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.