Friday, July 31, 2009

To Not Kill a Mockingbird

Stef's been doing a god job posting up pictures this year as we've redone the home 'Haute Tubee' vineyard. We took out a total of 24 mature plants and replanted 25 new Mourvedre. We also retrained the plants in the backyard, which had the effect of making the yields on those plants this year more like three year old plants.

The net result is we'll have just about 60-80 pounds of grapes this year instead of the 250-300 we usually get. That's really not enough to make wine. I could make a small batch, but given that this location is usually ready 3-4 weeks before anything else, I'd have a hard time storing the wine as it fermented and after it finishes. Normally I mix in other small batches as they finish and have enough wine that I can store it in a tank until there is enough to fill a barrel. 60-80 pounds though is just about 5 gallons, and the risk of spoilage would be very high.

There's also the fact we'd have to drive to the winery every day to do punch downs. Not a big deal when we have other lots going, but awful expensive for 5 gallons.

So it was a hard decision but I've decided not to net the Home Vineyard this year. That means the birds will come and take all the grapes. The mockingbirds have already started to clean out clusters. It's hard to watch, I still want to sprint out side and scare them away, but this year the mockingbirds win.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Veraison is when the grapes turn color from green to yellow (white grapes) or red (red grapes). It's the last step the vines will go through in their development. From here on out it's all about ripening.

The Haut Tubee vineyard at home is always our first to change colors. Friday all three varieties had begun to change. These are Grenache grapes. They turn a vivid pink before darkening to a deeper red. The challenge with Grenache is that the clusters are so big, the berries in the inside may take a long time to change color.

These are Syrah. You can see the Syrah is already pretty dark. It's the first of the three Chatenauf du Pape grapes to turn color and get ripe.

This is Mourvedre, just starting to turn also.

What we hope for is an even relatively fast veraison. That will mean the clusters get ripe at the same time and will be even when we harvest. The weather has been perfect this past week and we're expecting things to go smoothly. It's been very hot elsewhere in California but in the Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains we've had fog at night which has kept day time temperatures in the 80's and 90's and kept the grapes humming along.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where Has Our Co-Author Gone?

After getting a quote from Sears for $16,000+ for laminate and other outrageous 'Bush/Paris Hilton' era remodeling pricing feedback she's busy in the garage with a sander and a paint brush.

Stef's decided to take on the project herself and has started to rip apart our kitchen and is refinishing all the cabinets on her own. She's got doors off and is spending most of the day in the garage, so no blogging.

It's actually very good timing for us to do a project like this. Jerry and Rachel have the vineyards in excellent shape, and just a little work needs to get done before netting starts next week. Once the nets go on we'll be free from vineyard work for 5-6 weeks. Ever wonder why Europe goes on vacation in August? Because there's no work to do in the vineyards.

We will have a racking to get done in the winery and the pre harvest deep clean, so it won't be zero work, but Stef will have time to get this project done before Harvest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Upcoming Event (Get tickets now)

Stef and I have agreed to a fundraiser event on September 12th. Information is at:

The cost for the event is $50 and proceeds go to the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada.

There is an impressive group of wineries and restaurants at the event and we hope you'll stop by and say hello. There's a chance we will not be there if harvest starts early, but there will be a volunteer pouring wine for us in any event and we'll likely have previews of our fall releases.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Random Weekend Updates

Friday night we had a friendly dispute about just how much the olive tree has grown in the backyard. Stef's worried it's not growing. I said, "It's twice as tall as you now (it was 6 foot when we bought it.). It's at about 10 feet now. The vines are also doing really well in the back. You can see just a glimpse here.

Saturday was a busy day. We started out with a trip to a vineyard we installed in Los Altos 2 summers ago. We left at 7AM and arrived at 7:30. Jerry was supposed to be with us but he had a soccer accident Thursday night and couldn't come. The vineyard owners wanted some help and instructions on green pruning and training their vines. Stef and I spent two hours running through the 200 plants.

The vineyard was in good shape, and there will probably be a little fruit from it next year. The owners are mostly self sufficient and just call us when they need instructions on some new task.

