Monday, August 25, 2008


There's been talk and reports this year about a lot of 'shatter' in vineyards. What the heck is shatter? Basically it's the result or outcome of some problem at flowering that prevents individual grapes on a cluster from being pollinated. The end result is a stringy cluster with empty spots where there should be grapes.

The picture below is of a cluster at the Crimson Clover vineyard in Morgan Hill that has shatter. You can see that the cluster looks like it has missing spaces where there should be grapes.

The grapes can also get a condition called 'Chicken and Egg', or 'Hen and Egg'. I don't really know why it has that name, the name doesn't make sense, but what you end up with are some fully mature pollinated berries (chickens), and little hard un-pollinated green berries (eggs). We haven't really seen that this year, so no pictures of that. Maybe it's because pollinated eggs become chickens, but grapes never look like chickens. I think it's a silly term. There's a French term for the condition also, but I prefer to just say "poor fruit set'.

The next picture shows that this condition is pretty limited for us. You can see a few clusters on this vine have shatter. Most though are fine and healthy.

Basically anything that interrupts the flowering cycle will cause shatter. It can be frost, wind, too much heat, too much cold, shaking the plants, spraying while flowering is happening, or anything that keeps the pollen from hitting the flower.

The culprit in the Crimson Clover vineyard is wind. The vineyard is in a narrow valley in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains at about 300 feet. In the morning the fog burns back out of the valley, creating wind in a south eastern direction. In the afternoon the Santa Clara Valley heats up and draws cool wind down this little valley from the Ocean, shifting the wind to the opposite direction.

The final picture shows a vine at the boundary of the vineyard. At the south-eastern edge of the vineyard where this vine is located, the other vines can't break the wind. The result is that shatter is worse on the wind exposed edges of the vineyard. You can see the boundary fence in the background of this picture.

Overall though the impact is small for us. Yields go down a little, but we'll still get about 2-3 tons per acre from this site. The open clusters also help prevent mildew. Since the cluster is open to the air it's harder for mildew to start. It is also easier to get spray on the berries since they are not tightly spaced together. Finally, the lower yield helps concentrate ripeness and means less thinning for us.
Making wine in the Santa Cruz Mountains we expect some shatter every year, as it's usually windy, foggy, hot or cold at flowering. We account for it in our planning each year.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Training Camp

I really like red wine, red meat, and a big piece of sourdough bread covered with butter and olive oil. Combine that with a day job that mostly involves conference calls and emails and its easy to get a little out of breath hiking up the steep vineyard hills on weekends.

Last year before harvest though I knew I wasn't going to be able to do 15 and 16 hour days of hard activity with out a little prep work. Fortunately there is a little gym at work and I spent a lot of time on the Expresso Bike before harvest started. I felt pretty good as we went through harvest. I'd get tired for sure, but never exhausted.

This year I actually decided to start 'training camp' a little earlier, and Stefania joined in. For the next 6 to 8 weeks we'll be visiting the gym 3-4 times a week and trying to get in a long bike ride or hike on Sunday's. Harvest is a lot of work. The long days are all on your feet, and hiking through the vineyards. On a harvest day I may lift the 30 pound picking boxes 300-400 times in a day, including up over my head and into the crusher. It takes a lot of muscle stamina to keep doing that.

So that's what we'll be focusing on. Building stamina, repetitive strength and endurance. The Total time of harvest, from first pick through final pressing, will last about 10 weeks. It's a little bit like a football season. 6-8 weeks of 'camp', then 10-11 weeks of 'season'. There will be bumps and bruises along the way and at the end, we'll need a good rest!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dropping Fruit

Yesterday started very early. 6 AM we were up and ready to go. It was one of Stefania's new "winery work" days. She's now working 3 days a week at her day job and 3 days at the winery. We try and take Sunday's off, but we do work Saturdays.

Jerry and his wife Estella met us to drive down to the Crimson Clover vineyard in Morgan Hill. Estella is working for us about 30 hours a week now also. I had to get Stefania dropped off and get to work before a 9AM meeting. I needed to go out with them though to show them exactly what fruit I wanted dropped.
The Crimson Clover vineyard is four years old, and not all the plants are at the same maturity level in a young vineyard. That means we have to treat each vine individually and make sure it has the right amount of fruit on the vine. Too much and the fruit won't get ripe and the vine will be stressed. In old vineyards this is much less of a problem as old vines tend to find the right balance on their own over time. That's assuming you prune and care for it properly though.

