Happy New Year! We are thankful for 2022—a year of incredible blessings, new friends, some sort of new normalcy, and wonderful memories that we won’t soon forget. As we take a moment to reflect on the past year, reminiscing on the hardships, the joyful moments, and everything in between, we remember how truly fortunate we are to have such supportive friends and family. All of us at McGrail Vineyards thank you for your enduring devotion and championship in 2022. We approach 2023, our fifteenth year, with the same enthusiasm and passion we’ve had throughout our journey and look forward to the new experiences it delivers.
Join us as we look back at the past year and remember a few of the great memories!
From Chardonnay in our Sparkling program to Touriga Nacional in our Slainte, we harvested from August 15th to November 1st. Of our longest harvests in Mark’s 40+ years of Winemaking. Mark gives a full harvest recap HERE.
Wine Club Release Parties
We celebrated our fantastic members all year long with Release Parties in February, May, August and November for our Quarterly Members and in September for our Annual Members! The release parties were a favorite of ours as we got to catch up with our friends, enjoy live music, and taste the newest vintage of some of our favorite wines!
Wine Education Events and Classes
While we love all things wine, we also LOVE learning more about the intricacies of wine, wine with food, wine with music, and wine with fitness. Some of our favorite events are the classes we host with our local friends that include cheese and wine pairings, cheeseboard making classes, chocolate truffles and wine, and fitness classes that are savored with wine following! When we aren’t pairing the wine, we love to see how the wine ages by offering comparative tastings of multiple vintages.
The views from the top of the Greenville hill are breathtaking. Whether you are tasting from the patio or picnicking on the front lawn, you can’t help but enjoy those beautiful views. As the sunsets in the west, the views become even more spectacular and make our Sunset concerts some of the very best events we offer. In 2022, we offered several concerts from our local live musicians as well as a few larger names including Pasquale, the Italian tenor.
We are truly honored to have received so many awards in 2022. Our wines have continued to grow and evolve and we have been fortunate enough to received some third party endorsements with many of our wines. Here’s a few of our favorites!
As we celebrate the past year, we are so blessed to have each and every one of our customers in our lives! From the tasting room to the crush pad, the people we have met through the winery, make it the very best! We look forward to a fantastic 2023 and look forward to many great memories to come!
Heather McGrail shares our February release wines from the Livermore Valley!
Winter Wines getting us through the Cold!
As the temperatures are cool, picking up a nice glass of Cabernet warms you from the inside out. In February we release three Cabernets and our Cabernet based Rosé that is definitely a fan favorite!
Kylie Ryan Rosé
Named after my oldest daughter, Kylie Ryan, the Rosé is refreshing, easy sipping, and a great wine to pair with all kinds of food! Our 2022 Kylie Ryan Rosé was fermented in both stainless steel and experienced red wine barrels, with about 10% fermented in oak and the remaining 90% fermented in stainless steel. A complex wine with a bouquet of raspberries, clover honey, green apple and watermelon jolly rancher. The palate is light and bright with notes of lemon verbena, hint of strawberry, and a cherry candy finish. This wine is fermented bone dry and pairs nicely with a meal or poolside! Pair with chicken and waffles, garden salad with oranges and beets, or a pulled pork slider with apple and mango slaw. This is a red wine lover’s rosé.
C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon
Our 2020 C. Tarantino Cabernet is a beautiful garnet red. This wine opens with boysenberry taking the lead and aromas of bright cherry, black plum, cassis, and violet following. The palate is layered with boysenberry, cassis, cigar box notes, and butterscotch. The wine finishes with a hint of anise and the wine is beautifully blanched with great acidity and tannins. This wine is the most drinkable now and will continue to age well. Pair this with BBQ pork nachos and pickled onions, pulled pork sandwich, or a delicious pot roast.
Timeless Cabernet Sauvignon
Our Timeless Cabernet is dark burgundy red. A rustic wine with a bouquet of cherry, blackberry, vanilla, and chanterelle mushrooms. Hints of black pepper and vanilla linger with cassis and sweet night jasmine. The palate is complex with plum, tobacco leaf, and spiced nutmeg married with the dark fruit notes of blackberry and cherry. The finish is long with dark roasted coffee notes. This wine pairs nicely with steamed dumplings with a ginger hoisin sauce, grilled chicken with a black mole sauce, or roasted duck.
