Friday, December 29, 2006

Shipping Problems Already?

Since we haven't bottled wine yet, it would seem impossible to have problems with our shipping company, but we have.

I picked out a small storage and shipping facility in the South Bay in April. I wanted somewhere local, that could deliver to restaurants in San Jose and ship to people as needed. They seemed to fit the bill well and we marked them off on our permits.

Well November came, and I wanted to sit down with them and make sure they'd be able to ship inter-state well, and could handle the wide spread of our customers. So I called, and emailed, and called and emailed, and nothing. I think they are still in business, but they never called me back. So I started checking around. There's one other shipper in San Jose I found, but they were geared for large volumes. The smallest price they had was to ship a case, and they could not even quote shipping single bottles.

So I started asking around. Kevin at Copain, Randy Sloan at Match Vineyards, and Bradley Brown at Big Basin all had recommendations I checked out. Some places never got back to me, or said they would send me information and never did, or just never responded to me. I figure some of that is the holiday season, so I'll contact them all again after the 1st. Still the experience has been something. Randy Sloan had a good quote: "I can't say I'm happy with my shipping company, but they are not pissing me off at the moment and that's about as good as it gets." Everyone else had simliar comments.

So I'll spend a lot of time in January it looks like tracking down a storage and shipping company and it will likely be in Napa. More time in a truck for me, I never thought winemaking would mean so much time behind the wheel.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Visit at Big Basin Vineyards.

A couple of weeks ago Bradley Brown, owner and winemaker at Big Basin Vineyards called me. Originally he was looking for some vineyard sources in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and wanted to know if I had fruit to sell in 2007 (I won't, I'll use it all). We ended up talking for over an hour on all kinds of subjects. Mostly we talked about fruit quality in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and our marketing efforts as two new wineries in the area. Bradley is just a few years ahead of us.

He invited me to come visit his facility and taste his barrels and wines. So, I managed to get some time last Friday and took the drive over to see him and his assistant winemaker Ian. I had a good idea of where to find him, since I've been to the golf course at Boulder Creek, and he was just past that. Still in the mountains you don't want to count on Google or Yahoo, so he left me detailed instructions.

He's built a beautiful little winery on his site, all out of redwood milled on the property. The space above the winery is a yoga studio. All the equipment is state of the art for such a small operation.

We tasted wines from 05 and 06 out of barrel and a bottle of 2004 Rattlesnake Ridge Syrah. Bradley has only made Syrah's so far and he and I both agree Syrah has a great future in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He also gave me a little sample of his first ever Pinot Noir from the 2006 vintage.

All his wines are plush, deep and full bodied Syrah's. Great dark fruit, with excellent complexity and depth. If you can I'd sign up now for his mailing list, as the secret is starting to get out and scores of 90+ are rolling in from Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.

We talked over our winemaking styles, techniques and preferences and we had a great deal in common with what we are trying to do. Bradley uses a bit more new oak than I do, about 50% vs 25% for my Syrah's but his fruit stands up to it very well. He's also not made any Cabernet, and asked me to bring some samples by when I can. Everything he and Ian do is well thought out, and no corners are cut in making great wine. It was a great experience to see another start up not cutting any corners and going top of the line in making wine.

We talked at length about what we might be able to do to help each other out, particularly with some marketing ideas on how we can get the word out on the new high quality wineries just coming on line in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and if some of the other new wineries might be interested in talking with us also. He was off to visit family for the holiday's but we agreed we'd meet again in January and see where we might take things together in the future.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nope, it really is this slow.

I know it's been awhile since my last update, but there really is very little going on in the wine world right now.

In the winery everything is settled down in barrel and the 2006's are going through Maloactic. So there's no tasting and no fiddling with the wine. Just let it sit and finish it's work. The 2005's are also sitting. No more racking or changes for the Syrah until bottling in February. The Cabernet will go through one more racking in the late Spring.

In the vineyard, it's also sit and wait. I start pruning after the full moon in January, so no work on the vines for 4 more weeks. The ground has been to hard to do any work on trellis repair, but we did get some rain this week. That should soften things up enough to start work on fixing any hardware issues.

I do have a trip out on Friday to Big Basin Vineyards to report on, so the next update will be Friday or Saturday.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Note on Allocations.

I've spent some time recently thinking about what we are going to do regarding allocations for our first few releases. It looks like we'll have more people who want wine than we'll be able to handle. Our very conservative business plan was to have 150 mail order customers by the end of 2007. I figured 1/2 of those would buy wine, an average of 6 bottles per year, or 3 bottles per release per buying customer.

It looks like we'll be way ahead of those numbers by April of 2007, much less December.

I'd like everyone who signs up before our planned April release of the 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah to be assured of getting a bottle. I also like the practice of Brian Loring at Loring Wine Company, and Randy Sloan at Match Vineyards of allowing customers to buy bottles in single quantities up to their allocation, so I'm going to do that for sure.

So I really think the limit is going to end up being four bottles per person. We'll give people the option of requesting more, and if we have the bottles, we'll get them out to those of you who have asked for 1/2 cases or even full cases.

We also will bottle six magnums of the 2005's. Two we are keeping for ourselves and we're planning on the other four bottles being thank you gifts for those of you who order your full allocation and request additional wine. It will be our way of thanking our first and best customers.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Wine

Happy Thanksgiving.

I get asked often what wines go well with Thanksgiving Dinner. The anwer is 'none'. There really isn't any wine that pairs with the traditional rich and sweet Thanksgiving dinner. At least not in the classic way of pairing.

