Friday, August 27, 2010

Bleh, August Temps

What a sucky Summer. I shouldn't complain about the weather, but I am. It's 8:30 on Friday night, August 27th and it feels like mid Fall. The cold breeze from the fog rolling makes it too cold to be hanging out in shorts on the back patio. Feels like it's 65 degrees, or cooler right now, and I'm bundled up on the couch watching the Giants game.

The problem with the cooler than normal temps goes beyond my crankies. It's affecting the vines and the grapes. And that makes me even crankier.

The vines at home are doing "ok", but we have leaves starting to turn already...on my way home from the winery today, a young vineyard down the hill from us already has yellowing leaves in the fruit zone. It's too soon!

Three days before bottling, Paul and I were at Chaine d'Or, it was 1:01pm, 68 degrees outside, and the fog was lingering over the hills on the next ridge over from the vineyard. Argh! It's been wet, damp, cool, foggy, and bleak.

Yesterday, an old Italian neighbor dude knocked on my door asking if Paul was home. In his grocery store bag he pulled out a cluster of white grapes from his backyard that had grey rot on it. I sighed. He said he's never had his grapes look this bad in all the years he's been tending them.

The best I could tell him was to cut out the damaged sections and we'd come by this weekend to take a look (and bring our Stylet Oil though I think it's too late for another spray application).

The Church vineyard around the corner is doing pretty ok. I need to drop about 6 clusters of mildew damaged fruit, but it looks like we'll have ~200 pounds of grapes to add to the Haut Tubee blend.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our Blogging Break

Usually at this time of year we'd be busy with a lot of blogs going up. We had a bottling run last Sunday, bird netting is going on in the vineyards, we have a trip with some public events coming up, and a release going out.

Two Saturdays ago we lost a family member after a short and very serious illness. Stefania and I have been grateful for all the support we've gotten. It's reaffirmed our belief that making wine and making friends is the right path for us to be on. That has kept us away from blog updates as we've focused on family and taking care of the day to day business.

We still did need to complete a bottling run on Sunday. We bottled our 2008 Cabernet Sauvignons. I feel that these are the best wines we've ever made. Each one was unique and excellent. I'm sure we'll have more on them in the months ahead.

We worked with a larger than normal volunteer crew as our friends; Kathy, Millie, Noelle, Holly, Amber and Rachel helped out. (Yep all girl volunteer crew!). Our regular helper Jerry was there as well and Stefania and I. Below we're getting ready to start. Millie is on the left, Matt from the bottling company is prepping the truck and Jerry is waiting to get started.

Stefania has become the master of bottling logistics. Just 11 extra cases!

I was much better with the forklift and got everything loaded up pretty easy.

We'll be back with more updates and thank you again to everyone who has given their support over the past few weeks.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Crimson Clover Visit

Stefania and I were able to squeeze in a visit to the Crimson Clover vineyard recently. All of our vineyards are at least 2-3 weeks behind their regular schedule including this one. Last year we had this vineyard netted by August 1st. This year netting took place on the 14th and the vineyard hasn't completed veraison yet.

Harvest in 2008 was on September 28th and in 2009 in was on September 26th. This year my estimate is that harvest will be sometime after October 20th. This is an early site for us, usually a full month before our other Cabernet vineyard sources are ready. That's not promising for those sites. If the schedule stays consistent to past years that would put us into late November for picking.

That would just be too late. The plants will have shut down by then and the winter rains started. We're making alternative plans now to make a Rose out of any fruit that won't make it to pull red ripeness.

The Crimson Clover vineyard should make it fine though. It's in a warmer micro climate and a late October picking date is pretty safe for us. In the picture below you can see the vineyard is in good shape and healthy.

We've started to see some unusual bird activity lately. There have been a few emaciated dead birds in the vineyards. We've also seen birds eating unripe green grapes. Sunday I saw a mother mocking bird feeding a youngster who was screeching in distress. I think the late season is taking a toll on the birds. Their regular food supplies are not getting ripe when they should and it looks like some birds are starving.

I have not seen that story hit the news yet so just count that as an observation and a guess. It could cause us problems later if the birds get more aggressive in attacking the netting. It could also mean we get migratory birds stopping in the vineyard that would normally just pass by.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sip - Savor - Support

We will be pouring again to support the Alzheimer's Association for Northern California & Nevada.

The date is Saturday September 18th from 11:30- 3PM. Tickets are $50 and last year the event raise more than $21,000 for the Alzheimer's Association for Northern California & Nevada.