A Jó Élet – The Good Life Cabernet Sauvignon
Our A Jó Élet, The Good Life Cabernet, is a deep, dark burgundy red. This elegant California Cabernet offers bold and ripe aromas of cherry, red plum, blackberry compote, baking spices all with a subtle hint of sweet roses. The fruit is balanced by earthy characteristics including black pepper, oregano, thyme, and winter baking spices. As this wine opens, the complexity of flavors arise and the ripe fruit is complemented with cocoa, dried tea leaves, fennel, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla. The tannins are bold and leave an exceptionally long finish with luscious, mouth-coating tannins. Pair this wine with brisket based beef bourguignon, hanger steak and asparagus, or meatballs.
Heather McGrail shares our newest released wines all from the Livermore Valley!
Our Family Release
We are so excited to share the family series of wines with you. Each of these wines are named after grandkids, besides the James Vincent, which is named after my Father, the co-founder. We hope you enjoys these as much as we do.
Charlie Rae Chardonnay
A favorite of mine! The Charlie Rae Chardonnay is named after my sweet and spunky niece, Charlotte Rae. The California style Chardonnay is rich, creamy, buttery, but balanced by bright fruit. This wine stands alone, but I recently enjoyed it with baked brie wrapped in phyllo dough, apple slices, and candied walnuts.
Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon
Charlie’s older brother is Austin James and he is the 2nd oldest Grandson in the family. This fruit driven Cabernet has black cherry, boysenberry, and blackberry. The fruit elegantly blends with the milk chocolate and vanilla notes and is decadent! I recently paired this with the most delicious Chocolate Cherry brownies, try this one!
Chocolate Cherry Brownies paired with Austin James Cabernet
Cook time: 40 min
½ Cup Unsalted Butter
1 ¼ Cups Sugar
1 tbs Canola Oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
½ Cup Flour
½ Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbs Cornstarch
¼ Tsp. Salt
1 Cup Dark Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Frozen pitted cherries
A handful of fresh cherries
1. Preheat oven to 350°F & line a 9 x 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar with a hand mixer on high until the mixture is smooth. Next, add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix all together.
3. Add flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt and mix again until well-combined, making sure your batter is smooth and free of clumps.
4. Fold in your chocolate chips and frozen cherries *Reserve a handful of each to add on top
5. Use a spatula to transfer the batter into your lined pan, smoothing it out to spread the batter evenly throughout the pan. Place reserved cherries, fresh cherries, and chocolate chips on top
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing. Pair with our 2020 Austin James Cabernet! Enjoy!
Shamus Patrick Red Blend
Shamus Patrick is named after the oldest grandson. This Bordeaux style blend is a gem! Perfect food pairing wine that starts with purple fruit notes such as plum and blackberries. Rose petal, sandalwood, and mulled wine spices are all evident if you have the patience to allow this complex wine to open up. I love to pair the Shamus Patrick with fettuccine pasta with beef and mushroom ragout!
James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon
The James Vincent is named after my later father, Jim McGrail. This was the first vintage after his passing and I truly believe he had a hand in it from up above. It is one of my favorite vintages, elegant, bold, and velvety tannins. This wine opens with dark cherry, cassis, violet and vanilla. As the wine opens a bit you get more complex flavors and the toasty notes start to shine. Year after year, James Vincent continues to be one of our favorite wines! Pair this wine with a delicious filet mignon or a ribeye steak.
Winemaker, Mark Clarin, shares an insiders view of the 2022 Grape Harvest in the Livermore Valley!