The holiday is also one where you're likely to have a lot of guests in the house who don't drink wine often. The complexities of an aged Burgundy are likely wasted, and Aunt Mildred isn't going to be impressed that you opened that $200 bottle.

So keep it simple is what I recommend, and open some crowd pleasers. Pull out wines with bold fruit and easy textures. Oaked Chardonnay's are a favorite of many, and if you can't bring yourself to buy a bottle, try opening a Viognier. The white wine drinkers will love the floral nose and sweet fruit. Avoid Sauvignon Blanc, it's spiky acidity is off putting to many who don't drink wine often.

For reds I always open a Zinfandel. For one it's the most American of wines. It also is full bodied and fruity, another crowd pleaser. Syrah or a Shiraz from Australia will have many of the same qualities. While many new style Pinot Noirs from California would fit, you should know what you are opening before hand. A bold wine from Sea Smoke would make everyone happy, but a Chambolle-Musigny like wine from Windy Oaks would puzzle many of your guests.

When the pies come out, bring out some sweet treat dessert wines or better still a nice Brandy.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Haut Tubee

Every year we host a harvest party in our backyard. The highlight is a grape stomp. I put out about 600 pounds of grapes in a 1/2 ton bin and let our friends go at them. Everyone has a lot of fun and we end up with a lot of juice.

A couple of years ago Stefania thought of the name "Haut Tubee" for the resulting wine. A take off on the hot tub in our backyard and a little play on one of her favorite wine La Mission Haut Brion.

This year we ended up with one full barrel of Haut Tubee. Besides the Cabernet grapes from the stomp I blended in a little of the wine from the house. Some Syrah, Grenache and a tiny bit of Mourvedre. It's all in barrel now at Chaine D'or with 1/2 barrel of Zinfandel that I just finished up today.

There's a pretty good chance I'll blend all of it together into what used to be called a Mistra Negro in California, a 'dark blend' or field blend of red grapes. Right now my plan is to give it away. We'll give some to everyone who came to the harvest party and stomped the wine, and we'll likely give some to people who order our first releases of wine as a thank you gift.

It tastes pretty good at this point, and doesn't have even smell at all like feet.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Enjoying a Glass of Wine.

A couple of weeks ago I had a few visitors in from Florida who wanted to barrel taste our 2005 wines. Things where a little crazy at Crushpad and I ended up setting up a little serving area out on the loading dock, on top of a one ton bin. We tasted through each wine and each barrel treatment and did a blend of barrels to get a final assesment.

Stefania couldn't join me so she asked if I could bring a little wine home for her to try. I ended up with about 1/4 bottle of both the Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah and the Uvas Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon left over.

We sampled a small glass of each when she got home from work, and then put the bottles aside to make dinner. Later that night I poured a glass of each as we went to bed and took them into the bedroom to enjoy as we watched the late hockey game.

It was the first time I've actually gotten to drink our wine. Every other occasion has been a 'tasting' either a rather stressful technical assesment at the winery, or walking visitors through the wines. In that atmosphere I'm more concerned about what is going on technically with the wine and make choices on what to do. It's been an intellectual exercise, not a pleasurable one.

So sitting in bed that night I was really amazed. The wines are damn good. I couldn't get enough of the Cabernet. It was savory, and well balanced with a great texture and nice Cab fruit. I kept going back to it until the glass was drained.

It was a totally different experience. Just getting out of the cramped noisy conditions at Crushpad and having the time to really savor the wine and enjoy it was fantastic. Both just tasted damn good.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lots and lots of pictures

Finally had a chance to get through all the seasons pictures. It's been so busy, but I got them organized finally. There are too many to share here, or on the website at, so I've used bubbleshare.

Pressing "Haut Tubee"

Harvest Party!!!!

Moving Barrels

Chanine D' Or Cabernet Sauvignon Harvest

Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Harvest

Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah Harvest

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pictures are on the Way.

We really did take a lot of harvest pictures this year. Maybe too many in fact.

Instead of posting them all here or at I'm going to put a bubbleshare page together and provide a link. That should be done by tomorrow night.

I'll be back blogging every 2-3 days as well. We took a few days off this weekend to recover and relax but I'll be back at it now.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Finishing up in the Fields

Saturday we had a rough day at Chaine D'Or. There were supposed to be 10 pickers, and only four showed up, then two left early to go install a lawn! That left us with just two people to pick. Stefania and her friend Kathy came up and helped finish the last rows and Jerry and slowed crushing down enough to get out and help pick also.

It lead to a very tiring day, probably the most tired I've been yet making wine.

We had a nice birthday dinner with friends Saturday night at Alexander's in Cupertino and enjoyed a few great wines: 1998 Grand Mayne, 1999 Leoville Barton, 1997 Caymus Special Selection and the highlight a 1996 Latour.

Daylight savings on Sunday was a nice break, and extra hour of sleep before heading out to harvest Zinfandel and remove the last of the brid netting. We had had to leave the netting on the Merlot the week before to get to the winery in time, so we took that off as well.

We took the Zin up to Chaine D'Or to make there and cleaned up the equipment from a busy weekend.

