Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cleaning Up the iPhone's Camera

I couldn't come up with a good title for this collection of pictures, and I know we've used 'Random Pictures' as a title before.

When people come and visit the winery I often explain how the fog hangs during the summer on the peaks just about a mile from the winery. This keeps the vineyard cool, even on sunny days and preserves good acidity in the grapes.

I took this picture about a mile from the winery on HWY 35 (on one of those peeks) on a day we were moving barrels from Big Basin. You can see the heavy fog. The temperature was about 58 degrees

I meant to take another picture at the winery, but of course I got busy moving wine and checking on the vineyard and didn't remember until we were back on the road. Luck would have it though that just about a 1/2 mile down the road from the winery a Cal Trans crew had set up traffic control to manage some road repairs. I took this picture as we waited.

You can see bright blue sky and the crewman is in short sleeves. It was about 78 degrees at this location, 20 degrees warmer than just a mile and a half away. This is one of the key things that makes Chaine d'Or such a great spot for grapes.

The next couple of pictures came from a hike at Calero. This little guy is a California Alligator lizard. It was late on the trail, about 8 PM so he was moving slow.

Stef couldn't resist picking him up. It was a busy critter day on the trails, we saw deer, wild turkey, dozens of moles, hawks and turkey vultures.

And the last random picture from Amber's birthday party. I think my favorite wine was the 2005 Karl Lawrence to Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon. The Latour was from 1995 and was also really great. No sucky wines in the group!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


We've been hiking the local foothills the past couple of months and I thought I'd put up a couple pictures.

The little bucky was grazing at Calero and didn't pay us any attention as we approached. I must have snapped 20 pictures of him, each time getting closer and closer. I was 25 feet away and he didn't seem to care we were right there in front of him, in fact I think he posed on purposed.

The vineyard pic if the one I mentioned the other day, it's the one that needs to be trained onto the wires this year. On the other side of the foothills in the background is Calero...not directly behind, but within a couple of miles.

Last weekend we hiked the Zinfandel Trail off Montebello Road. I remember this trail from a few years ago and thought it was a hard hike back then...that was before Paul started taking me on 5 mile treks through the back hills. The Zin trail was kind of a let down since it was so easy and it was heavily traveled the day we went.

Yesterday after Paul got home from work we headed over to Calero and got on the trail at 5:40. Nobody around. It was perfectly quiet. Lots of little moles (or mice? or gophers?) running around in the brush, wild turkeys and their babies, a lizard, a snake skin, a doe and her fawn, and quail. We stopped a couple of times just to enjoy the quiet. This was the first time in the park we got off the main trail and cut over on Vallecito and looped around that way. There were weeds taller than Paul and grasses taller than me!

I found a pyrite cube just off the side of the trail and picked it up - I'm not entirely sure it's native to our geology so I'm continuing to ask around and look it up. There is plenty of quartz at this park and the area is known to be rich in other minerals so I'm not entirely surprised by the find.

For Neil; I'm still breaking in the sturdy hiking boots I've complained about in the past and they are working out better since the shoe guy sold me some leather softener. I need to do another application before they're good for anything longer than a couple of miles. Maybe I'll wear them to dinner in NY ;-)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CFL Light Bulbs and the Environment

I can't be the only person dissatisfied with these new lightbulbs. I really want to do the right thing for the environment and energy savings yadda yadda, but these bulbs have been nothing but a frustrating pain in the patooter. Is it just me?

The latest failure is photographed below. I knew I smelled something off the other night but never found the culprit - the odor dissipated quickly and I failed to note the burnt out bulb (in a bathroom fixture that uses three bulbs).

Why wouldn't I notice a burned out bulb after flipping on the switch? They're never bright right away anyway since they take a bit to reach full lumens...that's a minor complaint overall, but still something I've never fully appreciated.

Gripe number two? These damn things are expensive and are NOT lasting as long as they are supposed to. I've got two 25watt incandescent bulbs out front that I burn every night all night long and only replace them every couple of years or so...the bathroom fixture, which is still relatively new (four years ago I put it in?) and I've had to replace all 3 bulbs already, one I had to replace the second day after buying it. Total and complete failure these things.

I did a walk-thru the house just now and counted 63 lightbulbs - most of them are incandescent and have not been replaced nor have they burned out since I moved in ten years ago. Except the two outside that I mentioned. However...of the flourescent bulbs I bought to save money and energy, I've already been through a box of 12. In four years I've had to throw away more toxic waste than I think is worth for saving a few pennies on the electric bill.

