Friday, June 27, 2008

Taking Notes

I'm on the verge of leaving the workforce and going full time as an entrepreneur. It occurred to me as I'm sitting at my day job that I should get a real clear picture of where we are in the wine business.

Not that I'm flaky or inattentive, but there are certain aspects to this that belong to Paul, in many ways I really am just the inspiration. He keeps good track of the business plan and where we are headed in terms of growth.

Today I've been asking questions and taking notes.

Total barrel counts are below for each vintage year.

2005 = 4 barrels (100 cases)
2006 = 14.5 barrels (363 cases)
2007 = 34 barrels (850 cases)
2008 = 51 planned (1275 cases)

Not that blogging about this is relevant, but I'm hoping that maybe if I put this down "on paper" it will become more tangible.

In many ways I'm looking forward to putting all of my energy into Stefania Wine, the vineyards, and the winery, it's an exciting change. It will be good to be more 'hands on' especially with the amount of growth planned for this years winemaking.

Bring it On!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Being a Foodie

Somebody once called me a Foodie, and initially I took offense to that. It wasn't until this last vacation trip that I realized perhaps I prefer being called a Foodie and not a Food Snob.

We took off on a recent Sunday, drove up 280, thru SF and made it to Fortuna, CA in time for lunch at the Eel River Brewery. Their table menu credo stated that their objective is to cook all food to order and deliver it fresh and delicious to your table, and that if you are not satisfied bla bla bla... The beers were really good, Paul ordered the Triple X and many of the servers were wearing logo shirts that said Climaxxx and Drink Naked - I think they thought they were being risque.

Anyhow, the food was mediocre, basic fish and chips, standard issue sausage sandwich and sides, not bad pub fare, but no "wow" factor. My inner food snob was taking notes.

Next stop, Brookings Oregon - we checked in to the Best Western on the beach front, with jacuzzi tub and a view (of the Army Corps of Engineers dredging boat dumping sand) and settled in with all our stuff. Paul wanted pizza after the long day of driving and found a place right there in the harbor or another just up the road claiming to also be a brewery. The joint in the harbor specialized in pizza by the slice and we immediately dismissed that and headed to the brew parlor.

Excited to have a fresh pizza pie made to order, I asked for "pepperoni, wine salami, sausage, tomatoes, and roasted green chilies". Yeah! The fact that I said salami tripped up the order taker, as it's listed under "W" for "Wine Salami" as shown on the menu board, so that's my fault for shortening it (still, don't all pizza places have salami and call it such?).

Now, as you all know, a pizza takes no less than 20 minutes, usually more like 35 on average, and yes, we did wait for a bit on the bartender to get us beers...but still. I had drunk not more than a few sips of a pint and our order was up. Huh. Paul fetched our to-go box, brought it back to our table, we swigged a few more gulps then took our pie to go (we had a bottle of SeaSmoke waiting for us back at the BW). Before leaving I peeked in the box and was sadly disappointed with the pie but too hungry to fuss with it - there was pepperoni, and sausage, and salami, and even fresh tomatoes on top...the roasted green chilies however were instead chopped fresh bell pepper. (granted they are both green, but big difference between roasted and raw, me thinks).

The SeaSmoke was the highlight of dinner.

Next day took us back on the road for lunch and shopping in Florence, OR. Last year our lunch in Florence was it's own hilarious story of mishaps so we tried a different location even though the previous was clearly under new ownership and had tried to reinvent itself (really, I ordered hot tea but the server didn't notice that the water was cold...).

We started off for Mo's, they claim to be nationally famous for their clam chowder, and they looked interesting enough to try. The hostess thought it would be about 20 minutes for a table so we scooted across the street instead, no sense waiting when there are other choices. As we exited Mo's, Paul tells me, "I'm kind of glad we didn't eat there, it smells like fried ketchup".

Lunch across the street was good though I was disappointed that the old ladies that came in behind us ordered the last of the special crab melt - I settled for a shrimp melt and I can assure you that it was "just ok". The oyster shooters were huge, too huge to be considered a shooter but they were excellent, but then again, it's hard to screw up anything raw.

