Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Recent Tasting Notes

I know this is the time of year when a lot of wine gets opened. It's probably a good time to review how some of our previous vintages are coming along now.

One of the best sources is Cellartracker:

Here are thoughts on some things we've opened in the last month:

2007 Haut Tubee - California

Really spicy and rich. Think this would go really well right now with stews or roasted meats. I think this wine will actually keep for a bit and if you don't get to it this winter, it will hold fine for a few years.

2006 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah - Mendocino County

Getting an 'old world' nose. I've seen it in a few tasting notes online that people mistake this wine for something from the Northern Rhone in blind tastings. Makes me think serving it with mushrooms is a good idea. Still floral and fruity but with a great 'funk'.

2007 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah - Mendocino County

This has been slow to develop the floral nose of the 05 and 06, but it's coming out now. Richer textured than the 06 I think this will age longer. I'm putting ours aside until spring and lamb season.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Cruz Mountains

Still very plush and complex I think this wine should do well and continue to develop for many years. We continue to get notes from people on this wine and how much they enjoy it.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Uvas Creek Vineyard - Santa Clara Valley

A real crowd pleaser. I think we knew from the moment we processed the grapes this would be a 'showy' wine. It's bigger and darker than the 05 and 06. Stefania got a note this week from someone who told us this went up against a line up of much more expensive Cabernet's and finished second overall to a Shafer Hillside Select ($225). This is a pretty powerful wine, I like to have it with beef.

2008 Chardonnay Chaine d'Or Vineyard - Santa Cruz Mountains

I agree this is still coming together. We really wanted to get it out for crab season and we probably rushed it. Next year we may hold it until the Spring for release. Lots of people enjoying this with rich seafood dishes and Stefania has a recipe that was sent to us she keeps promising to post up. I think serving this with food really brings out its best.

We haven't had a Pinot Noir in a long time, or any of the 05's. Next time we check on those I'll update here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hiatus Endus

We haven't really been on hiatus or taking vacation, but this time of year the vineyards need no work, and the wine just needs a little gentle care. It's a time to rest and catch up on paperwork and bills, and all the other things we put aside for two months of harvest.

The first week of January the moon will be in the right phase, and we'll be back at work pruning vines. Until then we'll still be laying low, visiting with friends and family and avoiding shopping malls at all costs.

I thought a good way to get back into write would be to post some thoughts on a few wines we've had over the last few days.

Monday night we went to Holly and Noelle's to watch the Sharks and Monday Night Football. It could have been a little battle over what to watch, but football was a blow out and the hockey game won out.

We started with a 2001 Ridge Monte Bello that Millie brought with her. This was a big rich Cabernet, still dark and showing no signs of being 8 years old. The nose was rich with berry fruit, and strong notes of new oak. The wine was rich, dense and packed with flavor. The tannins were a bit gritty, almost over ripe, but were not falling apart in anyway. I find that in a lot of Napa Cabs these days, the tannins are so ripe that they just don't hold together on the finish as the wine ages. This wasn't the case at all, just an angular feel on the finish. I know Monte Bello fans would say it's too soon to drink this wine but it was very enjoyable. 93 points now, but I think a future of 95+.

The next wine up was a 2001 Chateau Rol Valentin St Emilion , Bordeaux. I really like the 2001 vintage in Bordeaux. It was good, but overlooked and the prices have stayed low. It was hard to find at retail, and is even harder now at auction to find. Most of the wine stayed in Europe. The French feel that Americans will only buy the 'super' vintages like 2000 , 2003 and 2005 so they don't import, 'useful' vintages like 2001.

Why is it 'useful'? The wines are very good, but not super concentrated. They won't take 15-20 years to be enjoyable. They will be wines you can enjoy while you wait on the super vintages. In that way they are 'useful'. With the exuberance of the Bush/Paris Hilton years, Americans wanted huge and flashy, not enjoyable and good value. Bummer, we missed out on some really good wines in 2001. I bought what I could then and still pick them up now when I see them.

The wine was starting to show some mature colors, a limpid red. The nose was expressive and complex, with tons of mature fruit and spice. Very well balanced, not heavy and the tannins were enjoyable. Lots of complex red and black fruit with a super long finish. 92 points for me, and I bought this for $30. Still pops up at auctions for $35- $40. A really nice wine.

Tuesday night Stefania and I opened two bottles and made pasta with a bison-tomato sauce and fresh bread Stef had made that day.

