Friday, April 30, 2010

The Bottling Schedule

Tomorrow we will be in the winery getting ready for bottling. I'll bring my computer along and see if we can get hooked up to the wireless. If we can I'll try and do 'live' pictures like we did last year of bottling.

First up we will be filtering our Chardonnay and that involves moving it from tank to tank. Next we'll put together the final blend for the 2008 Haut Tubee and get that into tank. That will mean that the 2008 Eaglepoint Syrah will also have to go into a smaller holding tank and out of barrel. We'll check sulfur levels, and will make any additions we need to.

I will also be hand bottling 12 magnums of the 2008 Eaglepoint Syrah. The logistics of the truck just make it easier to bottle the magnums by hand and cork them with the hand corker. For now the 2008 Pinot Noir will stay in barrel. As we empty out a tank on Tuesday , I'll get the Pinot into an open tank. We'll check sulfur then and I'll also hand bottle 12 magnums of the Pinot Noir.

We're hoping everything will go ok. If we can't finish on Saturday, we'll come back up Sunday to complete the job. If not Sunday will be a hike and then the Sharks game.

Monday we'll be back at the winery. The forklift arrives at 9AM. We'll also bring all the corks and labels with us. The glass will be delivered between 10 and 1 and I'll unload it with the forklift. The bottling truck should arrive about 2 or 3 and we will help get it backed in and level. That process takes about 3 hours. It actually takes longer to get the truck backed in that it does to bottle.

Then we are mostly done for the day. Matt from the bottling company will get the truck all ready to go that night.

Tuesday we will be in the winery about 7AM. We'll have to hook the tanks up to the truck and clean all the hoses. Then we start bottling. It should be done about noon or 1 PM if all goes well. Then we will clean all the tanks and equipment and barrels! I'll help Matt get the truck back out, which only takes about an hour (it's only moving about 60 yards, but it's a few tight turns).

If we are on time and on schedule the truck will show up from the warehouse about 3PM to pick up the bottled wine. If we are behind schedule at all, we'll have to postpone the pick up until Wednesday. I'll get as many pictures and updates in over the next 5 days as I can.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

H.R. 5034 a Real Threat to Our WInery

There is a real threat to wineries and winemakers brewing in Congress. Alcohol wholesalers have convinced lawmakers to introduce House Resolution 5034. If passed into law, H.R. 5034 would give states the right to ban wine shipping without having to defend themselves in court. In essence, H.R. 5034 takes state alcohol laws outside the orbit of the the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, it is that provision of the Constitution that led the Supreme Court in 2005 to overrule the plethora of discriminatory wine shipping bans that existed across the country.

This bill would devastate wineries, particularly those that rely on direct to consumer shipping, and of course, it is an attack on consumers who merely want to obtain wines by mail that they cannot find locally.

I urge you to help oppose H.R. 5034. You can do so by immediately using Free The Grapes "Write Your Congressperson" system to send off a letter to your representative:

In addition, if you are on Facebook I urge you to become a fan of the STOPHR5034 page to get regular updates on the bill:

The proponents of H.R. 5034 work for the beer and wine wholesalers and are extremely powerful. They are working very hard to get this bill passed. Without an aggressive effort those that value free trade and the ability for consumers and wineries to interact with each other, many wineries will be hurt and consumer rights lost.

Stefania and I have worked very hard to build our winery from the ground up and this bill would be devastating to ourselves and other small family wineries that count on people like you to buy our wines.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bottling Day is Almost Here!

Stefania has been hard at work pulling together all the moving parts. For those of you with some manufacturing in your background, this is 'Just in Time' manufacturing at its best. Here's Stef's summary:

Bottling Itinerary:
This Saturday, Paul and I will be there to filter and transfer the Chardonnay and prep one of the red wines into tank. Sunday we'll be back up if there is anything else pending from Saturday, otherwise we'll be back up again on Monday.
Nitrogen delivery tomorrow 4/27
Forklift 9a.m. Monday 5/3
Glass delivery from CWT before noon also Monday 5/3
Matt, Artisan Mobile Bottling, after noon Monday 5/3
Bottling 8a.m. Tuesday 5/4

Corks, labels and foils are now all on hand. Foils will go on the bottles that get the Chaine d'Or label. We'll be bottling four different wines.

