Monday, August 31, 2009

Chicago Wrap Up

We're back home now and back in the regular routine. We had a fantastic time in Chicago and I think we'll be back in the winter/spring for a preview of our Spring Release.

Saturday we slept in to rest up for the party Saturday night. Since we'd be skipping dinner we decided to load up on a big lunch. We started with a walk to Daly plaza to see some of the sculptures there. There's a large Picasso in the center of the square that Stef wanted a picture of.

Then we walked down to the Gold Coast and landed at Carmine's on Rush and State. This was Stefania's Lasagna:

I had a classic New York Steak with Roasted Peppers. One of the best steaks I've had. A prime cut, cooked perfectly.

We managed to spend two hours at lunch. Those aren't dishes you choke down in a hurry. Besides it was fun watching the comings and goings from a street side table. That night at the party I went to show a picture of the lasagna and everyone I was talking with also had a picture of their lunch. Food and wine people are a little weird, we all photograph our meals.

This was the rush to get food as our friend Francis laid out everything he'd brought to the party.

We had a fantastic time. Hooking up again with old friends and meeting new people. We've been to Chicago so often now that there were neighbors of our hosts who recognized us and we caught up with them also. Stef and I managed to try all the Zinfandels and Syrah's at the event. The 2003 Copain Broken Leg Syrah was my favorite. In all I think we each tried about 60 wines.

The bus ride back to the hotel from the event was a chance for one last picture. Here our friend 'Tbird' shows off his purple tongue while lounging on another new friend from Florida. That is a bottle of wine in his hands.

The next morning we had to make a 10am flight. Luckily we were able to upgrade to first class and do some recovering in the Admirals Club at the airport. This was the view of downtown from the club. The warm cookies helped too in the recovery process and we were back at home in time to have some friends over for dinner a just a bit more wine.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Friday in Chicago

We did sleep in a get a late start yesterday. Stef and I are not big breakfast eaters so we skipped anything in the morning to save up for this:

A Chicago style deep dish pizza from Gino's East. It's a long patient wait (45 minutes) from the time you order until it shows up, and you shouldn't have much more eating planned for the day. We did more shopping in the afternoon getting in a few miles of walking before heading back to the hotel.

The Art Institute was open late on Friday, until 9PM. We headed over about 5:30 and spent a few hours there. There is a newly opened Modern and Contemporary wing and we checked that out. The new addition is very nice and it's more open than the neo-classical design of the old building, with great views of the city and park.

We spent a good amount of time going through a special exhibit about wine from ancient times to modern times and the art associated with it. This is a famous piece of Greek pottery that you've probably seen if you have any books about wine that include a history section.

Most of our time though was spent in the Modern and Contemporary section. A good section of cubism.

Lots of abstract expressionism, including a really good selection of pieces from artist like Jackson Pollack, just before they went fully abstract, which for some reason I didn't take a picture of, but got this one instead.

We then walked back at dusk through the park to visit the Bean.

A lot of people where trying to get angles of the bean without people in the picture, an almost impossible task, but I think the entire point of the Bean is that people interact with it. As you approach it, it actually looks like you are inside the Bean.

We finally got a little hungry again around 10:00 PM and after a drink at Catch 35, we grabbed a wedge salad from Morton's. We got back to the room pretty late, with tired feet, another fun day in Chicago.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Day One in Chicago

It was rainy and cool in the morning so Stef and I spent about an hour in the hotel gym. We had lunch at Catch 35 right next to the hotel, then headed down Michigan Ave. for some shopping. I miss Marshall Fields, but we did hit a few favorites and popped into the Apple store. I only took one picture yesterday, a day view from our room.

We had a nice get together from 5-7 and opened one of every wine we've made. The Pinot Noir went fast, I didn't get any. The Uvas Creek Cabs also showed very well. We then headed off to dinner at Flemings for more tasting. We had about 12-15 1999 California Cabernet's and a selection of other wines. Flemings set us up in a very nice private room and we had great service.

We closed the night back in our room again with about 8 of us finishing off the Cabs. I finally got into bed about 1:30. Today we're off to the art museum and still haven't finalized dinner plans. I'm leaning towards deep dish pizza at Gino's.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chicago Bound

Tonight we will be pouring our wines for friends in Chicago. Yesterday was a travel day. Not a bad one overall. There is a direct flight from San Jose to Chicago that leaves at 1:20, so we had a relaxing morning before the hell that is airports.

