Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good Bye to 2008

Grape growers never say there is such a thing as a bad year. We say "It was a great year, I hope I never have another one like it again".

As I close out the year with a cold that's keeping us home, there are some good things for sure. The wine we made was very good this year. Our sales went up again, almost 200% for the year. We had a lot of fun, made new friends, and had great times with old friends. The 49ers fired Mike Nolan, and America refused to hire Sarah Palin. (I called the combination of the two events a sure sign we are turning away from admiration for stupid people.)

We had visitors from Vermont, New York, France, and places in between at the winery this year. We also had some great parties. Gerard holding a possum by the tail is still a highlight everyone talks about. My day job went very well. We really turned our group around and customers noticed. We got by on one car, and one day job, and kept things afloat.

It wasn't a bad year. It was a hard year. And it reminds me of stories my grandparents would tell. They laughed at the stories, and remembered times with friends and family fondly, but they were hard times, times they didn't want to see again.

I think the right way to send out 2008 is the way Stefania has sent things out she hasn't liked since age 4. If you know her, and you've seen her mad, you've seen this face. :)

Here she says good by to 1973, and 2008.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Suburban Vineyard II

The trellis wires were the perfect place to hang "stained glass" cookies for a photo op.

More cookies on the wire...

These are the "Hot Tub" vines, you can kind of see the infamous tub in the background.

Originally the vines in the back were head trained, like the ones in the front, but we're also re-doing the backyard. We had Jerry pull out more than half the vines in the back so that we could train the existing ones on a new trellis system. The posts and wires are in, but it looks goofy until we prune. When I do the Suburban Vineyard Backyard photos you'll see before and after.

For now, enjoy pictures of the holiday cookies Kathy and I made hanging on the wires.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Suburban Vineyard Life

This was taken in 2006 when Paul added Mourvedre to the front (over by the blue tarp).

Later that Spring, Paul is watering the young vines in the walkway.

Another view of the "before" vineyard from the street.

And then in 2008 I decided I was tired of watering the lawn and we had Jerry start the tear-down.

The plants and concrete all came out from the front yard to prepare for a mini-demonstration vineyard.

And I mean, all of the concrete...

Jerry removed all traces of lawn and set new wood and metal posts. Here he is below starting to string the wires.

And so it will sit like this thru the winter until March when the baby vines come. Paul has ordered 25 Mourvedre (5 rows with 5 plants each) and Thompsons Seedless for the plot under the magnolia tree in the parking strip. A neighbor down the street requested at least one table grape plant so we're putting in 4. Originally we wanted to put a seedless muscat but none were available.

The plan is to put up one of those "take one" boxes like they do for property sale information, but ours will include flyers on the project, it's costs, and how much water usage we anticipate in the coming months/years. The rest of the landscaping will be drought resistant and require minimal watering. As for the backyard, that's another blog with more pictures coming soon!

I'll update the front vineyard progress after the new plants go in, for now, it's an ugly posted dirt patch with good intentions.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Finishing Racking

Last Friday we headed back up to Chaine d'Or to finish racking our 2007 Cabernets. I wanted to leave the wine in tank just a little longer this time to let it settle a bit more. Last time we racked the wine only settled for a couple hours and this was a bit of a 'make up'.

We rack for three reasons. First by transferring the wine to tank it lets us clean out the gunk, or lees in the bottom of the barrels. It also lets the wine settle in tank, getting more of the solid bits out. Second it allows us to expose the wine to some oxygen and that helps soften the tannins of the wine. Kind of like a giant decanter. Finally it lets us add sulfur to the wine in one even shot, which I think is better that barrel by barrel.

Sulfur is very important to keep out the little bugs that can ruin wine. Maybe later I'll do a blog on the myths about sulfites, but for right now I'll just leave it at :If it doesn't say "Contains Sulfites, it should say Contains Bacteria."

Off again at 36 degrees and 8:30 AM

Jerry getting all the barrels ready to fill. We're getting to be a really good team at this. Jerry, Stefania and I each have tasks that we need to do, and we work very efficiently at each one. Jerry does the set up, cleans barrels and tanks, breaks down equipment and helps fill. Stef does sulfur and additions, lab readings, cleans barrels and helps empty the tank. I move barrels, do set up and break down, top off barrels and decide on sulfur amounts and wine movement.

