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