Above you see our little crew getting started. I prefer to do this kind of detailed work with a small, highly skilled crew. The standard is to bring in a large group for day work, give simple instructions and set them loose. With a small crew though I can give detailed instructions and since they will return over and over to the vineyard, they'll get to learn the detail I'm after as I provide instruction and check on the work.

This is one of the problems we were trying to fix. The plant above is too small to carry all the fruit it has on it. It's healthy, and on track for a four year old vine, but this amount of fruit will not ripen properly, and will stress the vine too much this year, resulting in a weak vine next year.

We go about removing any clusters that are 'behind'. That means they are not all the way complete turning colors yet. We also remove clusters from weak shoots, that aren't at least 24 inches long. On the other shoots, we judge if the shoot is strong enough to carry one cluster or two. If it's only one, we remove the top or second cluster. We just leave the clusters on the ground to add their nutrients back into the soil.

This is the same vine after thinning and dropping fruit. You can see the load is much smaller, and this plant will be able to ripen this amount of fruit.

By the time we complete a row the ground is filled with discarded fruit. This is a hard trade off for many people to make. We're literally leaving money on the ground to rot. The trade off though is much, much higher wine quality. The sight is often shocking to both homeowners, and visitors to see so much fruit on the ground. In the end though we know it makes a better bottle of wine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Harvest Timing

After a very cool Spring and Early Summer, August has come with a mini-heat wave. It has not been super hot, just steady temps in the 90's for two weeks running.

Right now it looks like not only are we caught up from the cool Spring, we're actually ahead of schedule. That really doesn't mean much though right now. Last year it looked like we were two weeks ahead of schedule and then we had cool weather and some rain come in early October. Some people were worried it would ruin harvest. The grapes were not just ripe yet and if the cool rainy weather stayed, we'd have unripe grapes.

The weather cleared though around the 15th and we had 5 weeks of warm sunshine. We mostly harvested three weeks later, in the last week of October. So an 'early year', became a normal year. Maybe even a week later than normal.

In 2005 we thought we might have an early harvest, but everyone was worried that the plants were behind schedule. That may seem confusing, but what had happened was the grape sugars, were well ahead of flavor development and everyone worried they would have to pick before the grapes got ripe flavors because the sugars would be too high. Then September came and we had 9 weeks of mild, sunny weather. The rush, turned into harvesting at leisure.

This year a lot can still change things. But sitting here in mid August, looking at the grapes and starting to taste them, we may be 2-3 weeks earlier than the past few years. We'll wait and see though, nature has a away of making its own schedule.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Nets....

Last Friday we finished up netting at the Woodruff Family Vineyard. That's our biggest netting project with 8+ acres to cover. This week we moved on to the Arastradero Vineyard. That vineyard needed some thinning and a little spray. The winemaker getting fruit for it also wanted us to drop every shoot to just one cluster.

It took a day and a half to do the prep work and then two and a half days to do the nets. The vineyard is very steep, so even though it's only about 3/4 of an acre, it takes a long time to work the site compared to the flatter sites.

Monday we'll net at Chaine d'Or. That should only take one day since just the outside of the vineyard gets netted. One thing we've learned about netting is, once you do it, you don't need to do it. After a couple of seasons of netting, the birds seem to lose interest in the site and don't hang around anymore, or they take the route of their migration, since the food is gone. So despite netting only about 10% of Chaine d' Or we loose almost no fruit to the birds.

Later this coming week, we'll prep the Crimson Clover vineyard. Some fruit needs to get dropped. Here we'll take anything that is behind in turning colors and any fruit on plants that look overloaded. I don't personally like going to a one cluster per shoot approach. I know it's much easier to instruct a crew to do that, but I find that if you remove too much fruit from a strong plant, you send the plant back into a growth cycle. Then the plant is putting its energy into growing, instead of getting its fruit ripe. That can also lead to late mildew problems since the new growth is not sprayed.

It's more time consuming, and requires a more skilled crew, but I prefer to remove fruit on a plant by plant assessment. Stefania will be out with Jerry and the crew on Tuesday to teach them exactly how to do this. When they are done, we'll hedge any tall plants, spray any hot spots for mildew, and then net the vineyard. That will be our last one for summer to net.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Can you spare some wine?"

On each release I've set aside a pretty good chunk of the available cases for local events. I thought it was important to help us build a following here in the South Bay that we have wine to do things like trade shows, restaurant, and charity events.