First up was a 2001 Yann Chave Hermitage. We bought this wine before the big critics discovered Yann Chave. Now we don't even see it offered for sale, much less available for the $35 we paid for this bottle. The wine was dark and the nose was wild. Feral, furry, animal, iron, and a bit of corral at Grandma's ranch, not for the weak of knees. I've had a fair amount of ageing Hermitage, and it will get these wild animal smells. The palate was deep and rich and the dark berry fruit came out from the wild game notes. Perfectly balanced tannin and acid kept everything together. After about 45 minutes the wild nose tamed and tons of dark rich plum and berry fruit dominated. The finish on the wine went on and on. I'd say this is 94 points, and will be best from 2015-2025. We have about 20 more bottles.

Next we went to a 2001 Antinori Brunello di Montalcino Pain delle Vigne. This is one of Stef's favorite wines, but I pulled this bottle from my side. Brunello's can be monolithic when they are young, so this was a bit of a gamble. The wine smelled fantastic though in the decanter, with red fruit and flowers. In the mouth it was silky and perfectly balanced with more red fruit, plum and spice. Still 'young' and not fully mature, but passed the bratty stage it was very enjoyable and one of the best 2001's I've opened. 93 points now, sure to go up in the future.

No idea what we'll drink tonight, but it will be hard to keep up with Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Worst Present

Tis the season for the stories of gift giving.

Best gift, worst gift, etc.

I'm only going to admit this once, so pay attention.

I did once give the very worst gift - only I didn't really know it at the time that it would end up to be so ironic.

First the excuses; I was young (22ish?). I was making $8.25/hour. It was a gift to a co-worker.

And some background; One of my all time favorite places to shop was and still is Cost Plus.
The Co-worker was very much into wine and fine wines. This is going to end badly.

The finale;

I gifted two bottles of wine to said co-worker; A Reindeer White and Reindeer Red.

So, Gary, if you have found me online after all these years. I am sorry. I really am a weenie for gifting you two bottles of cheap wine.

Is there a moral to the story? Yeah, there is - no matter how much you like or dislike the people you work with, never, ever, ever, buy them cheap wine. One day you might end up being a winemaker and regret the gift you gave.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Coldest Job in the Winery.

There's a beautiful three ton capacity stainless steel tank at Chaine d'Or.

We hardly ever use it. Anne and Jerry used it for fermentation of their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and again for prep for bottling. I use it to settle the Chardonnay but prefer to use the inside tanks for bottling and finishing the Chardonnay. For red wines we usually use Macro T-Bins.

The T-Bins have fallen a bit out of favor recently because they are so small, but for the room we have they are perfect. I can fit them through the cellar doors if I need to , and larger bins won't fit. They also fit on the upper crush pad area, where bigger bins would not fit on the cement pad. The best thing though is that the are relatively low so Stefania can reach over and do punchdowns with out getting on a ladder. They are also pretty easy for us to keep cool, clean, and sealed, so almost all our fermentations are done in them.

This year though for the Harvest Moon fermentation I decided to use the three ton tank. Here's an older picture of me checking on Chardonnay must going into it:

I decided to use the tank because the harvest was so late and we'd be fermenting into late November. I knew it would get cold, and that temperature control would be critical. It's easier to heat up the big tank than the smaller plastic T-bins. It did get cold, and we did drag out the heat lamps to heat up the tank and keep fermentation temps between 60-70 degrees.

Yesterday though I knew would be one of the most painful unhappy days in the winery. Fermentation was done and it was time to press the wine. That means transferring the juice and must from the tank to the press.

The first part is pretty easy. You hook up the pump to the tank and start pumping the juice out into the press. Eventually though the pump just can't move any more must. The solids are too solid to make it through the pump and that means someone has to climb in the tank and hand buckets out.

Get any illusions of I Love Lucy out of your head. This isn't a warm Italian countryside, or a Hollywood set. It was 44 degrees outside when we arrived at the winery yesterday morning. The temperature on the tank was reading 52, and it fell quickly as we got the juice out into the press to 48. This is a job for the tallest person in your crew. That's me.

Off came my boots, my warm socks, and my jeans. I'd selected an old pair of boxers for the morning because I knew this task was ahead. And I climbed in. The must was just above my knees, and 48 degrees. It took about 30 minutes to empty the tank one 5 gallon bucket at a time. Just to add to the misery, that's about 40 pounds, lifted over your head, about 180 times.

Those gym trips this summer paying off again. I was tired, arms got sore and my back felt it, but worst of all was feeling my feet get numb. I have to climb back out of the tank also, I don't fit through the door. Stef had towels out and a warm bucket of water waiting for me. I dried back off and got dressed and we finished the days tasks.

The pressing went fine and we transferred about 5 barrels worth of wine to the inside tank to settle. We also prepped all the barrels we will need to fill on Tuesday. Jerry did most of the cleaning outside and I got some barrels moved inside. (more heavy lifting).

