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.