We pump very gently at about a level of 5.8 amps, it's actually a little slower than using gravity.

Stef measuring sulfur. We added 50ppm on this addition. She has a new sulfur lab that will give us exact amounts of free and bound sulfur, plus total sulfur so that we can fine tune our additions even more.

Facebook II

Yes, I did in fact call Facebook "Lamebook". Here's how it went down. My brother has a teenage daugther and she signed up. To keep an eye on her and what-not, he signed up, and then pitched it to me as a great way to stay in touch. Hah.

I played along, created a profile, uploaded a couple of photos and even added a real friend or two. Then, after people started to find me, a person whom I would not really consider a friend, asked me to add them on. See, this person was a former colleague from a job many years ago, one that I was glad to move on from. Out of curiosity, I went to this persons profile page and found them to have well above 600 "friends". And that was the turning point for me when I decided to delete my account and move back to real life and real interactions with people I really know.

There's an ad on tv for HP products and they pitch the computer as being "personal again". And I do agree that the internet and computers are great tools for maintaining relationships, however...

For Paul to maintain an account is fantastic, it gives our friends and customers a chance to chat and keep up with us on a more personal level. I enjoy looking over his shoulder as he updates his own profile or scrolls thru other peoples messages, it's a fun diversion for a few moments, but I don't feel compelled to spend a lot of time browsing.

Next blog coming up, as promised, photos of the latest vineyard project and maybe even an update from Paul on another Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot vineyard we're negotiating with.

To our Chicago friends: We are so bummed to not be coming in for New Years, have a great time at the game if you go and we'll see you later in the year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Facebook Redo

Well I wasn't able to make Facebook go away. Stef still insists it's 'Lamebook', and I still would rather have friends over for wine and dinner to know what they've been up to, but I have been keeping up on it now.

At least every few days with a status, and eventually getting around to friend requests and figuring out what pokes and wall writings are. If I don't respond right away, don't worry, I will eventually.

We finished racking today. Stef tried out our new sulfur tester and we did some work on the 2008's. I'll have a couple pictures tomorrow and a bigger update. For now I'm climbing into bed with some hot tea to see if I can get a cold out of my head before the New Year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Racking Day

We didn't start too early today, I was still up before 7am, but Stef and I enjoyed some coffee, fresh orange juice and the newspaper in bed until about 8:30. Our Orange tree is finally ripe and we're harvesting a few each morning.

Jerry arrived at 9am and he and I headed up to Chaine d'Or for the days tasks. Stef stayed behind to bake some cookies, do a delivery and get caught up on some billings.

It's been cold in California. 36 degrees when we headed out at 9:05

Jerry and I prepped all the hoses and tanks to get wine. We had broken everything down and cleaned it all after our last pressing. We racked our 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Chaine d'Or Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Both are turning out fantastic. The fruit in 2007 is very intense and deep and these wine will have wonderful noses.

We also got the lab report back on our 2008 Chardonnay and it's finished Malolactic fermentation. Great to have that done before Christmas. That meant it was time to add sulfur to the Chardonnay. I prepped individual amounts to go into each barrel, just about 21 grams, or 50 parts per million. I'm doing a little higher now at the first sulfuring than in the past.

This seems to be a growing trend from many winemakers I admire. The ideas is to get a good amount in the wine early and kill anything before it can get started.

We worked just about 4 hours before heading home. Emory and Tracy came by to help and learn a little about the racking process, which went smoothly except for one loose hose that dumped about 1/2 gallon on Emory. He now has an official pair of winery pants.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fun with the TTB

United States Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau. They go by TTB. That's the agency in charge of all federal laws around wine and collecting taxes on wine. They also approval all labels.

The approval process can be very mystifying, and approval can depend as much on the person reviewing your application as anything. It really can be very random, but that's not the point of this little rant.

The TTB has an entire set of rules on what you can say about where a wine was produced. These laws were mostly drawn up in the 1970's. The top 'ranking' is Estate. That's the most strict labeling in theory. To call something Estate, it must be grown, produced, cellared and bottled on property owned by the winery. The thought in the 70's was this would be a way for consumers to identify the very best wines.