Kathy, Millie, Yukari and Bill all came over on Sunday afternoon to watch the Sharks play, and Stef made a traditional dish from Chile. We had a few more nice bottles, a 98 CdP, a VGRoth Cab from the 80's and some Syrah's I pulled out before finishing the evening with a little scotch and some noice cigars. Sounds like a late night, but I was asleep by 7:45!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Update on the New Wines

2006 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah - Mendocino County

Went into barrel today. Really good dark color and showing a good nose. I used two different yeasts this year, both that bring out more floral smells, and it looks like it took in bin. It looks like we'll be about 14% alcohol with good sound acidity again like 2005. I filled 5 full barrels, one new French Oak, two two+ year old French Oak, one once filled American Oak, and one twice filled American Oak. That should work out to about the equal of 25% new oak that worked so well in the 2005. We also have 32 gallons of toping wine or about 1/2 barrel. That should be about 130 cases of finished wine.

2006 Uvas Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Clara County.

This looks like a rock star so far. I changed up yeasts here too and went for a more open nose. It went into bin at 24.5 BRIX and 3.65 PH. That's exactly perfect for me and should end up about 13.5% alcohol. The color is very dark this year. I didn't do a cold soak this year, I thought that lead to color issues last year. It has an amazing fruit nose right now for a wine half way through fermentation. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, this may be the best wine we've made so far. I think we'll be at 5 full barrels and I'm planning on two new French Oak, 1 one year old American Oak, and 2 two year old American Oak. Pretty heavy Oak, but I think this wine will handle it this year.

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (with 5% Merlot)

Typical for the Santa Cruz Mountains this year this came in with sound BRIX (25.1) but low acidity (PH 4.0). We're having to correct the acidity as it ferments, that's just to low for what we are after. It's got a SCM nose right now, a mix of fruit and minty flavors. The challenge now is to get the acidty fixed and lock in the color. It was slow to start, almost 24 hours more than the Uvas Creek to start fermenting. We'll watch this like a hawk. It's got all the stuff to make a great wine, but we'll have to stay on top of it. The Eaglepoint and Uvas Creek are making themselves, but this one will require sound winemaking. This will get about 1/3 new wood I think.

We still have Zinfandel to go. I'm hoping we get enough fruit for a full barrel, and will pick that Sunday and make it at Chaine D' Or.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Adventures in Truck Driving

I really hoped to have more updates as we harvested, but the reality of 12-15 hour days set in quickly. I fell asleep at a friends house Saturday night watching the Sharks game with a glass of Port in my hand.

In all I think we put 700 miles on rental trucks and probably another 500 on our own cars these past two weeks. As I was driving over Highway 17 Friday, I started to think about Stefania's late father, Lt. Cl. Fred Von Gortler. He was a career Army officer, and I thought about something they teach at the War College. The saying is "Amateurs talk about strategy and tactics, professionals talk about logistics."

Last year I said the key thing I learned for the season was how important leadership and a chain of command is in a winery. This year my leason was: "It's all about logistics."

Basically you make your wine making plans well in advance. I keep my options open though, and make choices based on the fruit as it comes in and we start to work with it. It all comes down to logistics though. You have to have everything in place, and move everything around effectively to make your choices happen. If the fruit is low in BRIX, you need to have the lower BRIX yeast at the winery already. You think the fruit needs destemming after tasting the stems, you better have the destemmer clear. You want the best fruit in the state, you better know how to drive a truck.

These harvest weeks really come down to how effectively you can manage the logistics of moving fruit around. I think that was really clear to me on Saturday as I worked with Bill and Ted at Uvas Creek to load the truck, and a couple of homewinemakers stood by. They wanted to talk about what yeast I would use, if I'd cold soak, what kind of barrels I had, and all the little details. I didn't have time to shoot the breeze, all those options where already planned for, I just needed to move the fruit and make it happen, I had to get on the scales by noon.

Amateurs talk yeast and cold soaks , professionals talk trucks and bins. That's the key thing I learned this year.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Busy Harvest Weekend

Just a fast note on where we are at:

Friday -
7:30 AM pick up a 15 foot truck
9:00 AM arrive at Martin Ranch to pick our 1 1/2 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon
Noon: arrive at the scales for an official weigh in of the truck
12:30 PM drop of the grapes at Hallcrest in Felton
1:00 PM return to the scales for an empty weight
1:30 PM back to Hallcrest to crush the Cabernet
2:30 PM add yeast and start the fermentation
3:00 PM Wash out the bins
3:30 PM load the truck and drive back to Uvas Creek
5:30 PM arrive at Uvas Creek and drop of the bins
7:00 PM arrive home - a twelve hour day


Up at 4:00 AM
4:30 AM load up the FLPB (mine are Purple not Yellow) and drive to Portola Valley
5:30 AM begin removing bird netting
6:30 AM start picking and loading Merlot at Elandrich in Portola Valley
8:00 AM finish pick and drive to Uvas Creek
9:30 AM load up our two tons of Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
11:30AM arrive at the scales for an official weigh in of the truck
12:00 PM drop of the grapes at Hallcrest in Felton
12:30 PM return to the scales for an empty weight
1:00 PM back to Hallcrest to crush the Cabernet and Merlot
2:30 PM add yeast and start the fermentation
3:00 PM Wash out the bins
3:30 PM press the Eaglepoint Syrah and get it into the settlement bins
6:00 PM head home
7:00 PM arrive home- fifteen hour day

Wish us luck!

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Great Post Party Note

Right in the middle of harvest season, we like to take a little break, and invite all our friends over to celebrate harvest. We make some harvest season treats, and I put some grapes in the backyard for everyone to stomp, and we open 30 or 40 bottles of wine.

