February 9th, 2022
As it happens for each club shipment, we always get a lot of questions of “I’m trying to customize my order by the website won’t let me”. The answer is simply we just don’t produce enough wine from the vineyard. Our 8-Bottle Club DOES get to customize every order…They can even choose across any vintage. And they receive a greater discount on all orders at 25%! Our 6-Bottle Club (by far our largest club) DOES get to customize their Fall shipment too.
But for a little more background, when we started the transition in 2020 at Gelfand Vineyards, Catherine and I looked hard at how best we could create all clubs as customizable. The biggest factor in that was “do we have enough wine to allow for everyone to customize” followed closely by looking at the cost of labor to handle the extra time needed to pack every shipment by ourselves (I don’t talk about the increased labor below but holy moly is it expensive to have enough people come in to pack!)
For reference, in the past, Gelfand Vineyards never offered an official customizable club. Periodically the previous owner would swap out wines when feasible but there had never been an official customizable option.
Right off the bat of our exploration we hit an immediate roadblock to allow for every club of ours to be customizable simply by not having enough wine. In early years Gelfand Vineyards would produce 25-30 tons of grapes. But with former farming practices and changes in mother nature the short answer is the vineyard has needed a lot of love the last several years. Over 75% of our vineyard is now 22-years-old and as happens with grapevines, many will suffer from disease and either stop producing or reduce their yield significantly. The best option typically is for each vine to be replaced but even then that means 3-4 years before they start producing. For the past several years we have been ripping and replacing as needed while also working to increase the health of the vineyard. The soil especially had been depleted of the nutrients needed to properly sustain expected yield and ensure long-term growth. But it takes time for love and care to pay off.
And then, as all Californians know, mother nature stepped in the past three years especially (though many others years before) and decided to not rain nearly as much as hoped. In 2021 we only got 6 inches of rainfall at the vineyard the entire year…and it all came within 48 hours so it just created a lot of runoff, not absorption. What that meant for us was that in 2019 our yield was 80% of normal, then 2020 left us with 70% of our typical yield…and then 2021 brought us just 60% of normal production. In short, that means not enough wine for us to offer what we hope to which is for everyone to customize. For the 2020 vintage now being offered to our club members, that means we have nearly 33% less wine than normal off the bat. When you look at the numbers, even though there are more varietals, our yield was barely above the yield of the vineyard in the early years when there was no wine club.
We can solve that by buying A LOT of grapes from other vineyards. We do believe there is some magic in our soil so that’s not a direction we want to lean. We are buying a limited amount as of 2021 from other growers to try and do some new things that we don’t grow (hello Viognier, Merlot and Cab Franc bottling in 2023!) To buy enough grapes that make up the lost yield is very expensive and means passing on more costs. One which we don’t want to do as we’re already being hit with obscenely high other costs (for example harvest was a 400% higher cost in 2021 than it was in 2020!). We hope to break even in the next few years but for now are focused on getting the property and vineyard where it should be.
We did, however, finagle a way to start customizations with our 8-Bottle Club (customize all shipments and also receive a higher 25% discount!) and the Fall shipment for the 6-Bottle Club (which is our largest club so at some nearly every club member gets to customize at least a portion of their shipments).
So where do we go from here? For the past two years we have been putting an immense amount of resources into the vineyard to replace the vines that need immediate replacement…we brought on an amazing new vineyard management consultant to help make it healthier through more sustainable practices and in some instances fully rip and replace certain blocks. This year we planted the first cover crop in probably 10+ years if not the first ever (a cover crop is a mixture of high nitrogen producing plants like beans/legumes that grow in between the rows in the winter and ultimately get tilled back into the soil in the spring…nitrogen means happy grapes!) and we continue to explore every angle to increase vitality and healthiness. But as mentioned it takes 3-4 years for a new vine to begin producing grapes so this process will take us several years to get back to the yield level we hope to be.
In the meantime, we truly appreciate everyone’s understanding of the challenges of farming especially in farming to make the best quality product we can. We hope it’s a short term pain for us and we know it reduces some flexibility for you as a club member (unless you’re an 8-Bottle Club member!) and one that provides an immense additional financial commitment and stress for us, but is also one that is the best for our customers long-term and for both the future of the vineyard and Dresser Winery and will continue to increase the quality of our wine.
As always don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you want to learn more! Or to yell at me because there isn’t customization for all just yet 🙂 It does happen. But we hope everyone remembers we’re just a small family operation with just Catherine and I and one full-timer working with us and woking our hardest to make this place into the best winery it can be. You can see exactly how your commitment to us influences every aspect of what we do.
Thank you for Drinking the Dream!