A quick trip through the ice cream parlor and off we went to our vacation rental in Newport. The Embarcadero claims to be a resort on Yaquina Bay in the historic waterfront district of Newport. We stayed there last year and liked the view and affordability of having our own fully equipped apartment for a week. I think they use the term "resort" loosely.

We found the Fred Meyer and Safeway in town and walked to the fishermans dock almost daily in search of fresh local seafood. Paul made us cioppino one night and I baked fresh bread to go with it.

On one of our ventures outside of Newport for the day, we ended up in Lincoln City and saw a sign to another Mo's (there are 5 or so in the area) and I had mentioned to Paul that I would definitely enjoy a bowl of clam chowder at least once on the trip. So he scouted out some other options, drove to the end of town and headed back -- side bar: drives me nuts when Paul does this, but he's a Libra and he has to know all of the options to weigh, it's what he does.

This Mo's is huge, compared to the one in Florence, at least it seems to be. It's late for lunchtime and they are busy but the hostess is able to get us a table immediately. Mo's is a large rectangle of a space, with gifty stuff in the front, kitchen in the middle of it all, and open seating much like a school cafeteria. They have Rogue beer on tap, clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl for $7.95 and fried onion rings (we had already planned out our junk food lunch well in advance of being seated). And we sat, ever so patiently, for someone, anyone in all the hustle and bustle. Servers came and went to all the other Paul gets up, takes my hand and says come on, I saw another place just up the road.

We got in to Capn' Rons, they have 20 tables, it was comfortably quiet (no kids - mo's was crawling with the little critters) and our server brought our beer before we could even think about what to have for lunch. She did such a good job of upselling the large bowls of clam chowder and grilled bread to us that she forgot all about our fried onion rings, which was fine because we were both stuffed. I did have one silly comment though about Capn' Rons, our server brought the soup right away and apologized profusely for not having the bread yet "as it comes from the kitchen". Great, where did the chowder come from, the powder room? Just sayin'...

Mostly I'm just funnin' on folks and poking at differences between what I'm accustomed to. Nothing was horrible, and the people who served us have value and I certainly appreciated them all, even if they were "off" a little.

Paul on the other hand tried to kill us one night with flaming vegetables of death, but that's another story for another day.

Please enjoy the photos from Oregon, they are linked here:

I didn't put captions, they're mostly self explanatory.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The Mission Statement

Vision Statements and Mission Statements have been so abused and misused over the last two decades that talking about them can invoke instant invocations of Dilbert cartoons.

I’ve worked at companies that have used them successfully (Acuson - Cybersource), used them poorly (Blue Martini) or had them not at all (CollabNet). I felt the effects were dramatic on day to day performance. At Cybersource the Mission Statement was clear: One billion billable transactions by 2008. At the time I joined it was also a BHAG goal. First no one was really tracking how many transaction we were doing, and when I figured out how to do that, we had a huge company party to celebrate our first month with 1 million.

But that goal affected every choice we made and every action we took. When a course of action was in front of us the question was always, “Will this help us get to one billion transactions.”? If the answer was yes, we did it, if no, we did not. Conflicts did come up, often the choice was “which of these two things helps us get to our goal better?” The point was we always had a guiding Mission we were trying to get to and that framed the conversations we had, our interactions with each other, and the choices we made.

I left Cybersource in January of 2000. I thought the company was loosing direction. It turned out I was wrong, it did loose focus for a little while, but the founder stepped back in when the dot com bust came, and refocused the company back on its Mission. Today Cybersource’s market cap is 1.2 billion dollars, and they made that one billion transaction goal.

When companies I worked at had poor, or no Mission, they struggled and it was often a toxic environment to work in. I felt first hand the effects of not having a guiding set of goals could have on an organization and individuals.

When I started Stefania Wine I thought it was key to define what our vision for the company was and what it’s Mission Statement would be. It wasn’t as easy as it might seem. The vision was out there, but needed to be defined. The Mission, that took a little thought. I finally arrived at a really simple one. And Mission Statements have to be simple. Apple had a great on in the early 1980’s: “Change the World”. Some other great historical ones have included:

Ford Motor Company (early 1900's)
"Ford will democratize the automobile"
Sony (early 1950's)
"Become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products"
Boeing (1950)
"Become the dominant player in commercial aircraft and bring the world into the jet age"

We are not out to conquer the world, or dominate the wine market, our vision is much more small scale than that. Our Mission Statement reflects that, and where we want to be in 10 years.