Gripe number three...you can't toss these out in the regular trash. Tell me, when your bulbs burn out, do you drive them back to the hardware store for recycling? Do you make an appointment with your cities hazardous waste collection site? Do you do dispose of them properly?

Note the melted base on the left where the tube meets the plastic. Super.

Thinning and Tucking

Seems like all I've been doing lately is thinning and tucking, thinning and tucking.... so much green growth this year!

I forwarded pictures of the Crimson Clover vineyard to Paul earlier this month and showed him how woolly the vines were. Then I sent him pics of the rows that Gerry and I finished, and the ground that was covered in green from all the foliage we took off.

After that I shot over to the Sesson site and assessed what the next steps are for there. The shoots are ready to be pulled down to make canes and a few are ready for spur positioning. Very quickly I went through one row and took a photo to show "the boss".

Paul relies on me to be his eyes in the vineyards this time of year; he goes to his office job during the day and I fill him in on what's happening with the vines. I know that frustrates him to no end and he's looking forward to the career change, but we're not quite there yet.

As for the Mourvedre vineyard at home, I haven't had the heart yet to drop the clusters on some of the heartier vines. They're amazing this year. We had one casualty with the weedwhacker so I'm sad about that, but not overly concerned.

I've got Zinfandel plants that are purely for landscaping at this point (to shield our driveway from the neighbors) that have sent secondary shoots with flowering clusters already. On the primaries, I think I spotted what looks like the very first few signs of veraison. I've actually enjoyed these grapes for eating, if you can get past all the seeds that is.

That's the quick vineyard update for today - after lunch I'm heading over to the church to clean up their 20 cabernet vines (make that 18, two of them need replacing) and finish up my thinning and tucking.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Unfined and Unfiltered.

I can't recall that we've ever used those terms in any blogs or emails or offer letters we've sent out. Maybe we have, and I'm forgetting, but I really don't remember ever using those terms.

For some wineries it's a big part of their marketing. They even include that on their labels. We don't. I think that's because it's a routine for us not to fine and not to filter, so it is no big deal.

It's not a philosophy in itself, it's just part of the way we make wine. It also doesn't mean we are opposed to either process, in fact we have done both. There are many times I've had a bottle from other producers when I wished they had filtered in particular. Just a couple months ago we opened a bottle of Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley that had started to re-ferment in the bottle. I wished that producer had filtered the wine to remove any yeast and prevent that. It ruined the bottle.

We've actually filtered four times, and fined once. Our 2008 Chardonnay was fined to remove some excess proteins that could have caused a cloudy appearance at warm temperatures. This is called 'heat stability'. I used Bentonite, which is a clay to remove the protein. We then filtered the wine to remove the Bentonite completely. In 2009 we filtered the Chardonnay. There was some residual sugar in the wine and I wanted to remove any yeast to prevent the wine from going fizzy in bottle.

In 2007 we had one barrel of Uvas Creek Cab that was showing V.A. over .010 and we filtered that barrel to remove any bacteria. We also filtered the topping wine (about 20 gallons) for 0ur 2007 Syrah for the same reason.

That's pretty much our philosophy on fining and filtering. If the wine needs it to prevent or correct an issue, we'll do it. Otherwise we will leave the wine alone.

I actually thought to mention this because Stefania and I opened a 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon on Saturday. The wine had a large amount of sediment in the bottle. That's a result of not filtering. All of our wines should be decanted to remove them from any sediment, especially as they age.

I'm not a believer in fancy decanting. A cheap container should do. Just open the bottle, place some light source behind the bottle and decanter so you can see the wine flow out of the bottle and pour. When you start to see sediment in the bottle neck, stop pouring. That's it, no chunks!

Friday, June 18, 2010


I first mentioned our Futures Program here:


We have just sent out the emails for the summer Futures this week. The program remains pretty much the same. Our top 48 customers have the chance to pre-order our wines before they become available with the general release this Fall. We have about three or four new open spots each time.

There are three wines this time around:

2008 Stefania Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains
2008 Stefania Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch Mendocino County
2008 Stefania Haut Tubee California

We also did magnums of the Pinot Noir and Syrah. It looks like the magnums will sell out in Futures. There are just three Syrah left today and one Pinot Noir. The 750ml bottles have been allocated so that there will be some available for the regular release.