We got home about 3:30. I never felt warm again the rest of the day. We started a fire, and I wore socks to bed, but my feet still felt cold all night. Finally this morning they felt better. It feels good though to know that we've got just 5 more barrels to fill and we can call the harvest season over. Just in time for Thanksgiving and a chance to warm back up before pruning season starts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Follow up on Hiring

I've heard from a number of people who are wondering if we're interested in setting something up in their city or when we're thinking of expanding into their city.

Maybe a little back story is needed here. I've had a lot of people in the industry wonder why in the world we're even trying to do retail and restaurants. Basically they'd love to be in the position we are of selling most of our wine direct and of selling out before its time for the next release. For many, many wineries, this is where they are trying to get to.

One reason we have focused on selling locally is that we're local. That might sound funny, but it's the best way I can think of to say it. We live here, and do charity events here and have friends and family here. We really would like to be able to send people to a wine shop or restaurant to try our wine. We want to be a part of the community here and show our commitment to being a local winery.

The second huge reason is maybe best summed up as the 'eggs in one basket' strategy. From the moment we wrote the first business plan our plan was to have a mix of both direct and wholesale business. I thought it was a risky plan to put all out effort in one sales channel. What if something happened to that channel? What if we couldn't ship, or some prohibitive tax was put in place? I wanted to be able to have another channel available.

The funny thing is the channel that's collapsed in the past year is the wholesale one, the one we're trying to get into. Distributors are going out of business, brokers are cutting back, retailers are going down market. Wineries who had all their eggs in the wholesale basket are in serious trouble and trying to get a direct market established. So it was the right plan, just a bit backwards.

I still think it's important though, and we still want to get that market going, we've just decided it's best to do it ourselves. One of the things that was a bit shocking in the distributor world was how little the sales people really knew or even cared about wine. When their accounts suddenly got difficult, they had no idea how to open new ones, or even how to sell to their existing ones. Their only response has been 'lower prices'.

I've worked with sales in my day job for 20+ years, and I KNOW, that any sales guy who opens with 'lower prices' as a plan when faced with a tough sale or an obstacle basically sucks. No better way to say it. Want to find a bad sales guy? Find one who wants to lower prices. (Another sign of a looser is someone who wants to give away maintenance, but that's another rant)!

So we're going to find our own sales guy or gal. We're going to give them 100% of our support and get them going. When we have them off the ground, we'll evaluate other cities. Right now the hardest part of expanding is licensing in other states. It's no small task, and we don't want to dilute our efforts by distracting time and resources on that just yet.

If you want to take our wine around and show it, that's great, that's how we get most of our business. If there's a restaurant or retailer that wants it, we can figure out some way to get it to them. But for now our focused efforts are going to be on the Bay Area.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We're Hiring

One of our goals for 2009 was to establish a presence in the local market here in the South Bay. We tried a couple of local distributors, but were not happy with the results and I fired the second one on October 1st.

Rather than try a third, we decided to do it ourselves. We hold a type 17 and type 20 permit from the State which allows us to wholesale our wine directly. We're going to do that. Our biggest draw back has been neither Stefania or I have sales experience and we both have very limited time with everything else going on.

If you know anyone who is interested please have the reply to the listing above.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Getting in Barrel

We spent all day yesterday in the winery getting several wines into barrel. Today we went back for a few hours to finish up some minor tasks and do a punch down on the last wine we still have fermenting.

First up for today was to totally fill the Chardonnay barrels. As the Chardonnay is fermenting it creates a lot of gas, and bubbles so if you filled the barrels completely wine would explode out the top. As fermentation slows down you keep adding a little more wine until it's completely done, then you top off the barrel.

We used this wine to top up the last air space in the barrels. If you've been following since September, then the wine, finally looks like wine!

I've started to do a lot of my topping the really, really old fashioned way. Today we use a lot of air systems to fill barrels, either pumps or nitrogen systems (same tanks used for soda and beer). The last few times I've topped I've done it with a bucket, a funnel, a hose and gravity. No real reason for this other than it seems to create less mess, and also seems gentle on the wine.

Here is the Chardonnay in glass. It sill needs some aging, and we will fine it to get it a little clearer, but it's really wine now.

Yesterday we put three different wines into barrel. The 2009 Haut Tubee went into one two year old Burgundy barrel. The 2009 Splir Rail Syrah went into a one year old Ermitage barrel and a one year old Seguin Moreau Burgundy barrel. The 2009 Chaine d'Or Estate Cabernet Sauvigon went into 3 new French Sequin Moreau Bordeaux barrels, a one year old Sequin Moreau and a two year old Sequin Moreau. We were only expecting to fill four barrels so the fifth was a happy surprise.