I suspect we will be pouring our 2009 Chardonnay as a preview of its release in the Spring and one red wine. This is a charity we are very happy to support and hope we see you there.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Haut Tubee Has a Plan (Final)

By the time we had bottled the 2007 in the spring of 2009 we knew we needed to plan for a Haut Tubee release in a much more formal way than we had in the past. 2007 had worked out well but we knew that a good part of the production was from the higher yields that year and a good part of the rest was from barrel experiments that we knew we would not do every year.

Our experience though with the blending the 2007 wine, which we had largely done in the summer of 2008, helped a plan come together. With the Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah we had picked two barrels of wine that we though were least like the other seven and eliminated them from the final blend. I felt that really made the final Syrah much stronger.

We had also done a similar thing with the 2007 Chaine d'Or Cabernet Sauvignon. In the summer of 2008 we pulled samples from all eight barrels we had. We went through the same process as we had done with the Syrah. We selected the barrels that were least like the others. It's important to note, we're not looking for the 'least' barrels, or the 'worst' barrels, we're looking for the barrels that are most different from the others.

We then rank them, in this case from one to eight. Next we start blending trials. It might be the one we ranked least typical adds something really unique or good when combined with other barrels. As we do this the samples start to stand out. Certain barrels bring less to the final blend than others. They may be really good barrels, and usually are, but they don't contribute as much to the final blend as others.

On that 2007 wine we selected two barrels that we then divided up between the Haut Tubee and the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon. We did that division also based on what would bring the most to each finished wine.

In the end we thought the process made every wine better. For the single vineyard wines it really let us focus on bringing out what is unique in each vineyard. For the Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon it let us bring together a wine with everything complete. Finally for the Haut Tubee it let us create a really great hand made wine and price it low enough that it's a great bargain.

That last part turned out to be good for our customers in a number of ways. For new customers who hadn't tried our wines it gave them a wine they could evaluate without putting out a lot of cash. With 3 bottles at $60 the price to try the wine was 1/3 of what a single new bottle of Napa Cab would cost. For existing customers it gave them a wine they could enjoy our wines while the longer aging wines of ours rested in their cellars. Off course the best part was getting a really good wine for $20.

Based on all that we decided to make the Haut Tubee part of our regular planning. Now we plan on making those one or two barrels from our small vineyards. We also now plan on evaluating each single vineyard wine in barrel and selecting candidates to declassify into the Haut Tubee. We may decided they are all ok to stay, or we may move one or more to the Haut Tubee.

We think that in 2008 and again in 2009 it made all of our wines better to take this approach. We've built it into our planning for 2010 and we're even talking now about having a Haut Tubee Rose and a Haut Tubee White wine. So the Haut Tubee is here to stay and we're very happy with how things have turned out.

The new replanted Haut Tubee in the Winter of 2008 before replanting with Mourvedre.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Haut Tube Goes Mainstream (Part 4)

We exited harvest in 2007 with basically the same plan for the Haut Tubee we had in 2006. It was a single barrel of wine and we were not entirely sure what we would do with it. We had made that single barrel the same way we had done the 2006 and the way we continue to handle the small lots that come into the winery.

Each lot comes from a tiny vineyard with high quality fruit. We process the fruit as we would any of our larger lots, except it goes in a small fermentation bin and gets extra argon to protect it as fermentation slows. Each lot is pressed in the small wooden basket press and transferred to a stainless steel tank. When the tank has enough wine to fill a barrel, the wine is transferred to barrel.

By the summer of 2008 we knew we had a problem. Word had gotten out on the 2006 and we were expecting high demand for the 2007. The problem was we had just a single barrel or about 25 cases. There was no way 25 cases would meet demand.

It turned out we had a lot of things we didn't know what to do with from the 2007 vintage. We had ended up with 3/4 of a barrel extra of Harvest Moon Cabernet. We also had a 1/2 barrel of Elandrich Vineyard Merlot/Cab. There was a single barrel of press wine from Chaine d'Or that we didn't want to use in the final blend of the Estate wine. We also were conducting barrel experiments on our Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. We had decided to use three new barrels out of the nine. We were trying a Sequin Moreau Burgundy Barrel, a Sequin Moreau Bordeaux Barrel and an Ermitage Syrah Barrel. We wanted to see what one matched the wine best. If any of them didn't work out, we had still another barrel without a home.

