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.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

First Notes on the 2006's

Last night we drove over Hwy 17 in the rain to Felton to do the first real tasting of our 2006's. The wines have not finished Maloactic Fermentation yet, and need to be racked, so they are not really ready for tasting yet, but we wanted to get an idea where we are at so we could put a racking plan together.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Uvas Creek Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley - 5 barrels total + 20 gallons of topping wine, should make about 130 cases. Alcohol 14.6, aging in 40% new wood. (the wood wasn't really showing yet on any of these wines). Much darker color than last year, deep red with a similar nose as the 2005 at the same point, minty with lots of berry fruit, much fruitier than the 05. Already showing a savory finish, with good balance and length. We we're very happy with this.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains - 5 barrels total +10 gallons of topping wine, should make 125 cases. Alcohol 13.9, aging in 20% new oak. Darker than the Uvas Creek, almost purple, tons of black cherry and dark berry flavors and aromas, long and smooth and very plush. We all got the sense that this wine was really something special. This was a mix of Martin Ranch Cabernet with a little Merlot from Elandrich Vineyard. No one wanted to spit this wine.

2006 Syrah, Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino County - 5 barrels + 40 gallons on topping wine, should make 140 cases. Alcohol 14.8 Aging in @ 25% new oak (one new and one once used + 3 neutral) Red garnet color, with berries and mango. Very ripe tannins and sound acidity. This wine has been the slowest on Malo and we think that was what was giving it a tropical/berry nose right now. It was much more intense that the 05 at the same point.

John kept commenting on what a good job we did bringing in ripe, problem free, fruit. He said it was a real treat to work with all these fruit sources and watch the wines go with so little need for intervention. We'll be back every weekend for the next few weeks to check on barrels and get everything racked. I left very happy, I think all these wines are better at this point than the 2005's were at the same point last year.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Really Big Night Out

Last night we had dinner at Olio in Campbell.


Thomas Ricci is the co-owner and chef, and I loved his cooking when he was at Arcadia in San Jose. He'd always make us something special, and ask how things were going with our wine. We visited Olio last week to see his new place, and he again asked how the wine was coming and when he'd get to try some. Last night we brought him in a barrel sample of the 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah, which will be bottled soon.

Thomas recommended the Lamb Shanks, which I ordered, and we sampled the wine with him and his bar manager Kevin.

Then we got our very first, official, ORDER.

We've had lots of people say they'll buy the wine when it comes out, but this was the first actual, money commitment. In late March, or early April, Stefania Wine will be on the wine list at Olio in downtown Campbell. Lots of people know the thing I've worried about most is selling wine. I don't think I'm a great salesman by any stretch, so this was a huge, huge deal! 49 more cases to go :)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Allocations, Pricing, and the Easy States.

We are just about ready to set up with a shipper, we'll have a final meeting with them this Monday. So, it's time to finalize up what we are going to do with prices and allocations. Our first release will be 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. The letters should go out the end of February with shipping as weather permits starting in late March.

I think on pricing I'm set. A 3 pack will be $105, a 6 pack will be $200. Shipping will be billed directly by the shipping company, but I think I'll subsidize a little of the cost. It's not going to be cheap to ship these boxes, it looks like about $18 for a three pack and $25 for a six pack, and that's with me covering some of the costs. I wish I could offer single bottles or other combinations, but it's going to be too expensive to ship.

For allocations, everyone who has signed up so far will be allocated a 6 pack. They'll also be able to choose a 3 pack if they would like. That's a little risky for me. I'm counting on not everyone ordering wine so we're actually allocating more wine than we have. I'll give people the option to ask for more if we have enough left. People who sign up after today will be allocated a 3 pack.

I'm not set yet on pricing for the 2005 Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, it will be in the same range as the Syrah I think. Odds are pretty good that I'll have the same allocation for that when it's released in September, but it seems likely that anyone signing up after April or so won't be able to buy wine from us until next year's releases.

The states we'll be able to ship to are: Alaska, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Wyoming, Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Florida, Washington

For other states I'll recommend a storage site. We're pretty excited about New York and New Jersey, we thought those would be tough and we have about 40 people signed up from those two states so far.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Cold Weather Worries?

The most common question I get this time of year is, "Will the cold weather hurt the grapevines?". The simple answer is "nope, not even a little."

Vines go dormant like apple trees or roses during the cold winter months. The sap pushes back down into the roots to stay warm and the wood hardens off to protect the tender part of the plant. Vines will go happily through the winter as long as the temperature doesn't drop below -15F, something that just never happens in California.

There's no real threat of damage to the plant until it begins to have bud break again. That's the point when a lot cold snap or frost can damage the tender new shoots. When the vine looks like this there's danger from cold:

We're still at least a few weeks away though from the plants pushing open. We also have the added protection in each of our mountain vineyards of being on a good slope. Cold air is heavy and it moves down the slope, this helps prevent frost from forming, so we don't really have any cold worries at all.

The lack of rain is a bit more bothersome. Unless we make up for the loss of rain in the months ahead it means we'll have to think about turning on the drip systems in our vineyards this spring and summer, more than we might do otherwise. It's a small change, and just means we have to be even more attentive to how the plants are doing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

St Vincent's Day

January 22nd is St. Vincent's Day. St Vincent was a 4th century martyer from Spain and his holiday was part of the merger of Roman holiday's into Christian ones in the 4th century, meaning he had a holiday named after him almost right after being killed.