Stefania would not look up for the picture, but here she is prepping a Burgundy barrel. Before they are used they have to be filled about 1/3 with water so they will swell back up and hold wine. It's a lot of muscle in the process, first you stand it on it's end (they weigh 100 pounds empty and about 250 pounds when 1/3 filled with water). Then after 30-40 minutes you roll the barrel over onto its other end. Finally you flip it on it's side and let the area by the bung swell up. When the barrel stops leaking, its ready.

I took this picture so everyone would know what I mean when I say 'Ermitage'. It's the brand of barrel. They are 3 year air dried French barrels that are supposed to go very well with Syrah.

This is kind of another random picture. Last year our friend Jay asked us what we do for temperature control during fermentation. I looked at him like he was speaking Greek. I think and he could tell I had a confused look on my face.

"Nothing", I said.

We don't have to in general. The location of the winery and angle of the crushpad combined with the small lots we do means the wine stays between 65-75 degrees while fermenting without any additional effort on our part. Sometimes we might get a reading in the low 80's when fermentation is going really strong but in general we worry about too cold not too hot.

We do have a chiller if anything gets to warm, but it just never happens. More often I'm worried about it being too cold and we have to haul out some heat lamps and put them around the tanks to get them warmed up. That's pretty unique in California, most wineries have to worry about temperature control, but our location is very unique.

Another random picture. My boots as harvest season closes out. They are stained purple now from pressing wine. I actually wear slippers while driving and put the boots on at the winery. They are too dirty to drive in or wear in the house. This isn't a minor expense. I need size 15 boots, and finding a good waterproof pair that also fits the three toes on my left foot that don't bend anymore is very hard. I usually have to buy a new pair each year at $150-$200.

I took these two pictures for Dan and Therese Martin to show them how small our crush pad area is. We had to break up our harvest of grapes from them into two different days and I wanted to show them why I couldn't process everything in one day.

We're coming down the home stretch now, and Stefania says she'll get some more pictures up soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


This is really when fatigue sets in for us. We've been going now for 2 months solid, and things that are not 100% essential just seem to fall off the radar. We're still getting the dishes done, and the bed made, but after that, a lot of things are 'extra' and just have to wait. That's why we've had so few blogs lately.

Here's were we are at though this morning.

The Chardonnay is in barrel, 100% topped up and we've started the routine of stirring the lees every two weeks. We're not sure if has completed Malolactic yet, we'll have to send off for a lab test in another few weeks. There are 5 full barrels plus about 20 gallons of topping wine. We should end up with just about 120 cases when we are all done!

The Crimson Clover Cabernet Sauvignon is also in barrel. Right now it's in one new barrel, one old barrel and about 2/3 of another new barrel with the rest topped with Argon. We'll transfer that 2/3 of a barrel into one smaller size barrel on Saturday. This has turned out really well so far, and we're super excited by this vineyard. It's our second harvest from the site and it looks like a star.

Tuesday we pressed the last of the Haut Tubee, the Chaine d'Or Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the Split Rail Vineyard Syrah.

There's now enough Haut Tubee to fill a barrel and we will but it in an older Burgundy barrel. The other two wines are settling in tank now, letting the chunks fall to the bottom. We've been surprised by the aromatics of the Split Rail and think this vineyard is a keeper. The Chaine d'Or Cabernet looks like it will yield 4-5 barrels and it also has a great nose right now and seams very well balanced.

Today Stefania will be in the winery getting barrels ready and on Saturday we will go back up and transfer all those wines into barrel. That will leave us just about two tons of Harvest Moon Cabernet Sauvignon fermenting right now. That fermentation is moving along now but it's very cool, just 60 degrees so it may take a couple more weeks.

We should be back to a more normal routine soon, and hopefully a chance to catch up and get a little rest. We like all the wines we've made this year and think 2009 looks like it will be a very nice vintage for us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank You Veterans

We appreciate all veterans; Past, Present & Future.
Thank you for your service and courage.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

There is No "Normal" This Time of Year

A "Normal" day isn't possible this time of year. Just when you think things are wrapping up, another crush.

I was supposed to finish up shipping orders this week, but instead we rushed off to rent a U-haul pick-up truck this morning then headed right to the winery to prep for crush tomorrow. The winery is 45 minutes north of home, the vineyard we are picking up grapes from is 30 minutes south of home. So...all the way up to the winery for prep, then all the way back down the valley to drop off bins. Makes for a long day, especially with the time change...seems like it gets dark around 3pm.