"Make Friends"

Every time there is a choice to be made, a direction to go, or an action to take, we refer back to that Mission. Does what we are doing make friends? If it does, do it, if it doesn't, do something else. For us the most important outcome of this great adventure, the ultimate place we want to be, includes a home filled with friends. We also hope people will share our wine, and make friends with it. That would be for us a great achievement. Not just us making friends, but our product helping others make friends.

So when there is a shipping problem, or a bad bottle, or a request for extra wine, a visit, or special request, we go do what it takes to make a new friend. It's not just being nice, it is the very key part of who we are, what we do, and what we are hoping to achieve.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Smoke and Fire.

Last night about 6:30 PM a dark cloud rolled over the Blossom Valley and turned the Sun bright red. It was smoke from another fire in Monterey County.

The Martin Road fire was called 40% contained last night, and Ice Cream Grade, Smith Grade and Pine Flat Roads where all reopened. It actually looks like from reports that the fire is not a threat to any more property now, and they are expecting to have it in 100% contained by Monday.

I'll send the crew to Coralitos early in the week though. We'll stay off of Ice Cream Grade and Pine Flat until the fire is 100% controlled, which will likely come on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Right now the work in the vineyards has slowed down, with the warm weather, spraying is not needed as often, and we'll focus on tucking vines into wires and clearing out laterals to insure good sun exposure. There's also a little weed removal to do under the rows. Hopefully the news the rest of the summer will not include any more fires.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Map Update on Fire

Cal Fire has just updated the effected area map.

It looks like the fire was stopped west at Quail Drive, about 3000 feet from the Llama vineyard. The wind would seem to be moving it South into the Canyon that cuts between Pine Flat Road and Felton Empire Road. That is very dense forest, with no roads or access. I'm not surprised that containment numbers are so low. In that canyon, there is nothing to do but let the fire burn until it reaches a road where it can be stopped.

It looks like it's moving towards Empire Grade, which is a fairly densly populated area. I would imagine that containment efforts largely run along Empire Grade, Quail Drive and Warren Drive right now.

Martin Road Fire

Map of Fire

The Llama Vineyard is on Country Estates, just off of Bonny Doon Rd, about 1/2 mile from the fire lines.

There is another small Chardonnay vineyard also on Country Estates which is closer to the fire. McHenry and Beauregard are both up Bonny Doon Road at the junction of Pine Flat and a little farther from the fire.

This is a very very rugged area with much denser forest that the Summit Road area fire. There are also more paved roads though and it should be easier for the fire crews to move around. THe weather is hot, but the wind is not strong. The area around Martin Road is actually pretty cleared at ground level, at least around Ice Cream Grade and it looks like the fire is moving away from the vineyards.

Cal Fire's link for information.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pictures from the Crimson Vineyard

Featuring our Intern Rajiv!

Daniel and Gerardo (Jerry), the veterans tucking and suckering.

Rows they've completed.

Look close, there's Rajiv!

We're expecting great fruit this year from this vineyard. It will replace Uvas Creek a year ahead of schedule.

Vintners Festival Recap

We made it through the weekend ok and generally had a real good time. This is really the only time the winery is open to the public all year so for many people it seemed an annual event. They'd been coming to Chaine d'Or for years.

We poured wine from the kitchen and set up a table with snacks. Every hour I did a brief over view of the vineyards and then led a barrel tasting in the cellar. People really seemed to enjoy the barrel tasting a great deal and I spent most of the time in the cellar answering questions.

I was sampling the 06 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon and the 07 version of the same wine. Both showed really well and there were lots of inquires asking if we would sell futures and when the bottled wine would be available.

The hardest part for me was being 'center stage' the entire weekend. Most of the time winery work is pretty isolated, even lonely. You are by yourself, with your own thoughts, focused on a task at hand. Events like this, I'm talking and answering questions the entire time, meeting and greeting and generally don't get a break. I worked hard to keep water in me to make sure I kept my voice.

