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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chardonnay Harvest

There was no fog as we started at 7:45. Good for the grapes, no extra water on them to dilute the wine, but bad for us. It would be a long, hot hard day and my on going cold would be hard on me through the day. Jerry had the crew working well, focused on clean bins and getting all the fruit.

Chardonnay is tough to pick because when it's ripe it's the same colors as the fall leafs on the vines. We usually send one person behind the pickers so check for any missed clusters.

The scary crusher set up. We actually got it up in place ok, getting down though was a little more dramatic. The grapes go in to the top of the crusher in 30 pound bins and are destemmed. The must then drops into the press below. Most of the juice runs 'free' into the pan below and is then pumped into a pre-chilled tank for 24 hours. This will help the solids or 'lees' settle out to the bottom of the tank

I had a little trouble getting the press to run. It's a bit temperamental. It would not get out of the decompress phase in automatic mode, so I had to restart it and run through the cycles manually. Then there was about 4 hours of clean up.

Stef cooked a great lunch for everyone though and had lots of snack on hand. My 2PM my cold was wearing me out and I though about trying to sleep a little on the winery floor, but pulled a chair up in front of the press instead. The final numbers were very exciting. 25.5 Brix, 3.5 pH and a TA of .8 The juice tasted fantastic, with ample sugar and peach and pear notes. We harvested 2.2 tons in all.

We got home and into bed by 8:30 and got in 9 good hours of sleep. One more vineyard done, and probably the hardest day of winemaking we'll have.

Saturday Crimson Clover Harvest

Saturday morning we were up again before 6 AM and on the road by 6:30. We arrived right at 7:00 AM at Crimson Clover and started picking. Here are the very first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to come in:

The sun just starting to peek through about 7:30. We have to harvest early to get the grapes into the winery why they are still cool and to be able to do all the clean up at the end of the day with out working too far into the night.
The crew was our regular group. Jerry and his family and friends plus Stef , Millie and me. We had some volunteers join us later in the morning, but the crew was about 75% done by that time. We picked just about 1 1/2 tons in 3 hours.

The grapes loaded into a 1/2 ton bin for transport to Chaine d 'Or. Stef and I dump the 30 pound picking bins into the 1/2 ton bins one at a time and sort out anything we don't want here in the field. You can see there are no leafs or other debris in the bins.

Arrival at Chaine d 'Or. The crush pad was already set up the night before so we'd be ready as soon as we arrived. Here Ysidro and Mille get ready to start moving grapes into the crusher. Processing went very smoothly and took just about 20 minutes from start until the lab work was complete and the fermentation bins were covered. Brix was 27, TA .84 and pH 3.64.

Our friend Eric got the job of foot treading about 200 pounds of Zinfandel for out Haut Tubee blend that comes from a small vineyard that neighbors Crimson Clover. It was Eric's first full picking day and he was a little surprised that it was just 20 minutes of actual winemaking squeezed around 2 hours of driving, 4 hours of picking and 5 hours of cleaning. He fell asleep on the cellar floor about 3:00 PM

And there is a lot of cleaning. Besides cleaning up from the pick and processing we also prepped and cleaned for the Chardonnay harvest the next day/ Here Jerry gets the press cleaned and ready. The crusher also needed to get loaded on the truck and positioned.

Driving home about 6:30 Stef and I both commented that all in all it was a very smooth day and we felt relieved that it was ONLY 12 hours and not longer. We have a good crew and everyone knows there jobs really well. We were asleep by 9 that night and ready for another long day Sunday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tasting Chardonnay

Second task for today was to test the Chardonnay at Chaine d' Or and see if we are ready to pick on Sunday. Jerry ran down and got about a gallon worth of samples and Stef ran lab tests on the. Brix 25.1, pH 3.4, TA was still a little high at .94, but we think we are good to go and the TA usually tests higher from the field than it turns out in the bin.

The real test though is to go down and taste the grapes. So, as soon as the samples were in the lab I went down the hill to walk rows and taste grapes. First thing to access is the color of the grapes and the stems. They should be golden, not green and the stems should be turning brown.

Then you pick and eat. The first thing to test for is taste. Are they sweet, they should be much, much sweeter than table grapes. You should also be able to taste some of the flavors of the final wine like peach, fig and pear. You want to make sure there is not too much lime taste or unripe Chardonnay will also taste like asparagus.

Next the skins should break up on your back teeth. They should break apart pretty easy. If the skin comes off the pulp in one mass and is hard to chew, the skins are not ripe yet. This picture is a little gross, but it's exactly what you want to see; skins torn apart easily by your teeth.

Final test is the seeds or pips. They should be brown, dark brown, with no or very little green. The pulp should also separate easily from the seed and not cling to it.

The grapes passed all the taste tests today, they are ready. I'll worry about the TA right up until we get the juice in the tank and Stefania runs another lab test, but it looks like we are good to go. Picking will start Sunday morning. We start a little later at Chaine d' Or than other sites. We have to make sure the heavy fog has lifted from the vineyard. We don't want to add the extra moisture to the bins and tank as we pick. We'll be on site about 8 AM and start picking about 8:15.