I can also tell when Paul is tired and still trying to post Blogs to keep everyone looped in to the goings on at the winery this time of year. Here a typo, there a typo...I'm not going to correct them now.

New Orleans was a blast, I have photos I want to post as well. Ingrid was very generous with her wine(s) that we shipped to ourselves for 'wine hour' in the courtyard of the rental. I was away the following weekend during the cabernet harvest to see friends in New Mexico. My best friends husband surprised her with a "proper" engagement ring (they've been married since 1990) and to reassert his love and devotion to her. The catch: Those of us that traveled to be there as part of the surprise, had to ride the tram to the top of Sandia Peak, 2.7 miles, UP.

I'm glad I did it, but I will admit I was nervous about it. I also have photos from that to share.

We hosted a small pumpkin carving party before Halloween and kudos to my mother in laws boyfriend Bill, he brought me wallboard cutting tools to use and they were perfect!! Yes, I have pumpkin pictures too somewhere I need to pull. I told you, it's not a normal time of year, it's very moment-to-moment.

To recap today: I did get another 15 boxes delivered to UPS for shipping, picked up the rental truck and a pallate jack, lunch at La Penita (beer and tacos), then I took Brix readings of the wines fermenting now (syrah, estate cabernet, haut tubee blends). Paul moved the crusher/destemmer and pump and hoses, I stirred the lees in the chardonnay barrels, we hooked up the equipment, then I washed the big tank that is outside and prepped it for get the idea, it's a long complicated day and it didn't involve a single paper jam at the copier or a TPS report.

At Martin Ranch we were greeted by a sticky and tired Therese. Her first words were, I wish I wasn't in this business on days like today!!! We all laughed and agreed that harvest and crush are brutal. I said I liked it better when this was Paul's hobby and not my job!!!

I am going to make sure we arrive early enough tomorrow so that I can pick the prickly pears and get some margaritas going this weekend. That was the old routine, Paul did all the work, I futzed around with cactus fruits...

I'll see about photos tomorrow from crush and other non-sense I've rambled about.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chaine d' Or Cabernet Harvest

We still have grapes to come in from Martin Ranch but this was our last pick up the year. Sunday morning we got started at 7:30 on the 1+ acre of Cabernet Sauvignon at Chaine d'Or. Cabernet grapes have tough skins so they made it through the two rain storms just fine. In fact some shrivel I was starting to see before the rain actually went away after the rain.

We had a small but highly experienced crew. There were just nine of us total, but everyone was a veteran of many picks. We actually were done picking and had all the bins washed by 11:15. Red grapes are easier to see in the canopy and picking goes faster with them than Chardonnay.

Part of why we went so fast was the result of the storms. The picture below might look like we went through and leaf pulled the vines but we did not. The storms removed all the dried lower leafs from the plants exposing the grapes to one last dose of sun for two weeks. Nature really is amazing. Just what the plants needed after moister was direct exposure to the sun to dry out and ripen.

Most harvest crews are paid by the bin. $2 a bin is typical and a good picker can make $80-$100 in 6 hours. I don't like to do that though because I think it makes things more difficult in the field, at the crusher and actually slows things down a great deal. Ultimately I think it lowers wine quality.

By paying by the hour I'm able to get people on the crew to make sure bins are in place and move smoothly to the crush pad. Everyone will also stop and take water and food breaks and pass water bottles around. This makes it less hectic for everyone.

There are three really huge advantages though:

First the crews will work down a row together. One person working each side of the row. This speeds everything up a great deal as you don't have to reach through the wires to get at clusters on the opposite side of the plant. I would guess it goes 50% faster this way. When being paid by the bin, pickers don't like to share plants, it's like sharing money.

Second the pickers are very careful about keeping their bins clean. Everything is sorted out in the field this way and no leafs, bugs, sticks, clippers, water bottles, green cards or other things I see on sorting lines get into the bins. Everyone knows I want clean bins and that's what they do. When being paid by the bin pickers just go so fast the bins get full of leafs and debris.

Finally by paying by the hour, and with an experienced crew, you can do quality control in the field. When paid by the bin, crews will pick everything. Every cluster, good or bad goes in, that's what they get paid by. Volume is important, not quality. You then have to sort out all the bad stuff at the crusher, delaying the grapes and risking warming them up, getting bees, or even getting some rot or spoilage.

Our crew knows what kind of grapes I'm after and they don't pick any clusters that have problems. The picture below is of a vine that's already been picked. You can see all the grapes gone from the bottom of the plant, but the crew has left an unripe secondary cluster still in place. They know that's not a good cluster, and they don't pick it.

