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.