The 2022 vintage has been a classically different vintage from the other 43 I have lived through. I had hopes in January and the preceding December of having a decent rainfall year, but February came along and dried out and this trend continued through spring and into summer. We managed a few classic April showers but that didn’t really make up for the deficit. Then, we had frost after bud break on the Lucky 8 Vineyard which affected primarily the Grenache Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
The growing season was warm but not really hot for the most part. And then, Labor Day weekend showed up with a heat spell that broke records. We hit 114 degrees in Livermore and had about 5 days of extreme heat. In a matter of a few days, vines that normally ripen over several weeks, were ripe and ready to go. And, the vines that were behind, began stalling out.
Heat wave ends, rain follows
As the heat wave ended, things seemed to be going back to normal, and then we had a rain and hail storm September 18-20th. Fortunately, our two vineyard properties managed to miss the hailstorm and the weather finally mellowed out. With the weather normalizing, it gave us a little break between the early and late ripeners and allowed us to wrap up the last ¼ of our vines calmly for one of the craziest vintages I have seen! Even though September proved to be challenging in the vineyard, the fruit is tasting delicious.
CBS came by for a visit and had a quick interview with our team picking. Check out the interview HERE
9-19-22 The weather cooled down and we actually have rain for the past two days. We harvested most of the Estate Cabernet before the rain and will finish on the 21st. The rain and cool weather have helped us keep the fruit from drying up. At this point, it seems as though we will finish harvest by the end of the following week.
9-21-22 We had a crazy scare last night as we were heading out to pick the last of the estate vineyard. I was at home cooking dinner and a torrential rain cell came through my neighborhood. I panicked and called my viticulture partner and we raced out to the vineyard to halt the picking. By miracle, the vineyard was dry and in great condition for harvesting. We processed the fruit from there and the clone 30 from lucky 8. I think Jim was watching out for us.
9-26-22 I checked the remaining vineyards as we were scheduled for Wednesday harvest on a couple blocks. I called it off. The cool weather and the rain from the prior week seems to have put those blocks back to “normal”. We will continue to pump over our fermenters and possibly press some before the next harvest day.
10-5-22. We started pressing off our Cabernet fermenters this week. The wines are spectacular with intense color and flavors. The vineyard continues to progress at an excruciatingly slow pace. So, we are taking advantage of the situation to get a head start on barreling down wines.
10-19-22 The tale of the 2022 vintage is the continued struggle to get pickers, so we organized our own group of pickers utilizing tasting room staff and family members. This turned out to be the hottest day of October hitting 95F. I thought I was going to die and am in awe of the professionals that do this everyday. It took us until 1:30pm to pick a whopping 1.3 tons. I think there were 6 of us to start and 4 for the duration. Not ideal but we managed.
10-20-22 Heather rallied about 15 people for pick day 2 and we picked 2 tons before noon. Things are looking up. We just might finish harvest yet. Only about 25 tons to go. Oh my! We really are so fortunate for our great community. We had wine club members, tasting room team members, friends, neighbors all show up to pitch in and help.
10-21-22 We filled barrels with our Cabernet that we pressed last week. In the meantime, we are continuing our sampling of the vineyard and coordinating the next harvest dates.
10-23-22 I’m starting to feel like we will never be done with this crush. We pressed off the Touriga and Souzao grapes and put that to barrel on the 24th. On Wednesday we had about 15 people in the vineyard to pick the Petit Verdot form Lucky 8 and I also found pickers to pick the Merlot, Malbec and Cab Franc from Lucky 8 on Thursday the 27th.
10-28-22 PICAZO Merlot came in on Friday leaving 2 blocks to go and now I feel like we are going to make it. As my friend and colleague Randall Grahm told me when I went to work for him; “with winemaking we are in a constant state of flux”.
10-31-22 It’s Halloween and I reminisce about being finished with harvest in years gone by. We harvested 4.4 tons from the C. Tarantino Vineyard today. All in all a beautiful day and we were finished long before donning our masks and costumes for the evening’s festivities.
11-1-22 LAST DAY of harvest 2022. We harvested 17.25 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 15 from the Lucky 8 property. The vintage has presented many challenges so far, with hot weeks, cold weeks, rainy weeks and cool months. Of course the last day has to start out warm, switch to cold and windy and then dump a bunch of water on our heads. Except we were able to pivot and move the sorting equipment into the building, out of the rain and reasonably dry. We started harvesting at 4:30 am and wrapped up the processing by 5pm. I was waiting for brix and color. We got 25.4 brix coming in. I’ll let you know how it colors up but I’m confident.