The final result is perfect grapes going into the bins. This year we even had Jerry's son checking bins to make sure no bees were in them. If he heard a bee we took the bin off the tractor and shook it until the bee flew off. We are really fanatics now about bees after reading that it's likely bee contamination that causes some people to get headaches and allergic reaction to red wine.

The final results were just under two tons of grapes, 3630 pounds or about 1 3/4 tons per acre. We had been worried before the storms as Brix was reading 25 and the flavors were not ready yet, but the rain helped. Here's a reading on Bin #2

The finally readings were Bin #1 = 23.75 Brix, Bin #2 23.50 Brix. This means the wine should finish at about 13.0 - 13.5% alcohol. You can see the color extraction is already starting in the juice. I added a little bit of yeast food to the bins and then we cleaned them spotless on the insides, covered them and wrapped them in plastic (more bee protection). They will now sit and we wait for fermentation to start.

We'll do 100% native/wild yeast fermentation again on this lot, just like we do with all out wines.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Back to work.

Vacations never last long :)

We had continued the daily routine of punch downs and checks on the fermenting wine with Millie and Jerry doing the assistant winemaker duties while we were away. Saturday we were back at it again.

This year we bought 1 1/2 tons of Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah from Ian Brand. I worked with Ian while he was at Big Basin Vineyards and he manages this 17 year old vineyard. We'll see how the fruit turns out this year. It may go into the Haut Tubee or if it turns out well I'll bottle it on its own.

This is all the area we have to process fruit. Millie, Jerry, Ysidro and I handled just over a ton. The yield was a little light, just about 1.5 tons on the 1/2 acre site and Ian had promised 750 pounds to someone else. I was happy with how the fruit looked after processing and it's now in a bin waiting for the wild yeast to start fermenting it.

It was also time to press the Crimson Clover Cabernet Sauvignon and two batches of the Haut Tubee. We used the big press for the Crimson Clover. This is the juice coming out 'free run' from the press before we actually turn it on and start to squeeze the grapes. I usually press very lightly. The yields are so low in all our vineyards that I don't want to force out tannins from seeds. The grapes have enough flavor due to the small yields without pressing hard.

You want to keep enough juice in the tray that you don't risk spoiling it with oxygen. This is a pretty good amount. The wine is then pumped inside to another tank to settle for 24-48 hours before going into barrel. While I watched after the press Stefania got the barrels ready. The juice smelled and tasted fantastic and I think the Crimson Clover vineyard will become a favorite of a lot of people.

We had just about 40 gallons of Haut Tubee to do so I did that in a small wooden press instead of the big bladder press. It seemed like most of the day was spent cleaning up as the bins, both presses, barrels, fermentation bins and tanks all had to be cleaned. We also had to set up the crusher for the next day and prep the bins for our next pick.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Some Random Photo's from New Orleans.

We had a fantastic trip. Thursday the 16th when we arrived was very hot and humid, but the other days where great. The 17th was our anniversary and the 19th was my birthday. We came back on the 20th.

For everyone who thinks I never leave the French Quarter, I took this waiting for the street car in the Garden district after visiting Magazine Street and walking the Garden District a bit.

Our friends Ingrid, Amber, Bill and Yukari came along this time for the trip. We rented a small condo At Dauphine and Orleans in the heart of the quarter. It was a perfect location. The condo was a converted slave quarters with a great court yard. Every afternoon we had 'wine hour' for everyone.

Stef and I had at least one meal each day at Coop's Place. Monday night for my birthday I wanted their fried chicken and Jambalaya. We also had a great dinner at GW Fins Friday night and Dickie Brennan's on Saturday. Pizza at the LPK and oysters at the Bourbon house were some other stops we made again.

Stef and I also got to visit with friends we've made over the years and catch up. It seems like every year we spend less time walking around and seeing things and more time catching up with people we haven't seen in a year. Here I am relaxing in the courtyard before going out for the night.

This was breakfast one morning. Pralines and Sauternes. I love pralines!

And I think we had a total of just two hurricanes this trip.

This trip is always a highlight of the year and I'm glad we got to get away from harvest for just a bit again to enjoy New Orleans.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Terms from Stefania's Post

These are some terms we use from time to time. For winemaking veterans they are familiar but I we though it would be worth going through a few of them:

punch downs - During fermentation of red wine the solids in the vat (grapes and clusters) get pushed to the top of the liquid by the CO2 created during fermentation. In order to keep that 'cap' from drying out we take a tool and 'punch down' the cap back into the liquid 1-3 times per day. Since the color and flavor is also in the solids and the alcohol in the juice helps extract these, it also helps with flavors.

taking readings - we check during fermentation to see how much of the sugar still needs to be converted to alcohol. We may also check the pH and TA of the wine.