When we first did Futures 48 was exactly 10% of our list. Now we are closer to 900 people on the list so it's about 5%. We may expand it some next time. It will depend on how things go this fall.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Futures Release Notes

2008 Stefania Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains

Alcohol 13.5% pH 3.59

Ruby red color, darker than the 2007. Raspberry, strawberry, rose and spice on the nose. The nose is very exciting on this wine. Soft velvety tannins carry red fruit, ripe berries and a hint of forest to a long finish with blackberry showing as the wine opened in the glass. The wine has ripe and ample tannins promising long life in bottle.

2008 Stefania Haut Tubee California

Alcohol 13.8% pH 3.72

Dark red the color of a ripe Bing cherry. Wow nose of cherries, plum, licorice and herbs. Very southern Rhone in the mouth with soft and ripe tannins. The wine seems to show Grenache even though that's a small part this year. Very ripe fruit and spice in the mouth with a long, fresh, juicy finish. Kind of a cross of the 06's juicy fruit and the 07's excellent structure.

2008 Stefania Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch Mendocino County

Alcohol 14.5% pH 3.71

Very dark and dense crimson color. Sweet floral nose with plums, berries and spice on the nose. More ripe plum, spice and pepper on the palate. With air the wine showed berry pie and pronounced black cherry flavors. The finish is lifted with a pepper note that carries the black cherry. This wine is as floral on the nose as past vintages with more cherry fruit. We've had no metallic notes in this wine and think the choice to wait until after the heavy rains around the 1st of October was key in removing smoke residue from the vineyard.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Split Rail Vineyard

When Stefania and I first started making wine we really wanted to make a Syarh. It's a grape both of us enjoy a great deal and we probably buy more Syrah than any other type of wine. In 2004 and 2005 I searched the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley for a good source of grapes. I kept running into roadblocks. I rejected many vineyards I checked on. Either the farming was not to our very high standards or the location wouldn't yield the type of balance we were after.

When I did find a vineyard I liked I kept hearing the same thing; "We don't have any grapes for sale." That eventually lead us outside of the area and to Eaglepoint Ranch, which offered the high level of farming we demand and a great mountain location that would give us balanced complex fruit. I've kept my ears open though and kept exploring locally for a good Syrah source.

Last year our friend Ian Brand let me know he had taken over a small Syrah vineyard and I was welcome to buy the fruit if I'd like. I knew Ian's farming would be high quality, and the location promised great fruit. We took it last year as an experiment. If we were not happy with the way the wine was going, I could use it in the Haut Tubee or sell it off.

Well we've been very happy, and everyone who has tried the wine from barrel has loved it. This morning Stef and I were out of the house early to meet with Ian at the Vineyard and check on progress. We would have to drive over to Santa Cruz, so on this hot sunny day we needed to be on the road before 8 AM to avoid the bumper to bumper beach traffic that would happen later in the morning.

We arrived on site right at 9AM. Located high on the western slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the vineyard was once a source for David Bruce's Chardonnay. Ten years ago it was grafted over to Syrah. The vines are over 20 years old. This is the view from the edge of the vineyard looking out at Aptos and the Monterey Bay.

Ian wanted to check that he'd done everything as I'd asked for this season. First I asked him to prune to our regular two shoots per spur 8-10 inches between spur protocol. That means yield in this vineyard will drop to about 1 1/2 tons per acre, but I offered to pay him by the acre rather than by the ton.

The vineyard is also dry farmed, no added water and the ground is not plowed as we do in our other vineyards. All of these things reduce yield and increase the flavor in the remaining grapes. I also like the increased air flow our pruning does, which reduces mildew pressure and means fewer treatments. There is also an increase in sun on the fruit clusters which helps get the grapes through the citrus flavor stages and to the flavors of berries, plums and cherries.

The entire vineyard is surrounded by hand split redwood rails produced on the property. That's where the name comes from 'Split Rail Vineyard'. Our production from this site will be very small. We will have just 50 cases of the 2009, and are expecting only 50-100 on average each year. It does finally give us a high quality Syrah location close to home though, and we're very excited by this vineyard.

After our visit we stopped for breakfast at a local coffee shop then headed across the parking lot to a Goodwill store. I get asked often on my preference for decanters and my answer is 'cheap'. All you really need is a container with a hole on the top. Jerry Anderson likes to use a Mason jar. I prefer to check the glass section at Goodwill stores. This 1070's era ship decanter set me back $7.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Latest Restaurant and Wine Shop Update!

