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 http://customragrugs.com/gallery/index.html )

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.