It never worked that way of course. Gallo can claim a bottle of jug wine is Estate. Even if it came from 1000's of tons grown on 1000's of acres in Monterey and then trucked to their giant tank facility in the Central valley. They own all that property so that, according to the rules, is Estate wine. The term Estate never really caught on as a quality indicator, and with the rise of winemakers like Brian Loring, Adam Lee and Wells Guthrie, who owned no vineyards it became even less a quality indicator. Still the rules remain as well as rules for all kinds of other things you can put on the label. Produced By, Produced and Bottled By, Cellared By, Bottled By, all have their own set of rules. In theory these rules are to help the consumer. In practice they are in fact worse than meaningless, they are misleading.

Our Haut Tubee is a perfect example. We grow that wine on our Estate. Well it's our yard, no one but the TTB would mistake it for an Estate, it's a track home in a suburb, but it still counts as an Estate. The wine is then made by us at Chaine 'd Or. We produce it and cellar it there. According to all the rules we can call that Estate Wine since we manage Chaine 'd Or and the grapes are grown in a vineyard we own.

We're not bottling it at Chaine d'Or. Bottling equipment is expensive and prone to failure, so most small wineries use a third party bottling company to do bottling. It's called the bottling truck and the truck uses your bond to bottle, in effect you rent the truck and crew and provide extra labor. The TTB doesn't care about this, it can still be called Estate.

But now things get silly. For logistical reasons we're going to have the bottling truck go to Big Basin Vineyards for our next bottling. 9 of the 12 barrels we want to bottle are at Big Basin, so we are going to move the other three there to bottle. This is called a bond to bond transfer. We transfer the wine to Big Basin. I then write Big Basin a power of attorney letter and allow them to do business as Stefania Wine for two days. They then file a statement in Santa Cruz County that they will be Stefania Wine for two days. All these hoops are to keep things legal and make sure we're not trying to hide wine, and thus excise tax from the TTB (The tax on three barrels is about $50, it costs about $300 to do all these paperwork steps)

So we are good to go. But guess what, we can't call the wine Estate anymore. In fact we can't even call it Produced and Bottled by. The only thing we can legally claim is "Bottled by Stefania Wine." Which of course is the one and only thing that is not true. The wine was grown, produced, aged, and cellared by us on our estate, but bottled by Big Basin Vineyards.

So when you see these phrases on the back of bottles, ignore them, they are totally and completely meaningless.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We're Still Here!

We just took a break from blogging while we recovered from harvest and got a few other pressing tasks done.

The front yard at home has been torn down, and a new trellis system put in. Stef promises pictures soon. We've also been going round and round with labels approvals from the ttb, I'll post more on that later.

We wrapped up the Winter Futures Program and that went very well, and we're preparing for bottling in January of our Pinot Noir and Haut Tubee. It's been busy, just more office work than winery or vineyard work, so it doesn't seem very exciting to write about.

We did end our set up with our shipper though. We were having a lot of trouble with orders, inventory and compliance with them and just decided to take the entire shipping thing in house now. It was a painful process, but we picked up our last wine inventory from them on Friday.

The good news from the entire thing is we have 6 cases of 2006 Haut Tubee that we didn't know about. We had thought we were totally out. If anyone is interested please email me. It will be first come-first serve at $240 a case, no charge for shipping.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pick Up Day / Open House

This Saturday will be pick up day at the winery. We'll have our 2006 Uvas Creek Cabernet available for pick up from our Fall release. If you placed an order, your wine will be available.

We will also be pouring tastes of our other releases this year, the 2006 Haut Tubee and 2006 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. We will also be pouring the 2006 Chaine d'Or Chardonnay and 2005 Chaine d'Or Cabernet Sauvignon.

The winery will be open from 11 am until 3 pm. If I have the room, I'll pull down a barrel for barrel samples as well. We will have snacks for everyone as well. If you'd like to bring a picnic up, the crush area is now clear and the little hill by the pad is open. Bring a blanket. Hopefully the weather will stay nice.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shipping Update

Well we did pretty good through harvest on getting updates in, and we are definitely in recovery mode now and the posts have slowed down. We've still been busy, but now we're trying to catch up on office work, shipping, and still doing punch downs on the last of the Cabernets.

We did get just about the last of the 2006 Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon orders this week. There are 3 orders we still need to ship, two will go Friday and one is on hold until the 23rd. Pick up day is the 22nd at the winery, but I've already made a few local deliveries.

