As we prepare the 2019 Merlot from Newsom Vineyards for bottling, we thought you might like to read a little more about this very special Cellar Selection from Siboney. The wine premiered as a pre-sale barrel sample wine to Members at the Spring Release event in April, 2021. We will fully release this wine in the Fall. All Photos by Miguel Lecuona
Midnight in Plains, Texas. September 27 2019 – Harvest date of Newsom Vineyards Merlot

Neal Newsom grows some of the best grapes in Texas, leading to award-winning wines from his vineyard blocks in Plains, TX for many distinguished Texas Wineries.  We met Neal at his barn many years ago and are so pleased to work with him.  You have tasted our 2017 Tempranillo, that is from Newsom Vineyards.  Now comes the next wine from Newsom Vineyards – the 2019 Merlot “Cellar Selection.”

Newsom Vineyards - Merlot Block.  Plains, Tx
Merlot Block at Newsom Vineyards, planted in 1996, 1999, 2011

Much can be said about the 2019 High Plains growing season, but like any great story, Mother Nature saved the best for last.  Harvest was September 27, at 1AM — in other words, late and very late! The reason for this situation?  A pronounced High Plains heat spike in August caused some vineyards to become unbalanced… sugar levels soared while seeds and skins remained unripe. And then…. nothing.  The vines basically shut down. So the grower and winery each face a dead-mans choice — harvest with good sugars and questionable overall ripeness, or wait and see whether the vines, with a little more time, can balance things out.  So we played vineyard roulette during September.  

Slowly the seeds began to ripen and turn from a green to a dark brown over 30 days.  We visited Neal on September 19, tasted the grapes and thought if we could get one or two more weeks things might just balance out in the vineyard.  

Barbara, with Doug Reed of Hawk’s Shadow, Ben Calais, and Neal Newsom

As an experienced grower, Neal has many cares, many who depend on his choices. And he balances patience with practicalities. That’s why we love working with him.  On September 27, over dinner, we looked at an updated forecast to decide whether to return home, and there it was — a huge swirling mass of high plains thunderheads bearing down on Neal’s vineyards. Further, looking ahead, we could see the forecast showing more storny weather and fewer sunny days. No point waiting for an October Surprise with those risks. And so at that moment we made the game-time decision and contacted Neal to see whether he could fit the Merlot harvest into his already-tight schedule.  And, ’round midnight, he confirmed the plan of action as we were surrounded by lignthing storms on all sides.  The race was on!  Neal’s team worked in several vineyard plots to bring in grapes ahead of rains as they cycled ever closer. This image shows Neal’s harvester traversing his Syrah block as the storms edged ever closer.  Miguel scrambled onto the roof of his jeep with his Nikon and tripod to get the dramatic shot, thus creating the highest point in Plains at that moment, and impersonating a human lightning rod. What he lacks in smarts he makes up for in passion!

Racing against time… Harvester traversing a vineyard block at Newsom, against the backdrop of a High Plains Midnight storm

As the team set about the Merlot vineyard, the rains came — not enough to cause any dilution, but enough to create a bit of mischief on the loading dock.  Bins were blowing around, and Ben Calais pitched in on the forklift to keep the process moving under very trying conditions.  Janice, Neal’s wife, bundled up in a ski parka, cataloged each bin at the scale, and Barbara worked directly bin by bin with our grapes as they came in, to prepare them for a cold soak and the road home.  By 3AM, at 46 degrees in a 30 mph wind, the job was done.  We harvested about 6 tons of Merlot for Siboney that evening — Enough for 16 barrels. 

Back at the winery, whole-berry fermentation and malo-in-barrel, followed by a restful maturation for about 19 months resulted in a very promising young wine. As we tasted each barrel this spring, the excitement was quite evident, so we decided to bring a barrel sample to the Vineyard planting event on April 10-11 for you to taste. Following that, we committed to the final blend.  

Just 63% of the original harvest made the cut, comprised of wine from 80% one-time used and 20% new French oak, the 2019 Merlot Cellar Selection from Newsom Vineyards is complete.  It will be bottled in June, laid down for a few months, then released in the fall, nearly 2 years to the day from that unforgettable harvest in the High Plains.  Just you wait!

Nothing makes a winemaker smile as much as getting the harvest bin safely into the barn!

Cellar Note: Sourced from a special parcel of Neal Newsom’s family Merlot vineyard from 20+ year old vines, the harvest took place on September 27, 2019 as the vineyard was literally encircled by late season High Plains thunderstorms.  Racing against the oncoming rains, with the sky crackling with thunder and lightning, and the wind whistling through the vines, the temperatures dropped 30 degrees at 2am when Neal finally wrangled the grapes into the barn.  Barbara set our bins up for the overnight trip home.  From a harvest of 6.5 tons, just 63% of that selection made it into the final cuvée.  Barrel aged for 19 months, the final blend was committed in April 2021.  It will go to bottle in late spring, then rest for the summer, awaiting a fall debut and shipment.  This is a beautiful Merlot, and a wine that reflects the commitment of the grower and the perseverance of the winemaker.  Just you wait!

Futures purchased in April will be delivered in the Fall, 2021, as will the case bottle count and ABV%.