We spent a couple more hours at home taking care of our little vineyard, and then for some unknown reason decided the gym was a good idea. Saturday evening we went to a small house warming party for a friend. Stef brought along home made green salsa and I brought a couple bottles of our wine.

Sunday morning we headed out for a hike in Santa Teresa County Park. The Santa Teresa foothills are the hills that contain our Crimson Clover and the Uvas Creek vineyards. The park is just about 5 minutes from our house. It was a fast climb up to about 800 feet from the valley floor. In the picture below you can see the valley floor. After the initial climb though it was pretty easy going.

We hiked just under 5 miles total, and were off the trail by 11:30. It was very hot, 90 degrees when we got back to the car. There were Cooper Hawks and Red Tail Hawks, plus lots of turkeys and a few deer. This picture of a bush below was actually a young deer that we surprised around a bend. She was just about 10 feet away when I tried to snap the picture.

We finished the day with a long nap then opened a Belle Ponte Muscat and a Super Tuscan for dinner.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Suburban Vineyard Photo Update

Paul did a quick pass with the weedwhacker last weekend and trimmed most of the cover crop. The clover was expiring but there were still a lot of blooming wildflowers.

We'll do another pass this weekend to clean up the last of the "weeds" and call it good for the season.

I gave all the plants a good dose of water today and fetilized the struggling lavender, then put away the hose. I'll water the rosemary, sage, and lavender until they are well established, but I'm done watering the grape vines unless we get a blistering heat spell.

Complaints from neighbors? None so far... This morning as I watered, the next door neighbor stopped by and said he was installing software for a company in Salinas, a farmer, and he said it was cool to watch them do the same tasks in the vineyard as we are. It sounded like a new planting with a similar trellis system.

The rest of the vines are doing great and we're seeing veraison in the zinfandel and syrah up front.
I hit the nursery today to buy more sage, lavender, thyme, and oregano to fill in with - I'll get those in the ground over the weekend too.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Does Sulfur Smell Like?

Stefania and I had an email exchange with a friend in Vermont and we exchanged a lot of good information about sulfur in wine. I've edit the excerpts here:

From our Friend:

I thought I had a mold problem in my cellar? .... I've isolated that it's not the cellar and it's not the glassware, I think I'm super sensitive to something in the wine. I've noticed that it's a smell that's much more prevalent in young wines than older wines,...Also, it's usually a smell that improves with some mollydooker shake, or with a few hours in the decanter. As you know I have trouble describing the smell. So I'm thinking that it's probably something that gets added to wines that dissipates over time. Any idea what it could be?

My Reply:

Sulfur! No doubt about it. From the conditions you describe that's got to be it. Most people think sulfur is going to smell like matchsticks, burnt rubber, rotten eggs (that's Hydrogen Sulfide, a by product of Sulfur) or mothballs. In reality, in the amounts added for most good wine, it smells slightly sweet and maybe chalky or minerally would be a descriptor. I could easily see someone thinking it's mold. It's kind of a sickly sweet smell with a hard tinge, like mold growing on something sugary.

We monitor our SO2 levels pretty closely and I usually bottle at 25-35 ppm of Free Sulfur. Free Sulfur is really what you smell. Over time sulfur in wine will become bound with oxygen or amino acids. That's what happens when you do the Mollydooker shake, or decant. The Free Sulfur is bonding with oxygen and 'leaving' the wine. It also happens with bottle age. Something like Mollydooker, with a pH over 4, they're going to have 75ppm+ of Free SO2.

I'd suggest continue to decant and give the decanter a good swirl or two to expose more of the S02 to oxygen. Something like a Venturi would probably also help. Everyone had different degrees of sensitivity. Stef says that after she's been working in the winery with SO2 she can pick it up easily in any wine and that now having working with it, she can pick it out in wine when it's in elevated levels.

