Thursday, November 29, 2007

Twist Newsletter

From the "Twist" newsletter.

Last place to find our 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Uvas Creek Vineyard for sale, and it's also available by the glass:

D's new Wine Picks of December (available from December 1) ..

This selection became something that my regular guest are looking for each month now for their dinner or just when they stop for a glass of wine at the bar. Can you imagine that last month after 3 weeks we had to change 3 wines already! This month I decide to keep the Madiran because I really would like to promote that area of France more and more.The two new white wines are both Chardonnay from California. One is from a veryyyyyyy small winery in the Santa Cruz Mountain and the other one is owned by the Hyde Family (Hyde Vineyard) and De Vilaine Family (Romanee Conti) oh yeah, I wrote Romanee Conti now you can imagine the result.A new Cabernet Sauvignon from my close friends at "Stefania Wines", a French Syrah from the Northern Rhone Valley and a Cabernet Franc from "Vinum Winery" a must taste wine !!!Sante ;-)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


For the second year in a row I planned to do a good job providing regular blog updates, and again, the actual work of harvesting just was too much to get daily blogs done. But, here is where we are at as of Monday night:

We're DONE picking and crushing grapes. 20 tons total picked and 14+ tons crushed. We sold the Chardonnay from Chaine d'Or so that was not crushed by us.

Things really got going nuts last Tuesday when we cleaned the winery and got ready to go for the big load coming in.

Wednesday Millie went off to Eaglepoint Ranch to pick up 3+ tons of Syrah and I headed south to round up 350 pounds of dry ice. We were worried that the fruit would come in too warm to cold soak and I needed to get the dry ice to cool the fruit down. Millie had a really tough day with the trailer but made it back to Big Basin at 5PM We sorted fruit under the lights until after 8PM. (The day started at 3:30 for her, 5:30 for me).

It was a tough, long, tiring day and I really banged up my ring finger pretty bad. The grapes were a bit ripper than I'd have liked, but not bad at all considering the drama of the weather up north. We added a little water to one vat to get the BRIX under 28 and some acid (2 g per liter). The pH was 3.8, but Malo was low and the finished pH would have been over 4.0, with the addition we should finish around 3.6.

The next day we drove all over, picking up bins, dropping off bins, dropping off trailers, and checking on wine. About 200 miles in the truck and a 12 hour day.

Friday we picked 4 tons of Cabernet from Martin Ranch. 2 tons went to Chaine d'Or and 2 tons to Big Basin, so lots of driving again. We decided to not use the trailer since it had been so difficult on Wednesday. Unfortunately there were no 8 foot bed trucks available so we used Millie's truck, my Dad's and a rental. Millie drove hers, I drove the rental and Stef drove mine.

As we filled up one bin we'd load a truck and take off for the winery. As soon as the truck was done at one winery, we'd rush back and pick up another and go to the other winery. It turned into a day that lasted 17 hours. We got to bed about 11:30 PM. The fruit came in good, a little low in TA but Brix was 24.9 and the fruit looked really good. We're treating each of 4 bins a little different to see what gets the best results for the future.

Saturday morning we were back up at 5:30 am for harvest at Chaine d'Or. We had a great picking crew and great help and were able to bring in a very large harvest of 3+ tons before 11am. Everything went smoothly and the wine came in at 24.2 Brix, .66 TA and 3.38 pH! Anne said the fruit was the best looking ans tasting she'd seen there.

It took us a few hours to clean up and finish up but we only worked 10 hours that day!

Sunday I was able to get to emails and shipping and get caught up on the books. Even though I worked about 7 hours it felt like a day off.

Monday we brought in the last 2 tons from Uvas Creek. We had to run a relay again with two trucks, but got it done by 3:45. Millie and I had to run t Chaine d'Or after that to do a pump over and remove about 200 gallons from the tank so it didn't over flow.

In the end we got it all in, 14+ tons and it is all doing well. I'm happy with the wines so far, flavors are great, color is really dark and the numbers needed a little help, but we got them under control. Now that the days are back to 8-10 hours of work, I should get regular updates out more often.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Elandrich Harvest (pictures soon)

Thursday we harvested about 1500 lbs at the Elandrich Vineyard. This was easily a new record for us there, as the vineyard is finally coming back after a long restoration project. The fruit looked and tasted excellent and was 25.9 BRIX in the bin after crushing.

We started about 8AM with the 'normal crew'; Millie, Daniel, Herrardo and myself, plus some extra help from a few friends and the vineyard owner who was able to come out and help even on a work day. The crew did a great job and we arrived at the crusher at 9:30 AM right on schedule.

We only had one back up with the pump and it quickly was fixed. The crew really has the routine now, and Jerry commented it was the best harvest day he'd ever seen, because all he had to do was remind me to turn the pump on before the crusher and fix the cellar door.

We should end up with 1 1/2 or 2 barrels of wine from this vineyard which will be really cool. We can evaluate it on it's own for the first time in barrel and get a better idea of what we might be able to do long term with these grapes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Making Friends

I've wanted to write a blog for a few weeks about our company "Vision Statement." I haven't had time though to devote to writing it, I think it needs a good explanation to stay away from Dilbertville.

I did come up with one though, I actually thought it was really important to do that. In the still to be written blog about visions statements I'll explain why. The one I came up with though was : "Make Friends".

This release has been really satisfying in meeting that vision. I've gotten to email and talk with dozens of people all over the country. I have really enjoyed that a great deal. I feel like I'm making new friends all over and it's great to hear from you about our wine, and our adventure.

I know many winemakers like to avoid dealing with customers, they view it as a time drain, or are really uncomfortable with it. I love it. The last few weeks have been a real blast. The emails from people and phone calls have given us a lot of inspiration during the really long days we are putting in. It's been nice to take a break every now and then and just chat about wine with people.

I hope this continues and I hope I get to talk to and meet even more people in the months ahead. It's great to hear from everyone, and each phone call and each email, gets us closer to the vision statement of making friends!

Monday, October 08, 2007

First Shipments Released

Just a quick note that I released about 20 orders for shipment this morning. Mostly going to the north east, and upper midwest. I was torn about Illinois, but it looks like temps will cool there tomorrow and a went ahead and let those go.

I released some for Northern California, but almost 90% of the California orders choose to pick up at Chaine d'Or (or have Kenny pick them up at Chaine d' Or ;) ) so only a few will actually ship. Next week if things continue to cool, I should release another batch of orders.

We also sent out a final offer to the 26 new sign ups we got in the last 3 weeks. That should get us close to selling out. The sending out offer letters in waves worked out well and I think everyone who wanted wine will be able to get wine and there are probably just a few requests for extras that we'll be able to meet.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Our First Pinot Noir

Friday morning we picked up 1 ton of Pinot Noir from an old vine vineyard in the Southern Santa Cruz Mountains. This will be the first Pinot Noir we make.

The grapes were small and the flavors very intense. It was very cool Friday morning. Temps were in the high 40's and the grapes came off the vine cool, which is perfect for transport and winemaking. Millie was able to load both bins in the back of her pick up truck so we didn't have to rent a big flat bed like normal.

We were a little late leaving the vineyard, but by 10:00 am we were on the road and headed towards Chaine d' Or, about a 45 minute drive. We arrived just before 11:30.

I was a little worried about how things would go. This was the first time anyone had brought grapes into the winery, everything else made there had always been estate grapes. That meant we had some new processes to set up, new equipment to use, and a new layout of all the equipment. With so much being done for the first time I was counting on some problems.

We got very lucky! Everything went better than planned and we quickly worked out a couple of small details and had a system down. 85% of the grapes went through the de-stemmer and 15% went into a t-bin in whole clusters. We just filled up one bin, or about enough to make 50 cases of wine.

The Brix tested at 25.2 in the bin, right in the range I like and I covered the grapes and let them start their cold soak. With temperatures so low, we won't need to do anything artificial to lower the temperature. The grapes should just soak for 2-3 days before natural fermentation starts. My plan is to be pretty gentle in push downs as the juice already seems pretty intense.

We'll have another 1-2 tons coming in from a second vineyard soon and eventually we'll combine the two into a "Santa Cruz Mountains" Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Shipping Update

I finally got a little break yesterday afternoon to start processing payments. The weather looks pretty good next week and we'll start sending out shipments to those areas that also have good weather.