This year we had a full house at 40 people. Just about the maximum we figure we can fit. This morning Stefania got a thank you note from one of her friends and co-workers:

"I just wanted to say thank you for the invite...we had a preconceived notion that since we were not 'Wine People' we would feel uncomfortable and to put it harshly shunned by the other so called 'Wine People'.... What we found out the moment we walked through the door was SO the opposite of what our stupid inclinations were (I don't even know what 'Wine People' are anymore). You and Paul are the most gracious hosts and everyone made us feel so welcomed. I can't even remember the last time I went to a party where I knew virtually no one and felt so comfortable, where people you do not even know come up to you and say 'Hi I am such and such' and just start talking to you as if you mattered, not caring that we knew nothing about wine and very willing to share their knowledge or experience. "

That was the best note. One goal we have is to make wine easy and enjoyable for people. We want to put aside all the anxiety and let people just enjoy a bottle with new friends or connect with old friends. "Good wine, good food, good parties and great friends!" as Stefania says. Friends are the key that makes the party, the food, or the wine truly great.

We're headed out tomorrow to drop off bins and get back to winemaking!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Update on Eaglepoint Ranch and some notes on the 05's.

Well we made it back!

What an adventure in truck driving. 5+ hours up to Mendocino County, with the last 5 miles (including 1.5 miles of dirt) on a step mountain road. We picked on the morning of 10/11 before the Sun came up. Four full bins of fantastic Syrah. We had planned on just 3 bins, but I took the fourth just in case Casey at Eaglepoint would let us take more and he did.

The picking crew was excellent and they left any problem grapes on the vine. We loaded back up and drove back to Felton. 6+ hours through 7 counties, across the Golden Gate, through San Francisco, all the way to Santa Cruz to get on a public scale. The grapes went into the crusher with just a minor issue (the forklift got stuck in the field and had to be pulled out). Fantastic fruit, even the crew at the crusher said it looked great.

We 100% destemmed but did not crush the berries, and it went into 3 one ton bins to ferment. I'm using two different yeast this year to see what might work best on this fruit.

The 100% destemming was a hot topic at dinner Tuesday night with Casey and Larry Roberts, a winemaker from Paso Robles. Almost everyone making Eaglepoint Syrah follows Sean Thackery who uses 100% stems, or Wells Guthrie (Copain) who uses 60% stems. I guess I'll just stand out. I love the pure fruit and floral nose our wine developed in 05 without stems, so We'll be the mavericks who will go total destem with Eaglepoint. I think the fruit has good enough tannin and complexity on its own.

We finally got home at 9:45 PM on the 11th, and returned the truck yesterday. Today I'm off to Bonny Doon and Elandrich to check on the grapes, then Uvas Creek to drop off a Bin for 1000 pounds of Cabernet we're getting tomorrow.

And oh yeah some tasting notes have been put up on our 2005's:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Getting Ready to Go

After we're done lounging with some coffee this morning, we'll be off to clean our bins and get them ready for harvest tomorrow. Then we swing by the truck rental place and pick up a 14 foot box truck to drive to Mendocino. We should get to Eaglepoint Ranch about 5 PM today.

We'll unload the bins and settle down for a little wine and food with the folks at Eaglepoint and then get to bed early. We're staying at the Ranch tonight. We'll get up before dawn tomorrow as harvest starts. Once our bins are full, we load back into the truck and take the 5+ hour drive back to Felton and Hallcrest.

We should arrive about noon. We'll crush right away and the must will go into T-bins to start turning into wine. The process should go fast and we're hoping that by 6 or 7 PM we will be able to call it a day.

Stefania will take lots of pictures and we'll post them here and to our website as soon as possible.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

And we're off........

A few frantic phone calls to Hallcrest and Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch and we're ready!

Tuesday we'll rent a truck and head up to Eaglepoint Ranch. Casey is going to let us pick our rows out Tuesday afternoon. We'll stay the night at the ranch and then pick the next morning! Then a drive down 101 to Hallcrest, and John is ready for us. Our first fruit will go into bins this week.

I still have to confirm the truck, and wash the bins but we'll get that done tomorrow. I'll also call Casey and offer to cook rib eyes for everyone Tuesday night at the ranch.

We'll take lots of pictures! Finally, we're off and running!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Here Comes the Sun Again!

After days of cloudy drippy wet weather, we woke up this morning to Sun! The outlook now is for sunny weather and warming over the next two weeks. The tequila worked!

The forecast could not be better. So after a hard week of waiting and hoping, we're ready to go again. Everything has been pushed back by a week or so it seems. Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch is going to call me today with numbers and set up a picking date.

Uvas Creek sent me numbers on Friday, and that looks like it will be picked the week of the 15th.

I'm pretty excited by what we're seeing. Sugars are not to high, and acidity is really good. These should be great grapes to make the kind of wine we really want to make. Updates should start to come fast now.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sharks and Wine

It might seem odd that we list a small get together on Thursday night at our house as a wine event. It was opening night hockey for the San Jose Sharks.

For us it has a very real wine tie in. We had been season ticket holders for the Sharks for many years. We had even worked our way down to the 7th row. Two years ago though we had a tough choice to make. The season tickets are about the same price as the fee we pay the facility we make wine at. So it was Sharks or make wine. We made wine.

We've had to make a lot of financial sacrifices along the way. We didn't get into making wine as a vanity project like so many people, or a way to waste dot-com millions (we didn't have any to waste), it's been a tightly budgeted project all along.

We've known the risk in that. A big factor in the failure of most new wine projects is being under funded. So we put a tight business plan together. Slow controlled growth, cost containments, limit risks, generate cash flow early, lots of planning to get by on a small budget and focus every dollar on the wine.