I've learned to just laugh. And point. Come on, you've been on the plane with this guy. There is at least one of him on every flight. It's a mandatory FAA regulation. 4 people, 11 carry ons, 4 that will not fit into any bin. In fact I often wonder how it was all transported to the airport, it wouldn't all fit in my car.

This went on for 14 minutes, then we sat on the runway waiting for a new departure window, since we had missed our original one. Planes need bouncers. At minute 3 of trying to get settled in, the bouncer should give a warning. At minute 5, they just fling you, and your 97 pound carry on, out the door.

The flight was ok for summer travel. Just 15 minutes of bumpy thunderstorm, 45 minutes of whining children and one baby who cried for just 217 of the 243 total minutes of the flight. Ear phones on the iPhone are a blessing.

This is why we grow great grapes in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A great sunny day, with the fog hanging just of the coast keeping things cool.

We got downtown to our hotel about 8:30. This is the view from our bedroom window.

Big thanks to Jack B. for setting up the hotel. We hurried over to the Frontera Grill for margarita's and some fantastic food. The best way to end any travel day is with tequila.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's That Time Again

Last year I wrote this blog about this time of the season:

We're in it again. The nets are on and done, the grapes are thinned and the work in the vineyard is done. Now we wait, and worry, and worry and wait. We'll have a heat spell for sure before it's over, and a threat of rain too I bet.

Now we'll try to focus on other things and let the grapes be grapes and do what nature does with them. We're headed to Chicago for a 5 day vacation and a big wine party this Saturday. Thursday night we'll be pouring our wine for friends in Chicago. When we get back we will pick up the gym routine and make the final training camp push before harvest.

Right now our focus will be on getting ourselves ready for harvest. The grapes, they will take care of themselves. It's time for us to stop being 'helicopter parents'.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Restaurant James Randall, Los Gatos

We are headed to Los Gatos tonight as one of the featured winemakers of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Restaurant James Randall.

This will be my first winemaker dinner and I'm very nervous. Excited too, and a little giddy.

I booked a table for five tonight; joining Paul and I are Kathy and Millie, and Millie's sister Ila who is here on vacation from Colorado. When we aren't putting her to work we treat her to good food and wines, lots and lots of them.

Last year when Ila was here she helped plant new vines at an installation in Morgan Hill. It doesn't sound like very hard work, but let me just say this: When your day to day work lifestyle has you at a desk in front of computer, anything above and beyond an hour in the field is exhausting. I know. It took me a couple of seasons of working in the vineyards before I was able to make it past a couple of hours.

When our summer intern came to help out, Paul insisted she break for 15 minutes after each hour of work. "Sit down in the shade, consume some calories or a sport drink, and make sure you get water in you".

I wonder if I'll talk about that tonight...I have no idea what to say to a room full of strangers.

Well anyway, I'm looking forward to it, I think it will be a good time.

There are still some open tables available if you are interested, call to make a reservation and we'll see you there.


Monday, August 24, 2009

After Bird Netting, Then What? Peppers!

That's right, Hatch Chilies from New Mexico!

I bought a 25 pound box of them yesterday. Today I roasted them on the grill, put them all in the stew pot to steam for half an hour, then peeled and bagged them.
25lbs = 10 quart sized ziplock baggies.

I'm already thinking about getting another box but I won't roast all of them again. I like to make Chile Rellenos out of this particular pepper because it has a lot of fire. As for how many scoville points these have, I'm not certain, but I can tell you after taste testing one raw, they are HOT!

I had to wiki goes:
Claims that these are somewhere around 2,500 -- 8,000 Scoville Units (my error, they are units not points).

One box.
One grill.
One stew pot.
Ten one quart ziplock baggies.
Three hours out of my day...
Burning your lips off......Priceless!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Picking Up Stuff and a Small Fire Update

This morning we drove up to Big Basin Vineyards to pick up some equipment that we had there that we won't be using this year. Three 300 liter topping tanks and 5 barrel racks needed to come back home. I'll probably end up selling those since we don't have a lot of storage room and they are sitting in the garage right now. Everything went pretty smooth and just a few hours to make the run.

Stefania and I have been getting inquires and emails about the fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Dave Tong has been doing a good job on his blog of providing updates so I've not posted any. The fire is far from any of our vineyards and we've not had anything to worry about. The area burning is one of least populated in the entire mountains, and too cool to grow grapes.

S0me people have asked us about smoke so I thought I'd take a couple pictures at Big Basin this morning. Big Basin is about 6 miles from the fire lines, and at the top of a basin that would collect smoke if it was an issue. We've all been pretty luck in that the smoke has mostly blown out to sea. Below you can see one of the newer plantings at Big Basin and the bright blue and clear skies.