A Tale of Two Vintages – 2022
By miracle, the vineyard was dry and in great condition for harvesting. We processed the fruit from there and the clone 30 from lucky 8. I think Jim was watching out for us.
Mark Clarin, Winemaker
We managed to still have great phenolics, good acid, and we are optimistic about 2022’s harvest. The yields on a few varietals are light, but the quality is present. 2022 Grape Harvest in the Livermore Valley is like none other.
Because of the local fires in August, I decided to try to understand the potential for smoke taint in our vineyards. After researching the potential for smoke taint, we followed the recommendations from ETS Laboratories. ETS is the West Coast’s most respected wine lab and since they are based in St. Helena, they have seen a lot of examples over the past few years. Their recommendations are to make micro ferments so they can measure guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol, among other smoke flavor compounds. Some of our colleagues in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are using this technique to decide whether to risk picking the fruit and spending good money after bad. I must say, we were a bit frightened at the thought of leaving our grapes hanging.
We went to the vineyard and harvested grapes from five different areas of our vineyards into five gallon buckets. I had this crazy idea that washing the clusters with water might reduce the smoke compounds on the grapes. In researching this my colleagues conveyed that it doesn’t work but I wanted to see for myself. We used two buckets per pick and washed the clusters into one of the buckets. The other bucket was left au natural.
Then, we yeasted them and fermented them, sampled the wine, and sent the samples to ETS laboratory in St. Helena. The results were interesting, as there was no correlation between the washed grapes versus the unwashed grapes. All of the samples had less than 3 micrograms per liter of guaiacol (smoke flavor) and some were in the 1.3 range. What does this mean? It means we have low risk of smoke flavor in the wines. As we are now in the middle of fermentations, I am feeling strong and hopeful.
December 2020 Vineyard Updates
How has our wine and our vineyard fared since October? Read our December 2020 vineyard updates here.
2020 has been an interesting year. The growing season has been ideal, beginning with decent rainfall in the winter. We had a warm spring with good conditions during bloom and fruit set. The summer was warm until about the end of August, when the temperatures climbed into the triple digits. We also had a fire in the Livermore Valley due to the lightning strikes, which is the first time we have had to deal with the idea of smoke taint in our wines.
In August, we went to the vineyard and harvested grapes from five different areas of our vineyards into 5 gallon buckets. We used two buckets per pick and washed the clusters into one of the buckets. The other bucket was left au natural. We then yeasted them and fermented them, sampled the wine, and sent the samples to ETS laboratory in St. Helena. The results were interesting, as there was no correlation between the washed grapes versus the unwashed grapes. All of the samples had less than 3 micrograms per liter of guaiacol (smoke flavor) and some were in the 1.3 range. What does this mean? It means we have low risk of smoke flavor in the wines.
We picked 14.5 tons of Sauvignon Blanc on a smoky day, August 22nd. The fire was burning up toward Cedar Mountain. On the 9th of September, we picked 16.7 tons of Chardonnay during an ash cloud event. Then, on the 15th we picked Merlot and Malbec for Rosé. It was a clear day for a change. In all cases, I cold-settled the juice and racked it off before fermenting. As I am recapping, I am tasting the wines with pleasure. So far so good.
We picked our Grenache Blanc on the 17th and our Cabernet Franc on the 19th of September. It was really fun to get out there with some of our tasting room staff and actually pick the fruit and bring it to the winery for processing. Then reality hit us on the 24th and 26th when we harvested the Clone 15 one day and the Clone 8 (both Cabernet Sauvignon from our estate) the other day. Both days were more than 50 bins. Long days in the warm weather. We grabbed the Clone 15 and Clone 30 from the Lucky 8 Vineyard, which turned out to be another 50 plus bin day. So far, the Cabernets have great color and intense flavors. Time will tell us whether the smoke has affected our vintage but I’m feeling pretty good so far. We should be finished harvesting everything by the 20th of October.