For a night it was nice to push that aside though and have some good Pizza and watch the Sharks win in overtime. I miss the games, but it sure would be sweet to toast a Stanley Cup with some Stefania Wine, even if we can't be at the game.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Gin for the gods of Rain.

Yesterday Adam Lee from Suduri/Novy wines posted something he'd heard
form Pinot Noir grower Martin Van der Kamp:

There is an Native American tradtion that the God that brings rain also likes to drink gin. So to delay a rain you leave 1 shot of gin outside and the God then either becomes drunk or certainly distracted enough that the rain is delayed. We will be putting a shot of gin outside the winery tonight and would appreciate it if all of you could do the same at your homes as well. "

We put a shot of gin outside last night as well, and I've heard Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch did too.

Right now we just wait and hope the coming rain is light and doesn't slow down the grapes too much. The forecast is for dry weather in the 70's after the storm goes through, so all in all the rain may just push back harvest 3-5 days.

Kenneth posted a review and some pictures from the barrel tasting on Saturday. Take a look at:

And put some gin out if you have it!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Harvest at Chaine d Or

We met Anne Anderson of Chaine d Or a few years ago at a tasting event at Copia in Napa, and followed that up with a picnic at the winery last summer. Jerry and Anne took a liking to us and offered lots of great advice as we started our winery.

Last fall Jerry invited me to help with harvest. No small deal, Jerry had turned down all offers of help for over 10 years he let me know. I think our enthusiasm and dirty boots though convinced Jerry and Anne we were serious so I helped with both the Chardonnay harvest, and the Cabernet harvest.

Jerry asked me to help again this year, and Saturday morning I headed out before dawn to get to the small vineyard high in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

This was my view from on top of the crusher. Our Elandrich vineyard is on the lower left, and Ridge's Monte Bello vineyard is the cloud covered peak on the right.

I'm in charge of the "crush pad". The grapes arrive and I lift them into the crusher destemmer. Jerry puts the crusher in the truck bed so that we can use gravity to feed the crushed and destemmed grapes into the wine press. The juice collects in the bin below the press and I then pump it into the large tank in the back to settle.

You can see the pump on the right, and the cellar doors in this photo. I use the wheel barrow to haul away the discarded stems.

Jerry on his tractor far down the row. The picking crew loads the tractor and Jerry brings the bins up to me at the crush pad.

Chardonnay grapes fresh in the bin. In the wine business these are called. F.L.Y.B.'s Short for little yellow bins. They are harder to work with than 1/2 ton bins because each one has to be lifted into the crusher (by me in this case) rather than using a forklift. They hold 30 pounds.

Another task I do is run up and down the rows and push all the FLYB's into a row. The pickers leave them on the ground when they are full. I then go line them up like this so Jerry can load them onto the tractor by passing down a single row.

4 bins are loaded on the front. I do that. Two pickers then load the back up with 20-25 bins, and Jerry then drives them up to me at the crush pad. One of the crew lifts them to me, and I lift them into the crusher. I quickly remove any leafs or bad clusters before they get crushed.

I had to leave for a little bit at 9 am, but we were mostly done by then. I got back in time to press the juice and finish getting it into tank. Jerry lets it settle for 24 hours before he transfers it into barrels for fermentation. The last task of the day was getting the crusher off the truck. No easy task for sure.

We finished the day cleaning up and Jerry asked me how our harvest schedule looked. I let him know that we were likely going to make the Elandrich Zinfandel at home because there was not enough to make at Hallcrest. Hallcrest has a one ton minimum and we will only have about 1000 pounds of Zinfandel.

He very kindly offered to let us make the Zinfandel at Chaine d Or. So we will have a single barrel (25 cases) of 2006 Elandrich Santa Cruz Mountain Zinfandel from Stefania Wine after all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pictures From Sept 24th Vineyard Visits

Gravel and clay at Uvas Creek that Cabernet Sauvignon loves!

Hand manicured rows at Uvas Creek's lower section.

Perfect grapes at Uvas Creek

Less than perfect grapes removed before harvest at Uvas Creek.

Taking samples in the lower block at Martin Ranch.

Looking through the refractometer getting BRIX readings.

Cabernet in the morning sun.

The old oak at Martin Ranch

Monday, September 25, 2006

In The Vineyards

This weekend it was time to check in on all the vineyards.

I started at Elandrich. First checking the netting and making any repairs that needed to be made, then taking BRIX readings to check on ripeness. The Zinfandel was at 20.1 and the Merlot was at 22.2. They've been gaining about 1 degree per week. I like to harvest each at 25+ so they are still some weeks away.

Next I got a call from Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch. He had some Syrah ready to harvest Tuesday, but I couldn't pick it up just yet. So he'll call me again in 7-10 days when the next group of Syrah is ripe.

Sunday morning we drove out to Martin Ranch and met Dan and Therese Martin. We wanted to check on where we'll be dropping off bins, and introduce ourselves. The entire family was busy cleaning bins for 10 tons of Merlot that were coming in. So Stefania and I went out and took our own reading in the vineyard. The upper section Cabernet was at 23.1, the lower section at 22.9. It looked like 2-3 weeks still.

Then we drove over to Uvas Creek. Ted had given my readings earlier in the week, so I wanted to taste the grapes and check on ripeness. These grapes are further along and it looks like maybe 10-14 days.

So starting about October 5th and running through about the 20th, we'll be very very busy bringing in grapes.

All the vineyards looked really good. The growers we work with are the same as us, they've removed any sunburned grapes from this summers heat wave, and have only healthy grapes left on the vines to harvest. Things look really good! Pictures to follow later this week.