I do enjoy that though. I like talking about wine and winemaking with people. I hope I bring some casualness to wine and make people feel more comfortable about asking questions and talking about what they like.

We sold a bit of wine, and had a good time. It was hard to set wine aside for this event. I knew it was on the calender and Anne and Jerry really wanted us to pour Stefania as well as Chaine d'Or, so we set aside 10 cases from the initial release. At first we had planned on setting aside 20 cases, but that proved impossible. Instead we just cancelled a number of other events that were on the calender and got the wine out to our mailing list customers. That's always a hard process to go through.

We had great help over the weekend. Of course Anne and Jerry were wonderful hosts, and Amber and Ingird manned the pouring and sales stations. Sunday Rajiv also came to help and poured as well. It was also nice to meet some of our mailing list customers who had read on here we'd be open. We'll open the winery again in the fall for Pick Up Day and hope to see some friends visiting us then as well.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Day One of the VIntners Festival

We're off in a few minutes for our first public event at Chaine d'Or. Anne and Jerry opened the winery every year for the Vintners Festival and wanted to do that again this year.

We're really not sure what to expect, and how many people might come by. We sent out postcards to everyone on the Chaine d'Or mailing list but didn't really do much in the way of advertising to our mailing list.

We'll largely be featuring Chaine d'Or wines, 04 Cabernet and 06 Chardonnay, but I held back some of our 06 Syrah for this event and a small amount of 06 Haut Tubee. We're really not sure at all how much is going to sell, and what we might have left after the weekend. It's likely to be a long day on my feet and talking with people so I'll try hard to keep water in me and not loose my voice.

I'll try and do an update tonight or tomorrow.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cult of the Gopher

I've written before about the important role the Gopher plays in every winegrowers life. How it dominates our conversations and we keep counts of our 'kills'. If you check this picture I think you'll agree that the gopher has a long history. It's clear the giant animal in the center of the hunt is the dreaded Gopher.

Saturday night we were invited to an impromptu party with Tracy and Emory Epperson. We planted just over an acre of Cabernet Sauvignon for them this year on 20 acres of land that's been in Tracy's family for decades. It's a fantastic site in the Coyote Valley and Tracy and Emory should be producing some amazing grapes in a few years. They are talking about expanding the vineyard a little each year and eventually putting a winery on the site.

We had been calling this project 'butterfly', but Tracy and Emory are leaning to the name Sesson for the vineyard, which Stef and I both love.

We settled in for a few snacks and opened some wine and relaxed after a long day in the winery. Soon Emory was sharing with us his exciting news of the week. Not only had he killed his first gopher, and done it with the most honorable of gopher whacking tools, a shovel, but he'd also added two ground squirrels!

Emory had officially entered the world of 'Grapegrower'!

So how to celebrate?

Well with no forethought, or deliberate planning, we fell quickly into a 30,000 year old ritual. A huge roaring fire was built outside and stoked with long logs of wood. The fire roared into the night sky and Emory hung a small grill over the flames to roast a beautiful chunk of meat. Tri Tip, thankfully roasting your kill is NOT a tradition. We opened bottle after bottle of wine and toasted away the evening telling stories of past gopher hunts.

It's very primitive, but people still enjoy a roaring fire on a clear night, friends, food, wine and good stories. I think we should all try and capture that more often. Celebrate life's little triumphs with big parties. Celebrate the little things. Worship the Cult of the Gopher with a bottle of wine, an open fire, a chunk of non-gopher meat, and friends you love.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ode to a Phone

I hate my cell phone. Well not just mine, it's not personal. I hate all cell phones. Phones in general in fact. As Miss Manner's has said; "The phone is the rudest invention ever."

One goal in life for me is to not have to have one. To me that's a sign of success. Really if you are very important, people just can't call you when ever they feel like it. Obama is not standing at the podium and going; " We're coming together because we believe in what...hold on, that's mine, just a second, yeah, no, the pancake mix is in the bottom drawer."

Phones are rude, and no invention in the history of mankind has transmitted more useless information to more people, wasting more time, than the phone. Once standing at the airport in the security line I heard this conversation; "I'm in the line at the airport, it's a long line."