Right now we stand at about 60% of the wine 'booked', that is orders in, entered and waiting for billing. There are commitments for about 25% more. I'll make a call one way or another tonight to send out order forms to the last group of people to sign up after the initial release.

By the end of next week we should be sold out and by the following week we'll have shipments going out to everyone but people in the hottest areas. If you've been holding on to your order form, please try and get it to me soon. Last release I kept back some wine for people who I knew would be stragglers and was able to fill a few orders into June. This time around I don't think I'll have anything left.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Snakes and Bees

There are lots of unglamourous things to do in growing and making wine. We often joke as we work about feeling 'romantic' or glamorous', as we clean things or lift things. The past two days have given some good examples of the un-fun side of winemaking.

Saturday after picking and crushing the home vineyard grapes we stopped by the Elandrich vineyard to take sugar readings. A 2 foot rattle snake greeted us on the walk way up to the Zinfandel section. The little snakes are the worst. Their rattles don't rattle yet, they are too soft to make noise, and they bite everything, since they haven't learned yet not to waste their poison.

With a rake and a pair of hedge trimmers we were able to eliminate the little dude. The head keeps on biting well after being removed from the rest of the critter, so you've got to bury it. That task done, we went on to test the Zinfandel. 23.4 BRIX, almost ready, another week or so.

Yesterday was spent at Chaine d'Or picking Chardonnay and Merlot. As soon as the picking starts, the bees and wasps show up. Hundreds of them if not thousands. They hover around the crushpad where there is lots of good grape gunk to feast on.

I got my first two stings of the season. Luckily I'm not allergic to bees, but one of the pickers had a pretty bad reaction on his hand. That's a little secret of picking. You can't sneak up on the clusters, you have to give the plant a good shake before you reach in to start cutting. That lets the bees know you are there and they move on to another plant.

At the end of the day I was crushing about 600 pounds of Merlot. My shirt and pants were covered with grape gunk from the crusher. The little bits of grape are too much for the bees to resist and they crawl all over you. It's not unusual to have 10-15 bees on you and many more hovering around. You've got to just let them be bees. If you leave them alone they'll happily harvest the sugar and be on their way.

So add two more skills to the winemaking playbook. Snake wrangler and bee herder.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

First Pick

Woke up at 6:15 this morning. A very cold morning, in the low 50's. It rained last night for about 45 seconds, but by this morning there was no sign of it, the sky was clear. We tried to have a normal morning, a little coffee in bed, and read the newspaper.

At 7:30 we started the first pick of the season. The 'Home Ranch', "Haut Tubee". The Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and two Zinfandel plants around our home. It took about 30 minutes to get the bird netting off. Always a dirty disgusting job. Then about 10 minutes to pick the 150 pounds of grapes we got this year.

Next we're off to Kathy and Millie's to pick the grapes around their house. About 9:30 we should be on our way up to Chaine d'Or to get the 300 pounds or so of grapes into a bin to start turning it into wine. In all about 1/3 of a barrel, or 10 cases or so. We'll combine these grapes with the other small lots and probably end up with about 40 cases of wine from the small lots.

There won't be much processing. It's really not worth hooking up the crusher and pump. We'll dump the grapes in whole cluster and then some lucky person will jump in and smash them up some. Then I'll leave it to start on its way to fermentation. If all goes well we should be done and cleaned up by 1pm.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Second Round of Mailers Out Today

Orders are still coming in from our first round of mailers last week. Demand is just about where I thought it would be so we dropped of the second round of mailers on schedule today.

This round includes offers for three packs with an option to ask for a six pack. Right now it looks like we should be able to fill requests for a six pack if ordering stays on track. I'm guessing that by this time next week we should be down to 3-4 cases left. I'll start to process payments shortly and we should begin shipping to states that have good weather in the second week of October.

We've had about a dozen recent sign ups, and I hope to get those people out a three pack offer next week if ordering stays on track. IT will be tight, but I'm still hoping I can get wine out to everyone who wants it. Maybe not as much as they want, but I should have wine for everyone.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Too Early For 2008?

A few years ago when we started the vineyard management company we averaged 8-10 calls a year about managing or installing vineyards. We'd consult on 1-2 and usually take on one small project every year. That was the most I could handle and that was usually the scope of the projects. A few acres or even a backyard and some advice on growing grapes and making wine.

Each year it grew a little more, and we remained pretty selective on the projects we'd take on. The important thing was to make sure that the projects helped us out in making wine and growing the winery side of the business. Along the way we started to get a reputation among the local winemakers as top quality growers and dedicated farmers.

This past summer I'd say the vineyard business 'tipped over'. It's grown to the point now that it is its own thriving enterprise. Sycamore Creek, Big Basin Vineyards, Windy Oaks and several other wineries have started to recommend us to people thinking of putting in vineyards. We've also started to get calls from landscape architects and even one of the largest commercial construction companies in the area.

So now, even though we're months away from 2008 I'm trying to figure out what projects we'll take on in 2008. There are already people trying to sign us up for next year. There are two large projects pending. One would involve a no-corners cut top of the line 4+ acre vineyard installation project. An amazing south facing hill side ready for us to plant, and grow grapes and make wine. The owners want the very best, top of the line, and they've asked us to do it for them!

We're also mulling over another amazing project. 12 acres of some of the finest old vine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A 30 year old vineyard that supplied grapes for some of the most legandary wines ever made in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We've been asked to take over management of the vineyard, and most importantly, make the wine from the amazing site.

Now comes the tough part. What project can we take on? Can we do both? And what about all the other calls we'll get in the Spring? I never thought the little vineyard company, "Two Gringos" would grow so large, and take on such huge projects. Hard work, dedication, and commitment to the highest quality, I can't think of any other secrets, but those three things worked!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Harvest Spin

I've been keeping up on postings on line about harvest around the state. One thing seems to be happening already that I'm calling harvest spin.

A few posts ago I wrote about being surprised about early harvesting going on. I was even more surprised to see pictures of these harvests. The grapes just did not look ripe. Green stems and green seeds in the bins. A few old growers joked about 'panic', and those harvesting shot back with some pretty harsh words about people who 'pick by the numbers'.

Now this week I've seen a few of those early pickers start talking about what a great job they did. How now the weather looks cooler, and there is rain on the way (40% chance of 1/4 inch of rain this week) and the harvest is ruined for everyone else. I'll tell you what I think that is....pure spin.

I think those earlier harvesters got nervous with the little heat wave and worried it would not end. They picked when their grapes got in the sugar ranges they wanted because they worried the sugars would climb too high. I also think those grapes were not ripe yet. Now they are trying to make a bad choice, seem like a good one, even if only to themselves.

The weather has turned cool, but it's in the normal range. There is light rain in the forecast, but just a little, and the vineyards will dry out fine afterwards. Now the patient people are talking about a harvest a week or so earlier than 2005 or 2006, with ripe grapes and lower alcohol wine. That sounds like a great combo to me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

First Offer Letters Out

We dropped the first round of offer letters for our fall release in the mail this morning. Our 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Uvas Creek Vineyard is officially released.

I had to cut down the number of people being offered 6 packs this time around to about 90. This first round of mailers went to those allocated a 6 pack. The remaining 170 or so letters have already been completed and we will drop those in the mail next Monday. Those letters will go to everyone allocated a 3 pack.

We expect to start shipping right around October 1st. We are also offering people the opportunity to pick up their wine in person for this release at Chaine d'Or. We'll have the winery open on November 17th as 'Pick Up Day".

The fax machine should start to go off tomorrow night and be going full force on Wednesday. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll be able to get wine to everyone who wants it this time around.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekend Update

It's been another busy weekend. My phone actually rings more on the weekends now than during the week. There was a little break Saturday. I had planned on harvesting Syrah and Grenache from the home vineyard, but it's just not where I want it yet, so I was able to sleep in on Saturday for a few hours.

At 11:30 though we had an appointment to visit a new vineyard site. It's about 4 acres in Los Altos Hills that would be planted next year. The site is on a very nice hill with southern exposure. We met with the general contractor and will decide this week if we take the project or not.

Then it was up to the winery. We had a little clean up work to do after the move in and I wanted to get all the barrels marked off and topped up. We had visitors who wanted to ask questions about getting started in the wine business. We had a fun time, and finished up our work after they had gone, getting home by 6pm.