This is kind of a bonus picture of the vineyard. Up until about 20 years ago vineyards and nurseries were a little haphazard about clones and vines. Old vineyards always have some mystery grapes in them. At Chaine d' Or we have these pink mystery grapes. Our best guess is that it's Pinot Gris. There are about 8 plants total. Anne and Jerry always put it in with the Chardonnay, but we put it into the Haut Tubee.

Day One Picking

Out traditional first picture. 62 degrees, 6:29 AM, still dark as we head out to pick.

We arrived on site just before 7AM, with the sun just coming up. This is our 'steep vineyard', and only the 'A' team harvests here. Stef is handing out picking bins to the little crew as we start.

We had to do lots of sorting. The birds had gotten through the nets in some spots and there was some mildew at the top of the hill under the oak tree.

The hill was really hard going for me today with my chest cold. It's 120 steps to the top, or like climbing 8 flights of stairs. I had to stop and cough 1/2 way up each time.
A blurry iPhone picture of some of the better fruit.

With the 'A' team and just about 400 pounds to pick this year, we were done and cleaned up by 8:30. We're at the winery now, getting ready for Crimson Clover tomorrow and moving bins down there today. I have another check on Jury duty in and hour so Stef might have to finish on her own.

I also started the chiller for the Chardonnay harvest. Jerry and Ysidro are out now getting samples to see if we will be ready on Sunday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hot and Cold

"Up next, we have up to the minute weather in your neighborhood!"

I think that's the most ridiculous thing I hear regularly on TV. Am I living in a house with no windows or doors? Really, if I need up to the minute weather in my neighborhood I can look out the window. This past week the local weather dudes have been all a fluff about a 'record heat wave'. The California weather guys can get a little over dramatic about tiny changes in the weather, just because it changes so little. Really on May 1st each year the TV news report should be: "Fog in the morning, sun in the afternoon, highs in the 80's lower near the water, next update in October, have a nice summer."

Last week they were predicting 100+ degree days. Stef just discounted that right away. "There's fog coming in and the nights are in the 60's, it won't get to 100." She was right. It's been 90's and high 80's. Really the best source for weather in your neighborhood is someone who lives there and pays attention.

So we didn't panic at all that it would be too hot for the grapes, they really like high 80's and low 90's. It was good to be able to sit out last weekend and this week.

I've had a double whopper. I've been on call for Jury Duty all week, so far I have not been called, and it's pretty unlikely I'll have to go in tomorrow. Worse though is I've had a cold in my chest with coughing and general cold like symptoms. We will get started this weekend and next week will be busy, so I'm pretty confident if I do get called for Jury duty tomorrow, I'll be excused. The cold has been lingering too long, but I hope by this weekend I'm going better.

Tomorrow things get rocking and we will try and get an update out every night.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fall Colors Preview

The Fall Colors in the Haut Tubee vineyard are still very green. Very few leaves have turned color so far.

These grapes are still hanging on by the front door - they'll never ripen fully but I like to leave them for aesthetic purposes. When I asked Paul if I could put the two vines on either side of the walkway he was skeptical. It's really hard to convince him that not all of the vines have to produce usable fruit.

And then some pics of the front vines. The neighbor dude was passing by as I was taking these this morning and he asked why some of the new vines were more vigorous than others. It could be that I was too lenient on the water rationing this first year, but I'm not in any hurry to rush these into production. The primary goal was to remove the water hogging lawn so any fruit we harvest in a couple of years will be a bonus; Haut Tuvedre?

On Friday a.m. we'll start harvest at "the steep vineyard" on Arastradero. I anticipate crisp morning temperatures, followed by a warm afternoon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lab Pics

The other day I checked Brix, pH, and TA (total acidity) for a couple of vineyards.

I set the lab up on the kitchen counter at home - I was doing office work (getting the offer letters printed) while Gerry ran around to all the vineyards pulling samples for me. When he got here, we sat at the dining room table to fold, stuff, and seal all the envelopes. It's a great time for us to sit for several hours and practice speaking in English and Spanish.

The shot glass has distilled water in it - for rinsing the probe in between calibrating. Above, calibrating the pH meter.

These are the cabernet berries from Crimson Clover. They look just like blueberries to me. The "high tech" method of extracting the juice for testing involves a potato masher.

These are the pinot and merlot berries from Vista Verde, after smashing for juice extraction. The very bright green seeds indicate what the numbers confirmed, they are not ripe yet.
Paul already posted the lab numbers, I promised pictures, so here they are.
Missing are pictures of the hygrometer and refractometer for checking Brix.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Funnies

Went and saw Spamalot again lastnight. I can't say for sure what my very favorite scene or act was but all of the scenes in Act II were hilarious.

