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The Story of 2019 Vintage New Bordeaux Blend 

Vintage 2020 has been such an unprecedented year with series of heatwaves and fires in the wine countries. It is going to be the most memorable vintage of my career and it is my 11th vintage since the first vintage work in 2010 at Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma when I was still in the third year of school in the small college town of Davis.

Time has passed so quickly since I moved to California from New York. I lived in New York for seven years but never became a New Yorker just because I had never lived in the five boroughs of city of New York. Yet, I apparently still maintain a New York vocabulary and accent no matter how long I live in California!

It was the toughest time to get into the winemaking industry during the recession of the 2010’s. But at the same time, that was the one of the most interesting times of the industry because the winemaking world was going through a big transition from big, bold style, high alcohol wines to more personable, elegant, and unconventional wines becoming popular especially among younger consumers.

There were a handful of interesting classmates in my class who became the driving force of the current winemaking scene of West Coast.

One of these classmates is Junichi, who had influenced many of us. He had the guts to invite a former SF Chronicle wine writer, Jon Bonne, to our student seminar, who once used to despise UC Davis’ science driven winemaking education. Some years later, Junichi moved to McMinnville, Oregon and was growing his grapes after apprenticing with a prominent natural wine grower in Europe and then studied with Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture from Tasmania, Australia. Many others were influenced by the new movement and went against our modern new-world winemaking and began adopting winemaking of the old world, with the innovative methods in grape growing and winemaking.

I reached out to Shaunt and Diego, one of my classmates in summer of 2019, who have already established their own wine brand ahead of us and have started a vineyard management company in the Sonoma area. I met Shaunt and he showed me a couple of vineyards in the neighborhood including Merlot and Cab in Pyaleh and Millen Vineyards in Los Carneros, which they have converted from conventional to organic farming and had been taking care of for several years. He explained that because of its cold climate of Carneros, the grape’s sugar won’t reach more than 22 Brix at their maturity in normal year unlike grapes grown in hot climate like in Napa. I immediately took his offer and was thrilled to get my hands on these grapes and make wines from Bordeaux varieties grown in cool climate in California.

We night picked 1 ton each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, on September 20th and October 21st. both around at 22 Brix. I let the grapes kick in fermentation by themselves, without yeast inoculation to maximize the benefit of non-saccharomyces spices’ fermentation that impart beautiful texture, delicate aroma and complexity in wine. The Kincade Fire hit us in Sonoma area, just two days after the Cabernet’s harvest. We had safely competed Merlot fermentation and pressed into the barrels by then. Our winery was located in the Chalk Hill/Alexander Valley where the fire lasted the longest and the most severe, but the grapes were safely kept in the winery and fermented itself without the impact of a smoke taint, thanks to the cellar staff's hard work.

These two wines were aged separately until blending in June. I named this blend after my favorite tree, the Magnolia, a 100-year-old tree that I used to play around during my childhood in Nagano. This Magnolia tree died soon after my grandfather passed away at the age of 96. But until then, all the young and old in the neighborhood had a good time climbing the tree in summer, watching the short-living delicate flowers blooming in early spring, enjoying the changing color of the leaves in fall.

I have tasted two of the 2019 vintage wines are ready for the release. Please be look out for the announcement coming up pretty soon!

I hope everyone stay safe and healthy, and drink a lot of great wines!

Sonoe Hirabayashi

Winemaker & Dream-maker

Six Cloves Wines

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