” here. However, what I came away with as I stumbled upon this accidental discovery of one man’s idea of the term “handcrafted,” was a fairly agreeable feeling toward it! Not only that, and maybe best of all, it rang true to my own vineyard and winemaking practices.

I guess this means the label stays, and the question becomes, “How do we sift through once meaningful, and now loosely used marketing terms?

For me, the answer is personal. As a producer, the term “handcrafted” truly defines the experience I have as a winemaker. Most importantly, it also satisfies the need to accurately convey to those who purchase my wine, what they can expect.



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Rhone 101

When in Rhone…

Like Sokolin says in the quote above, the definition of a good wine lies in the feeling it brings to those enjoying it. If you’ve gone just a step further, from enjoying fine wines to appreciating how and where they’re made, you may be familiar with one of the most prolific and highly regarded wine regions in the world – France’s Rhone River Valley.

This fertile and famous valley, as most of you know, is divided into two sub-regions, Northern and Southern. It includes approximately twenty appellations, with more than 6,000 grape growing properties and 1,837 private wineries. Contrast that with our Sierra Foothills AVA. We have a handful more than 100 wineries (and growing all the time) that span eight counties and more than two and a half million acres.

While it is true that most Rhone wines are blends, Syrah is king in the Northern Rhone Valley, and often the star of the show thanks to the cooler growing climate. In the south, Grenache and Mouvedre take the lead in Rhone blends. Rounding out the supporting (yet important) roles are Carignan, Cinsault, Marsanne and Rousanne. Let’s not forget what is arguably the most famous of the Rhone reds – the Chauteauneuf-du-Pape. This super blend may contain up to thirteen varietals, but commonly just three or four.

Rhone-style wines in California

The Rhone style wines we’re producing right here in California definitely bring a smile to my face. It’s no wonder why the popularity of Rhone varietals have soared in California throughout the last few decades. The climates of many California grape-growing regions, not to mention soil conditions, mimic those found throughout the Rhone River Valley. Consequently, winemakers from the Central Coast to Northern California to right here in the Sierra Foothills are crafting superior Rhone style wines.

Perhaps it is summed up best by the Rhone Rangers, a non-profit group of Central Coast winemakers intent on promoting Rhone style wines. Through the years, their membership base has swelled to include wineries from Idaho, Washington and Virginia.

From the site, www.rhonerangers.org:

“American Rhone-style wines are made from the same grapes that have flourished for centuries in France’s Rhone River Valley. Their growing popularity in the United States speaks to their versatility with food, wide range of rich flavors, and to the skills of American winemakers.”

It is with great eagerness and anticipation that I await your response to Baiocchi wines, including our Rhone-style blends, as we near the release of our 2009 vintage.


Greg Baiocchi

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