If I can get a network connection on Tuesday I'll try and get pictures up every few hours.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Moving Day Updates

I did manage to get one picture taken.

The day went off pretty well. Just that little bit of traffic that slowed us down but otherwise no issues. Enterprise had TWO trucks for us this time, just in case something was wrong with the first one :) I brought back a couple bottles of wine to thank the staff there. We were even able to return the truck early.

Stefania made us some Chowder to watch with the Sharks game:

4 red potatoes
1 leek
2 ears white corn separated
1 cup crab
1/4 c whole milk
3 TBSP olive oil
3 C Beef stock

Sauté sliced leek and cubed potatoes in olive oil add half the cob corn and select pieces of crab meat add beef broth bring to boil them simmer til soft.

Blend on medium speed add milk to thin as needed.

Return to pot add remaining corn and crab.

Garnish with a squeeze of lime and cilantro leaf.

Looks like everything is coming together for bottling. Keeping our fingers crossed though.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Birds and the Bees Part II

Last year I posted a blog about the birds and the bees. Well guess what, they're back! I've been waiting very patiently for them and finally, they made an appearance. The crimson clover is buzzing, literally and the little flitty birds that like to hang on the wires have been passing through.

It took awhile this morning to track down the Common Yellowthroat. I have two bird books here but neither had a photo that matched the little dude I saw with his black mask. Such a little cutie bird. Also looked up a really large orange bee that I've never spotted before. Turns out he's not really native to this locale, more of a southern Cal kind of guy. After reading up on it, I think I've identified this bee as a male carpenter, except there were two of them chasing each other around....I kind of got the impression they were solo adventurers but there were definitely two of them.

When we got home the other day, a pair of baby cedar waxwings were splashing in the rain water that pooled in the gutter across the street. They were so little and cute!

This morning while I was peering out at the vineyard, a black headed Phoebe perched on the wire and peered back at me. She's been a constant in our yard for months now. Usually we'll hear her in the backyard about an hour before the sun sets and she gets her fill of bugs.

The photos are all stock pics I pulled off the web - the camera I have now would never be able to capture clear shots in my yard. While I was sitting up front the other day trying to identify the Common Yellowthroat I watched one of the crows that's always hanging around chase off the Coopers Hawk. For a suburban neighborhood I get a lot of great bird traffic!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Friendly April 20th - The Dude Abides

Isn't that code for "pot's ok with me"? 420Friendly? Well, yesterday was April 20th and I only wish I had been stoned for part of it.

Instead, Paul took one of his rare and treasured PTO days so that we could try again with the Ag Dept. appointment and rental truck reservations to move barrels. Woke up to heavy rain, groan, this is not going to be a fun day.

By the time we arrived at Enterprise the rain had mostly let up and there were giant billowy clouds with pockets of blue sky and bright sun (yay!). Transferred our stuff from our vehicle to the rental and we were off...right into morning traffic. We missed the carpool window and hit the road with all the other slackers that were late for work.

Made it to the Ag Dept, 45 minutes away, for a 2 minute appointment so Paul could sign some pesticide papers (gov't agencies don't have enough funding for fax machines I guess). Not to mention their office is in a sketchy neighborhood. I knew he'd be right out, but none the less opted to accompany him into the office where I picked up a couple of flyers about pest management for roses.

I have a monstrous hatred for aphids and would rather nuke them dead than try any sort of organic holistic approach like asking them to move on to other gardens. The advice on the flyer says "Choose rose varieties that are disease-resistant.then in the same paragraph)...No roses are completely disease-free, but many can be grown with minimal care." Needless to say, I've had rust, black spot, powdery mildew, aphids and white flies at any given time during the year in my rose garden. The good news though is that Paul can spray the same anti-fungals and oils on my roses that he uses on the vines and I rarely have problems anymore...except for those pesky aphids. Maybe I should try getting them stoned.