Today Millie and I headed off to the Harrison vineyard to replant three plants and tie up the new little plants. They seem to be doing very well and a few have even reached the cordon wire. Next we drove to the Elandrich vineyard to check on the grapes.

They look amazing. This really looks like it's going to be a great year. The clusters are small, tight, and clean. The colors look great and the flavors are intense already. The Zinfandel tested at 23.1 BRIX and the Merlot at 22.0. It looks like 3 week until we'll harvest the Zin and 4 weeks for the Merlot. That's on track with what we saw at Chaine d'Or on Saturday. I didn't take BRIX levels, but the Cabernet tasted and looked like it was 4-5 weeks away.

That break will be good, because we're spending the afternoon stuffing envelopes with our fall release letters. We're also going to go check out the Almaden Art and Wine festival. I'm not a big fan of Art and Wine festivals, but this one is the closest to our home, and since we're are the only winery in the area, we're going to see if we want to set up next year. The last task for the day will be visiting the annual Friends of the Winemakers meeting at 4PM. Hopefully a good nights sleep and then off to the 'full time' job on Monday!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The First Late Night of the Harvest Season

And it wasn't harvesting.........

Tuesday night we received all our 2006 wines in barrel. They had come from the facility we had them stored at to Chaine d'Or. We decided to move them to make bottling easier in the spring and fall. This way we'll have everything together when it's time to bottle and be able to make bottling decisions based on what's best for the wine and our schedule.

As with most things related to wine making, it was mostly about logistics. Unfortunately the logistics got off to a very rough start. Some how my written instructions to "Call me after Tuesday to set up a delivery time", got translated too "Put the wine on a truck on Tuesday."

So after getting a phone call at 10AM we were able to set up a 4:30 drop off time. That gave us just enough time to rush to the winery and start moving empty barrels around to make room for the full barrels arriving. We finished at 5:10 PM. And then waited and waited and waited and finally at 8:50 PM the truck showed up.

More logistical problems to deal with. Some of the racks were not the right type for our forklift, and other were stacked in a pyramid, which will not work in the winery. So we scrambled and worked and lifted and improvised and racked wine into new barrels and sent Millie out on a dinner run and finally sometime after midnight got everything put in the winery and in its place.

We did manage to take samples from each barrel though and I'll have tasting notes on the wines up shortly and the wines are safe and resting in our new home.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Harvest already?

I was really surprised to read today that many people are already starting harvest. And not just in hot areas, or for early grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. There are actually vineyards in Napa harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon, which should normally be about the last grape to come in.

This seems way too early to me. I'm still several weeks away from having anything ready to pick, and it will likely be the end of September early October before we pick most of our vineyards. Chaine d'Or should be the last, probably around the 15th of October. Early than 2005 or 2006, but still 'normal'.

I wondered as I read the reports if people aren't in a bit of a panic. We've had a string of hot days and sugars have started to climb. The grapes taste good, but I think are still a few weeks away. It reminds me a little of 2003, when we had a heat wave in mid September and a lot of people picked early. Many people I talked with were sorry they did that.

This time of year is the great test of nerves for winemakers and growers. You worry and worry about the grapes getting too ripe, or having late season problems and loosing everything. But you have to be patient, you've got to wait for the right time. It's hard on the guts and the heart, but you've got to do it.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fall Newsletter

Dear Friends,

So much has happened since the last time we wrote to all of you it's hard to know where to start! It's been a busy few months and a fantastic summer for growing grapes. We're excited with everything that's happened so far this year and excited for the upcoming harvest.
If you have signed up to receive an order form we will be mailing them starting the week of September 10th. We are going to do two waves this year. Those higher on the 'points' list will get their letters first, and the second wave will follow the week of the 17th. This spring there was a flurry of sign ups right after letters went out, so if that happens again, and we have wine left, there will be a final chance offering on September 24th.

We sold out in just about 5 weeks last time, and we think it may be as fast as two weeks this time based on the growth of our mailing list. We are so grateful for the support you've given us!

We expect to start shipping during the last week of October as the weather cools and the harvest activity slows down. Just like before, the order form will contain details on allocations, shipping and ordering. Shipping in particular has some big changes, as we've tried to make it even easier (and lower priced).

Summer News

And what news we have! First, our vineyard management business is booming! We have added a new vineyard in Morgan Hill that will start producing Cabernet Sauvignon in 2009 and a Syrah vineyard in Los Altos Hills that will start producing in 2010. We have several other projects lined up for 2008 and beyond.

All this new work has allowed us to add our first real employee. Our good friend Millie Ottinger is joining us for 20 hours a week starting this fall. Millie is a journeyman carpenter and electrician and loves working in the vineyard. She'll take on the role of Vineyard Construction Foreman and Assistant Vineyard Manager. Her email will be Millie's been helping us out for a few years now in the vineyard and knows exactly how we like to farm our vineyards.

We got the chance to get out and meet many of you this summer on our "Summer Tour 2007." We stopped in Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago. We had such a great time at each event and really loved being able to preview our new wines. We're already looking forward to "Summer Tour 2008"! Well, maybe “Spring Tour” when it’s a little cooler. We are also going to try and get to Dallas this fall or winter since so many of you live in the Dallas area.

Of course the REALLY BIG NEWS we already shared with you is that we're now running Chaine d'Or. Paul started working with Jerry and Anne Anderson a few harvests ago as "Crushman". They've helped us along and taught us so much over the years. This summer Anne and Jerry decided to retire and asked us to take over the vineyard and winery. We are so excited and grateful we can't even begin to tell you. The winery is absolutely state of the art and first class. We'll be releasing the wines we helped on and Jerry and Anne finished, under the "Chaine d'Or" label. Starting with the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon we'll be releasing the wines as Stefania Wine, Chaine d'Or Vineyard.

The winery is located about 25 minutes north of San Jose, and about 20 minutes south of the San Francisco Airport. I know many of you fly into SFO on visits, and now there's no excuse to not stop by for a tour and some tasting. Just let us know in advance and we'll set up a visit for you!

Fall Release

This Fall we'll be releasing our 2005 Uvas Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is located on the gravelly banks of Uvas Creek in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. It lays just outside the approved AVA for Santa Cruz Mountains wines, in the Santa Clara Valley AVA. We're very happy with how this wine has turned out and feedback has been great!

Like our 2005 Syrah this wine is round and well balanced, with really great notes of currant, black cherry, spices, vanilla and cigars. It will need about 20 minutes in the decanter if you open it now. I'm going to tell people to open it now or over the next 5-7 years. We have heard from some of you though that you think the wine has the backbone for much longer aging.

We are also scrambling to offer the 2006 Chaine d'Or Chardonnay in time for the fall. The wine is ready for release, but we don't know if we'll have all the shipping permits in place in the next few weeks. We may be able to offer it only to those of you in California this fall. We will have it in our Spring Release though for sure.

Harvest Update

Right now we're in a mini heat wave, with temperatures in the 90's and great sunshine. It looks like harvest will be a few weeks earlier than 2005 or 2006, both of which were 'late' years. It looks like 2007 will be a 'normal year'. We expect to start picking grapes at home in mid-September. The commercial picks will probably start the first week of October.

We have a lot of grapes coming in this year. We're planning on at least 12 tons, or 6 times more than just two years ago. We should end up making 750 cases. We will be returning to Eaglepoint Ranch for Syrah, and Uvas Creek for Cabernet Sauvignon. We will also be back to Martin Ranch/Harvest Moon for Cabernet Sauvignon and a new addition for 2007, Cabernet Franc. Stefania has wanted to make a Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Franc since we started, and this year we will have the space to try it. We will also be harvesting the Cabernet Sauvignon at Chaine d'Or and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel from our own vineyards. Finally, Jim Schultze at Windy Oaks, has agreed to sell us some of his fantastic Pinot Noir in 2007. We have been after this Pinot Noir since we started making wine and are excited to get some this year.

Our plan is to make 5 different wines in 2007 plus our Haut Tubee. There will be vineyard designate wines from Eaglepoint Ranch, Uvas Creek and Chaine d'Or. We will also have Santa Cruz Mountains designate Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Plans for 2008

Settling in to Chaine d'Or and getting used to running the winery is our top goal in 2008. We plan on producing about 1200 cases next year. We will have a couple of new vineyard sources next year as we take on some new vineyard projects and older projects start producing fruit. We're going to try and balance all this into making 7-8 different wines going forward, and getting case production to about 3000 total. We'd like to keep our releases to 3-4 wines twice per year.