On our first few releases I set aside 10 cases of each wine. On the spring release I set aside 25 cases of wine. It seemed like a lot, but we went through the 10 cases pretty fast last year. I enjoyed many of the events we did, especially a private dinner we cooked and paired wine at for a group called Friends of the Winemakers.

Lately though I've been swamped with requests for wine. The pitch is almost always the same: "This is a great opportunity for you to promote your wine." The thing is though, I'm finding out it's not. The guests at these events are never really there for the wine, and we get far better response when someone on our mailing list brings a bottle to a neighbor than we have from all these events. It's a great event for the restaurant or event to promote itself, and that's about it.

People ask us for a lot of wine. Usually they want us to pour or donate 4-10 bottles. That's $350 out of our pockets. That might not seem huge, but put dozens of those together and it is huge. Combine that with the trade off, $350 is a new bin, or 4 barrel racks, and those things we need right now. We're trying to make this a profitable business, and giving away wine isn't helping. We actually had one group ask us for four cases! $1600 and their offer to us was 'a mention in the event letter '. They were insulted when I told them we couldn't do that.

I guess part of it is people just assume wineries are swimming in money, and winery owners must have money to burn. We sure don't. Every dollar goes back into the winery and vineyards and this is not a profitable business yet. We still are putting our own savings in to cover costs.

Bottom line. I'm more worried about the bottom line now. I'm canceling some events we have scheduled and being much more picky about the ones we attend. I'm going to keep some Syrah for the Friends of the Winemakers event, and we'll keep some to pour at dinners we do with people on our mailing list. We enjoy those events. The other 10 cases we have left I'm going to offer out again on the Fall Release Letter. It makes so much more sense to get the wine to people who enjoy it than saving it for events where people don't care what they are drinking.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bird Netting Time

The worst, and I mean very worst by a good length, task we have to do every year is bird netting. Each August the grapes start to turn colors and finally add sugar and flavor.

The picture above shows Pinot Noir grapes at the Woodruff Family vineyard. The grapes are starting to turn pink, then red. When this happens, the birds start to feast on the grapes.

The only way to keep the birds out is to net the entire plant. I'm often asked about using noise makers, scarecrows, or the shiny tape people see in vineyards. The thing is, birds are pretty smart. The shiny tape only works on migrating birds. The glitter and color keeps them from landing in the vineyards. For birds who have been hanging around all year, the glittery tape makes a nice colorful addition to their nest building. They will remove it from the plants and use it to build nests.

Noisemakers work for a short time, but the birds soon figure out there is no real threat and learn to ignore it. Usually your neighbors learn to call the local police and complain faster than the birds learn to ignore the noise, but in either event, the results are the same.

Other sight devices like owls and scarecrows have the same effect. They work for a short time, even if you move them daily, but the birds figure it out well before harvest.

So we net. The birds will actually attack the nets trying to figure out a way in, so we have to make sure the nets are sealed up tight, and then we inspect them regularly through harvest. Above you can see Millie pulling the netting as Herrardo (Jerry B.) drives the tractor. The nets sit in a special bucket and a pulley system moves them over the plants. Two people have to then spread the nets over the plants.

There are a lot of reasons we all hate this tasks so much. First of all, most of it has to be done by hand. Even in the vineyards with tractors we have to pull, tie up and secure the nets by hand. This is a terrible dirty job. The nets have sat in storage all year and they are filthy, dirty and grimy. Your hands are black by the end of the day. Add to that, it's August. It's hot, very hot, and you are in the sun all day. You can't really wear good cover, or even much of a hat. Anything with buttons, or oversize will get snagged in the nets, so you have to stick with t-shirts, simple hats and maybe a mask. You need the mask because by August the vineyards are super dusty. All things together, it makes for a tough bunch of days.

Here you get a close up of the process. Millie is taking another batch of nets to load up and Jerry B. is running the net through the pulley. Jerry drives the tractor while Millie and I pull the nets. Stefania then comes along behind us and ties the nets up under the plants. During the week, Jerry's wife does the tie up and his brother helps with the net pulling.
We will end up netting about 12 of our 18 acres. The birds are pretty reluctant to fly deep into a vineyard with out having trees near by they can retreat too if they spot a snake or a hawk. Those vineyards that don't have a lot of tree cover only get netted around the edges. That's why you don't see nets as much in Napa or Sonoma. Since those areas tend to be much more open and with miles of vineyards, the birds don't have cover to hide in. The Woodruff Vineyard gets 100% netted as there are trees around almost the entire area.
When this finally wraps up, we usually have a good party to celebrate.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Tasting Notes

On the 19th we were in the cellar topping up wine and checking on each barrel.