Paul signs the forms at the Ag Dept and we head up and over Hwy 84 and take the Scenic Route to Big Basin Vineyards. And it was scenic. Twice I spotted the waves breaking on the coast and there were pockets of steam and fog rising all around us on the mountain. So cool. Ethereal.

We spent the ride bantering about Robert Parker and his scoring "system" and how it reflects on what people are buying and who he is persuading and who he is alienating. At one point, I said, for me, why would I be inclined to trust his tastes? We have nothing in common. I'm a stubborn, head-strong, female, and in my 40' are his point ratings going to have any bearing on what I'm buying? They're not and they don't. Like all things artistic and subjective to personal tastes and preferences, it really depends on how much you can be honest and trust yourself.

I bought one wine one time based on a write-up in a subscription Paul has. I happened to flip through the section on Oregon pinots and read the tasting notes. There were 27 aromas noted, one of them being cassis. It was a maker I had wanted to try for a long time but was too timid to spend the money on it, "what if it sucks?". Now I buy (er, Paul buys...) 2+ cases per year for my side.

Got to Big Basin, met Joe there and he loaded up our two barrels of Syrah. Tied them down, in a light rain shower, and got back on our way within 20 minutes. If you've ever driven through Boulder Creek, I'd say they are a lot 420 Friendly folks, some of them stoned more often than not. Not that there's anything wrong with that, just a friendy stereotype I'm making about the area.

Retraced our steps back through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Chaine d'Or and unloaded the barrels into the winery. Popped the bungs, thieved out two samples (one new oak one neutral barrel) and gave it a whirl. Awesome! The Eaglepoint Ranch fruit is great to work with, and I love how it develops in the Seguin Moreau barrels, just awesome. I could have spent the rest of the afternoon thieving Syrah from the barrels.

Put the tailgate back on the truck and headed back to drop it off and get on with the day. Only something evil happened to me. I don't know when or how I did it, but I re-injured the left Trapezius muscle. Oh wow, does that hurt.

Headed home, cleaned up and ventured out for a late snack and a beer (or more) at Rock Bottom. They were pouring a Scotch Ale from cask, so smooth, so creamy, so satisfying. Split a basket of chips and guacamole and a reuben sandwich. The whole time I could overhear our barmates chatting up the countdown to 4:20 and giggling about having some 420 on 4/20 at 4:20. Oh how I wished I could have been stoned and feeling no pain in my back. It's medicinal you know, but I don' thave a prescription.

Got back home and UPS had arrived and delivered a small heavy box. A good friend of mine had to put her kitty down earlier this year, he was 20 years old and she had named him The Dude. In honor of The Dude, I planted a Midas Touch yellow rose (not disease-resistant) in the garden and ordered the rock, it arrived on 4/20. I couldn't have planned that on purpose if I tried....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend work and Paul & Stef days.

Saturday was a full day.

We were out in the vineyard at 8:30 am. The project for the morning was the Sesson Vineyard in the Coyote Valley just south of San Jose. Jerry had already pruned the vineyard but it needed some technical work. It's a young vineyard and many of the plants needed some retraining and repair from some issues last season.

It's the type of work that Stefania and I really need to do ourselves. Each plant needs to be evaluated and a repair plan for it put together based on the plant strength and the position of the new buds. We are training Jerry to help, but it will probably take him a couple years to fully get the concepts down.

Once you 'get it' it goes pretty fast and the three of us were done by 11:30. I really like the potential of this site. The local geography is a lot like the premier and grand crus vineyards of Burgundy. It is on a gentle slope at the base of some very stony hills. There are several layers of soil down to the water table making for a complex mix. The weather is well suited for Cabernet Sauvignon and that's what we've put in.

I've had my eye on this area for many years so we're excited by this project and hope we'll be able to make some wine from the vineyard soon. Below you can see Stef working away.

There is something though in the vineyard that gives my allergies a terrible time. I took several different drugs but finally had to head off to the gym about 3:00 pm. When my allergies get really bad 30-40 minutes on the bike at full speed really seems to help. I'm not sure what it is maybe just pushing all my blood really hard through my system helps.