Upcoming Events

If you would like to come to our annual Harvest Party please send us a note. It looks like it will be Saturday October 13th in our backyard. We'll have our usual grape stomp and pumpkin patch at the party plus lots of great food and wine.

November 10th we'll be hosting a Friends of the Winemakers (FOW) dinner. FOW is a local group dedicated to preserving the history of winemaking in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley. Tickets will be $45 and include four courses paired with our wines. Space is very limited. Please contact us if you would like ticket information.

November 17th we will participate in Passport Days in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We'll be open to the public at Chaine d'Or. Paul will be providing barrel tasting for members of the Stefania Wine mailing list. If you stop by please let us know you are on the list for samples of our 2006 wines from barrel and a tour of the winery. Chaine d'Or is open only on Passport Days and Vintner’s Festival days, usually four days per year. We will be open by appointment, exclusively to members of our mailing list. If you would like to plan a visit please call us at 408-242-8598 or email Paul at

Cheers and thank you all for your continued support!

Stefania and Paul

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Planes, Trains and Stagecoaches

We're off on our summer tour and it's very likely the next few blogs will just have a tiny bit more to do with travel than wine.

Friday we flew out on Southwest from San Jose to Baltimore. Now I actually like Southwest. I know some people hate it, but to me it's an airline that doesn't pretend it's going to treat you nice, it's honest about the service it offers. A bag of peanuts and a seat that's what you get.

The other airlines pretend like they are going to give you more, but in the end, you get a bag of peanuts and a seat. Plus the latest I've ever been on Southwest is 35 minutes. On Northwest I've only had delays of less than four hours about 25% of the time. SO they get me there, it's on time, and they are honest. Good enough for me.

On this last trip though, wedged in the tiny seat, I started to think of all the transportation I've ever taken and where an airplane ranks. I've never been on a camel, or an elephant, but I have been on a horse and a stagecoach. So a plane is definitely less comfortable than a bus or a train. Then I tried to rank it????

It came in at the stagecoach level. Well kind of. Riding on top of a stage coach is not bad, you can see the bumps coming. Inside a stagecoach though is hot, stuffy, small and bumpy. So that's it. A plane is definitely better than taking a stagecoach. At leas if you have to ride inside the stagecoach.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Beta Testing

Last night we went out to dinner at Sent Sovi in Saratoga. The idea was to try all our wines with some good food before we go out visiting people next week. A 'Beta Test'. I wanted to know how everything was doing before I opened it for other people.

The dinner at Sent Sovi was actually very good and service was wonderful. There was a wild mushroom course in particular that was very good.

We opened four wines. I checked in on the 2005 Syrah since it had been over a month since we'd had it. Doing fine and hitting a good spot now. I also opened the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. It needs 30 minutes in a decanter right now. Not yet ready for release, but I think we knew it would be like that. We're not planning on sending out for a few months still. With the decanter time it showed really well and I think everyone will really enjoy this wine next week as we open it for the first time for people.

We also opened two mystery wines to try out. More news on those two wines coming soon, but we were pretty excited by how they tasted.

The staff at Sent Sovi tasted along with us and were very impressed. They asked us to come back and taste through with the owner and see about scheduling a winemakers dinner for us there sometime soon.

We ended up taking almost 4 hours to work through the wines and the courses and our small test group had a great time. I'm feeling really good about showing the wines next week.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fall Mailers are Upon Us.

Today I got my first two mailers of the 'Fall'. On July 30th. Fall comes earlier than the Christmas season now, at least if your selling wine.

I understand the desire to get them out early. Beat the rush of other mailers that pile up for people is a big consideration I'm sure. The main thing though I think is to get orders and shipping done and taken care of for small operations. The mailers I got were from Loring Wine Company and Copain.

Both are bigger than us of course, but I know both are all hands on deck during the September and October harvest season. With everyone working in the winery crushing grapes and making wine, there will be no one left to answer emails, fix shipping issues, or process credit cards.

Stefania and I will be the same way. During October we won't have much time to tend to the business side of the business, it will be all about making wine. Our Fall Mailer will go out early too. Probably just another few weeks or right around Labor Day. We won't start shipping until after we've wrapped up harvesting, that way we'll have time to deal with any shipping issues, but the gap between taking orders and shipping is a gap we need to get other things done.

We're not pushing it into July, but I can sure understand why Brian Loring and Wells Guthrie want to.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Last Chance 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah

Stef and I stopped in last night at Unwined just off Almaden Expwy in South San Jose. It's a great little wine bar / shop about 4 miles from our home. They always have interesting flights of wine, nice small tapas style plates of food, and 2-3 tv's to watch sports (or Oprah) on.

We had the "Mendocino White's" flight and the "Unusual Red's" flight and a plate of cheese and salami. All very nice.

Unwined still has 4-5 bottles left of our 2005 Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch. We left them with some after our release party, so that I didn't have to carry an open case back to the storage facility. This is the very last available 2005 Syrah, everything else is gone or on restaurant wine lists. Unwined is selling it at release price of $35, so if you'd like to pick up one more bottle, give them a call at 408-323-WINE.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Los Altos Vineyard Update.

Millie, Stef and I completed construction on the Los Altos vineyard project Sunday morning. It's a small project. Eleven rows, about 175 plants on a 1/4 acre, but when combined with the Elandrich vineyard should make enough fruit for 3-4 barrels of wine in 4-5 years.

We're putting in Syrah on a 5 wire trellis system with 6 x 8 spacing. The plants will go in on Friday and Saturday and we'll finish up a few remaining tasks then. The site is about 500 feet from the old Page Mill Winery site and should be a great spot to grow Syrah.

The project was a little rough starting out. We wanted to start in early May, but the homeowner wasn't ready for us. That put a serious kink in the schedule. We have a little gap in Mid May through Mid June when flowering is going on to do construction on new vineyards. As soon as flowering completes though we have to stop whatever is going on and go 'green prune' and tie up the existing vineyards.

So right after getting in the end posts on this project we had to stop for three weeks as we took care of the other vineyards. Last week we were able to get back out and finish up. Stef should have photos soon.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Burgers and Bordeaux

Today we'll be hosting our 5th annual "Burgers and Bordeaux".

It was an idea 5 years ago to de-mystify wine in general and French wine in particular. Bordeaux was the perfect subject. Many new wine drinkers are afraid to try French wines, or find wine naming in general confusing. We work off a simple theme: We taste wines of each of the five grapes used in Bordeaux; Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Then we taste blends of those grapes from around the world, including many Bordeaux's.

It gives every one a chance to taste each part of the blend on it's own and see what it brings, and how the sum of parts can be greater than the individual grapes. Many people are afraid to get away from varieties they know, and this is a chance to explore blends. It also is an easy environment to learn in and take some of the fluff away from wine.

The "Burgers" portion of the BBQ plays an important part in that. I hate that people obsess over the "perfect pairing". There is no such thing. Time, place, mood, preperation and a hundred other factors make the interplay of wine and food unique each time you do it. Forget about "perfect", go for "fun". What's more fun than burgers on the Forth of July? The burgers also let people know, it's ok to have wine, even great wine, with any food you'd like.

So we'll relax on this 4th of July with a casual BBQ, good friends, and good wine. No fluff, no pretense, no anxiety. Just the way we like wine.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Two Worlds of Wine

Last week Stef and I were guests at a lovely dinner hosted by a local professional organization. They asked us to pair wines with a three course dinner, including our Syrah, and speak about each pairing.

It was a real fun night and the group was very enthusiastic. They had great questions and treated us like celebrities. We chatted away for several hours after the event was supposed to wrap up. It was the type of nice event we're starting to get more often now where people are so excited to meet the winemaker. I had a blast.

Sunday I was out in the hot sun. Me and Millie and a crew of two helpers. We were digging post holes and setting the end posts for the new vineyard in Los Altos Hills. At one point one of the holes was not aligned right and I picked up a shovel and expanded it out, digging down 3 feet in the rough mix of hard clay and rocks.