Friday, September 22, 2006

How's the juice burbling?

Even though we now harvest and buy tons of grapes from our own vineyards and vineyards around the state, I still like to keep up the first 50 plants we put in at home. It's still a good way to learn and experiment on a small scale. I've also learned to use the little home vineyard as a way to judge how the season is going in the other vineyards.

Because we live in something called the "West Valley Thermal Zone" everything happens at home 2-3 weeks before it happens in the other vineyards, so it's a good signal when I need to do things in the mountain vineyards, like spray, or prune or harvest.

So I harvested the 200 pounds or so of grapes last Saturday and started to make a little wine in the garage. I pick out any bad grapes as I go, and sort through them again before I put then in a food grade plastic bin to ferment.

Then it's I Love Lucy time. I jump in the bin and smash the grapes with my feet. Just enough to release the juice and leave some whole berries.

I've been experimenting with something I've called partial native fermentation. Basically I heat the juice enough (about 95f) so the yeast that are in the garage/winery and on the grapes start to ferment. Native fermentations can give you more complex flavors and better color. The risk of that is that you can get jumping fermentations that go fast and then slow or stop all together ruining the wine.

So I've been letting the fermentation start on its own, then as it starts to slow a bit, I add cultured yeast to finish the job and avoid the risk of ruining the wine.

That was the plan anyway. The juice was stubborn and fermentation did not start on its own, I didn't want to risk spoilage, so I added cultured yeast to kick off fermentation. It's burbling along just fine now, turning into wine.

I good reminder for me, even if you have a winemaking plan, you need to stay flexible and do what the wine needs, and lessons like that are why I keep making that small batch of wine in the garage every year. Every thing you learn, no matter what the scale, turns out better wine in the end.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

parlez vous francais?

Saturday morning I harvested the grapes at home. About 200 pounds of Syrah and Grenache. The first thing to do is remove the bird netting, which is a disgusting dirty job. It's so dirty that I don't usually wear a shirt I want to keep when I take the netting off.

About half way through the project I was thinking, "I've never heard the French term for bird netting, or pruners, or twisty ties." All things essential in growing wine. You here wine people say "cuvee", fruits "noir", and "terroir" all the time, but never use French for the dirty parts of wine making.

At that point I decided to rid my speech of French wine terms. No I'm not going to start calling Pinot Noir, New Pine, but the terms used in wine growing and wine making. There's no need to use the French words, English works pretty well, and even when we have a word like 'terroir' that doesn't translate well, I can say "the environment the grapes grow in especially the soil. Not as clean as terroir, but it works.

Maybe I'm on a crazy crusade, but I want wine drinking to be fun and un-intimidating for people. Using a foreign language to describe basic things doesn't help on either account. It just intimidates people and makes wine seem more mysterious than it is and wine more difficult to learn than it should be.

So out with the French terms.

By the way the, the grapes went into the bin ('cuvee') just fine. I picked out the bad ones ('triage') and decided not to bleed off any excess juice ('sangee'). It's fermenting away just fine right now.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I had this conversation with Jerry Anderson at Chaine d Or last year as we took a break during harvest.

I said "You know I feel like I'm getting pretty good at grape growing and that doesn't scare me anymore, and my winemaking gets better every year and I'm feeling pretty good about that, but selling wine, that scares me."

He replied "You're worried about the right thing young man."

So I have been worried. Worried for months. How am I going to sell this wine?
I started with a plan I thought was original. I wouldn't make any more wine at first than I couldn't drink or give to friends. I thought it was original until I read that John Alban had the same plan when he started Alban Vineyards in the 1980's. Still, we would keep production small, focus on quality and build up slowly.

I still worried I'd have more wine than I could sell.

So I've had a huge swing in the last few weeks. How am I going to get wine to all these people who want it? My original plan was to have 400 mailing list names by 2008, with 1/2 who would buy 6 bottles per year, or 120 cases sold directly.

We're at 120+ sign ups already, and we've got people asking if they can have full cases or more. I think by the time we release we can easily be up to 200+ names, and I really want to keep cases aside for restaurants and local wine stores.

Now I'm worried about how to come up with an allocation policy so everyone who wants wine can get some. Some might say it's a great problem to have, and it is, but I still worry. I want to have happy customers, people who like doing business with us, and I hate the idea of telling people; "Sorry you can only have 2 bottles".

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Reduction and Waitresses

I've written a few times about reduction, and sometimes I wonder if I should not. It's one of the least understood terms in winemaking. People use the term reduction to describe a lot of different things. Some studies have actually shown that people use the term correctly less than 50% of the time.

Reduced simply means that there are smells or tastes of sulfur in the wine. Sulfur is a product of fermentation, so it happens naturally in the wine, and it’s added as a preservative and anti bacterial agent. Usually you add about 25-75 ppm, or parts per million. At the worst you can get Hydrogen Sulfite, which smells like rotten eggs, but you can also get smells of matches, or simply what many people call ‘minerals’.

Reduction happens when the wine is not in contact with Oxygen. Oxygen has a molecular effect on sulfites, which lessen the smell they have in a wine. That’s why if you have those smells in a glass, you can often get rid of them by swirling the glass and exposing the wine to air.

So the hard part for a winemaker is that Oxygen can ruin your wine if you expose too much of the wine to air. So in my winemaking I’ve taken the approach of limiting Oxygen as much as possible, and I taste the wine regularly to check for reduction. If I start to smell sulfur smells in the wine, I then have the wine moved from barrel to barrel.