Yields have been spot on, with the exception of the Clone 15 at Lucky 8 Vineyard. I miscalculated that block, as it came in heavier than expected. The quality is great. I will have to pay closer attention next year. The young vineyard at Lucky 8 is really coming along now that we are through 4th leaf. Our Chardonnay was about 5 tons per acre and Sauvignon Blanc was almost 7. Our red grapes are closer to 3.5 tons, with the exception of the Clone 15 at Lucky 8, which was just over 4 tons per acre. I am very pleased with the progress in our vineyards and look forward to enjoying some of our wines on the patio soon.
A new harvest season means new tunes.
Jump into the new season with our sounds of harvest alongside our October harvest updates…
Please let us know your thoughts on these October harvest updates! Did you learn anything? If so, what did you learn? What are you most looking forward to trying from the 2020 vintage? We look forward to hearing from you.
By Mark Clarin and Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards
Autumn is just around the corner, but in the vineyard a new season has already begun! Harvest has started here at McGrail Vineyards and we want to share this new chapter with you. We asked Winemaker Mark Clarin to share his thoughts on our 2020 vintage to give our friends an idea of what can be expected of our newest vintage!
The vintage has been almost picture perfect this year. We had adequate rainfall, along with an early budbreak. The weather through bloom was dry and mild. No mess, no stress, as they say. Summer has been moderately warm, up until the end of August, and then bam–heatwave, thunder and lightning, fire, smoke and more heat! This is definitely going to be an interesting harvest season. There is no telling how the apocalypse will affect the wines. After 41 crushes, I keep telling anyone who will listen that every vintage is different, though some are more memorable than others.
We kicked off our vintage on August 22nd this year, as we harvested Sauvignon Blanc from our Lucky 8 Vineyard. It was a smoke-filled day and everyone wore masks during the processing. The masks were doing double duty as we are trying to protect from COVID-19, as well as the smoke.
Harvest at McGrail Vineyards
We followed up with Chardonnay on the 8th of September. The trend is an early harvest so far and I anticipate it to continue. We are getting ready to pick Malbec and Merlot for Rose and we will be about 25% through picking this year.
Yields so far have been good and the fruit quality is excellent! The juice tastes great and I hope the finished ferments will be just as good. In general, we are picking about a week or so earlier than last year. If all goes well, I’ll be on vacation mid-October.
-Mark Clarin, Winemaker
Harvest at McGrail Vineyards
Harvest at McGrail Vineyards
A new season means new tunes.
Jump into the new season with our sounds of harvest…
By Mark Clarin, Heather McGrail, and Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards
If you’ve ever been to a McGrail Vineyards Release Party or Barrel Tasting Weekend at McGrail, you’ve likely spoken to or seen Mark Clarin. You’ve probably even seen him jamming downtown, at other wineries, or local breweries, in one of the various bands he belongs to. Mark, standing at approximately 6′ 4″, is known for rocking a horseshoe mustache, tie-dye tees, cargo shorts, flip flops, and a ponytail. He is nearly impossible to miss. His unmistakable style isn’t even the thing that makes him stand out the most; his wine is pretty extraordinary, too.
We asked Mark to answer some questions about himself, as well as about what he’s got going on in the vineyard now and what happens in the vineyard at McGrail in the early springtime. Allow us to introduce you to our winemaker, Mark Clarin, through some quick Qs and As. We hope you find his answers both humorous and valuable, as we did, and we hope it gives you a better understanding of why we love our talented, but goofy winemaker so much.
Question: Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself? Are you married? Do you have kids?
Answer: I am married with children–a boy and a girl. The girl has a girl, so I am a grandpa called Poppy.
Q: What is your background in the wine industry and how did you get into wine?
A: Winemaking found me! I got a job at a local winery when I was 20 years old. Prior to that, I was in construction. I grew up in Livermore and sort of fell into the business. I have always been drawn to hard work and art. I’m a musician as well, which has an interesting correlation to winemaking. In music, you have to learn when not to play. With winemaking, you have to be patient and learn when not to panic. Wine is a living thing and is constantly changing. Knowing what to do when is the key, which is similar to music.