Saturday is our F.O.W. event, and we set aside 10 cases of wine for that event. There are 43 people who bought tickets, but I still don't think we'll go through 10 complete cases, so we may have a little wine left on Monday. Right now we're trying to manage the difficulties of just having one car. Tomorrow I need to be at the day job, Stef needs to be at the winery and some how we need to get to the UPS store and then get me up to the winery after work. More logistics :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


The first rains of the season came last week, and along with them, the first cold temperatures.

Our first Volunteer Appreciation Dinner was last weekend. Anyone that donned vineyard gear and braved the elements was awarded, those that made it through bottling with us (some of them twice!), were awarded, and those that were instrumental in our successful harvests were awarded. I totally forgot to thank Amber for her work on the website and getting updates posted for us, and we only briefly mentioned Kathy for her appearances at marketing events.

Publicly I thank you all for your spirit, your willingness to be subjected to the rigors of grape farming, and for supporting us as we grow our business.

Other firsts in the past five days:

First fire in the fireplace.

First time cooking squid ink noodles.

First frost on the rooftops of my neighborhood.

The first black president.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vincent Girardin's corks

Pictures for a posting at:

I really like Vincent's wines, I buy a lot of them, but I wish he'd invest more in his corks. Good corks are expensive, our corks actually cost more than our bottles, but I think it's worth the extra investment. This is from a 2003 wine, just 5 years old.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Last Few Days

Well we must be getting close to the finish, because we're writing less and less.

Thursday Stef and Jerry spent the day shuttling bins to Martin Ranch. We'll pick Tuesday there, and it looks like we'll just get a couple tons instead of the six we wanted.

Friday we were back in the winery (pictures coming soon) racking wine into barrels. The Pinot Noir went into one new and one used barrel with about 30 gallons left in kegs right now. We'll likely transfer that 30 gallons to a half barrel when we're all done. We tried to revive an old (1992) half barrel but it was just not going to seal back up. We want to wait on the half barrel usage until the very end. We only have 3 of them, so need to use then as little as possible.

We also put the Haut Tubee and Elandrich into barrel. Both went into new oak, a first for the Haut Tubee. The Elandrich will eventually go into a Santa Cruz Mountains blend, the Haut Tubee will be bottled on it's own, but we'll only have 25 cases for 2008.

We also stirred the lees on our Chardonnay and topped up all the 2007's.

Saturday we brought in the Cabernet at Chaine d'Or. A very small amount, just under one ton total. Last year there was 3+ tons. We didn't take any pictures of the day, but Wes posted a bunch at:

Today we'll visit Bonny Doon to see if there are any grapes left in the Llama vineyard. The owner did not want to net the vineyard, so we're expecting that birds have taken most of the crop in the last few weeks.

We'll also be boxing up orders. The weather finally looks cool enough here in San Jose to start shipping the Fall Release. The first batch will go out this week, with more going next week. We still have a little 2006 Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon left, so if you've been holding on to an order form get it in soon. We did not sent allocations to the last 30-40 people on the mailing list this time, so it looks like we're at the point that it will take a couple releases after you sign up to work into an allocation.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back From Our Short Break

We spent Thursday to Monday on our annual trip to New Orleans for our Anniversary (17th), and my birthday (19th). Tuesday we were back at work pressing off the Pinot Noir and Elandrich Vineyard Merlot. It was a full day Tuesday with both wines now settling in tanks. I like to let the wines 'rest' for 48 hours after going to press. This lets all the gross lees settle to the bottom of the tank, and we rack only clean wine into barrel. We'll finish up that process tomorrow.

In the mean time a few pictures from our trip:

Stef and Ozzy at 'Coops Place' on Decatur in the lower French Quarter.

Me and Natalie Boos at her gallery on Royal Street. Natalie started as a street artist selling her work in Jackson Square. She opened her gallery the week we visited in 2006. I got the painting in the upper right, Stef got the one on the lower left.

Our menu at Bayona on our Anniversary night. The chef signed it for us and came out to visit. We had a really nice bottle of Roumier 2005 Chambolle Musigny with dinner.