This is called ‘racking’ the wine, and the exposure the wine gets to air in the process will eliminate the reductive smells and tastes. It’s something you need to stay on top of in the winery and find the right balance.

So my last tasting note on our Syrah was that it was ‘reductive’ and I was going to rack the barrel. We took a sample of some of that wine to share with friends on Sunday night, and just the exposure it had in going from barrel to sample bottle had eliminated the reductive smell. Instead it had a nice nose of violets and blueberries.

Our friends at dinner really seemed to enjoy the ½ bottle and it was met with a lot of enthusiasm at our table. The highlight for me though was we shared a glass with our waitress. She was full of praise and took our card to give to the manager. A small little thing, but that made my night. A big part of our plan is to get our wine into local restaurants and really get the staffs excited about it. So every waitress who really likes it is a great little victory along the way!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Out in the Vineyard, Checking on the Grapes

Saturday morning I headed out to Elandrich in Portola Valley and Llama Vineyard in Bonny Doon. Time to start checking on BRIX readings to see when harvest will come. BRIX is the sugar content of the grapes and it determines potential alcohol. I like to pick between 24-25 BRIX if I can, but having good flavors in the grapes is the most important thing, so I taste the grapes too.

At home the Syrah and Grenache are both above 25 BRIX right now and looks like we'll harvest on Saturday. The seeds and stems are brown, and the grapes taste ripe.

I headed off to Elandrich next.

The sun was out but it was still cool.

I started with the Zinfandel. The first task is to walk the perimeter and make sure the bird netting doesn't need any repairs. There were signs that two doves had been caught in the nets, or at least taken down by the nets. Just two sets of feathers, the work of a hawk that has nested in the oaks near by.

The readings on the Zinfadel were low, just 17.1. It looks like harvest will be the end of October. The grapes looked great though, healthy and with great color.

I trecked down the hill to the Merlot section next. The Brix was a little higher, 21.2 and the netting was in good shape. It looks like Mid October for these grapes.

I drove the long drive to Bonny Doon next. I'm not sure there will be enough grapes to harvest there this year but wanted to check on the vineyard anyway. The Fog was still in at noon when I arrived and the vineyards looked in good shape. Harvest looks like it will go well this year, if a little late, now it's just waiting on good weather.



Friday, September 08, 2006

Getting that honest opinion

One thing I never expected making wine was how hard it would be to get opinions from people on the wine. It seems people don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or say anything bad or maybe bruise an ego. It seems so many people making wine have egos out of context with reality, maybe that's why getting feedback is hard.

But here's the deal. There's no such thing as "handcrafting" a wine. You can't really craft anything about wine. It's not something you can just deconstruct and put back together if you don't like the way it is coming out.

The truth is winemaking is you make a lot of little choices all through the life of the vine and the wine trying to get an end product you like. How much do I prune, how many bunches do I leave, do I weedwhack or use Round Up, Sulfur or Eagle, do I totally crush or use whole berries, how long until I press, how hard do I press, what kind of oak, new oak or old, do I blend the wine, do I rack it? All things you have to choose on. Each one effects the outcome. But it's very hard. They all work together, and none of the results are immediate. You have to wait and see how it comes out.

With the Syrah last year I planned on using 25-50% whole clusters. But the grapes came in and I tasted the stems and inspected them and said, "No 100% destem. The stems are not ripe, I don't want them in my wine." I had no idea how that choice would work out. Would it be right, would it be wrong, did I do the right thing? It turns out it was the right thing. Crushpad made a barrel with the same fruit after me and left 50% whole clusters. I tasted that wine in June and it was scared with a stemmy green streak and high acidity. But I didn't know I had made the right choice until then.

So I want honest opinions about our wine. Even if it's a critical, and even if it's negative. It's the only way I can judge if the choices I've made are turning out right, and knowing that is the only way I know to make changes for the next harvest.

Not enough color? I can do thing different this year to get more color. Not enough fruit? I can make changes.

It's not going to hurt my feelings, I want to make better wine every single year, every single time I make it. I want to keep improving, keep making changes and keep making better choices. When it's 35 degrees and raining and I'm out pruning, I want to make sure I'm doing it honestly to get better grapes, and when it's hour 18 of a 20 hour day of crush I want to make the right call at the crusher. I can only do that if I hear from people how the finished product is coming out.

So as the barrel samples start coming out, and the wine heads to bottle, I want to hear what you think. Tell me, I'll make it even better next time and you won't hurt my ego, I promise.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Barrel tasting the 05's

Friday Stefania and I drove up to San Francisco to taste our 2005 barrels.

It was a trip I was a little worried about. I have not been happy with the 05 Cabernet. It's been a nice wine, easy to drink and I think would fall into the 82-84 point range. Not bad, but as Stefania has said "It's a $10 wine."

I couldn't really afford to bottle and release a $10 bottle of wine, my production costs are in the $18 a bottle range. So, this was a make or break for the Cabernet. If it had not shown improvement, I was likely going to sell it on the 'bulk' wine market. I don't want to release just 'nice' wines, I want them to be better than that.

(searching for our barrels)

(giving Dave topping instructions)

So we started the tasting with Dave Gifford who always guides us through the barrel room and takes down my instructions.