This is in a little suburban area, so there was lots of foot traffic (and horse traffic) going by as we worked. A couple people stopped, one to ask directions and one to ask if it was a vineyard we were putting in. As I held the shovel, I thought of the Thursday night event. What a totally different world. The glamour of the wine dinner vs. the business end of a shovel on a hot day. I think I'm lucky though, I enjoy doing both.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Here's what I've seen so far. Although I've followed the situation in other areas I've only talked in detail with growers in my area, and Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch in Mendocino. Keep that in mind as the situation can be very different in different parts of the state.
So far 2007 has been the easiest year I've seen since I've started in 2001. There actually have been comparisons to 1997, which was also viewed as easy.
So what does easy mean?
It means that there has been a leisurely pace to vineyard work and no unusual actions needed in the vineyard. At this stage in the growing season you're looking at four main themes:
1. disease pressure - mildew2. potential yields3. green growth or vigor4. water stress and situation for the remainder of the growing season.
1. disease pressure. Mildew pressure has been the lowest I've ever seen. Many have cut back their spraying drastically. Casey didn't do his first spraying until May. Only Bradley Brown at Big Basin Vineyards has told be he's seen any pressure this year, and he zapped it early with oil.
Spraying has also been very easy. 2005 in particular and a lesser amount in 2006 were difficult years. The rain patterns often had us out 2-3 times a week. This year we've been able to stay on an every 2 weeks schedule. You have to spray after each rain if you use organics or time your spraying for dry periods with systemics. In 2005 and 2006 the weather drove us nuts. We'd spray, it would rain, then not give enough gap between rain to get another spray to set. To make matters worse there would be calm periods between storms, which lets Powdery Mildew thrive. It meant a lot of work, and some growers still had Powdery Mildew problems in both years, and black rot problems in 2006. It was a challenge and although the best growers brought in good healthy grapes, it was still a lot of work.
This year we've had rain, gone out and sprayed, the wind kicks up (which helps prevent Powdery Mildew) and then relaxed until the next spraying was needed.
The net result? Healthy flowering, fruit set and cluster size. Potential yields look good, and unless something dramatic happens in the summer, we're not worried about mildews and rots.
2. Potential yields - At this point in the season yields look good. Some plants are throwing 3rd clusters, but not many. Flowering is still underway but set appears good and the plants healthy. Good growers will drop 3rd clusters which tend to not catch up, but every thing was very even this year. Plants flowered and set all together, which leads to even ripeness.
3. Green Growth - Vigor. This was the demon in 2005. The rain patterns lead to excessive growth. That encouraged Powdery Mildew, and meant many growers had to increase their farming labor 25-75%. There was a lot of work to do to bring in healthy grapes and balance vines.
This year the plants have been late, 1-2 weeks, but even and controlled in their growth. I've had to do no shoot thinning or lateral removal before flowering. In 2005 I had to make 2 complete passes through the vineyards.
I've also had very little need to remove excess buds or double shoots. The plants have just been balanced and not needed extra fussing. The lateness is not a concern to anyone I've talked with, or myself. We're not pushing things severely like 1998 or 1999, it just looks like 1-2 weeks later than normal, or about the same as last year.
Although we have only seen one heat spike, our degree days seem fine, and the heat is really needed over the 90 days following flowering. The entire summer is ahead of us, and it is possible we'll have lower alcohol, lower pH wines again in 2007, like 2005 and 2006, but that will play out in July and August. No one is concerned on not getting grapes ripe.
4. Water stress and situation for the remainder of the growing season.
It has been a drought year, with rainfall at 30-50% of normal in many locations. I've turned on my drip systems later than I have in the last few years. In 2005 I had them off all season. Still the amount has been small 1/2 gallon per week and precautionary.
Others are doing the same. No one seems particularly worried, just cautious in getting water in the ground. We've seen no drought stress at this time. If things get really hot this summer it could be a concern. Those on reservoir water are worried that they can make it through a hot summer with the water on hand, but thus far it's not been an issue.
So overall? 'Easy'. The year is off to a good start, and for consumers I think it looks particularly good. Both 2005 and 2006 were challenging years. The kind that took hard work in the vineyards and separates the good growers and winemakers from the average. Maybe a little like 2003 in Bordeaux, where some made great wines, and some struggled.
2007 is off to a start like 2000 Bordeaux, the kind of vintage that lifts everyone and makes the average good, and the good great. BUT, the real work and risk is ahead. There's a long summer to get through, and the Fall is always key to quality.

(Also posted on Wine Spectator Forums)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Visit to San Martin

Last summer we got a call from a family south of San Jose in the small town of San Martin. They grow walnuts there, and a few years ago planted about 200 Syrah and Grenache vines. The vines were in trouble and they didn't know what was wrong.

We went down to take a look and found that Powdery Mildew was the main problem. The vineyard was actually in pretty good shape. Most of the time we get a call like that we find a vineyard that has not been properly pruned, suckered and tied up. In those cases the damage to the vine is severe. Grapes are wild aggressive plants, and with improper care, they will grow like a weed. If the trunk and canes have not been kept in shape by suckering, pruning and tying up, it takes three years to restore them. The same amount of time to start over with new plants.

Their experience with the walnut orchard though had served them well. The pruning was good, the trunks suckered and strong, and the plants trained properly. They had just made a few small mistakes. They had watered too much and the vines had gotten to vigorous. It's very common for people to think vines need more water than they really do.

That vigor had created an environment that let Powdery Mildew thrive and they were not sure what, how and when to spray. That's the other common mistake people can make. It was too late to save the grape crop. Once mildew spreads to the grapes, they will never get ripe enough to make wine. They make look ripe, but the mildew prevents sugar development and stunts all flavor.

As we explained all this too them last year the entire family came out to take notes, ask questions and learn all they could. I really enjoyed our time with them. Their enthusiasm to learn was really fun.

This year they followed the watering and spraying schedule I left them with. Calling just once to track down a Powdery Mildew spray I recommended to stop the active spores left from last season.

A few weeks ago though they emailed worried about the vines. They looked 'wild and out of control', and they worried about mildew again. I made sure they didn't do anything right away. Doing anything while the plants flower in late May will ruin the crop, so I assured them: "wait, and we'll be out in a few weeks."

This morning we headed down and spent a few hours with them again. The vines were doing well, still full of vigor so they had gotten very bushy. Stef and I showed them how to thin the shoots, and remove laterals, then tie the vines into the trellis. We worked half a row with them until they had it down, and left them working away. They were happy that the wild vines now looked like the well tended vineyards they had just seen in Paso Robles.

Going down and visiting with them is a trip Stef and I both enjoy. A friendly family, full of cheer and enthusiasm about growing grapes and making wine is a trip that is a lot of fun for us. We'll go back in a month or so and check on them, and I'm sure their little vineyard will be doing great.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

2005 Loring Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard

A tasting note? Yeah why not. We had this wine last night with some fresh Salmon and angle hair pasta. The wine had bright cherry flavors. Ripe cherry almost like a cherry soda, and the great silky feel of fine Pinot Noir. It added spicy notes on the finish.

I thought this was the best wine I've ever had from Brian Loring. It was unique to itself. Any attempt to say it tasted like some type of Burgundy would not be accurate. It tasted like a wine from California. But not in the way many are critical of California Pinot Noir, even calling the thick, sweet over-extracted style -Pinot-Zinoir.

This wine was all Pinot Noir, silky, fresh, fruity and spicy, but there was no mistaking it was from California. A great wine, reflecting the effort of Peter Cargasacchi the grower, and Brian Loring the winemaker.

And Brian has been a hero-role model for me for many years. I've followed many of the things he's done. From customer service, to mailing list policies, vineyard sourcing, and probably most importantly, watching how Brian was able to run his wine company and keep his full time high tech job. Next year I think I'll even be switching to his policy of including shipping prices in the price of his wine.

Many people in the wine industry have told me, it's very hard to be both a great business man, and a great winemaker. Drinking Brian's wine last night, was great inspiration and proof, that you can do both.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Grape vines, at least those used for wine, are self pollinating. They don't need bees, or birds or any outside help to flower. The flower simply opens up and drops it's pollen on to the seed below. The flowers are tiny, less than 1mm across. The pollinated flowers become the individual grapes in each cluster.

