Scott Warner
January 29, 2018 | Scott Warner

Our approach to winemaking

Here in the Ramona valley, the climate and soils provide an exceptional canvas upon which to create superb wines that compete favorably with the best vintages from around the world. Upon this canvas each winemaker here develops his or her own unique style and approach to converting nature’s bounty into artisanal wines. It is for this reason that Ramona Valley earned the designation as a viticultural area.

At Crystal Hill Vineyard we took full advantage of the terroir by planting our vines on a north-facing hillside composed primarily of decomposed granite and quartz. Our vines are more densely planted than usual to promote stronger root development through competition with nearby vines. This arrangement ensures the vines never get too much water and gives the roots access to an array of minerals that contribute to an “earthy” component in our wines. Frequent breeze through our valley helps keep the foliage dry and protected from enemies that need humidity to flourish.

Our wine is made “in the vineyard” which means we want every bottle of Estate wine to tell the story of that season’s challenges as well as all the glorious days of hot sunshine and nights of cooling breeze.

Every growing season is unique. The timing, amounts and total rainfall has the most profound effect on that year’s vine development. It is not so simple as more water is better as this may allow the plant to grow nicely but produce grapes with too much water. This is why dry climates like ours can produce high quality wines year after year. Our approach to irrigation is to give the vine plenty of water during the spring to let it stay strong through the entire growing season, then we cut back irrigation periodically to ensure that the vine experiences complete dryness in the root zone. Water stress signals the vine to put more energy into the fruit and less into new shoot growth. But don’t worry, the vines get a good watering before they suffer too much.

We also limit the amount of fruit each vine produces to focus instead on flavor complexity. Over-cropping produces a lower quality fruit as the vine’s energy is stretched too thinly and it struggles to fully mature the seeds. Of course, this means our production is much lower than it could be, but our goal is simple: produce the highest quality wines possible.

Throughout the growing season we monitor each vine and prune to create a careful balance between foliage and grape clusters. We work with the vine to create the best environment for Veraison which is where the real magic happens.

In the final stages of the season our focus turns to monitoring the maturity of the fruit to determine the best time to harvest. The vine isn’t done with its job until all the grapes are very sweet and the seeds inside are ready to go out in the world. The seeds are ready when they have their protective shell fully hardened and brown. This is when harvesting can first be considered.

Once we choose a harvest date our main goal is to pick and process the grape as quickly as possible to keep it cool. We harvest in two steps. Clusters are removed from the vines by hand and placed into buckets. These buckets are transferred to small fruit crates to allow for inspection of every cluster by the winemaker and removal of any unwanted material. The grape is quickly stored indoors and processed immediately after harvesting.

The vast majority of the winemaking process is essentially done at this point. From here each varietal is processed according to our production plan which could be as simple as a gentle pressing into stainless steel or could include aging some in oak to create two characters of wine from the same grape.

Every bottle of wine we produce should tell a story and connect the taster with the spot of earth that makes the story possible.


Time Posted: Jan 29, 2018 at 9:31 AM
Scott Warner
October 10, 2017 | Scott Warner

2017 Harvest & Crush Report




Grape PickersThe Harvest

Our second harvest was quite different from last year's. The heavy spring rains this year created an environment for greater yields across the valley, yet a late summer heat wave stressed many varietals and caused brix to advance faster than usual. We completed 9 harvests for a total of 11.5 tons of grape - about 3 times the 2016 amount. We added 4 additional Ramona vineyards that we harvested including a couple of small Sangiovese vineyards. 

From Crystal Hill we harvested our Chardonnay much later than last year to allow the fruit to develop its full ripeness and flavor. The Merlot grape looked and tasted especially good this year and was the final harvest from our hill. The Syrah and Cabernet had smaller berries which should translate into more intense and complex flavors over time.


Chardonnay in crates




This year we started using white harvest crates for storing the fruit after picking. This allows us to inspect all the grape as it is being transferred from picking buckets to remove MOG (material other than grape). The other benefit of the crates is that it made the destemming process easier. All the harvest days were much cooler than last year which saved the fruit from the deleterious effects of high heat.








The Crush





We destem the grape immediately after it's harvested so the fermentation is started with very fresh fruit. We produced about 2,200 gallons of must and about 1,400 gallons of bulk wine currently stored in stainless steel tanks to settle and begin the ageing process.





The wine will now "rest" over the coming months as we monitor the development of flavor and other factors to determine if and when its ready for bottling. Only excellent quality wine will make it into a bottle.



Time Posted: Oct 10, 2017 at 6:34 PM
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