I thought; "Who cares"? I'm in the line, and I don't care that I'm standing there. Who in the world would care that you are standing in line? Is their life so boring and pitiful that you standing in line at the airport is interesting? If it is, you should text them links to a park or a movie, or a good book, not update them on your line status.

So as part of my rebellion against this phone culture we live in I owned a phone that was at least 8 years old. It's main feature was that I could drop it and not care. No Mr Spock in the ear headsets, cameras, or Benny Lava video for me. And belt strap ons? I made Stefania pledge that if I ever strapped a six shooter phone to my belt, she should hit me in the back of the head with a shovel.

I had lots of little pledges like that. I made Jaye, our favorite bartender at Chevy's, pledge that if I ever sat at her bar and made her wait to take my order, she a live person in front of me, so I could talk to someone on the phone, she should pick up a fork and jam it into my forehead.

I loved that phone, because it was an outward symbol of hating phones. My sign to the world that I wasn't going to participate in that silliness. Some people have bumper stickers, I had a ratty old cell phone.

Well, it's dead now. Lost in the vineyard and presumed run over by the tractor. A fitting end. It was sacrificed to the gods of wine. It's terroir now, for ever more part of the 2008 vintage. Probably the finest contribution a phone has ever made to society in my opinion. We'll toast it tonight with a glass of wine. Actually we'd have the glass of wine no matter what, but any excuse works in a pinch.

I think I'll get one of those new iPhones :)

Oh yeah if you call the winery and I don't pick up, it's because I ran over the phone with a tractor. Give me a couple days to get a new one.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Winery Open This Weekend

The weekend is the annual Santa Cruz Mountains Vintner's Festival.

We'll have the winery at Chaine d'Or open for visitors.

The cost of the event is $30 in advance or $35 at the door, but we will not be charging our mailing list members or their guests for any activities at the winery. If you want to visit other wineries that are participating you'll need a ticket, but your stop at Chaine d'Or is free.

We'll be pouring the 2006 Chaine d'Or Chardonnay, 2004 Chaine d'Or Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Stefania Haut Tubee, and 2006 Stefania Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. In addition I'll be clearing out the very, very last 2005 Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon for $45/bottle. There are only about 18 bottles left that I had held on to for restaurant reorders, but we're going to let those go.

There will be food and snacks for everyone and every hour I'll give a short 10 minute tour of the vineyard and talk about our farming practices and how they effect the final wine. We'll also have some of our 2006 and 2007 barrels available to taste. There is room for a picnic as well on the small hill by the crushpad. It can get chilly though so bring an extra layer if you plan on spending some time outside.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Racking the 07 Cabernets

We spent a long day yesterday racking our two Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignons.

Racking is the process of removing a wine from barrel, cleaning the barrel, then returning the wine back to barrel. We do this for three reasons. First it lets us get the 'gunk' out of the bottom of the barrel. The fine lees that have settled into the bottom of the barrel. These lees can develop amino acids called Mercaptans, that create off flavors, so best to remove them.

Second, and especially true with Cabernet Sauvignon, it's a chance to expose the wine to some oxygen. This helps with the softening of tannins, and makes the wine rounder and more enjoyable.

Finally, we use racking as an opportunity to make any sulfur additions that are needed. Sulfur acts as a preservative for wine and kills any bacteria. Some people add sulfur directly into the barrel, but this can cause problems. Sulfur doesn't really travel well, so if you add it to barrel, it tends to just sit in one place. By doing it when we rack we have a chance to stir it up and expose all the wine to it.

We had a rather complicated set of blending we were doing at the same time, and ended up using four tanks. The final result was seven barrels of Chaine d' Or Cabernet Sauvignon. Six barrels of Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, which contains fruit from the Harvest Moon Vineyard, Elandrich Vineyard and Chaine d'Or Vineyard. That blend is also about 10% Merlot, which has added some really nice cherry notes. Finally we ended up with one barrel of Haut Tubee. We'll combine this with 1-2 barrels of Syrah we have at Big Basin later and end up bottling about 75 total cases of Haut Tubee for 2007.