St Vincent is the Patron Saint of vinegrowers and winemakers. The holiday and feast is celebrated in all of the Catholic wine growing areas of Europe, especially in Burgundy. The day begins with a morning mass, and the winemakers bring a bottle to leave at the alter. There is then a long feast that starts in the early afternoon and goes on late into the night. Everyone is expected to bring fine bottles to share with the other grapegrowers and winemakers at these feasts.

Before St Constintine merged the Roman religions with Christianity in the 4th century, the holiday was celebrated as Paganalia. Pagans were people who lived in the country and worked the land. The celebration started after the fields had been prepared for planting and the vines pruned, usually by the 3rd week of January. There was a huge feast, and people from the city would come and bring gifts and goods to the country people and wait on them at the parties, a kind of reversal of normal roles. Masks and costumes would sometimes be worn, so that no one could tell who was rich or poor.

A few weeks later the party would be reversed and the country people would head to the cities to bring gifts and wait on the city people. There was also costume wearing and great parades and dances. This holiday was called Fornicalia.

Paganalia became St Vincent's day, and Fornicalia is now celebrated as Carnival or Mardi Gras around the world.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More Shipping Fun.

Here's my experience with one of the six shipping companies I've evaluated so far.

First, someone always answers the phone there. It's the receptionist, she's not very helpful, but the phone has been picked up every time I call. She claims to take a message every time as well. So far 25% of my calls have been returned from them.

In addition I received an email response from them to one of four emails I sent.

That makes them far and away the most responsive of the six companies.

One company, I finally got through to a live person, I said, " I'm inquiring about opening a new account, I'm a small winery...ect.". She transferred me to someone's voicemail in ........ accounting. New account, accounting, hey it was close. A very nice lady in accounting did call me back and said, "sorry, I'm the wrong person, you'll get a call from so and so." So and so never called back.

They are in second place right now as the second most responsive.

In third place is a company, that I managed to get a call back from in December. This was after three phone calls and an email. They didn't want to fax me pricing, since they had new pricing coming out in two days. They promised me they'd fax the new pricing in two days (this was in mid-December), I've not heard from them since. Three more phone calls, two more emails, nothing.

If this is the level of service these companies provide, I'm afraid I'm in for a whole lot of headaches in the shipping area. Everyone's been telling me it's bad, and it's a headache, but I didn't think that the level of unresponsiveness could be this bad.

Another bad thing is it looks like I won't be offering single bottles. I really wanted to do that. Since we're a new winery I wanted to offer people the chance to taste and try a single bottle if they wanted. The pricing is just too much. It would be at least $17 to ship a single bottle from any of these companies. I had planned on eating some of the shipping costs, but at that rate it would still be $50-$55 a bottle to try a single bottle.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pruning Update

We got off to a good start this weekend on pruning.

The weather was excellent, cold, but clear no rain or damp fog that can making pruning so difficult. Even the ground was ok, a little mud but not too much. Some years the combination of mud and grass gets so bad that we joke about "adobe boots". You have to stop every 15 minutes or so and work the mud off your boots to go on.

Saturday we got the entire Elandrich Vineyard done, all sections, about 2 acres total and still had time to get Kathy and Millie home done as well. The vineyard looked really nice, and it was especially nice to have no signs of Powdery Mildew, after fighting it so hard in 2004 and 2005. There is still one section of Cabernet that is lagging behind, but everything else looks great. We pruned mostly to a single bud per shoot. That's pretty severe pruning, most people leave 2-3 per shoot.

I like the dappled sunlight and better airflow though that this severe pruning allows. It also means I don't have to go through in August and drop a lot of fruit trying to get the rest to ripen. Or pull a lot of leafs off to let sunlight in. Basically I'm doing all that work now. This lets the vine naturally concentrates all it's energy on the fewer bunches. I end up with 1.5-2 tons per acre vs 4-5 tons per acre for most places and super concentrated fruit.

Sunday we finished most of the Llama Vineyard, just a few rows to go there this week. What a drastic change in this vineyard from the real mess we took over. Now all the vines have reestablished trunks and proper V.S.P. training. We should get our first good yield from this vineyard this year, even though it needs about 70 plants still replanted.

It was nice to have mother nature cooperating, we're off to a great start this year.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Full Moon's

A couple of years ago I started pruning after the first full moon in January. Before that I did it more or less randomly in January, when I could.

There was no real good reason for this. It was just traditional. People used to wait until after the first full moon in January to start pruning and they tried to finish by St Vincent's (The patron saint of winemakers and vinegrowers) day on January 22nd. Modern followers of the practice, including bio-dynamic farmers, believe that the moon's pull on the vines subsides after the full moon, and the plants will heal faster from the pruning and not loose as much 'energy' through sap bleeding.

I just figured "can't hurt".

I have seen better performance in my vines the last two years, but I've made so many other changes, who knows if the moon is having any effect at all. I remember Jerry Anderson telling me; "Farming is not science, it's trial and error, and you can never limit it to one variable". That's so true. I don't know what effect, if any, pruning on the moon phases has had, but I know it hasn't hurt, so I'll keep doing it.

We'll start on Saturday, and I'll work hard for the next couple of weekends to finish all the vineyards before St Vincent's Day. It also means 2007 is officially under way in the vineyard.