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
New Leaf Community Markets
Shoppers Corner
Lillian's Italian Kitchen
Caffe Tazzina
El Jardin


Davenport Baker

Palo Alto

Vino Locale


Coach House Wine and Spirits

San Jose

The Golf Club at Boulder Ridge

We also have a couple pending delivery later this summer:
PF Chang's in Monterey
Whole Foods in Los Gatos/Cupertino/San Mateo

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Mexican Food Mystery

Last week we got an order from El Jardin in Santa Cruz:


They wanted to bring in some local wines to add to their new venture in Santa Cruz. I've had a rant about the wine lists at Mexican restaurants for awhile that I've been meaning to write and this prompted me to do it.

I know when most people think Mexican food it's really Tex-Mex they are thinking of, and El Jardin would fall into that Tex-Mex/Cali-Mex category. What really got me ranting though was the high end places that have started to appear in the wake of the popularity of Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill and Topolobambo. We've tried a few in San Jose and of course I'll look at the wine list.

My first reaction is always WTF???? Chile???? Argentina???? Wines from those countries dominate the lists. Chile and Argentina have in common with Mexico the fact they were both once part of the Spanish Empire. So was Guam. Why no wine from Guam on the list?

California was once PART of Mexico. Over 50% of the people who work in the wine industry in California are first or second generation Mexicans! Don't you think California might just have a little more in common with Mexico and Mexican food than a country of Italian and German immigrants 4000 miles away (Argentina)!

Does Chile sound more Spanish, and thus more Mexican? More Spanish than say Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Santa Rita, Los Carneros, or Paso Robles?

In a time where everyone is thinking more about 'get local', what can be more local than Cali-Mex food with California wine?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Gopher Hunting

The most famous gopher hunter of all time:

That's not exactly the approach I took on Saturday, but it's close. We arrived at Chaine d'Or about 9AM. Kathy, Millie and Amber were there to help Stefania with thinning of the Chardonnay vines. My task for the morning was to 'hunt' gophers. Chaine d'Or is the only vineyard we have not had owls move in to so I still have to kill the little critters myself.

I've got nothing against the little guys personally. It's what they do to a vine that sucks. The picture below is a mature Cabernet Sauvignon vine. This vine had its roots deep enough that it survived the gopher attack. A younger vine would have died.

This is what I'm looking for. This is a fresh dig. That means the little devil is active right in this area. The main tunnel will actually be right between the two fresh piles of dirt. I use a long pole to poke through and fine the tunnel.

The activity was down a lot from two weeks ago. I almost have them out of the vineyard for now. One more run through in another two weeks should do it.

I finished up about 11:30 and spent the next 90 minutes topping the remaining 2008's and all the 2009's in the winery. Stefania and crew finished up about 12:30 for the day. Temps were going to get into the high 80's by 2 PM so we didn't want to work much past 1 PM.

The vineyard looked very good, and the 2009's are coming along well.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Urban Vineyards

Pic is of the Syrah vines in the Haut Tubee vineyard. This is where Paul and I like to hang out with friends, have BBQ's, soak in the hot tub, lounge in the adirondacks and generally kick back and enjoy just about every evening. I did put the canopy up on Easter so I could rotisserie a leg of lamb, I was not going to be thwarted by a little rain storm (ok, it poured on me, but I was out there!!!)

The palm tree is on the neighbors side of fence and is perfect for our back yard vineyard because it's not dense enough to provide a lot of shade. The vines in front of the hot tub have filled in perfectly and are all done flowering. We have great fruit set and have had good luck keeping powdery mildew at bay using Stylet Oil.

The front vineyard is still a work in progress. I was just thinking how pretty it could be if we put sod between the rows and made it look a lot more urban-ey, but that would defeat my number one priority and that's saving water. The row closest to the camera is still flowering so I didn't pull those shoots down yet to make canes - even though I won't keep the fruit this year, I don't want to risk breaking them. After flowering the shoots harden off and are more pliable, making it easier to pull them down to the cordon wire and get them wrapped around.

