Clif Notes

Cabernet Time

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Monday, September 28, 2015

Blog Post Written by Laura Barrett

It is September 28th, 2015 and I have already harvested more than half of our Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain. These very same blocks were picked in mid-October of 2014 (which was considered an early year!) The 2015 vintage will be noted for early ripening and low yields. So, what will the results be with respect to quality? In my opinion, there is great potential for very high quality wine. The berries are tiny with deeply concentrated flavors. We are seeing high sugars without any over ripe character. Pyrazines (the vegetal aroma in red grapes, particularly in Cabernets) have dissipated and the skins taste great. Though seeds are lagging a bit behind and, even in the ripest blocks, I am still seeing some green seeds. We will account for this in the cellar by keeping the heavy press wine separate. Overall, I expect the 2015 vintage will live up to the very high standards of Napa Valley Cabernet.

The Valley Fire

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Monday, September 21, 2015

Blog Post Written by Laura Barrett

The Valley Fire has had a powerful impact on this year’s harvest, not by its effects on the wine, but the impression that it has left on us personally and on our community. We will always remember the 2015 vintage as one that was struck with disaster, leaving our neighboring community devastated. Many of us in the Clif Family have friends, teachers, or colleagues that lost their homes in the Valley Fire.

I can tell the story first hand from our Howell Mountain property because I was staying at the Clif Family Croquet Vineyard the night the fire began. Around 6PM an enormous, dark and low cloud of smoke slowly crept toward our site from the northwest. It was disturbing, not only because of the gloomy darkness around sunset, but also because of the powerful gusts of wind that were carrying large pool and garden items into the olive grove. By 9PM there were large pieces of ash falling onto the croquet court. At 10PM the smell of smoke was inside the house and we voluntarily evacuated and headed home to St. Helena. By 2AM the police were notifying residents of a formal evacuation advisory and the road was closed until Monday. During this time, there was great concern amongst the rural community. The fire crept very close to our Croquet Vineyard and Farm, dangerously close. But firefighters were able to hold it off near Aetna Springs, just about 7 miles away.

As of today, the fire is 75,781 acres and 70% contained. Last week’s rain brought some much needed cooling and humidity to the air, helping firefighters gain some control. The roads have re-opened and residents are returning to the area.

Overall, the Valley Fire has been a terrible tragedy for the Lake County community. For the Clif Family, it has been a threat and a scare, but not damaging to our land, homes or vineyards. It has served as a strong reminder of the dangers associated with the California drought and the impact that it has on our industry. Our hearts go out to the Lake County community as they begin to rebuild.

A mid harvest pause

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Blog Post Written by Laura Barrett

After a few busy weeks of white winemaking, we have paused to catch our breath, and wait for the reds to ripen. Hats off to the crew at Palisades Wine Company who have been working night and day to get my white grapes pressed! For now, the Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are quietly finishing fermentation in barrel. The Gewurztraminer is about mid-ferment and will go to barrel shortly.The Chardonnay and Rose´ of Grenache were just inoculated yesterday and will be rolling in the coming days. Everything is tasting and smelling great and my overall observation on white wine quality is this…. Great flavor with low sugar and high acidity early. It’s a year to ignore the calendar and follow your instincts.

In the vineyard, we have at least 10-14 days before considering the next pick. Croquet Vineyard Cabernet is sitting at 24.5 Brix. The weather is mild this week, so we have some time. In the meantime, we will give our white wines all the love and attention they need to finish fermenting. And perhaps we will enjoy a Saturday or Sunday off!

Harvest has begun!

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Monday, August 24, 2015

And just like that, we’re in the thick of it! We had a burst of picking last week after a few very hot days. We brought in 8.9 tons of Sauvignon Blanc, 2.5 tons of Viognier and 4 tons of Gewurztraminer. The quality of the white wines is excellent so far. I’m seeing great flavor development at low sugar and high acid. We’ve seen a brief cooling pattern with some early morning fog and highs in the mid 80’s. This weather has slowed things down a bit and allowed us to catch our breath at the winery. On the harvest horizon is Oak Knoll Chardonnay, Mendocino Rose of Grenache and perhaps some Zinfandel within the next week or so.

Have a Hearty Harvest

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, August 18, 2015

(Serves ten people for $150)

Harvest Meal to include:
Three Mary’s organic roasted chickens with rosemary and lemon
Kale Salad with cabbage, apples, Pecorino cheese and vinaigrette
Fagoli e Grano – grain and bean salad with veggies from the farm
Homemade Cookies

Orders must be placed 48 hours in advance by calling Michelle or Meg at (707)968-0625 or e-mailing at
We are delivering for Harvest! Complimentary delivery, as available, for orders of $300 or more north of the Oakville Cross Road and South of Lincoln Blvd. in Calistoga, including Howell and Spring Mountains. There is a $25 delivery charge for harvest orders under $300.

Also, keep your harvest team hard at work and energized by adding Clif Bar products to your order or by visiting Velo Vino. Mention the code “HARVEST CLIF” to receive a 30% discount on your Clif Bar order.

This harvest meal offer is good until November 1st.

Hours of Operation
Clif Family Bruschetteria, Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30AM – 4PM most days
Velo Vino, 7 days a week, 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Three Sisters Planting

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Farm is bursting with activity this summer! Aside from the normal hustle and bustle of Farm life, Drew and I have been busy harvesting an amazing bounty that we have been sharing with you via Clif Family Kitchen jams, olive oil, and vinegars, the Bruschetteria Food Truck, and the St. Helena Farmers’ Market! Despite the full days, I have been enjoying playing mad scientist at the Farm. Inspired by Dan Barber’s book, THE THIRD PLATE, I got to thinking about how and why we Farm the way we do. In this day and age of monoculture, the importance of plant diversity couldn’t be more apparent and we are exploring this through our work with the Seed Matters initiative and the “Three Sisters” planting technique.

Barber’s book discusses farming in traditional Iroquois fashion, “The Three Sisters”, stemming from a Mohawk legend about sisters who were reliant on each other, but were sadly separated. Each sister in this legend represents a planting. The little sister in green is the bean. Her sister in yellow is the squash, and the elder sister with long flowing hair of yellow and the green shawl is the corn. The logic behind this technique is to group crops together to create a symbiotic relationship that benefits the plants, the soil and the farmer. The beans enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen, the corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb, and the squash provides ground cover to control the weeds and also produces tasty vegetable to harvest. Watering is all that’s needed to keep this system running. Watching the Clif version of the “Three Sisters” planting has been a real inspiration. The corn is beautiful, beans are sprouting, and squash flowers are covering the ground with bright colors. This planting in conjunction with our seed saving is creating a vibrant ecosystem at the farm, which is evidenced by happy pollinating bees buzzing everywhere.

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