Here are my notes from the day. These are the summary notes, rather than the individual barrel notes.

2006 Uvas Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Clara Valley (5 barrels @ 125 cases)

Deep red and ruby color. Nose of red Bing cherries, summer berries and ripe plums with a hint of mocha and spice. The wine is layered on the palate, with multiple layers of fruit and spice and an underlay of vanilla and toast. Flavors are well balanced and the tannins are ripe and long, promising a good 8+ years of ageing potential. Finishes fresh, clean and fruity.

To me this is a clear step up from the 2005 with more layers of fruit, depth, and texture while still reflecting the red fruit nose and ripe tannins of the site.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains. (4 barrels @ 100 cases)

Very dark red to almost purple with complete saturation. Nose of Eucalyptus, mint, summer herbs, fresh berries and ripe plum. The nose is not shy, it's unique, powerful and well defined. The only wine I can compare this to is the Cline Small Berry Mourvedre on the nose. Palate is plush and dense, a 'big boy' style Cabernet, with layered dark berry fruit, currant, cigar box and spices. The mint and Eucalyptus which is so forward on the nose, melds behind the fruit on the palate. Finishes long with great persistence.

This is my personal favorite. I haven't made another wine quite like this. I think this wine can age and evolve for 10+ years. There are a number of friends who had babies in 2006, and I'll be happy to give them bottles that should still show well on their kids 21st birthday.

2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains (2 barrels @ 50 cases / 25 will be available for sale)

Pale red, clear and bright. Nose of tart cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Some spicy vanilla comes out on the palate, with a little hint of fresh nuts, and that's the only minor clue that this wine has been in 50% new oak. Otherwise it's all cherry and raspberry fruit with some hints of plum and spice. Finish is clean and bright.

I think this wine will shock a lot of people. It looks like a light weight and smells so delicate, but carries a lot of flavor and density on the palate. I'm happy with this wine, I think it reflects the Tierra of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains very well.

2007 Haut Tubee, California (1 barrel, @ 25 cases)

Dark Purple. Nose is spicy, with herbs and red cherry fruit. Cherry, dark fruit and sweet summer plums on the palate. This wine is a bit of a monster right now. Showing a little heat and massive tannins. Finishes hard and massive.

This wine needs a racking to soften the tannins, and will eventually be blended with 2 barrels of Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah to round it out and soften it. Should be a good follow up to the 06.

2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (6 barrels @ 150 cases / Elandrich vineyard, Harvest Moon vineyard, Chaine d'Or vineyard)

Very dark to purple. Nose of cigar, peppercorn, cherry and fresh plum fruit. Round, juicy and layered on the plate with notes of red and black fruit, spices, pepper, currant and cedar. Tannins are long and in need of racking.

This wine is not as dense as the 06 version due to the higher percentage of the more red fruit dominate Elandrich vineyard. Evolving nicely, this should turn into a well layered, and long lasting classic SCM Cabernet.

2007 Chaine d'Or Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains (7 barrels @ 175 cases)

Very dark, purple notes, darkest wine I've made at this point. Nose of muted fruit, pepper, spice, cherry and plum, with a floral quality that's surprising given the color. Round, soft with big ripe tannins. Fruit is layered behind those tannins right now, this will need 18 months in barrel. Finishes with spice, berry and mocha. Classic, classic Cabernet Sauvignon.

I've upped the new oak on this a bit with a racking we did and it's now in 4 new barrels and 3 old. I think this fruit needs the new oak to soften and layer. It sure can stand up to it, it's hard at this point to pull any oak flavors out.

I left a sample for Anne and Jerry Anderson who had made the previous vintages since 1990. Here's Jerry's notes:

"Here are my (and Anne’s) thoughts:

Lovely garnet color, still a little purpley which will go away with age. Obvious floral flavors, possibly from the barrel – don’t recall these ever before. Good structure. Typical CdO taste with subtle tobacco, leather, hints of restrained fruit, not excessive, more in the European tradition. Mature vine berry flavor without being pruney, hot weather or over ripe.

Fingers crossed, this wine should be spectacular."