carboy - 5 gallon glass container

The bottom quarter of the carboy is mostly solid gunk, and on top of that an almost equal amount of wine. -This is called 'falling clear' a term we may use from time to time.

lees - the solid bits left in the juice from fermentation, and pressing. They will 'fall clear' over time.

stainless tank - We use stainless steel tanks of different sizes in the winery. Stainless steel is ideal because it is easy to clean and flavor neutral.

stuck wine - It's rare, but sometimes fermentation can stop with sugar still in the wine. The wine is then 'stuck'. The danger is that bad yeast, bacteria and other yucky things can start feeding on the sugar and ruin the wine.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cabernet Ripening - Chardonnay Carboy Pics

While Paul was at the day job today, I was at the winery doing punch downs and taking readings of the cabernet. We're getting close. I turned on the water for a couple of hours and will turn it on again this Saturday.

I yelled at the pups to stop eating the grapes off the vine, you can see how well that worked out...Ghillie gave me a sideways glance and went right back at it. Up the hill from where I was standing was a pile of grape barf. Tis the season...

And updates on the Chardonnay carboy: The explosive fermentation has mellowed out and now it's gently burbling. You can see the sediment line as the juice is starting to fall clear. The bottom quarter of the carboy is mostly solid gunk, and on top of that an almost equal amount of wine.

For those of you just tuning in to the chardonnay storyline here and the carboy pics, let me explain. Last year was our first vintage making white wine. The process is quite different than red winemaking. One thing for certain is that you want to have enough lees to keep fermentation bubbling along. Well, in a big stainless tank, you can't really see how many lees you have left behind, it's a guess based on what you watched pump through the hoses. So last year, we set aside a carboy, like the one above, with extra lees in case we needed to add them. The last thing you want is a "stuck" wine.
This year I put the extra lees in the carboy just for photo-ops. So we could have the photos to go along with the dialog.
If I can talk him into it, I'll have Paul do a follow up blog on the terminology I used. I'm more interested in taking the pictures and drinking the wine...which is chilling now, the 2008 that is. ;-)

Catching up on Winery Work.

We've actually been pretty busy this past week with a big party and lots of work in the winery. Both Stefania and I have been so tired that 9:30 is a late night. Things are going well though and moving along just fine.

Monday we were in the winery to move Chardonnay from tank to barrel. I start fermentation in tank so we can control the temperature better. Cool fermentations mean more peach, pear and fig flavors in the finished wine. The risk is that when fermentations start, they get hot pretty fast and that can lead to tropical fruit flavors I don't want.

Once fermentation gets going the temperatures level out some and we can keep it in the 60 degree range in the barrel. So once the Brix drops to about 15-17 we chill the wine down to 45 degrees and transfer to barrel.

Here's another picture of 'gross lees' as the tank empties and the liquid is gone.

This is the 'baby poop' Stef talks about. We actually want some lees in the barrels so it's a bit tricky to get the juice mixed up in the tank.

This is how I do it now. Hoses to no where. I hook the pump up to both valves on the tanks. This lets me give the wine a good stir and get the lees even as they go into barrel. Otherwise the last couple of barrels filled up will have all the lees, and we want them to be even in each barrel. I also add a starter for the Malolactic fermentation at this stage. It's a little cool for it at first but our hope is to get both fermentations done together so I can add sulfur to the wine as soon as it goes into the final barrels.

Here's an update on our exploding carboy!

This isn't as hard as topping barrels usually is since each barrel will just be filled about 2/3. More than that and the exploding that's been going on in the carboy will happen in barrel and throw 'baby poop' all over the winery.

As fermentation slow and reach the end I'll start moving wine from barrel to barrel, filling up as we go. By the time the wine is done each remaining barrel should be full. For now the CO2 from fermentation is protecting the wine from O2. When fermentation stops though we'll want the barrels totally filled, and then add sulfur to protect the wine from infection.

And here's the traditional cellar works drink:

An Abita Turbodog to get us ready for New Orleans!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Domesticity - Rugs - Harvest Party ReCap

Paul always enjoys my multiple personalities this time of year...I vacillate between TomBoy Dirty Winemaker and Domestic (OCD) Goddess.

After long hours of dirty grubby work, I like to dress up for date night. I like to put on a touch of make up and earrings, even if we're headed out for a quick bite to eat at the local sushi bar.

Today, I'm somewhere in between while I catch up on housekeeping. The Harvest Party and Grape Stomp last weekend was a huge success, but there is still plenty to clean up. I moved the white sheepskin rug back in front of the fireplace for the season and had Kathy help me move the dining room rug back into place. (My dining room rug made the gallery pages at )

The rug was custom made by Ronda Rose in New Orleans. We'll be seeing her and Walt next week while we are there. They hosted Paul and I last year in their downstairs apartment in the French Quarter and were absolutely wonderful to us.