Stef getting ready for a night out. We stayed in a little apartment between Decatur and Royal about a block from Jackson Square. Rhonda and Walt from the Louisiana Loom Works were our hosts. Rhonda did the rug for our dinning room this past year.

It was a great trip. Good to see old friends and make some new ones. A really good break in the middle of harvest for us every year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To Get Wine...

You need to sign up on our mailing list!

I keep getting calls and email requests from people I meet about how to get Stefania Wine. I wish I could say we were in local retail stores or had online shopping, but we're not quite there yet.

The best way to get wine is to sign up on our mailing list and wait for an offer letter to come in the mail. We send those out 2-3 times per year and just finished sending out the Fall Release for the 2006 Uvas Creek Cabernet. This winter we'll send offer letters for the 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet. If there is wine leftover from the Uvas offer letters, we may include that wine also, like we did with the Syrah.

I desperately need to update the website and will do that shortly after this harvest season.

And what a season it has been. If you have been following other wine blogs at all, you're aware that the California yields are about 40% lower than previous years. Much of the decrease is attributed to low rainfall and some frost damage. We pruned aggressively in the winter so the lower yields were no surprise to us in the vineyards we manage. In all we're very excited with the fruit this year and are anxious to see what the 2008's are like once we go into barrel.

Paul has been keeping me busy with general winemaking chores and the change in routine is welcome, though I'm still getting used to it some. Monday started with a long drive to Gonzalez to pick up bins and lids, Tuesday was a long day online trying to figure out payroll taxes, and today I was running around returning borrowed trucks (and filling those gas tanks! ouch!!) and pressing another batch of the Hot Tub wine (some zinfandel from a neighbor up the street from the Crimson Clover vineyard).

This weekend we celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary and Paul's birthday...taking a little break before the last two rounds of cabernets come in.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wine Update

We've been so busy harvesting grapes the past few weeks, that I haven't given an update on how the wines are doing. Yesterday we wrapped up picking at the Woodruff Family vineyard pulling about 2 1/2 tons of Chardonnay for Storrs. The pick went late, past 4 PM and after we had to drop a bin off at Big Basin. It gave us a chance to try our wines there.

Here's the latest update:

Haut Tubee - The base for the Hot Tub wine was pressed and transferred to tank last week. It's darker than the past few years, with a really ripe Syrah nose. It will wait in tank until the other components are complete, then we will fill a barrel.

Chaine d' Or Vineyard Chardonnay. Wow. Making Chardonnay for the first time was a great learning experience. I've decided Chardonnay is like the law or sausage. If you enjoy it, you really should not watch it being made. It's pretty gross. It goes through stages of being brown, turbid, and very stinky. Stefania's quote "It smells and looks like poopy diapers."

Then like some miracle, it turns into Chardonnay. It clears up, the stink goes away, and there is a rich, savory and clear juice. This Chardonnay is going to be pretty powerful for the estate vineyard. It's already deep and rich. We're starting out with 60% new oak, and right now, the wine is just laughing it off. It's all rich fig and peach fruit. We'll monitor the oak closely, but this looks like it will be a very good, rich and deep Chardonnay.

Woodruff Family Vineyard Pinot Noir - Still at about 5 Brix, it's showing a cherry cola nose, with really deep color for the site. Big Basin's version was similar and has another week to go also.

Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah - Much lower alcohol than any previous version, this might actually finish under 14%, and for the first time, we're not having to correct the acidity. The fruit is bright again with a floral note. It's probably just 3-4 days from being pressed and going into barrel.

Crimson Clover Cabernet Sauvignon. 1-2 more days of fermenting to go, it might press on Sunday. Very strong nose of ripe Cabernet, and in the mouth, it's plush, long and the tannins are super ripe. This wine is very early of course, but we think we have a real winner.

The numbers on all these wines are pretty amazing. The alcohols look like the will be lower than 06 or 07, and that pH's are all in the 3.4 - 3.6 range. These are all 'pure' wines, and won't need additions or manipulations. The solid pH's will also mean using less sulfur. The Crimson Clover in particular has some great numbers. The BRIX was 27.5. That's going to make a huge, powerful wine. Probably close to 15% alcohol. But, that pH is 3.54, without any additions! Usually when you get to 27 Brix, pH's are in the 3.9-4.1 range. This wine will carry all that power with a balance of refreshing acidity.