Stef chimes in:

I was digging around for other compounds that also dissipate with oxygen exposure. One thing Steve did not mention was mouthfeel, which would also change after decanting. If the culprit is sulfur, there will be a change in how the wine tastes/feels...from being slightly tart making you salivate more than typical, to being less angular and smoother on the sides of the tongue, and then brightening to more fruit forward observances (that's also a little dependent on the type of wine, but I think we're talking about reds, and most likely cabs)

And I offered a little more advice on the problem:

One thing you might want to check is the pH. The lower the pH, the less SO2 that needs to be added. It's a bit of a crap shoot though still. A lot of wineries just add SO2 out of routine. "Every three months add 20ppm, and 50ppm at bottling." That kind of thing.

Somethings you probably want to avoid are wines under screwcap, wines that have been micro-oxidized, and wines aged in whole or part in tank. Those things all increase the Free Sulfur amounts. This may sound silly but another thing you might want to do is avoid smelling the wine when you first open it. Stef swears sulfur sticks in her nose for hours and effects all the wine she has after exposure. We've started wearing masks in the winery now whenever we handle it just to avoid burning up our noses.

and a final though for the blog:

I'm a little reluctant to post about sulfates because so many people have wrong information about them and their effects. 1 in 250 people have a sensitivity to sulfates. You are probably not one of them, nor is your friend who says sulfides give the headaches. For those 1 in 250 people, they genetically lack an enzyme in their digestive system that breaks down sulfates. For those people the symptoms are elevated heart rate, flushing and raised blood pressure. The symptoms dissipate after a few hours. Anyone who has this condition will also be highly sensitive to white bread, broccoli and dried fruits which all have MUCH higher sulfate levels than wine.

If you are not sure, have two pieces of wonder bread. If you don't get a headache, drink more water next time you have wine and a little less wine, you had a hangover.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My First Time with Brett

I was on a date with Paul. He took me to Restaurant Z in Los Altos (now closed) for a wine tasting dinner. If I could remember the date I would include it, but a search through a memory book didn't turn up the menu or any notes. I bet I could find it if I really tried, but it's not that critical to the story - suffice it to say, it was a few years ago.

For reasons I can't explain but that you might be able to relate to, I was dreading this dinner. We would be sitting at tables with people we didn't know, listening to an "expert" tell us about the wines, and with any luck, the chef would have made proper pairings to go with them.

The theme was Rhones, something Paul was and is still very passionate about. I too loved them, but didn't know a thing about them or even what to expect. What I was looking forward to was having an expert on hand so that I could ask questions.

We arrived early, had a sip of champagne in the bar downstairs before being sent up for our seating with the others. The one thing I remember vividly from this restaurant, was the artwork. In rainbow colors, there were images of nude women in poses that mimic the alphabet. Watercolors I think...

I don't remember the food, I don't remember the wines, I remember the Brett. Except I didn't know that's what it was for certain and I had a question for the host, our expert. I had sampled and experienced a handful of Rhones before that Paul had brought home and I was familiar with horse sweat, saddle leather, barnyard, corral as being aromas that I thought were typical of all French wines. In my naivete I thought this was the definition of terroir...after all, these are kind of earthy, natural smells from the countryside. Right?

So there we are at dinner, the wines are flowing and the host is telling us about each one. Only this time I'm smelling something new, something unique I had not previously noticed. It was like the antiseptic plastic-ey smell of bandaids when we were kids (think 1970's), and very pronounced. I thought, this is new, this is different. And I raised my hand, I had a question.

I said, what is this smell? This odor, this something I can't determine beyond it being like a bandaid, from my childhood? ! Can you tell me more about this? I wanted to know, I was an inquiring mind.

He barked at me. He back hand waved at me as if to shoo me aside like a bug. His response was simple. "If you don't like it, don't drink it". No shit.

I never said I didn't like it. I wanted to know what it was, where it came from, if other wines had it too, why was it pervasive in some more than others? What more could he, the expert, tell me? He told me to piss off, basically. I was aghast and a little more than insulted at $85/person.

Fast forward to now and I can assure you I know exactly what that smell is. Brettanomyces, or Brett for short. Neither of us had read or heard about it being referenced as "band-aidy" before that dinner - it was very pronounced in the wine so I have to assume that there was a large amount of it present in the wine.

