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Halleck Blog

Ross Halleck
June 29, 2014 | Ross Halleck

Life as a FULL-TIME vintner!

I have enjoyed all things about being a vintner during the last 15 years. 

Coming from a Silicon Valley career of branding and marketing, however, I was concerned that focusing on only Halleck Vineyard would result in boredom and (God-forbid) drudgery.

The years in early Silicon Valley were almost like a drug. My marketing firm, Halleck, Inc., was privvy to breaking technologies on a weekly basis. Starting with Activision in the 80s during the early days of video games, we developed the branding for 3Com and its introduction of the local area network (LAN) with Bob Metcalf, and went on to work with Apple in the failed world of virtual realities, IntelliCorp in artificial intelligence, Netscape (the first commercial browser), Neuropace (the first implantable device for treatment of epilepsy), and literally a thousand other companies attempting to break through with disruptive technologies for over two decades. 

Silicon Valley was and is a culture of egos and thought leadership.  I felt privileged to participate and "earn my chops" by assisting these leaders to communicate, compelling engagement and desire for their products or services. They were heady times for a young man in the asendency of his career. I loved the ride and resonated with the competitive and aggressive world. 

When I moved to Sebastopol in 1991, I commuted for 10 years back and forth to Palo Alto. Jennifer and I planted the vineyard in 1993. Connor was born that year, guiding us to estabish the vineyard as a college fund.

During these decades, I have kept my hand loosley on the pulse of Silicon Valley through friends, colleagues, and my consulting gigs that kept Halleck Vineyard afloat. Basically an ADHD candidate, I thrived on the varied texture and the complexity of keeping a lot of balls in the air.

As you may have read, as of January of this year, I have devoted my energies to Halleck Vineyard full time. Jennifer and I are growing the winery. We have assembled a stellar Board of Advisors/Directors, all leaders themselves. They have assisted in developing financial models, personal introductions, navigating the complex legal and financial world of raising money, and coaching toward success. I created a comprehensive marketing plan and business plan for the next 5 years. Jennifer and I worked together to populate the financial model with real numbers based on years of experience. These have been vetted by banks and accountants. And we have raised capital.

These past 6 months have been an education unlike any while serving companies in Silicon Valley. Although I sat on the sidelines and watched many clients raise A-D rounds of venture capital, achieve multiple rounds of financing or go public, it was only vicariously that I knew what was going on. I sat on the Advisory Board of a respected Venture Capital firm, posing as if I understood the business. Fortunately, they only asked me marketing advice.

So today, I marvel at my ignorance and naivete. Far from being bored with the chores of managing a vineyard, winemaking, marketing, sales, finance, business strategy, hospitality and travel, I am overwhelmed by all there is to do and the little time there is to do it. Every fiber of my ADHD is maxed out and I am a happy camper. 

Most importantly, there is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than sharing this magical place, Halleck Vineyard, with you.

Please plan a visit.

It is what drives the unremitting passion that Jennifer and I share in making wine: community and gratitude.




Time Posted: Jun 29, 2014 at 3:41 PM
Ross Halleck
April 21, 2014 | Ross Halleck

2013 Barrel Sampling and Final Blends

It was a gorgeous morning in Sebastopol. I was up bright and early in anticipation of one of my favorite activities: barrel tasting to determine the final wines for the vintage.

Rick, Jennifer and I had the barrels laid out on the winery floor in stacks of two for accessibility. Normally, they rise to the ceiling, requiring a long climb to the upper reaches. The winery now has rolling stainless steel ladder-staircases with rails for safe assent. In the early days, we would scale the barrels, legs straddled on either side of the aisle, feet securely placed on one barrel after the other, climbing to the top. With wine-thief in our mouth, a glass in one hand, we would pop a bung with our free hand from the barrel and carefully balance it on the curved barrel side while placing the thief into the bung-hole to extract the wine. 

Today we had 44 barrels of young Pinot Noir to taste through, conveniently spread out in every available space on the winery floor. They held juice from our Estate Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, and a range of other 2013 harvest acquisitions to comprise our Hillside Cuvee, Sonoma Coast, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, and a reintroduction of our Clone 828, Sonoma Coast. 

Yes, it is daunting to taste so many wines. Each barrel holds, in fact, a different wine. Though coming from the same vineyard, the barrel imparts a different signature, or flavor profile. Some are new, some 1 year old (filled once), some 2 years old (filled twice) and some older, which we describe as neutral. But they are made by different coopers (barrel makers), and the wood comes from different forests. We have a preponderance of French Oak barrels, but this year we also experimented with Hungarian Oak, made by the finest French coopers.

