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Tour of Rhys Vineyards’s New Cave with Kevin Harvey

2010 November 11
by Richard Jennings

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Today’s post is mainly a video report regarding a very exciting new feature of the wine scene here in the Santa Cruz Mountains: the newly finished cave and winemaking facility at Rhys Vineyards’ Skyline Vineyard location.

Rhys Vineyards has received extraordinary scores of late for their Pinots and Chards from such tough critics as Allen Meadows and Stephen Tanzer; indeed, Rhys’s Pinots have received the Burghound’s highest ever scores for California Pinots (e.g., 95 points for the Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot, and 94 points each for Rhys’s Skyline Vineyard and Swan Terrace Pinots). Owner Kevin Harvey has poured an immense amount of money, passion and rigorous testing into finding ideal sites to plant Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah in the Santa Cruz Mountains; identifying the best clones (and ripping out thousands of dollars worth of Dijon clones that didn’t produce the desired results in the process); selecting the types of barrels and techniques that best achieve his desired ends; and building a winemaking facility perfectly tuned to create the kind of cool climate, complex wines he was aiming for. This past Saturday, November 6, those of us who buy Rhys via the mailing list got to see the physical results of this drive and incredible amount of work with the first public tours of Rhys’s impressive new cave and winemaking facility. For those not yet familiar with Rhys, you can find more background in this very thorough and thoughtful piece in Rusty Gaffney’s PinotFile: http://www.princeofpinot.com/article/633/ and in this earlier RJonWine.com report on a tour of Rhys’s vineyards: http://www.rjonwine.com/2008/05/tour-of-rhys-vineyards-and-tasting-with-kevin-harvey/

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As usual for a Rhys pickup day, we tasted some of the new releases, which were very good, but it was the setting in this very impressive winemaking cave that most struck me and the other Rhys customers on hand. I knew from touring the Rhys vineyards with Kevin in 2008 that he was excavating this cave and building the new facility, but I was in no way prepared for the size and scale of this enormous project. Rhys’s new cave was designed for their particular style of winemaking, with 23-foot-high ceilings, and surprisingly wide entry tunnels. There’s nothing else like it here in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, and nothing much like it anywhere else in California either. It took 5 years to build from the beginning of the permitting process, and nearly 3 years just to excavate. In the following 25 minutes of video, divided into three segments, Rhys’s Kevin Harvey leads us on what he described as the cave’s “largest tour yet,” explaining how this unique project was designed to facilitate Rhys’s particular needs and winemaking techniques.

In this first clip, Kevin explains how Rhys uses one of the cave’s long tunnels to cool the grapes when they first arrive at the winemaking facility, and then describes the initial stages of the winemaking process, including the sorting table and crushing. He also explains what Rhys has learned in making wine to date, including the need to pump over the Syrah, but to avoid pumpovers and other extraction techniques with the Pinots.

In the second clip, Kevin takes us back to the fermenting room, which contains dozens of temperature controlled steel fermentation tanks. He illustrates the important role played by Rhys’s “gravity defying” forklifts, and talks about the 9-12 month fermentations the Chardonnays go through, aided, toward the end, by heating up of another corridor of the cave where the Chardonnay barrels get the boost they need to finish the malolactic fermentation.

In this final clip, Kevin explains what happens in the barrel room, and gives us his take on the results of California’s immensely challenging 2010 vintage.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Jody Smith permalink
    November 12, 2010

    Very cool Richard. I’ve yet to make it out there and your video gave me a nice sense of the place.

  2. Alan Koehler permalink
    November 12, 2010

    Richard,
    Thank you for taking the time to make and post this video series. I was very curious to see these caves and this will hold me over until I can get there. I also appreciated hearing more about the methods and techniques they do or do not employ. Knowing that you are a very knowledgeable aficionado, your audible “huhs” clued me in that what Kevin was describing is relatively unique.
    Great job!
    Alan Koehler

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      November 13, 2010

      Thank you Jody and Alan for the kind words. I’m glad I had the camera handy when Keith started on our tour. And Alan, you definitely picked up on my little editorial noises. I’m impressed. ;-)
      warm regards,
      Richard

  3. Stephen Pohlman permalink
    November 14, 2010

    Richard, nicely done. My wife and I viewed this with envy as those of us who live to the east, cannot attend the various pickup days for those lists from which we purchase. This one was especially interesting with the tour of that great facility.

    I remember a tour of the Beringer facility in Napa some 50 years ago (grew up in Woodside) when our host went on and on about the caves being fashioned by “Chinese chislers”. It would have taken a decade for hand excavation of caves the size of Kevin’s. Certainly not and “industrial” iteration of wine making.

    Someday we’ll get there but now it is much higher on our list.

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