This is an older section of the vineyard. You can see a little fog still hanging in the horizon, but no smoke.

We're very safe of course, and the day the fire started I had a good laugh at the TV coverage. There was a reporter at the fire HQ in Watsonville, about 25 miles from the fire, with her 'fire coat' on. When she went back to the newsroom in San Jose, the desk anchors were actually the same distance from the fire. No coats for them though.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Checking on Vista Verde

We went last night to check on Vista Verde and make a call on bird netting. The vineyard has had two breeches in the fence this year and was attacked both times by deer. The damage was pretty bad, and we wanted to see if there is enough fruit to make netting worthwhile.

This is a steep difficult vineyard. Stefania is at the very top and the vines go to the tree line below. On Google Earth it shows as a total of a 248 foot drop from top to bottom of the site. Across the hill is Varner and Thomas Fogarty wineries.

About 1/2 the plants are damaged. Most look like they will recover OK, but they won't have good fruit this year. It's too bad because the fruit that was left was wonderful. Here are a few clusters at the top section of the vineyard where the deer didn't attack.

We decided not to net. There just looks like 800 pounds or so of fruit, and it would take 4-6 man days to net the vineyard, or about $500. That's not worth the expense for so little fruit. We will risk going without nets. The vineyard is fairly large, and the birds have not started on it yet, so there's a chance we will pull some fruit. I sent Jerry out today to remove any green clusters.

Part of the issue with the deer is that the damaged plants lack the leafs to ripen fruit as fast as the undamaged plants. Some of the damaged plants also threw a second crop after the fence was fixed. None of those grapes will be ripe in time for harvest. InOctober though they will look ripe to the harvest crew, they just won't taste ripe. We will remove them now while they are green to avoid any risk of them getting picked in October by accident.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back in Barrel

Sunday we were back in the winery to get our 2008 Cabernet back into barrel. Our friend Ingrid came to help. This job can be done by one person, Jerry Anderson did it himself for many years, but with three it's really easy and fast.

Stef did clean up and managed the hose out of the tanks. Ingrid managed the house into the barrels, and I took care of hooking up the hoses and working the pump. In all it just took us about 2 hours from start to finish. Most of that time is actually just waiting for the barrel to fill since I run the pump as slow as possible. I don't want to pump the wine too hard, I'm after about the same force as it would be with gravity.

Ghillie came to visit us in the winery. She's getting very big now, and explores on her own. She learned another lesson in becoming a good winery dog. "Water with citric acid tastes bad"! We leave a bucket with some citric acid to disinfect metal fittings as we remove them from the tanks and pumps. Sophie knows not to stick her head in any water buckets in the winery, and she generally avoids being inside if the pump is running, but Ghillie is just learning that.

We still have to go through 'dog puke season'. Dogs can't really digest grapes, but they eat them anyway. Sophie still does it, although less last year than in the past. I'm sure Ghillie will insure we have the hoses turned on on the crushpad at all times this year.

Below our fearless winemaker shows off her handy work in realigning the storage cabinets in the winery.

The wine was very good. The tannins I worried about so much last year are ripe and smooth. There are lots of them, but the wine is still pleasant, and there's really great complex fruit. We're excited on how the 2008's are coming along.

Friday, August 14, 2009

2008's Checked and Racked

Yesterday we spent the day in the winery racking and testing our 2008 wines.

Racking is the process of moving wine from one container to another (barrel to barrel or barrel to tank back to barrel). Racking has two goals. First we're trying to get the wine clear of any cloudiness, solids, or debris. The 'gunk' will settle into the bottom of a barrel and this process takes the clean wine off the gunk. It also allows us to expose the wine to some air, which will help with any sulfur reduction and help soften tannins.

The Pinot Noir and Haut Tubee had already been racked in April, so we just checked on them for problems. Both had good SO2 numbers and no off odors. We decided to leave both of those batches alone.

The SO2 numbers on our Cabernets were also good, we made just a small addition. We had one stinky barrel that I'll discard now, but the wine was fine. We racked everything into an Argon filled tank, and will put it back in barrel on Sunday. It went very smoothly and we were still able to entertain two groups of visitors around all the work.