So you can imagine this a complicated task: choosing which of our barrels to include as vineyard designated wines and which ones to blend into our Cuvees. This is not about picking perfect wines. None exist at this stage. This is about identifying components that together can construct a perfect wine. We had over a dozen barrels of The Farm Vineyard, Pinot Noir, for example. Only 7 will be used for our 2013 Halleck, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir. The balance will be used in our Three Sons Cuvee, some in our Hillside Cuvee for flavor, and even some to "spice-up" our Clone 828. Even though The Farm Vineyard is a Russian River wine, we can add it to our Sonoma Coast blends in modest doses to enhance flavors.

We are creating recipes on the run. These recipes can never be used again. The wines from the vintages will never be the same, the barrels will never be the same, and our palates will never be the same. It is interactive art.  

We worked methodically. We first tasted all 14 of The Farm Vineyard barrels. We identified those we thought were the best, as-is, or had components we thought would complement a final blend. Remember, these all contain wine from a single, 2-acre vineyard. It is all made from the same grapes. But it was surprising how different each barrel tasted. We eliminated those which we thought would be best with other elements we could add to make our Cuvees. We were left with a smaller set. Then we created makeshift "assemblages" in glass. Jennifer took notes and we nodded at the ones we liked, then moved on.

Next we tasted through the 7 barrels of the Halleck Vineyard Estate Grown Pinot. We will make 6 into vineyard designated wine, or about 130 cases. The other barrel will be blended into our Sonoma Coast. This is MUCH more than the "homeopathic infusion" we have used in the past. The Hillside Cuvee will benefit significantly from this additional component. 

Then we tasted the balance of our Sonoma Coast, followed by Russian River Valley barrels. We earmarked as we went using blue stickers on selected heads, comparing our decisions to the final number of cases we hoped to achieve for each type of wine. We discussed every step of the way, comparing each other's experiences and palates. The hours sped by. It was pure delight. 

Bottling will not be for some months. But this hard work is done. Now it is time to wait. We taste along the way to determine the best time to capture the magic from barrels into bottles. It will never be as delicious, in my view. Like a snapshot, bottling is an attempt to capture a moment; But it pales in comparison. Unlike a snapshot, however, something else emerges in wine that can be transcendent. It can be absolutely sumptuous and exhalting. Just different. 

Time Posted: Apr 21, 2014 at 5:46 PM
Ross Halleck
April 8, 2014 | Ross Halleck

Vineyard and Winery Progress

It is a foggy vineyard morning. We are in full spring and swing. The buds have burst into leaves; the shoots displaying promise of their profusion of confusion. Spring is associated with anticipation and hope.

The color of the vineyard has radically shifted to verdant in a few short weeks. The grass and cover crops are being kept in check by weed-whacking, leaving an emerald carpet between the rows of grape vines.



Within the sprouted leaves is the young inflorescence. These are the microscopic flowers that, once pollinated, will produce grapes.

The poppies are pulled tight against the chill, awaiting the sun to warm them into display. And the towering purple echium is cascading over 15 feet from the vineyard floor, rising like Masters of the Universe in their royal attire.





The swing is in the business side, also bursting with promise. I am devoted to pressing the boundaries to grow the winery, yet maintaining its sense of community. We are building a luxury brand, but contrary to supporting exclusivity, I am striving for "inclusivity". 

I am excited to conduct our first webinar tasting in a few weeks, officially releasing our 2011 Sonoma Coast Hillside Cuvee Pinot Noir. I anticipate doing these regularly, assuming it is fun and goes well.

This weekend I am co-hosting our Wine and Yoga weekend with my dear friend and yogini, Gayle Olson. This promises to be enjoyable and enriching. 

The days are good. My heart is full. I am grateful to be here and to share it.

Time Posted: Apr 8, 2014 at 9:56 PM
Ross Halleck
March 25, 2014 | Ross Halleck

Rain and New Growth

It is raining now!

We are thrilled, hoping it will continue. We just completed pruning Halleck Vineyard last week, very late for us. We attempted to fool the vines into not budding and remaining dormant by delaying pruning. How silly was that?! ;-) I remember an old margarine commercial with the tagline, "You can't fool Mother Nature." Wise words for a questionable product. Here are the results of our folly:

These are the old 3013 canes, pruned and piled at the top of the vineyard. We will grind them to mulch for spreading over the garden.








This is a close-up, now a week old. You can see buds breaking from the old dried vines. Clearly, not what we intended.

And here are the pruned canes, one week later. Sometimes the shoots grow 3" per day.

We are enjoying the gray wet conditions. It was gorgeous and clear for sunsrise, with spectacular colors indicating the oncoming wealther. The old addage held, "Red sky at morning, sailors take warning".

We are anticipating a great wine year. Rick and I created the final blends for 2013 yesterday. This is the most fun I have and should be illegal;-). We will be offering 5 different Pinots for 2013, including our Sonoma Coast, Clone 828, which had its sole performance in 2006. Those of you who were fortunate enough to enjoy this wine will be excited by the 2013. We will also offer our Estate Grown, Three Sons Cuvee, Hillside Cuvee, and The Farm Vineyard. Stay tuned.