That night Stefania and I were pouring at a Rotary Club fundraiser with a 1960's theme. It was a good chance to bring out the tie dye. We poured for a few hours and finally headed home about 8:30.

Sunday we got to have a 'Paul and Stef day'. That's what we've started to call the Sunday's we have with no work or obligations. We got up early again and headed to the beach at Pascadero. We walked the beach for about 40 minutes, then headed to Pillar Point harbor. A few years ago the harbormaster there started to allow the fishermen to sell directly off their boats. We bought three Dungeness crabs and a flounder.

We made civiche out of the flounder and Stefania boiled the crabs on the back patio. We lounged in the backyard all afternoon and enjoyed a Chardonnay from Sea Smoke with the fresh seafood. We're still trying to keep Sunday's clear and I hope we can head back to Pillar Point next week!

Flounder Ceviche:

12 oz very fresh flounder or other white fish
1 avocado
1 cup Jicama
2 green onions
1 mango
1/4 cup cilantro
1 small serrano pepper (diced very small)

Chop into bite size bits and mix in a glass bowl with:

Juice from 4 lemons and 3 limes

Allow to sit for 2 hours.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Public Events

"Winery registration fee is $550"

$550! That doesn't include the wine we'll pour, and if it's away from home, which they always are, the travel and hotel. I think I'm declaring that we are done with these events. We'll still do charity events to support charities we like, but the 'for pay' wine event just does not make any sense for a winery to attend.

First there's the cost. $550 is outrageous. The winery is the attraction, it's the reason there is an event. No wineries, no event. So why charge so much? One thing these events always try and promote is that they are attracting 'high income buyers'. Bullshit. I'll say it. Bullshit. If you want to attract high income buyers, charge $50 not $10. $10 attracts drunkards.

Many events don't even try and pretend about that aspect anymore. Instead they promote a 'trade session'. The idea is it's closed to the public and only open to 'trade buyers'. Yeah, more bullshit. The big distributors and retailers give out the trade tickets to their employees and customers. They treat it like a free drinking party.

If I'm going to spend $550, 2 cases of wine and travel on a party it's not going to be to get a bunch of people I don't know or care about drunk. I'd much rather spend that money getting out and visiting personally with people who already buy our wine. Better yet I'd rather spend it entertaining them at the winery and our home.

So we are taking that budget money this year, and saying no to the public events. We're hoping to have some travel plans together soon. We'd like to get to the East Coast, DC, Philly, NJ/NY and Boston. We also would like to get to Florida this year. It's always better to pour wines for friends!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

The climatic scene in Goodfellows came to mind today. In that scene Ray Liotta runs through everything he has to do in his busy day - "pick up his brother...make the meatballs...sell the guns...move the stuff....stir the sauce....catch the plane" and it all comes tumbling down when the ATF shows up on his front driveway.

Well no ATF in my driveway this morning, but a highly scheduled day fell apart pretty early. My PTO days are like gold. I only get so many every year from the day job and I try and save as many of those as I can for harvest time. When I do take one I try and jam as much into it as I can.

The plan this morning: Get up at the normal time 6:30 AM, coffee and paper in bed, then out quick by 7:15. First up Enterprise Rental Car. There I'd reserved a pick up truck for the day. Stefania would drive me over to Enterprise then we'd both head over to Skip's Tires. The FJ Cruiser is in need of new tires, and since it's our only car, the rental truck would mean we could leave it for the day with out worry.

Next we'd be off to the San Mateo Department of Agriculture to renew our operator ID number at 10am. For some reason, the Ag department thinks it's easier for me to come in during a workday to spend 4 minutes getting a stamp on a piece of paper than figuring out someway to do it over the phone. So a 45 minute drive each way to a bad neighborhood in Redwood City for a 5 minute meeting.

Next it would be over to a rock supply company, also in Redwood City. We need about 400 pounds of rocks to replace some posts in the vineyard at Chaine d'Or. Normally it would be a good chore for Jerry B. to do, but I know trying to get all the steps to purchasing the rocks into Spanish, given my poor Spanish, would lead to mayhem. So I figured I'd pick up the rocks and then drive them the 20 minutes up to Chaine d'Or.