Now we just have to not screw things up and we should have some very fine 2008's.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Elandrich Vineyard Harvest

The Elandrich Vineyard is one we restored from a terrible state, starting in 2003. There was no fruit in 2004 or 2005. In 2006 we harvested about 800 lbs. In 2007 it was about 1100, and this year, despite the low yield year we pulled about 1600lbs.

53 degrees, 7:06 AM, we're off for another day. We had a few pit stops to make before meeting up with the crew. They started picking at 7:30, we arrived with the bins about 8:20.

Stefania in the quality control position. Perched on the truck, removing any leafs or debris as the bins get dumped. We used the core picking team today. Just four people and me and Stef, so quality was high.
This section is Merlot, further down the hill is Cabernet Sauvignon. They actually get ripe at the same time on this site. An unusual situation caused by some shading in the Merlot, and the aspect of the Cabernet section. Usually the two grapes get ripe 2-3 weeks apart.

We just about filled up two complete bins. One of the fun things to do is jump up and down on the tailgate of the truck to get the grapes to compact down some.

Arriving at Chaine d'Or to process the grapes. Jerry and his brother Isidro have done this a couple times now, and they need no supervision from me on getting all the equipment set up. That lets me focus on the must entering the bin, taking measurements and overseeing the pump and crusher.

This is a little unusual process. Since we don't have a forklift, we don't dump the entire bin at once into the crusher. Instead we remove the grapes in 30 pound bins and dump them in slowly. You put two people in the truck, one on the tailgate to dump, and me down below running the equipment.

We then pump the must into a waiting fermentation bin. This is one reason we do so much quality control in the vineyard. There's not a sorting tray here to check the grapes. We have to make sure they arrive clean and problem free.

Once we finished the Elandrich fruit, we picked the Merlot section at Chaine d'Or. Just 8 bins this year, about 250 lbs. It will be 3 more weeks until we harvest the Cabernet it looks like. The Merlot will start off first in a small bin.

We sent the crew home about 1:00 PM. Stefania and I stayed to rack the Chardonnay down. It is almost done fermenting and we went from 6 2/3 full barrels to 4 full barrels. As it ferments you need the empty space to prevent explosions, but as it finishes, the bubbling is gentle enough to use a valve on the barrel bung, that will let gas escape.

Tomorrow we're back down to the Woodruff Family vineyard to pick the last of the Chardonnay there for the Storrs winery.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Single Use Carry Out Plastic Bags

Just this morning I got a flyer in the mail from the city asking me to complete a survey for Reducing Consumption of Plastic and Paper Single-Use Carry-Out Shopping Bags.

There's an ordinance in the works to switch over to reusable shopping bags as soon as next July.

The city claims we use 490 million single-use carry out bags per year. Doesn't really matter either if you repurpose your bag. If it goes in the trash anyway, it's in the landfill forever. Same with the plastic bags that do get recycled - the things they become are still plastic and still end up in the landfill forever. Not to mention the toxic chemical output necessary to re-process them into a new shape.

Paper, paper, paper. Trees are farmed, they grow back, yes, they do - take a quick trip into timberland and tour a lumbermill once in your life. Personally, if that's not included in the "100 Things to Do Before You Die" I think it should be.

Paper is a renewable source and not a petroleum by product and it biodegrades, naturally.

For certain bringing in your own mismatched bags to the market is goofy. It's like wearing a bike helmet for the first time as an adult, something we didn't do grow up doing. But then you get used to it and it becomes routine. Soon you don't enter the store without your own bags. And the bonus? Our local grocers give us 5 cents back per bag...over the course of the month that's about $4 back in my pocket and the satisfaction of knowing I haven't supported the crude oil producers.

I completed the survey and hope that other local businesses will also be in favor of the new ordinance.

Monday, October 06, 2008

On Being Green

This time of year it's hard for us to be green. Though we do our part at home and in the winery, there is no way to avoid driving trucks around the local area hauling grapes and heavy equipment. I was thankful and grinning ear to ear as we drove three full trucks south on 280 and were surrounded by 4 Priuses. I was greatful to them for being there to help offset our gas guzzling beasts that are a must this time of year.