I could launch into a long diatribe about Brett, but instead I'll outline it fairly quickly so you have the gist of what it is. It's a yeast cell. Which is good right? You want yeast in a winery, right? Sure, but not this creature. This yeast is angular, and because of that, it catches in corners and edges of barrels. Once it's inside your winery and cellar, it's nearly impossible to inoculate and remove.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Los Gatos Follow Up.

We get asked to do a lot of events. I mean alot. We could triple book most Saturdays and fill the week days. We could easily give away all the wine we make if we did every event we were asked to pour at. So we are pretty picky about what we will do. One question we always ask each other at the end of an event is : "Was that a good event?"

The criteria for a positive answer is : "Did you have fun." If we had fun, it was a good event. Saturday was a good event. You can tell from Stef's smile:

Since so many people picked up our little cards and we spent so much time chatting with people I thought I'd review a few of our housekeeping items.

1. There's a link here to sign up for our mailing list. That will insure you get offers for our lower production wines as well as news about the four days per year we open the winery.

2. We update our day to day activities here. A mix of vineyard activity, winery news, and whatever else is going on.

3. We do have a Facebook link, it is paul@stefaniawine .com, we don't have a 'fan' page. Both Stef and I update that, which is probably against Facebooks rules, but we do it anyway. We don't want to have 'fans', we want to have friends, so we've set it up this way. "Make Friends" is our Mission Statement, that's why we make wine.

And a little bit for long time friends, especially those back east. We pronounce it Lahs Gadtoze, much like we say San-O-zay. If you pronounce it right, people will just know you're a tourist, or new in town!

We saw hundreds of dogs out for a walk, but just this one little feral rescue kitty.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thank You Los Gatos & James Randall

It was a last minute call from our sales rep on Wednesday asking if we would like to participate in the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce 2nd Saturdays.

She said we would have a table set up in front of James Randall restaurant (RJR) and they would be our hosts for the day.

RJR built sandwiches to pair with our Cabernets. They were NY Steak, with pickled onions, kalamata aioli and arugula on crusty bread. We poured our 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet and 2006 Uvas Creek Santa Clara Valley Cabernet.

CinCin Wine Bar participated and there were four other tables set up with food and wine pairings. It started off slow with very little foot traffic around noon, then it really picked up. It was like a neighborhood street party with great food and great wines.

RJR was selling the food and wine pairing for $15, which included a take home Riedel wineglass.

It was a great event, our hosts were fantastic and we had fun participating. Thank you Los Gatos Chamber, thank you everyone that stopped by our table and listened to us, thank you RJR and crew!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Nope, that's not a typo. It's:

Since we've started our Grand Canyon training I've been riding that bike like crazy at our gym. The counter says I'm at 217 miles since May. I have to admit I love the thing. The video is not such the attraction, although I do enjoy that the routes vary your effort (uphill and down hill) as you go. What's really got me hooked is being able to track my rides and see how I'm doing. I think that tracking thing mentality is the same thing that gets into many wine geeks.

Which by the way we spent about an hour in the cellar last night with Stefania entering her bottles into Cellartracker.

Anyway I was wondering if anyone else was an Expresso rider and what you think about it?

I know that I'm feeling like we'll be in great shape for harvest this year!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

New Tasting Notes

Dave Tong came by on Sunday and tried our current releases and a couple of barrel samples of our 2008's.

His notes are up at:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Website Refresh on the Way

We admit it - we've let get a little stale. Most of our on line efforts have been here on the blog, or on Facebook. Both are better ways of keeping up with us than the website has been.

Last Friday though we sat down to do a much needed refresh. We started with an update of the front page, the wines section (adding 2007 and 2008 wines) and the vineyard section. Following company rules mojitos were prepared for the staff before we started. Here our friend Amber and Stef get started.

It's very hard to not enjoy work with a Mojito. I joked that Amber is now our "I.T." department. I keep notes on each wine and sat across from Stef and Amber as we went through each wine. Stef also wants to update the photo and events sections over the next couple of weeks so look for more changes soon. We should have everything totally updated by the end of the month.