From there it's a 50 minute drive through the mountains to Big Basin Vineyards. See if I have the pick up truck, I can load in the two barrels of 2008 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah I have at Big Basin and move them to Chaine d'Or for bottling. I had it all set up with Joe at Big Basin, and if everything went right we'd be back unloading the wine at Chaine d'Or about 2:30-3:00 PM. Then just an hour back to Skip's Tires, pick up the FJ, then shoot over to Enterprise and return the truck before 5 PM.

Yeah, right.

I'm standing at the counter at Enterprise at 8:00 AM hearing about how there are no trucks in San Jose until 10am. I'm trying to send Joe a message at Big Basin on my iPhone when one comes in from Bradley at Big Basin saying Joe can't do it today after all. Plans - done.

Skip's was ready for us though. I'd gone in on Saturday to pre-order the tires I wanted and get everything set up for today and they were ready for us. Stefania and I walked about 3/4 of a mile to a bookstore to wait out the tires. They look great and should hold up better off road than the old ones did.

Everything else, well it's rescheduled now.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Restaurant and Wine Bar Update

It's been awhile since I've put this up.

Here's where you can currently find our wines locally:

Los Gatos

Cin Cin
Forbes Mill
Summit Store


Deer Park Wine

Santa Cruz

Vino Prima
Hollins House
Vino Cruz


Davenport Baker

Palo Alto

Vino Locale



There should be more coming soon and I'll try and keep everyone updated. If you have any leads, send them my way!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Tax Man Commeth

Stefania and I went and picked up our taxes today. It's a big giant stack of forms. We can't manage them on our own, we have to take them to our CPA. Besides personal, and business, there's an entire subsection of special stuff to do with farming. All in all I think we have to submit about 20-25 different 'schedules'.

Leaving the office reminded me of a normal Spring routine I have.

To all our C.P.A friends - YES you can send in your allocation form to us after April 15th, it's not too late. Every year I stash away a little bit of wine in the 'CPA corner' for orders that come in after tax season. It's something I've been doing since our very first Spring release.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Cold Stabilizing the Chardonnay

Saturday morning we were back in the winery with two tasks to do. First we had to rack and sulfur our 2009 Haut Tubee. This was the last of our red wines to go through this process. We left a little bit of the Haut Tubee in a 5 gallon glass carboy to give everyone an idea of the gunk that we're racking off of when we do this.

I racked the carboy below leaving just the lees at the bottom of the bottle. The wine above was clear. This is the stuff that builds up in the bottom of each barrel.

Then it was on to the Chardonnay. Cold stabilization is the process of chilling down a white wine to remove any tartaric crystals in the wine. The crystals will bind to the side of the tank as we chill the wine. That will prevent them from forming in the bottle.

One step we have to do is wrap the tank in additional insulation so that it will get cold enough. We then turn on the chiller and cool the tank down. The wine is racked into the tank and off of the lees. I use an attachment on the hose so that we leave the gunk in the bottom of the barrel and just get clear wine. The wine will now stay in tank for about 3 weeks.

Stefania cleans out the barrels after we are done. Hot water and high pressure will get them clean. We will then let them dry and sulfur them to prevent infection.

Some of the lees and water coming out after a first rinse. The barrels will be rinsed until the water runs out clean.

Everything went very smoothly and we were out of the winery in time to join some friends for Afghan food that night.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Tidal Wave (Part 2)


There has been some good news lately. Sales in the $25-$40 category, that's 80% of our production, are projected to be up 12% in Q1 2010 from Q1 2009 across the industry. The speculation is that consumers are 'trading up' again. For the past two years the only sector that's seen growth is the $6-$12 range, and experts think those people are now trading up to the $25-$40 range.

Personally I think that's wrong. I think what we're actually seeing is people reentering the market who had left, and they are reentering at a much lower price point. To me it seems that the people who were in the $75+ market simply stopped buying wine in 2009 and waited out the meltdown in that sector, only jumping in for extreme bargains.