Portable drinking water and personal plastic bottles are another issue. I avoid them all year long, but they are another wonderful commodity for getting portable drinking water to our crews while they pick. We do recycle the bottles and dispose of them properly, but they never leave our earth and that's what really bugs me.

The working vacation was another perk that meant less drive time and gross emissions from the trucks and vehicles used. The option to stay close to the vineyard site at a coast side resort felt more like a vacation than work, even though the days started very early. Paul already said Seascape has been a favorite spot of his since high school, and I couldn't agree more.

We did catch a glimpse of the dolphins from the balcony on our last night there and whale spouts on the horizon. Very peaceful and pleasant diversion from looking at vines all day and all week long. We lost money on that one, the price to stay overnight away from home was greater than our gas bill, but being able to catch up on the day-job part of work as opposed to spending a couple of hours on the road was a plus.

On the home front, the plan is to convert the front lawn and landscape to a mini demonstration vineyard. The vines at our suburban location require water the first year while they establish their roots and that's it. I'm letting the lawn die this year and pulling out two Sago Palms (that I'm selling) then putting in vines. Yes, vines. This effort should reduce our water usage by 60% and provide us with the grapes necessary for the grape stomp each year (thus eliminating one more truck run!).

With a little effort and education about waste and recycling, everyone can do their part to be's not always easy, but every little bit is better than none at all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Last night was our last at Seascape. We grilled some steaks and spent some time in the hot tub. We got a chance to walk on the wharf in Santa Cruz also. The rain stopped about 1PM.

Stef in the hotel room.

This morning we were back at it. Picking the last of the Pinot Noir for Hobo Wines, and 1 1/2 tons of Chardonnay. We started just about 7:15 and wrapped up about 11:30

The vines made it through the rain just fine. We found a little active botrytis, on about a dozen clusters and cut those out.

There was actually a pretty good amount on the first 12 rows relative to the rest of the vineyard. We were really starting to wear down today, even with the day off yesterday. This was day 6 of the last 8 we've picked grapes, and been up before dawn.

When we got home, we turned on the 49'ers game and quickly crashed. I napped for 2 solid hours. Stef cleaned up a little and then fell asleep about 45 minutes after I did. She was still asleep on the couch when I started uploading these pictures.

We have a picking break now for at least a few days. Just some winery work to do, punch downs and lab work. I'll go back to the day job tomorrow. I'll have to get all the end of Q3 paper work done. I'm sure we'll be in bed early tonight, and we'll sleep well.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rainy Day Rest

Yesterday we pulled out our portion of Pinot Noir from the Woodruff Family Vineyard. It was a fast pick and we had just 2 1/2 bins. The grapes are amazing. I got glowing reports back from Bradley Brown and Pax Mahle on their shares. I imagine both of those guys will price their wines over $50, but it will be a fun splurge in a couple years to try the wines side by side.

Below you can see one of the reasons this is great fruit. This is an average size cluster from this vineyard. That's about 1/5 the size of an average Syrah cluster. Each little tiny berry is packed with concentrated flavor.

Bin filling up. The crew was really getting the hang of field sorting today, and the bins were free of leafs and problem clusters were left on the vine or in the field.

Everyone in Corralitos was in a harvest rush yesterday to beat a small storm that passed through last night. Apple pickers, berry pickers and strawberry pickers were all out in force. Our little crew all came over from San Jose and includes members of Jerry's extended family.

Another, sunrise picture. You can see Marcel and Charlie, the vineyard dogs guarding the rows.

Today we will not work. The vineyards will need to dry out from the rain last night and we'll stay in Seascape and relax and recover for a day. The little bit of rain should actually help the vines at this point. Giving just a little refreshment and extending harvest another 3-4 days. The fruit this year has been great, just not enough of it. I'm afraid when we release the 2008's in a few years, allocations will be tight.

We finished up the day at Chaine d'Or. We processed all the Pinot Noir. 100% destem this year and into two t-bins to ferment. It went fast and with little drama, except Jerry's brother cut open his knuckle on the must pump. I told him he was an official winemaker now that he had bleed. Jerry and I both had wounds from the pump two weeks ago.

As we handled the Pinot Noir, Stefania was prepping barrels in the winery. As soon as we finished the Pinot, the crew cleaned up, and Stef and I transferred the Chardonnay from tank to barrel. It will finish its fermentation in barrel now. We went into 3 new barrels, one Sequin Moreau Burgundy, and two Claude Gillets, and three old Claude Gillets. When it's all done we should have about 4 barrels, or 100 cases.