Dinner was at the new Brazilian Churascaria downtown on First Street - Maceio. The restaurant is inside the old Melting Pot and all the tables have the leftover fireproof glass inserts dead center. We joked about it with our server, Sarah, and wondered if there was any way to turn on the "tv" and watch the Sharks game. Actually, she said, it's a touch screen for placing orders, "Can't you see the menu? it's right there, no really, you don't see that?" It was funny, we were feeling silly, you had to be there.

Thoughts about dinner? Awesome. We've been to Fogo de Chao many times in D.C. and loved it, however, I think the meats presented lastnight were superior. First, the seasonings were reasonable. Seems like at other Brazilian venues there is an abundance of salt on each offering.

The salad bar rocked. My opinion of course, but I liked the selection of steamed vegetables alongside with the standard salad bar choices. Each of us made our own first course plate; lettuce salads, pasta salads, devil eggs, mozzarella slices and tomatoes, pesto potatoes, couscous, carrot slaw, etc.

Just before we started the meat service, I filled a veggie plate for the table to share - a selection of bok choy, asparagus, broccoli, zucchinis wraps (thin slices rolled around feta cheese), and more mozzarella and tomatoes.

We dined on chicken, pork short ribs, shrimp (the butteriest I've tasted), tri tip, top sirloin, filet mignon, turkey, and the most amazing roasted pineapple. Rotisseried til golden, bathed in butter, sugar, cinnamon and clove (?I'm guessing at all that based on flavor) and carved tableside just like the meats. To die for. All four of us had seconds and thirds of that.

Now for the Sunday Funnies - kind of.

San Jose has some pretty awesome public spaces, but because we travel around so much we rarely spend any time enjoying our own home. We attended the Tapestry and Talent festival downtown over Labor Day and for the first time went up close to the fountains that so many people enjoy.

And because we always mention this lovely statue to all our visiting guests, "the turd". It was a piece of art that was commissioned for the city, but the artist eventually became fed up with the requests to change his original design. After many such requests he quit, but was informed that he had to produce something per the contract and payment agreement...and so we have a large "Turd" in the park. Even comedian Ron White mentioned it when he was here for a show, "Do ya'll know there is a statue of a turd in your park?". Awesome.

Random picture of cookies. We dined at a friends house over Labor Day and I took a large plate of cookies for dessert. I've said it before, I'll say it again, I like to ice the cookies with a simple powdered sugar frosting, but I don't add vanilla extract or water, I usually use either a Sauternes or Muscat. This batch was with a leftover Gewurztraminer...not the best if you're wondering. Paul opened a dessert wine that night and it seemed to go well with the cookies. For those that don't know, I don't do sweet wines...and don't tell me I haven't tried the right one yet, I'm the same girl that doesn't pound chocolate on a monthly cycle, I simply don't prefer it.

Vineyard dogs. Last year Fergie expired on the day we harvested Crimson Clover. That was a year ago. Then in January, we were back at the vineyard to prune and Millie brought along Truffles*. Long story longer, the owner at C.C. fell in love with Truffles and wanted to adopt her sister. The economy being what it is, the price of adoption was too high, so she went online "just to look" for other similar pups. And she ended up with Sunshine (left). She's got the flat face, similar underbite and perky ears as "the little mutt*". Rascal is laying down next to her for the photo op wondering what all the hubbub is about.
* For the record, Truffles official name is Jazzi, and I often refer to her (lovingly of course) as The Little Mutt, pronounced like I'm from Brooklyn as DaLeetleMuhhtt.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day Getting Ready at the Winery

We're getting close to picking grapes so it was time to get to the winery and start to get everything there ready. On the way up I stopped at Page Mill Road and 280 to take this picture. It's a great visual on what makes the Chaine d' Or vineyard so special. The fog on the left is the ridge across from the vineyard. The one in bright sunshine is where Chaine d'Or is located.

I took this one as soon as we arrived at the vineyard. You can see the vines are in full sun, but the fog is just a few hundred yards away keeping everything cool. It was just 77 degrees when we left the winery at 2:30 compared to 92 on the valley floor. This lets the grapes ripen slowly and develop great flavors.

I hiked down to check on the Cabernet grapes. They are coming along well, but we're still 5-6 weeks away from picking.

Some close ups on the dappled sunlight we try and get on the clusters.

And a shot of the Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is almost ready, maybe this week, early next week at the latest.

Then it was into the winery. Twice a year we take out everything that we can and clean the floors. We also make sure the drain is working fine and clean the gutters up. We do some reorganizing as well to try and get everything in a good place before harvest. While Stef and I worked inside Jerry was outside cleaning the chiller tank and press. He also cleaned up all the picking bins and started bringing up the 1/2 ton and 1 ton bins.

He will go back on Monday to finish up cleaning the bins, and pull some samples for Stef to test. Tomorrow we'll check again on Crimson Clover and do some planing on barrel usage. I'll also try to get over to visit our friend Ian and see about a pump we may need to borrow for a day.