It was also a good pre-harvest check on our training program. It wasn't a hard day at all, just 5-6 walks up the hill at Chaine d'Or and 6-7 hours on our feet. Nothing like a picking day at harvest, more like a prep day when you are getting ready to pick. I think Stef and I both did really well with no fatigue and we were able to join friends for dinner last night and tasted 19 bottles of great Santa Cruz Mountains wine until past midnight.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mount Umunhum

Mount Umunhum has been in the news recently. There is talk of tearing down the building up there and opening the space to the public. The only reason I bring this up or even mention it is because this landmark is part of our branding.

When I created the painting for our label, Paul was very clear about what his vision was for our brand, for his brand. He wanted a view of "his" mountains, the view that he grew up with, and the view we still have today from our home.

Over the years, numerous antennae have sprouted atop Mt. Madonna, but I know for me personally, if they remove the tower off Mt. Um that I will miss seeing the landmark.

The picture I took at the top of this page, (our site header) shows Mt. Madonna to the far left and Mt. Umunhum is to the far right...the wikipedia link above has a couple more photos for reference and part of the story.

The photo I took was taken from up top of the parking garage at Oakridge Mall in San Jose. I'm hoping to capture the fog spilling over the top one of these days, but I always seem to miss just the right moment. When the fog spills over the top of the mountain, it envelopes the tower, like that famous wave photo surrounding the lighthouse (wasn't that photo-shopped?) :-)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Grape Update! Hot Tub and Chaine d'Or

Stef took this picture of the grapes by the 'Haut Tubee' Thursday. These are Syrah and you can see they have just about finished changing from hard little green blobs to purple grapes. They look really healthy and are a good size, not too big, not too small. I'm not sure why the birds haven't started on these clusters yet, but then the birds are weird.

They pick one plant, and one cluster and keep coming back until that cluster is cleared out. Then they will pick another cluster and start on that. Multiple birds will eat from the same cluster, or they may all eat from different clusters, but individual birds return to their same cluster until it's picked clean. It doesn't seem to matter how ripe it is. I think it has more to do with how good the landing area is and how clear it is for them to escape in a hurry.

We also stopped by Chaine d'Or this morning. Jerry was there starting on netting and I needed to give him special instructions since we only net parts of the vineyard.

Stef and I got to walk through the rows though and it looks spectacular. We forgot the camera, so no pictures, but the grapes are just starting to turn. The load looks good and the clusters healthy. We're very excited. The retraining we've done since taking over really seems to have helped the cluster size and light penetration. This should be some great fruit. The only set back is that the small amount of Petit Verdot has a virus that is getting worse. I told Jerry not to net it, there is no way it will get ripe with red leafs. Next year I'll think about re-grafting those plants.

I promise I'll get the camera out over the next couple weeks as we finish up netting.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Open House in Chicago

On Thursday evening August 27th Stefania and I will be hosting an open house from 5-7PM at the:

Marriott Chicago Renaissance
1 West Wacker Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60601 USA

We plan on pouring sample of all our previously released wines as well as previews of our Fall Release, which will feature our:

2008 Chardonnay Chaine d'Or Vineyard
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Uvas Creek Vineyard
2007 Haut Tubee

We will have light snacks for everyone. Please let us know if you are interested in attending and provide us with a headcount of guests so that we can plan accordingly. This event will be open to the members of our mailing lists and their guests only. There is no charge for attending. We hope to see you there.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bird Netting Again

I wrote a good long piece last year on netting:

It's that time again. Jerry started Monday and just will wrap up the Crimson Clover vineyard today. Arstradero will take 2-3 days and Chaine d'Or should take 2-3 days also.

Vista Verde is a bit of an unknown right now. I think it will also take 2-3 days but we have not done it before so we're not sure how long it might take. We're also delayed in Vista Verde by a broken weedwhacker. It's in the shop right now being repaired and about 1/2 the vineyard still needs to be cleared so the nets will go on.

Until I read the blog from last year I thought we might me a little behind, but we'll definitely finish before the 25th this year. Once the nets are on we're in monitor mode. No more work to do in the vineyards until harvest except taking samples. The weather has been fantastic the last few weeks and I think harvest will probably start right around September 20th with Chardonnay.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Second Second Saturday and a Special Surprise

Restaurant James Randall (RJR) has asked us back for the second, Second Saturday in Los Gatos The event will run from Noon to 4PM next Saturday right on Main Street in Los Gatos. We'll be pouring just outside the restaurant.

We had a great time at the last event and are looking forward to this one. As a special treat, tell us you're reading our blog, or are on our mailing list and we'll reach under the table for a special preview pour of our 2007 Haut Tubee. We'll be releasing the 2007 Haut Tubee in October at $20 per bottle, and this will be a chance for you to give it an early taste.

We hope you'll stop by and say hello.