So the success of flowering is very big in determining how big your crop will be each year. The best thing you can do as a farmer to help is -- Nothing. The flowers are so small that it's very easy for the pollen to 'miss' and you end up with a grape pod that won't turn into a grape. These are called 'shot berries'. If you get a lot of shot berries this is called 'shatter'. In that case you end up with a cluster with just a few grapes on it.

So when flowering starts, you want to stop doing anything to the plant. No trimming, no spraying, no shaking the plant in any way. You also hope the wind stays calm, as high wind will cause the pollen to miss, and leads to shatter. Rain or hail is the very worst, it will release the pollen and wash it away.

We've just started to see flowering. So far the weather has been very good, and I've stayed out of the vineyard. I'll have to cut my work back now to things that won't disturb the plants. When flowering is over, we call this 'set'. That means the clusters have set their good berries and the grapes will mature through the summer. Once we have set, I'll return to the vineyards.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Back and Bottled

We wrapped up our 10 days in Oregon and the California Coast on Sunday. Just in time to get to San Francisco on Monday for bottling of our 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Uvas Creek Vineyard.

The wine tasted the best of any of our samples. I think we found a real sweet spot to bottle at. My original plan was to bottle in September, but after the last few tastings I thought sooner was better than later. I didn't want to risk drying it out at all, or loosing any fruit for more wood.

The wine was a little low on free Sulfur, so we added a bit at bottling to bring it up to about 30ppm. Still pretty low, most wine gets bottled with 50ppm or more.

The bottling line went mostly with out issue. We were short a couple bottles, but found another case to finish up. There were enough labeled corks this time, and only 1-2 minor snags that slowed us down. We ended up with 48 cases of 750's and 1 case of magnums. They'll be picked up on Friday and taken to storage until we're ready to release the wine, probably in late September.

The addition of sulfur at bottling usually means it's a good idea to let the bottles 'settle' a little longer before releasing them, so we'll do that. I took home a few cases so I can check on the wine as we get close to release and make sure it's ready to go.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Little Validation or is it Support?

We're out on the road right now. Mostly vacation, our first week long one in a long time, but we're also visiting a few Pinot Noir makers in Oregon.

We're planning on making a little Pinot Noir this year, and next year we may have up to eight tons to make. So a little research was in order.

I'm picky about Pinot. I don't like Pinot to be heavy or jammy. I like Pinot Noir's that are silky and fragrant, with sexy noses that jump from the glass. I like the wine to finish long and clean with just a hint of oak. Chambolle-Musigny is the village in Burgundy I usually prefer. Noted for it's fragrant silky wines. Light, yet packed with flavor.

So we visited a few places, and wrapped up the day at Belle Pente, Stef's favorite Pinot maker. We quizzed the winemaker on everything he does. His wines are fragrant ans silky and packed with flavor.

Many of his tips, are things we do now or things we've heard from other Pinot Noir makers we like. Use gravity not pumps. Rack the wine as little as possible, don't settle the wine before barrel. 1/3 to 1/2 new oak, medium toast never heavy. It's very good to hear those things from winemakers you think are doing a good job, at least when they have those things in common.

It was also good to get some validation on things we do in the vineyard that not every one agrees with. We don't leaf pull, we remove secondary shoots and laterals. We also don't leave one cluster per shoot. We evaluate each cane and plant and then decide on one cluster or two.

Those things can be controversial, so it was very nice to hear that they do the same things, for the same reasons. A little validation we're on the right track.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sales Status

Have we sold out yet?

Yes and No. How's that for a straight answer?

We have sold all the wine we allocated for direct sales. There's no more left. So in that sense we are sold out. People who are signing up know for our mailing list are getting a note that says: "Sorry we'll have wine for you at our next release". We're at 239 people on the list now.

There is some wine left though. I set aside four cases for 'stragglers' and shipping errors. So far we've not had any shipping problems, and all the direct shipment wine but 9 bottles have gone out, so I'm feeling pretty ok about those other four cases being available. If you already have an order form, you can still get wine. At least until 3 of those 4 cases are gone.

The wine is also available at Unwind on Almaden Expwy, in San Jose for $35 a bottle. They had 5 bottles as of a week ago. It's also available at Olio in Campbell from the wine list for $53 and Twist Bistro in Campbell. Later this month it will also be available at Baci in Vacaville from their wine list.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vineyard Update

We spent the weekend out working in our vineyards and getting them in good shape for the Spring.

We suckered, which means doing deep knee bends on each plant and removing growth from the trunk. Stef is still sore. We also did some deer proofing, weed-whacking and sprayed for Powdery Mildew in each vineyard.

Elandrich Vineyard in Portola Valley - Looks just a little slow this year. It's been a cool spring and the plants are a little behind. Not enough to worry, if anything that may be good and flowering will happen a little later when the risk of wind is less. Wind causes the berries to not flower correctly (called shatter) and the bunches to not have full grapes. The drought has meant less weeds in the vineyard and I'll have less weed-whacking this year.

The plants are all healthy though and things look good. We'll focus on shoot thinning next, then try new bird netting this year and see if we can't get 1500-2500 pounds out of here this year.

Morgan Hill Vineyard - Had a severe deer attack. It looks like we've recovered most of the plants, and I've got the owner to close the fencing during the day. We aren't expecting any fruit from this vineyard this year, we're just training the plants. We should have about 500 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon from here in 2008, and 2-3 tons in 2009.

Llama Vineyard - Bonny Doon - Suckering was actually pretty easy here. We have bunnies! The rabbits eat the suckers of the lower part of the plant, but they can't reach the fruiting part. Bunnies are actually a help once the plants get established. This vineyard looked really amazing. There are some signs of Powdery Mildew, but we're on top of the spraying and not expecting problems. There should be at least 1000 pounds of Merlot this year.

THings look really nice, and we're hoping for a good year!

Friday, April 27, 2007

How Much Wine?

We didn't make a lot of wine in 2005. Just 100 cases total. 50 cases of Syrah and 50 cases of Canernet Sauvignon. In 2006 we made 16 barrels, 400 cases, so four times more. Still not a huge amount. This year we're planning on 23 barrels, about 575 cases of wine.

I big part of this approach was to not make more wine than we could sell 'part time'. Build up slowly, get the wine out there, build a mailing list and some key restaurants and go from there.

I also know I'm making pretty unique wine. I like wine with a great smell, and well balanced. I don't like thick wines, and I don't like wines with brown flavors or jammy flavors, so I don't want to make wines like that. Those are the kinds of wines that are simple crowd favorites and fill up the bottom shelves at the supermarket. That's easy appeal, and nothing wrong with that, but I'm not out to compete with Little Penguin. I knew our wine would have to find a market. People who like elegance over thickness and pretty scent over ultra ripe flavor.

I know those people are out there, and I know they will love our wines. But I also knew that making 2000 cases to start off with would have been a hard search to find them.

We're never going to make 2000 cases of anything is the bottom line. We'll make small amounts of a few wines from special sites that let me get great balance, scent and flavor in a bottle. 100 cases here, 200 cases there, just small amounts. Copain was successful doing this, and Brian Loring, so I think it can be done. I don't want a confusing amount of wines, or wines from all over. Our wines will always be from mountain vineyards that let me make a wine I'll like. I hope enough other people like them too to let us keep making them.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sorry for the long laps

A bad streak of colds, allergies, computer problems and getting ready for the Release Party have kept me from blogging.

I should be back at it now though. The party went very well with 40 people coming and trying our wine. We've gotten it out to Olio this week and Twist next week to get on thier wine lists, and almost all the orders have gone out.

I'll be catching up in the vineyard this weekend and trying to update everyone on what's going on!.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Pinot Quest

I've thought a lot about making a Pinot Noir. The hard part for me has been finding fruit to buy that I like. There's not much Pinot Noir available for sale in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I'm also very very picky about the vineyards we'll use and making sure that they are farmed for the highest possible quality.

That's meant for the past two years the only vineyard I've been interested in has been the Schultze Family Vineyard in the Southern Santa Cruz Mountains. The Schultze's make what I think is the best Pinot Noir in the Santa Cruz Mountains from their vineyard under the Windy Oaks name. They also sell their fruit to Thomas Fogarty, David Bruce, Testerossa and Mark Alfaro. Jim Schultze is so dedicated to perfection to his vineyard that this is some of the most sought after fruit around.