Now they are reentering the market, but in the $25-$40 range. Points from a critic and price sticker prestige seem much less important to that group now. It's more about finding wine they can enjoy and cellar that won't break the bank. The practice of 'flipping' - buying rare wine and selling it right away for a profit - has largely disappeared. Now almost every wine can be had at the release price. That takes a lot of the glamour and value out of high priced wines.

I know a lot of people were happy to pay $250 a bottle each for 6 bottles of wine. It was a simple equation for them. Shell out $1500, then flip 3 bottles for $500 each, and walk away with the other three bottles for 'free'. Now that's just not possible and I think that's the group now buying in the $25-$40 range.

Stefania has just closed out the books on our Q1. It was our best quarter ever. Our sales were up 43% over Q4 2009 and 49% over Q1 of 2009. I know there are some people reading this in the wine industry who just spit their coffee on their screen. That is four times better than the average in our sector.

We've been lucky though, we have a great group of loyal customers who we think of foremost as friends. They've held us through. Last year as our wholesale (restaurant and retail) sales fell 52%, they were there to pick up the slack. Direct sales were up 15% which netted us out at a 4% overall gain.

Maybe the most encouraging thing for us is that both direct and wholesale sales in Q1 were the highest we've ever had in a Q1. We are still going to be conservative though. I know that 'tidal wave' is out there and we will be fighting against it over the next few years. We are going to wait until we close out Q2 before we make any commitments on expanding our production in 2010. We're also going to focus on reducing our L.O.C. and equipment loans so we have more liquidity to use against that 'tidal wave'.

This is the unglamorous stuff. Stefania and I sitting at our computers at night pouring over numbers, working on budgets, sorting through invoices and doing all the things to keep a business running. It takes up a lot of our time. We easily spend as much time on this stuff as we do in the winery. We're hopeful though now that we're seeing a breakthrough. We're also so grateful to all our supporters.

Tomorrow we get to go back into the winery and get our Chardonnay ready for bottling. It will be nice to be out of the office and worrying about the wine for a while.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Tidal Wave

There has been a lot of talk lately in the news and on wine boards about how hard it is in the wine industry right now. One article mentioned that as many as 20-25 wineries in Napa might fail or be sold in distress this year. Our friends at Eaglepoint Ranch have decided to stop making wine and just sell grapes. The hardest hit wines have been those over $75. Even wines that get 100 points from critics are not selling out now.

It's been hard times. Most people in the wine business don't want to talk about it. Everyone has been impacted. For us we've had two really big impacts. The first really had more to do with the low yield harvest in 2008. The low yields meant we had about $30,000 in expenses (mostly barrels) that we had already committed to and ended up not using. It also meant that we came up about $25,000 short in grapes we were selling.

That was a double whammy. One was supposed to pay for the other. All of a sudden we were in the hole $25,000 we were not expecting. That was all happening the very same month the stock market melted down, and yes 10% of our customers are in New York City. But we adjusted our budget, reduced plans for 2009 and cut back on all but the essentials to make wine. It's been a long haul but as we enter Q2 2010, we have no outstanding invoices, just our regular monthly expenses. That's the first time since the Fall of 2008.

The second was we allocated a fair amount of wine to be sold at restaurants and retail in 2008 and 2009. That sector has been hit the hardest. I could probably write a novel about the 'middle tier' in the wine business, but I'll just say I feel let down, and I'm much more cautious now about allocating anything to distributors or brokers. We've managed to kick start those sales, but it's turned out to be 100% our own effort and initiative.

That second item is really what the title of this posting is about. Most of the comments from wine lovers about the crisis have been that they hope their favorite wineries will make it through and offering reasons for hope. In response one winery owner said:

"I think that even if you survive the downturn, you are also going to be swimming against a tidal wave of accumulated inventory being liquidated by those that didn't survive."

Now that's the thing I fear the most. I see it every day, wine being discounted 50% or more, 2 for 1 offers, anything to move inventory. People have a limited amount of money to spend on wine and this 'tidal wave' is going to be the hardest thing for us over the next two years.

This has gotten long, so I'll do a 'part two' tomorrow. In the mean time here's something lighter, a picture of my favorite flower the California Wild Poppy from a hike Stefania and I went on Sunday.