After we finished up for the day we started in on the wine line up for the night. A few other friends joined us, we didn't drink all these on our own! We started with a really terrible run of 3 TCA tainted wines out of the first 4 bottles we opened, but things eventually settled down.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Full Moon Part II (Notes)

We did open a 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon yesterday morning. We had visitors at the winery and it was one of the bottles we tasted. We sent the bottle home with Dave Tong so hopefully he'll have some notes up on his blog site this week.

I did find the notes of mint and eucalyptus on the nose very pronounced, with a good solid core of currants and black fruit. I found the finish dry yesterday with the tannins very evident. A good showing for the bottle and we brought two more home to continue the moon phase experiment.

You can find notes for this wine from others at:

Or feel free to post them as comments here.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Morning Vineyard Tour

Yesterday morning we set out to check on the 'southern' vineyards.

We visited the Epperson's 'Sesson' Vineyard to see how they are doing with their Cabernet Sauvignon planting. The vines are in year two and look right on schedule.

There's just over an acre planted right now, and yield should be around four tons from this site starting in 2011.

This is a warm site very similar to Crimson Clover and Uvas Creek.

We also visited Crimson Clover, which is in need of a re-tucking of the vines. I did a few plants as we walked around.

Over all the vineyard looked very healthy and the fruit set was good.

You can see the clusters with berries starting to fill out. The clusters from this site are usually pretty small.

Some of the 'dappled sunlight' that we are after on our clusters.
Stef did one row of tucking also to give an idea what it will look like when completed.

Both vineyards looked really good, and we were happy with the progress at each site.

Friday, July 03, 2009

What Our Intern's Been Up To!

In case you haven't been following Rachel's blog updates I thought I'd add a few pictures of the work we've had her doing over the past few weeks.

Basically she's been turning this:

Into this:

With flowering now done she's been thinning the rows and getting everything tucked up into the wires. Chaine d'Or is the last vineyard to flower and the last to tuck up. She's been worried that she goes so much slower than Jerry, but she's actually gotten pretty fast, and we're worried about doing it right, not doing it fast.

It's been great having her this summer. She'll be headed back to Georgia and school soon. Too bad she'll miss harvest and getting to see the rewards of her hard work, but we'll make sure she gets samples of the wines in the years ahead.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Full Moon Rising

Ok, hang in there with me on this one.....

A few years ago we had a really bad problem with Powdery Mildew in a vineyard. I tried everything, and still we had problems (see the previous tree blog). The next winter I asked everyone I talked to in the business for advice. One thing I was told was prune by the moon cycle.

I did a little research and found that from Roman times vines were traditionally pruned after the first full moon of the year and before the holiday of Paganalia (Jan 22nd). If pruning wasn't finished by the 22nd, it would stop and resume after the next full moon.

Well I figured what the heck, it can't hurt and we tried that. We tried about four dozen other things also, so it wasn't a scientific approach, but you know what? The next year was much better in every vineyard we had. I'm not one to mess with success, even if you can't prove it scientifically, so since then we've done all our pruning on the moon cycle.

In the grape growing business this is hardly flacky, wacky or unusual thinking. Everyone growing grapes is aware of this moon cycle stuff, and I've never talked with anyone who didn't put at least some credence in it. We're all just really waiting for the science to catch up with the practices we've 'rediscovered'.

So last night we did a small private event at the Capital Club in San Jose. We poured our 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains. Something I've always enjoyed in this wine is the note of mint and eucalyptus. The odd thing is though that sometimes it seems more pronounced, than other times. That could just be variation between bottles, but I've noticed it at times when we're opening multiple bottles like last night.

I've wondered if maybe it could be a moon cycle thing? There is some thought now on Internet chat boards that the moon cycle effects the flavors and structure of wine in the bottle. Last night the minty flavors were very forward and the wine showed really well. By total coincidence a friend in New Jersey opened a bottle last night and also had a great report.

So I'm going to start tracking the moon cycle on this wine:

I want to see if I do notice a difference at different cycles of the moon. If you have some bottles of this, play along with me. I'll open a bottle Sunday, two days before the full moon and post a note on it to get started.