A couple of weeks ago we brought in a ton of river rock to put up under the eaves in the front. Originally there were tropical shade plants that Paul wanted to keep and I talked him out of them. Tropical foliage with a vineyard? That's even too eclectic for my tastes. So it's been raw dirt for over a year and I didn't want to invest in decking for a space we rarely use though we talked about that too. Eventually the cats using the dirt as a litter box put me over the edge and I said, "that's it, we're getting rocks!".

Paul had a great idea, why not use the leftovers to line the vineyard under the rows, that'll help keep the soil in place and look better than bare dirt in the winter. He figured we'd have a lot of leftover rock from the ton order. Nope. I'm going to need a second ton to fill in the rest.

Soon as flowering is done, we'll clean up the rest of the "weeds" (the dead and dried up wildflower cover crop) and I'll pull down that last row of shoots and get those trained on the wire. The two rows under the magnolia tree are behind, but I should be able to pull down at least one half of the cordon.

One thing I noticed for sure with the Crimson Clover, it definitely helped the other plants I have up front. The rosemary is the brightest green I've seen, the sage flowered and the lavender bloomed for the first time. Could have something to do with the wet winter we had too, but clover is supposed to put nitrogen back into the soil and I definitely noticed a difference in foliage color.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

iPhone Update, 15 months later...

Remember how iNlove I was with my new iPhone? What do I say? I've never been a phone person so that part of the gadget is virtually worthless to me, however...

I'm a text junky. I admit. Paul and I will text each other while sitting side by side on the couch...lame huh? You should have seen our first cell bill after we discovered that function. Good times.

Next came the apps. I'm very selective about the toys I'll put on my phone, mostly because I'm overwhelmed by the choices. I'm to the point of needing an adviser to help me decide what tools I really want or need. The most useful one for the winery is Swipe. It lets us process credit cards remotely for wine sold at events.

I seldom use the camera feature, but find myself taking notes more often that I would have thought. I downloaded a decibel reader, to see how loud Kathy and Millie's "little mutt" really is when she snores, and I play the occasional game of Frogger.

The greatest use so far has been checking email, using google for crossword term searches, and other internet stuff.

I've set the stage. I'm ready for an iPad. From everything I've read, it's exactly what I want and need. I can move Swipe over to it and it becomes a business expense.

As for an update on the iPhone, let me tell you a quick story. Paul had the original one, I waited for 3G. Last month he dropped his, again, on the concrete crushpad and it shattered the glass. I gave him mine, we switched out our sim cards and I bought some press on cover protectors...for now it will have to do.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

No Intern this Year

It's June 1st and there is plenty to be done in the vineyards. We didn't get an intern this year, mainly because we don't need one. I'm full time with the winery now and caught up on the major projects.

This week I'll head up to Chaine d'Or and finish thinning. Doesn't look like the Cabernet will need as much as the Chardonnay. We've been steadily pruning the spurs on the Chard so that they aren't so high into the wires. It means selecting the best looking shoot from the cordon and letting it grow so we can turn it into a new spur.

I'll need to check on the Sesson vineyard in Morgan Hill. It's a year behind schedule, but the site is vigorous enough that I think we'll see huge improvements this summer. We might even get some cordons trained, that'd be fantastic.

The Crimson Clover vineyard is likely still in flower right now so I'll leave it alone for another week or two. I'll go check it, but I anticipate that I've got some time before I can thin and I hate to make a special trip just to sucker - I can do that while I'm there cleaning up the shoots.

Harrison's Vineyard looks great, we checked in with Mark last weekend and Arastradero is caught up too. The 'estate' vines are still flowering, but I'm getting ready to start pulling cordons down in the Mourvedre. I'll dose them up with water pretty good this summer and then let them take off on their own after that - a few are lagging behind, but I'm not surprised given the shaded spots up by the magnolia tree.

For my sis-in-law about Cropping:

Each mature vine will have up to 10 spurs (5 on each side of the main trunk). Each spur will have 2 shoots and each shoot will carry 2 clusters of grapes. So for example, the Mourvedre vineyard I have at the house, which is 25 plants, will produce 1,000 clusters of grapes.

{25 plants x [2 clusters x (2 shoots x 10 spurs)]} = 1,000

When we say how we'll crop the vineyard, we are talking about the method of pruning or training we'll use to control that final number.

Some winemakers and winegrowers may choose to have only one shoot per spur and only one cluster per shoot. In the example above, the yield would be 500 clusters.

I keep joking with Paul that I want to crop the heck out of the Mourvedre, 2,000 clusters!