Paul always poses the same question to me before an event, "how would you react if someone spilled red wine on your rug?" and that's when I make the decision to remove it. When there are more than ten people for dinner I get a little antsy about the spills.

As luck would have it, the only red wine spilled at the last event was outdoors - no worries there. And the only broken stem was while we were washing and drying, amazing!

This year I partnered with SMUM, a local charity that serves the San Jose community. I collected $10 donations during the Harvest Party for their Warm Hearts project that provides sleeping bags for the homeless. We collected $370, a fantastic amount. THANK YOU!

We stomped some grapes, had some great eats, watched the Sharks game, and danced til midnight...don't tell Mom, but there was cigar smoking out back too.

I'll be headed back to the winery for punch downs again and will let Paul update the progress on winemaking.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

More of the Day to Day

I took this picture as we were leaving. It was about 7PM. The moon was up and the sun is still shinning on Monte Bello Ridge across Portola Valley from us. We still had sun in the lower section of the vineyard but the upper section was dark.

Fermentation started going full speed on the Chardonnay. This is the tank inside. The temperature had gotten up to 65 degrees.

This is the scary froth that worried Stefania so much last year. It also is a little stinky as it bubbles. We have been having so issues with the chiller for the tanks and had to sit and wait to make sure everything was working. The temperature dropped to 62 while we waited and was at 55 by 11PM. This morning we will turn it back off. We're trying to keep it right around 55-60 degrees.

Looks like Hefewiezen, but it's Chardonnay. It tastes really good right now very sweet with apple and peach flavors.

And this is what's going on with the carboy!

It's hard to not think 'baby poop'. It bubbled over yesterday afternoon. I had to remove the lock and clean it out, then I poured off a little of the gunk so it won't be so explosive. Then scrub the floor with soda ash.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Day to Day Work

Now that the Cabernet Sauvignon from Crimson Clover is in bin and the Chardonnay is in tank, it's pretty routine work for us. Right now we have Jerry going up in the morning to do punch downs and we go in the afternoon.

The first thing we check on is the Chardonnay. It has started to ferment, although very slowly right now. We check the temperature as we want it to stay right around 60 degrees. We also test the Brix level to see how much sugar has been converted to alcohol. When the Brix reaches 15 or so we will transfer the wine into barrel to finish fermentation.

Here's Stefania's lees jar. It has started to ferment and you can see the bubbles and froth starting. By Friday the entire inside of the carboy will be stained from the force of the burbling.

The CO2 is released through this airlock, It bubbles non stop right now. This keeps oxygen and bugs out and lets the CO2 escape.

Then it was to the outside and punch downs on the Cabernet. You can see how clean Stef keeps the sides of the bins. We don't want any debris for bugs or bacteria to get a hold. This bin smelled amazing, the best smelling bin I've ever had at this early stage. It was like ripe blueberry and boysenberry pie.

One question we get asked all the time is: "Who does the work." People are usually expecting us to tell them we have a crew or a staff. Well here's the crew and staff at work. Stefania doing a punch down. You can see the Hydrometer in the picture. We also take readings on this to see how far along it is.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Moving Chardonnay

We returned to the winery about 2:30 yesterday afternoon. Jerry had been there in the morning to do the morning punch down and put away the nets. The Chardonnay needs 24 hours to settle and should get to 55 -60 degrees. The temperature in the tank was right at 57 when we arrived.

Rare picture of me, usually I have the camera, but Stefania was working the pump and took this shot. I've got the hose and racking wand in the tank drawing off the juice and fine lees and trying to avoid getting the gross lees. The wine is pumped into an inside tank for fermentation. We don't add yeast, I like to let the native yeast go on their own, I think it makes a more complex wine.

This is what's left. The gross lees. Stef cleaned the inside of the tank while I cleaned the hoses, pump and other equipment we used.

This is a portion of the lees that Stef stuck in a 5 gallon glass carboy. Over the next couple of days about 4 inches of juice will rise to the top. Then it will start exploding all over the inside of the carboy as it ferments. She's described this to people but we thought we'd take pictures this year. It's really pretty gross to watch.

Then we punched down the Cabernet fermenting in one ton bins. The fermentation is going slow and cool, just how we want it to go. This will give us good color and fresh fruit flavors.

We also wipe down the sides of the bin to keep everything clean and prevent any spoilage from getting started.

We finished up about 5:30 and headed home. A nice easy day after three pretty tough ones.