Every year I call Jim and Judy and beg for fruit, and every year they call back and say, "Sorry". This year though, Jim said, "Maybe, I can give you 2 tons." So my fingers have been crossed, they'll let me know after fruit sets in June if I have a Pinot source. I ordered my barrels just in case, and then haven't thought much about it.

Then last week, through a series of connections another great source became available to me. The owners of one of the oldest and most sought after vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains called Bradley Brown at Big Basin Vineyards. They were looking for a new winemaker and vineyard manager for their vineyard. Bradley is busy this year planting more Syrah, so he referred them to me.

The vineyard is fantastic, but it was too far away for me to take care of well. At 10 acres it would mean I'd have to dedicate almost 100% of my weekend time to it and I couldn't see doing that with all the other vineyards we have (We're up to 5 we take care of, and 3 we consult at now). So, I started making frantic phone calls.

Yesterday I called back the owners and said, "Yes I think we can do it." Ted at Uvas Creek Vineyards is interested in partnering with us on the project. He's a fantastic farmer and he's about 30 miles closer than I am. We can split up the vineyard work, and then split the fruit. We still need to work out the details, but it looks like we'll have 1-2 tons of Chardonnay and 3-4 tons of Pinot Noir this year.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Shipping to Start on Schedule

Barring some real unusual error over the next day or two, shipping will start on schedule next Monday April 9th. I plan to release all orders, to all states next week. The exceptions will be a few special deliveries that have been requested. Those will go out after the official release of April 21st.

The wine should start to arrive as soon as next Wednesday and Thursday to California addresses. We did send out a small number of late offer letters this week. It looked like we would have 2-3 cases left after first round, so I sent out 18 offers for three packs to the first 18 people who had signed up after the first cut off.

I'll deliver restaurant orders starting the week of April 23rd. Olio in Campbell and Baci in Vacaville are confirmed. We will also likely be at Twist in Campbell as well. That should be confirmed next week.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

April 21st Release Party

Our official release day will be Saturday April 21st. We're celebrating with a party at Unwined in San Jose : from 2 to 5pm. There will be snacks, champagne and our 2005 Stefania Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch by the glass. Unwined will also have a limited number of bottles available for purchase at the store.

If you would like to receive more details please let me know. It looks like we should have about 50 people at the event and it should be a great time.

Unwined will also have their regular selection of by the glass tastes available during the event. We're hoping that we'll have shipments out before that date, I'll update everyone on that in the next blog.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Update on Sales and Allocations

We've had great response so far to our first offer letters. Right now we've booked about 53% of the total wine we have available. It does look like we'll sell out before our official release date of April 21st.

There's a small chance that those people who signed up after March 8th and have not yet gotten an offer letter will get one after April 1st, but I think that's about a 25% chance now. The waiting list for an offer letter has gotten over 30 people long.

I really didn't want to rush people or pull the trick a lot of Napa wineries try and use about 'a long line behind you if you don't buy', but it honestly does look like if you don't get your order in soon, we'll be out of wine.

The situation in the Fall looks even worse. We're averaging 2-3 new sign ups a day right now. I think that very well may keep up through the summer, especially as the wine starts to get out around the country and people try it. We could have a waiting list of 150 by September to get the Cabernet release.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Day Off...Then Back at It.

Yesterday we took our first day off in what I think was eight weeks. It's been a pretty consistent schedule for weeks now. Work the day jobs Monday - Friday. Then weekday nights are spent in the office, sending out letters, processing orders, planing the 2007 budget, and answering emails. The weekends come and it's out in the vineyard or into the winery.

Yesterday we just played around all day. Drove to Monterrey and searched for Spot Prawns. There where none, too windy for the fisherman we heard. But we did stop for some abalone and Vouvray on the wharf.

Today I'll head back off to the vineyards. I need a new weed-whacker. I cooked mine last week. The second engine failure on this one, so I'm not going to try and rebuild it again. It's also time to start spraying sulfur regularly, and even though there is some rain coming Tuesday, I want to get sulfur down.

We have bud break and good growth starting at home, so it's likely I'll see a little today in the mountain vineyards. By next weekend, everything should be starting to grow and the real spray schedule will start.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Vineyard Update.

After frantic weeks of working with banks, credit card companies, shipping companies, cork suppliers and tons of other details we finally got back out in the vineyards this weekend. It was a beautiful weekend in Northern California, really perfect for working. Except for the weed whacker dieing on me, it went pretty well.

Home Vineyard and Ottigurr Vineyard - Both had bud break. These little suburban vineyards are great measuring sticks for how things are going in the mountains. Both are usually 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule of the mountain vineyards. It really helps with planing and scheduling our spread out vineyard sites to be able to track these two closely every day.

Mount Madonna - Reed's Vineyard. I spoke with Reed last week, and things are going well. He's mostly self sufficient now, and just calls on us for advice from time to time. He's decided to not fruit the vineyard this year, and instead concentrate on shoot positioning and cordon strength. A gutsy move on his part, putting off a year three harvest and that first cash flow to concentrate on long term quality. We'll have Tempranillo and Syrah from here in 2008 and Big Basin Vineyards will take the Grenache and probably any Tempranillo we don't use.

Morgan Hill Vineyard. We finished pruning on Saturday. Not sure what this one will be named yet. It's actually not in the town of Morgan Hill, but in the foothills above the town. It's in a little valley behind the hill most people call "Morgan Hill" (Morgan Hill was a person, not an actual hill, but there's a cone shaped hill outside of town that most people call 'Morgan Hill'). This might fit into our long term plans. The vineyard is near Uvas Canyon, where I'd eventually like to plant our estate vineyard, and working it would give me some local experience with this micro-climate. No commercial fruit from here this year, it will be 2008 at least and probably 2009.

Llama Vineyard - Bonny Doon - Looks great. We did some clean up and weed removal. Stef hadn't seen this vineyard in a long time. Millie and I pruned it this year, and Stef was amazed at the progress. This has been a painful vineyard to restore, but it's in great shape now and should get us 1000-2000 pounds this year. This little location is only 6 miles from the ocean, but gets very hot during the day. It was 5 degrees warmer here on Saturday than in San Jose.

Elandrich Vineyard - Portola Valley - The weed whacker killer! It's killed my weed whacker twice now. Millie got started on some serious end post repair work (jackhammer and 50lb bags of cement serious). I got through about 70% of the weed removal. The plants look pretty good here. We need to replace the bird netting with a better quality netting this year, and if we can do that should see 2 tons of fruit or so.

Everything looks in great shape. This experience in the vineyard is helping so much with winemaking and planing too. The work is hard, but I sure do appreciate all the great knowledge gained.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Order Letters Out

We got the first wave of order letters out on Thursday evening. They just made the 6PM cut off at our local post office. Everyone who signed up before 3/1 now has a letter on the way.

We sent a test one to ourselves and that arrived Friday. We also had a few orders trickle in via fax, so we know they are starting to get out, at least in the Bay Area. By next Tuesday - Thursday they should have found there way to everyone.

The second wave will be put together on Monday and go out on Tuesday for those people who signed up after 3/1 or got us a mailing address after the first wave. Pretty exciting time right now for us!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pictures From Bottling

Available at:

There will be a link on the website soon too.

We'll be sending out offer letters today. They should start to arrive to you soon.

Monday, March 05, 2007

599 Bottles Of Wine on the Wall......

And none of them fell.

Not that there wasn't a little drama today. The labels have not yet arrived, so those will actually go on the bottles on Thursday. And some of you will get nice corks that say "Stefania" and "2005" on them. Some of you will get the rare and elusive ones with just "2005" on the cork. As in: "It just says '2005' , the cork supplier must not have sent enough corks with 'Stefania' on them".

It also looked like the Cam was not working. At least I could see El Tejano on the chat board going: "The cam is not working".

But all in all it went very well, and there are 587, 750ml bottles, and 6 magnums waiting for pick up to go to the warehouse in Napa. The wine tasted very well, with the floral and fruit notes coming out very well and the nice balance and structure the wine has.

The bottling line went smoothly and I loaded in the clean new bottles at the start of the line. Stefania should have some pictured for me to post up soon.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Update on Bottling!

Bottling will take place this Monday, starting at 11am. You can watch live at :

Follow the Cam link to the bottling line.