We wound up the day about 7:30 with Mexican food and Pacificos.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I Love Seascape

When I was a teenager I had an issue with the late afternoon classes. They interrupted Surfing.

My favorite spot to go was Seascape beach, about 10 miles south of Santa Cruz. It's not a hot shot surfing spot, but I enjoyed the rugged hike in, the beach was mostly empty, the waves were good, and a school of dolphins patrolled regularly. There really isn't anything more peaceful than sitting on a surf board in the cool Pacific, watching the sun set, and having dolphins swim all around you.

15 years ago or so a resort went in at Seascape. It's not as rugged now or isolated, but I still like coming here. It's only about 15 minutes away from the Woodruff Family Vineyard, so Stefania and I decided to stay here over night while we pick Pinot Noir.

Today we picked for Bradley Brown and Big Basin Vineyards and Pax Mahle for his new project. Tomorrow we will pick for ourselves. The day wasn't too long, started at 7 and finished at 2:30. We'll actually have a little break to enjoy the beach tonight.

I worked hard picking, sorting and hiking the hill today so just took a few pictures:

The crew getting started on Pax Mahle's grapes.

Working the center section of the vineyard for Bradley Brown. Bradley spent the morning with us and it was good to be able to talk with him some.

Seascape when we got back :)

From yesterday in the Arastadero Vineyard. This is a Syrah vineyard we manage for Big Basin Vineyards. It is so steep that only Stef and I, plus Jerry, his wife, brother and sister, harvested. I didn't trust anyone else in the vineyard.

Bradley was super happy with the fruit. We took this over this year, and he said it's the best fruit he has gotten from this vineyard. We also farmed it 100% organic for him.

Normally you would use a forklift and tractor to move bins. In this vineyard it is so steep the picking bins have to be carried out by hand and dumped by hand into the waiting truck.

Back to today's pictures. The crew snacking after we had finished for the day. There's lots of fun in translation. I tell Stef what I want done. She uses a combination of English and Spanish to make sure Jerry understands, and he then tells the crew in Spanish.

Jerry is great though. He's the kind of person you just tell him what solution you want, and he figures out a way to make it happen.

More of the crew picking away. I probably picked 15-16 bins today, Stef picked about 30. We got Bradley about 60% of what he hoped for, but he said the fruit looked and tasted excellent. He was very happy with what he got, he just wished there was more.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Eaglepoint Ranch Pick Up

Still more random photos. We drove up to Eaglepoint Ranch on Monday afternoon and had a nice dinner with Casey and Lynn. Tuesday morning it was up early for the 5+ hour drive back.

Stef at 6:10 AM getting ready to go.

Part of Casey's wall of fame. I think he'd actually like to put up pain in the ass winemakers here.

Me pulling out leafs and other MOG as we pick.

This year Casey lost almost 70% of his normal yield. We only got 1 ton.

Stef walking through our section of vines. Last year our section yielded 6200 pounds. This year it was about 700 pounds. Casey cancelled contracts with many producers so a few of us could have what little was left. We ended up picking from 17 rows to get one ton.

The 1989 Block at Eaglepoint. The Sun wasn't up over the mountain yet when we finished picking.

The mandatory, "Paul driving a truck" picture.

The Golden Gate in sight. Just 2 more hours of driving ahead of us at this point.

This was the night before driving up the road to the Ranch. It's a bumpy twisty dirt road.

More of me sorting and removing leafs. Casey is paying his crew by the hour this year. He usually pays by the ton. Most growers pay by the 30 lb bucket. His thought is that by the ton, has them work as a team and be more complete in picking. I always pay by the hour. It's more expensive, but there is less MOG and the vines never need a second pass to pick up what was left.

This is the dividing line between us and Copain. They were picking also Tuesday. We actually got 5 of their rows this year.

Me climbing up on the tractor as we moved to the next spot.

The fruit we got was actually very nice. We sorted it quickly when we got it back to Big Basin, and it was still 59 degrees in the bins. We hope we will end up with about 60 cases total. 2008 will be a tough year for people low on our mailing list. We're just not going to have a lot of wine to go around.