Q: When did you first start at McGrail?
A: I started consulting in 2006, before crush.
Q: What is your favorite McGrail memory?
A: While giving a tour a few years ago, I had a customer ask me what I do all year, because I only have to work, like, two weeks per year. It was insulting, yet funny. I work at least four weeks a year. Sheesh.
Q: What do you love most about working at McGrail Vineyards?
A: There are so many things to like. Number one is the team. When we first started producing wine, we made a plan to focus on making great wine. Our primary focus has been Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the king of wine in my mind. We have added a few varieties over the years, but our original goal remains the same–to make great wine.
The property is amazing with spectacular views which I get to visit every day. The estate vineyard is world class and we added the Lucky 8 vineyard in 2015. This affords us the unique opportunity to control our farming, in order to make the best wines possible. This circles back to the original plan.
I cannot forget our club members. We have the best club members, many of whom have been with us from the beginning. Without them I have no reason to make wine.
Q: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned at McGrail so far?
A: How to install a giant flagpole on release Saturday with a bunch of high school kids.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working with Cabernet Sauvignon?
A: It is the king of wine. It grows exceptionally well here in the Livermore Valley. It is a small berry with thick skin and loose clusters that afford good air flow to minimize disease. Cabernet can take a little rain in the fall, as long as it doesn’t rain for more than a couple of days and we get wind to help dry things out. Other tighter cluster varieties don’t have that luxury. Cabernet is very consistent year to year for us. This is important, as we try to make sure the wines stay consistently great. I do like to drink it, too.
Q: What is going on in the vineyard during bud break and what does it signify to you as a winemaker?
A: During bud break, the dormant vines show the first green growth of the year. The buds unfurl small leaves that continue to grow (up to 1” per day!), as shoots, tendrils, and tiny pre-clusters develop. Bud break signifies a new vintage on the horizon and another opportunity to make some amazing wine. It is always an exciting and optimistic time to be in the vineyard, as it confirms the circle of life.
Q: Why is Lucky 8 usually the first vineyard to show bud break each year?
A: In 2016 we planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since that time, our Chardonnay pushes buds first, followed by the Sauvignon Blanc. This is common throughout the valley. Our hillside Cabernet Sauvignon is usually the first of that variety to break bud. The Lucky 8 vineyard is a bit cooler than our estate vineyard, but Chardonnay is an early ripener, and therefore, an early bud breaker.
Q: What does a typical day in early spring look like for you?
A: Springtime is time for blending, which requires a fair amount of sampling and tasting. Topping off barrels is a continuous task throughout the year. It is also time to review the barrel order to take advantage of any early order opportunities. Keeping an eye on the vineyard as the buds begin to push and we begin a new year. I am fortunate that I am in the vineyard every day, if only for a brief moment. Usually, we have some sort of reason to get together and taste with our club members. We also bottle quite a bit of our production in the spring.
Q: What is your favorite winemaking memory?
A: Barrel fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon in a cave. Very labor intensive, but fun.
Photo by Ron Essex.
Q: If you could make wine anywhere else in the world, where would it be, and why?
A: Douro Valley, Portugal. The vineyards are grown on steep slopes made up of shale. Everything has to be done by hand in the vineyard. The people are very nice and the weather is similar to California. The soil comes through in the wine with lots of minerality. I have not been to the Rhone, which I could probably get used to quickly.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I am generally happy. I am very tolerant, but once you lose my respect you will never get it back.
Q: Would you care to share an embarrassing story about yourself?
A: While visiting another winery, a staff member named Joy handed me a glass of what I assumed was their Rose and asked my opinion. I responded with something like, “well, it doesn’t suck”. It turned out to be my Rose because she tricked me.
Q: What is your favorite movie and why?
A: The Wizard of Oz. I love the songwriting. Very clever.
Q: Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I sometimes talk in my sleep and I hear that I snore, but I haven’t caught myself yet.
Q: What is your favorite wine & food pairing?
A: Beef tenderloin and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Get a taste of Mark’s winemaking abilities yourself! Purchase McGrail wine here.