Wish us luck. I'm nervous as can be that all goes well!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Help I've fallen in my vineyard and can't get up!

In addition to Stefania Wine, we also run Two Gringo's Vineyard Management. Two Gringo's is really just a sub-company that we manage the vineyards we produce grapes from for Stefania Wine. I've never advertised Two Gringo's past a link on the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Page and a small website.

Still, every year I get 25-30 calls from people looking for help with their vineyard projects. Mostly these calls are pretty easy to say no to. They are looking for help outside our area, or they want something specific done like changing posts out in the vineyard. If the vineyard project doesn't fit into the long term plans for Stefania Wine, I just refer them to someone else.

I also get calls on large projects 20-30, even 100 acres. Again it's pretty easy to turn down. Stefania Wine is going to make small lots from specific vineyards until we have our own estate vineyard. Producing 20,000 cases is not what we are after.

Every now and then though a call comes in for a site and a situation that really makes sense, and we'll take on a new project. Usually just one new project a year and it fits in with what we are already doing.

I also get emergency calls sometimes, and I just love growing vines so much, that I can't say no. Last summer Stef and I went down to San Martin for some emergency consulting on a small family project that was struggling with over vigor and Powdery Mildew. We couldn't save the crop for them last year, but we got them back up on their feet, and they phone us now for help and guidance. I suspect they'll get a good crop of 2-3 barrels this year.

I got another call like that yesterday. A homeowner with a one acre Cabernet vineyard in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. He's got two year old vines and he doesn't know how to prune. I couldn't help myself. Not only is it almost too late to prune, but if he does it wrong this year, he'd be better off to rip out the vineyard and start over than try and correct the problem next year. It's a hard concept for most people, but with grape vines fixing a problem can take just as long as starting over, 2 or 3 years.

So we sent out a note to some close friends and put a little crew together for Saturday, and I hope we can save this little vineyard. It might not be one we keep long term, but I really think one successful vineyards in the hills is one less McMansion, and that's worth it.

The volunteer crew will get some home made Osso Bucco, and a lot of great wine as a reward too, and any excuse for a party ain't bad either.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Newsletters Out

Our first Newsletter, Spring 2007, just went out. We've been busy these past few weeks with so much office work it's been hard to believe. As I sit here now, Stef is printing out order forms, which will go out next week, and trying to make the label printer work.

Something easy to forget in this entire endeavor is that it is a small business. Books need to be kept, order forms printed, mail sent out, forms completed and 100's of other tasks that go with running any business. We joke a lot about being the 'Accounting Department' and 'Shipping Department' as we sit in the office at home.

This weekend though we'll be back out in the vineyards doing spring work, and Monday looks like we are set for bottling. It will be really nice to step away from the desk and get outside, or into the winery and smell the smells.

It's not all drudgery though, the nice part about being at home.... We just opened a bottle of wine to sip on while we work!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

All the Details.

I can't imagine that the second release could be as hard as the first. As we're a week away now from sending out Allocation letters, almost every thing is done.

We're really hoping that this first time is the hardest, because it's been hard. Some big details we're still working on :The bank hasn't set up our Visa-Mastercard processing yet, we're really not 100% sure that the printer can handle 150+ color letters (we had to by a printer two weeks ago). I need to finish the newsletter, but really at this point those are small things.

There have been dozens of little details as well. It never occurred to me to send out confirmation emails for sign ups until a couple weeks ago, so I've just started doing that. I had to come up with a point system and I just did that this morning. At least I know a lot of these tasks will be one time deals.

Still it will be nice to get a few sunny days and get out in the vineyard and do some real wine work. The rain seems to be catching up, and I think we'll have bud break in a few weeks, and the focus can go from the office, to the vineyards.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Save the Date

April 21st, from 2pm-5pm.

Our Release Party! We'll be at Unwined to celebrate the official release of our 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. Mail orders will start to go out the week before that, so you may get your wine before the 21st, but this will be our official party. We really wanted to have it close to home and the view from the front of the wine shop is very close to the view on our website and the one we'll likely use on our 2006 bottles.

The details are not finalized yet, check back at our site and the Unwined site as we get closer to the date. There will be snacks of cheese and small tapas. We'll also have our wine available to try by the glass plus 2-3 other wines we like to try as a 'flight'. We think the cost will be $10 or $20 per person and both we and Unwined will have tickets.

Unwined will also have a small amount of our wine to purchase that day at $35 a bottle. It's very likely to be the only retail sale available as it looks like the rest of the wine will be sold directly by mail order and go to a few select restaurants.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bottling Date Set.

The question Stefania and I have heard more than any other is: "When will you have wine?". I think I even remember one of the neighbors asking that as we were digging holes in the yard to plant our first vines six years ago. Now there's a date. Monday February 26th we'll be bottling our 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah.

Everyone should be able to watch live by following the cam link at

We'll both be there through the day.

The wine will need to rest for a bit after bottling, then we should start sending it out in April and May. We'll have an official release in mid April and a party somewhere in San Jose to celebrate. More details coming soon!

Saturday, February 03, 2007


I've had a few questions asking if we are going to offer magnums or half (375ml) bottles.

We're not going to have half bottles this first year. It was price prohibitive to have them. With such a short production run, switching over the bottle line was going to add a big cost to half bottles and they would have ended up having to be priced at $25 or so. With 400+ case scheduled for the 2006 vintage though, we should be able to start offering half bottles next year.

Magnums were a little easier to do. Basically those are hand filled and hand corked, so the bottling line does not have to be stopped and switched over. We'll have six magnums total of each 2005 wine.

We're not going to offer those for sale. We'll keep a couple for ourselves and the other four will be given out as gifts. Right now I'm coming up with a 'rewards' point system. Something like Sea Smoke uses, giving their customers points for each purchase, length of time on the list and referrals. I'm also thinking that if people fax or email me receipts from restaurant or retail purchases, I'll include points for those purchases.

The four magnums will then be a gift to our best customers. It seems like a very small thing we can do to say thank you.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Can Yan Make Wine?

Recently I was talking with a friend about cooking. She wanted to know when I started to cook, and especially how did we get to be able to plate dinner for 15 people at a time. She said she can do four pretty easy, but even six is hard.

Well I started cooking when I was twelve. Mom started working late and my sister and I would cook before she got home. While my sister loved Mac and Cheese, I liked to try new things. I really got serious though after watch Martin Yan's, "Yan Can Cook" in the late 80's and early 90's. I went out and got his cookbooks and cooked through them.

That seemed an odd explanation to her, since I rarely cook Cantonese, or any Asian food for guests. But I told her I learned three important things from Martin Yan that helped me become a better cook.

First, he always stressed the importance of good fresh ingredients. Part of his show was always devoted to where you can find the best ingredients and how you can tell if they are fresh. He always stressed you could not make great dishes with out great ingredients, and that good ingredients would make up for any mistakes.

Second, Cantonese food is all about preparation. You have to have everything prepared and ready to go exactly when you need it. Since cooking happens so fast, you can't stop and chop some garlic in the middle if you forgot it. Everything has to be planned in advance. This has helped be able to get 15-20 plates with 3-4 things on it out together, hot, and ready to go.

Finally he taught about understanding how elements come together to create a dish. If you add carrots after onion, you'll end up with either underdone carrots, or burnt onion. You have to understand how each thing cooks, so you know when to add it to get the best flavors and textures. This taught me how important timing is in cooking and how to bring things together at just the right time.

And all this made me think of something that happened earlier that same day. We were at Crushpad, testing our wine and settling on bottling times. At the same time another person making wine was there. He was talking with one of the assistant winemakers about his 05 Cabernet and saying he wanted to get more structure in it.

I thought that was one of the oddest conversations I've heard. The 2005 Cabernet's are already 'cooked', we're just figuring out now when to 'plate' them. It's too late to add structure to a 15 month old wine.

If you wanted more structure you needed better ingredients, and you needed to have everything prepared to add structure to the wine at 'cooking' (pump overs, submerged caps, extended soaks, new oak), and finally you needed to understand when to apply these things to get the 'dish' right. It's to late now for new oak, or pumping over to have much if any effect.

So I thought what a great teacher Martin Yan is. Not only can he teach Asian cooking, but his teaching can be applied to plating 15 Rib Eyes with crusted veggies and cranberry salad. It also turns out it's pretty sound advice on how to make wine.