Time Posted: Mar 25, 2014 at 9:25 AM
Ross Halleck
March 5, 2014 | Ross Halleck

Raining and Pruning; Tasting the 2012 Vintage Pinot

The vineyard is no longer asleep. We tried to hold the vines back by delaying pruning, thinking that we could fool them into extending winter in their hearts. But we are the fools in our attempt to control nature. This is a dance with Gaia and she always leads. Humility is the name of the game. 

This is very late to prune and the vines are letting us know. Even the lifeless canes seem to be pushing buds. Not so lifeless as we would think. So off they come, selecting only the 3-4 most vital to bear the fruit of 2014. It is an arduous process, requiring hand selection, cutting and tying every cane to the trellising wires. We only have about 2000 vines in our one-acre Halleck Vineyard. But it takes days with a team of three working morning to evening.

PrePruning Halleck Vineyard    

We practice cane pruning at Halleck Vineyard. We draw from the strongest canes that come from the center trunk of the vine each year to bear fruit. These are trellised vertically as the year progresses.

The alternative, which is employed at The Farm Vineyard, is cordon pruning. In this case, the trunk has been trained to split into a T and goes horizontally right and left. Shoots grow from each cordon that bear fruit. It makes for a beautiful vineyard, but is not as flexible as a cane-pruned vineyard. We can select canes every year that are the strongest, and even increase canes to increase production. You are restrained by two cordons in cordon pruning. 

On a different note, I had a case of the 2012 Three Sons Cuvee delivered from storage this week to taste. We would normally not release this wine until the Fall, giving it a year on bottle. It has only been about 6 months. All I can say is, "WOW!!". We tasted it with our friends who joined the barrel tasting on Saturday and my single case was sold. I just had two more delivered for sharing with visitors. This is not an official release, mind you. We will probably release it in the Fall, as planned. But if you want to take a flyer (roll the dice;-), you can order it. There is not much and it will go fast. Just sayin'...


Time Posted: Mar 5, 2014 at 8:20 AM
Ross Halleck
February 22, 2014 | Ross Halleck

Winter in Wine Country: 70 degrees and sunny

Today has been a gorgeous day in Wine Country. We are praying for rain, but basking in sunshine. I did a 3 hour cycle through the vineyards north of Sebastopol. There were about 20 of us. It was a peloton of athletic middle-aged guys in sleek bike attire. All were businessmen: wine, finance, engineering, CPG, you name it. The majority continued on through the afternoon, but I had to head back for a tasting at noon.

The vineyard will get pruned tomorrow. We have been waiting for winter to express itself. It appears that we will have real weather this week. Storms are predicted in succession starting on Wednesday. This will assuage lingering concerns of drought should it deliver as the meteorologists suggest. And snow in the Sierras for skiing! 

Next weekend is barrel tasting for those wineries dressed in their weekend best for visitors. If you are coming up, I am hosting a very private barrel tasting on Saturday morning. We do not have a "hospitality center" with barrels displayed horizontally on a tasting room floor. We will be in the barrel room, climbing ladders and pouring out of long wine thieves. Bungs will be pulled and replaced from each draw. Glasses will be on barrel heads and we will be spitting into floor gutters. This is the real deal. Each cooper (barrel maker) imparts its mark on the very same wine. It is amazing to experience. 

The 2013 wines are stunning. We only have room for 12. So let me know.

Time Posted: Feb 22, 2014 at 4:40 PM
Ross Halleck
February 12, 2014 | Ross Halleck

There went the drought :) So we hope.

This week's rain has partially eliminated fears of drought in California Wine Country and Halleck VIneyard. Enough rain fell in these past days to make up for the entire months of January and February.

Prior, everyone was asking about the drought and its effect on the grapes. The short answer is, "No damage." We hadn't pruned, so the vines still thought it was winter, despite sunshine and sustained warm temperatures. We would have normally pruned by now. Our concern was if the warm weather continued, the vines may have thought it spring and budded early.

The microscopic flowers that become grapes soon would follow.  If the rain ensued after bud break and flowering, we could have lost the crop to "shatter": the flowers are hit with water and can't polinate. If rain hadn't come at all, we were at risk of water shortage issues. In Sebastopol, we have plentiful wells from which we irrigate. So this still may not have been a problem in our little micro-region. But it was early for these concerns. As a farmer, I'm an optimist. 

While there is plenty of rain, the soil can only hold so much before saturation. The rest runs off into the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley water sheds and hits the ocean. So our cup is not full, despite the abundance of water, frogs, snow in the Sierras and chilling temperatures. We need sustained rain over the winter season to assure a strong crop for 2014.

Time Posted: Feb 12, 2014 at 8:25 AM