We started with the 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. The wine had just been sulfured so we were expecting some reduction notes. Wow. This wine is turning out great. Some of the rustic edges from 3 months ago are smoothing out. It's a dark, rich, layered wine. Lot's of complex black fruit flavors and notes of black pepper. The 25% new oak adds some really nice sweet spice flavors without showing obvious oak. This was just what I'm after. It's not a little Syrah, and I think it will be best after 3-5 years in bottle. I was very happy with this and I think people will really enjoy this wine.

(Finding the Syrah, pipe in hand)

(Zebra barrel, 50% new oak)

Then off we went to the Cabernet barrels. Stefania knew I was worried about these barrels so it was hushed as we tasted.

The first thing that surprised us was the change in color. This wine has gotten much-much darker in the past 3 months. It's now a deep red. A dramatic change from the light red of June. The nose was much more pronounced. A green spice/currant note that is typical of young Cabernet, then lots of red juicy fruit. It also had nice notes of anise and cinnamon and much better length and depth. The 50% new oak had added a lot of backbone to the wine.

(The red labels mean we sourced these grapes ourselves, they are not 'Crushpad grapes')

(tasting the Cab, notice the color!)

We then did a quick blend of about 5% Syrah with the Cabernet. That was the magic combo. The Cab got darker still with black fruit.

I left Dave with instructions to rack the Syrah. I want to avoid any reductive notes from getting in. I also told him to start topping off the Cab barrels with the Syrah. This should bring it up to about 3-4% Syrah at bottling, and and the color and black fruit the wine is short of now.

We then headed South to Bistro Elan in Palo Alto with some samples to share with friends and get some non-biased opinions from the wine manager there. The Syrah showed well, and the kitchen staff polished off the bottle! We showed the Cab last, waiting for feedback on our problem child. The verdict: "It's a nice cab. Not too heavy, and with good red fruit. It needs a bit more color and some length and breadth of fruit, 88 points."

(tasting with food at Bistro Elan in Palo Alto)

I went home happy and finally not worrying about what to do with the Cabernet. 10 more months in barrel and the 3-4 % Syrah should add what it's short on right now, and lift that 88 points to the 90+ range I'm after. I was feeling much better, that in a year the Cabernet will be drunk as quickly as the Syrah was that night.



Wednesday, August 30, 2006

So someone is reading this.

I was very suprised to see 24 views in the profile page the other day. I thought, "Who is reading this, and I wish they'd leave a comment.".

I started the blog early for our website. Mostly so our web guy could make sure the links worked and figured for a few weeks it would be me and Stefania reading it. well, me reading it and her correcting typos.

Well the website is now up. We haven't announced it to anyone yet, we're still in "beta test". Correcting typos, loading up the pictures pages and generally getting it ready for public view. If you've come across this though also take a look at our site and let me know what you think, and any improvements I can make.

Call yourself a beta tester and let me know who you are!



Monday, August 28, 2006

Bird netting party recap.

Saturday we hosted a party for 25 people to celebrate finishing bird netting our vineyards, and finishing new hardwood flooring in our house. We wrapped up the flooring at 5 PM Friday and moved all the furniture back in place, including the bar.

This is the only time all year where there is really no labor to do in the vineyards. Once the netting goes on, we just wait and take measurements of sugar and taste the grapes until they are ready to harvest. That's one reason August in vacation month in Europe. If you have vines, it's the time of year you can be away from them.

The party got off to a little bit of a bumpy start when I cut my finger making anchovie bread. But friends Kenneth, Wes and Sissie stepped in and took over running the bar and opening the wine. I had smoked a pork butt and beef brisket for 24 hours over old wine barrel staves as the main course.

There was not really a wine theme for the party, just bring something good. Some of the highlights for me were 2003 Copain Syrah Garys' Vineyard, 2003 Kathryn Kennedy Syrah Santa Cruz Mountains and 1987 Ridge Cabernet Santa Cruz Mountains. We opened 27 bottles total. People ended up hanging out in the cellar all night again.

I did get to sit and talk with some of our 20 something friends for a long time. First with Eric and Johanna and then Jessica and James.

One of the reasons Stefania and I like to have these big events is to be able to introduce people to different wines in a casual fun environment. Somewhere where it's really easy to learn and ask questions while you enjoy yourself. Too many wine events are way too serious and intimidate people. We hope after people come to our parties they have confidence to say what they like and don't like in wine.

Anyways; Eric, Johanna, James and Jessica all said how much they really liked being able to taste so many wines and learn so much at our parties. They also said how easy it's made it for them to start drinking wine more on their own. Eric and Johanna have even started wine touring in Carmel and Napa.

That made my night. We're making wine because we love to share wine with people and we think too many people treat wine and the 'wine lifestyle' too formally. We want our wines to be fun for people, and we want them to have fun when they drink them. It made me feel like we're doing it right!



Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Getting started at Stefania wine.

Day one of our Blog.

Today our web designer finished his first draft of our new website, so I'm finally forced to actually start our blog entries. I hope to keep a good update of this years harvest season and winemaking, which should be underway in just a few weeks.

It's been a busy week on the winemaking front. We've had our notice up at home on the front door for two weeks now and the ABC came and did an inspection today of our office. Checking to make sure our permits were up and the posting was visible. I hope it went fine.

Our barrels are all getting marked as well this week and I exchanged messages with John at Hallcrest to make sure we are ready to go with the 15 or so barrels we'll need this year. Mostly we are using old wood so I needed his help in rounding up good older barrels.

I also got the contract for Cabernet Sauvignon from Martin Ranch. We'll be using that fruit with the Merlot and Cab from our vineyards to make a Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet. That was the last grape source I needed to round up, so am really glad to have that done.

More soon I'm sure!

Cheers, Paul