Some point in that summer of 2008 a plan came together for all the extras. The press wine was broken up. Some went in to beef up the SCM Cab blend, a tiny bit went back into the estate wine, and some went in to the Haut Tubee. We then decided to blend together the Elandrich and Harvest Moon. This solved the problem of the 3/4 barrel, and the remaining amount went into the Haut Tubee.

Later we would add some of the Chaine d'Or into the SCM Cab and a little of that would also end up in the Haut Tubee. We now had two barrels of Haut Tubee instead of one. We were ready to go forward with that and make 50 cases of wine.

Then it came time to taste through the Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. We had made that wine at Big Basin Vineyards and we had the assistant winemaker there pull us a sample from each barrel. Stefania and I tasted them blind. One really stood out. It was smokey and rich with pepper and dark fruit notes, almost brooding. It was a great Syrah, but it was totally different from all the other samples. It turned out that was the new Ermitage barrel.

The folks at Big Basin recommended we bottle that barrel separately but I really didn't want to create a one time only wine. We decided to put it in the Haut Tubee instead. I think you could have argued that that barrel was the best of all nine, but it was also the most different. We also choose another barrel that stood out and that joined the Haut Tubee as well.

That was what we ended up with for 2007. Four barrels of really great wine, blended together and including about 35% new oak for $20. It really is a bargain, but the way we're keeping the books on the wines, most of our costs are falling under other wines. We released that wine in 2009 and it took off again. The highlight was a Gold Medal at the Chronicle Wine Competition.

The 2007 Haut Tubee barrels after bottling.

Next Up - The Haut Tubee Gets a Plan

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Haut Tubee Gets a Name (Part 3)

"Is this crap any good?"

Wine writer David Tong always says that's his favorite wine quote of all time. I don't remember on what visit, or for what wine it was that Stefania asked him that, but I do remember her saying it.

We really didn't know what to think of those two barrels. We liked them, they seemed good, and we did start to share sample with people to get their opinions. Everyone was in agreement; "This crap isn't bad."

It suddenly occurred to us that we were not going to have to throw it out and that meant we had to figure out what to do with it. If we were going to bottle it, we'd have to come up with a name and some labels. It also meant we'd be sinking some money into the wine. We'd need to buy bottles, corks, labels and pay for the bottling. That meant we should probably think about selling it which means coming up with a price and marketing plan.

We knew if we were going to market the wine 'crap' was probably not a good name. One night we called a business meeting. That means Stefania and I got in the hot tub and that we were drinking cocktails. We kicked around about 5-10 different ideas, then I don't remember who, it was probably Stef though she has all the great ideas, said: "Let's call it Hot Tub". There was more smarting off about pretension and foofoo in the wine world and I remember thinking we should give it a name that sounds French as a way of making fun of that foofoo.

Two of Stefania's very favorite wines are Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion. Haut mean 'above' in French and does sound a little like hot. I was on to something. The vines in the back yard are 'above' our hot tub so it kind of fit. Haut Tub, that was the first beta name. I thought for a minute though on how to play with the Tub word. Tub in French it turns out is Tub, I didn't know that then, but came up with what I thought was a funny play on Tub: Tubee.

That was it. We decided. Haut Tubee it was. We'd make the label as fun and unpretentious as we could. The romance on the back would let people know it was named after our hot tub and we'd just put 'California' on the label as the AVA, even though we could have put Santa Clara Valley, or San Francisco Bay on the label. We really wanted to make it fun.

We decided that we'd price it as low as possible to fit in with that fun image. Since the production costs and grape costs had already been factored in on other wines the only costs directly tied to the wine were barrels and bottling. We though $20 was a good number and went with that.

In the Spring of 2008 we released the wine. In keeping with the theme, I really downplayed it in the release letter. I almost made it sound like leftovers. I really wanted to go 180 degrees from the fluffy letters and prose that announced so many new wines being released. I remember that the recommendation was to: "Drink it this summer with pizza in your hot tub."

We had just 37 cases of that 2006. We sold about 25 of them from the release letter. Soon my email started to fill up with requests and comments: "Do you have more?", "Can I get a case?", "Wow, this is really good!" The other 12 cases were gone in about a month, word was starting to get out.

Mostly people were very surprised. We had made it sound like the wine was no big deal and at $20 people were not expecting a lot. Then they started to open them and found a rich, flavorful, deep wine with lots of complex flavors going on. That 2006 really had a great taste of a southern Rhone red. We knew it was a good wine, and that at $20 it was a great price.

Now it seemed like we were stuck with this happy accident. Demand and praise was so high, we had to plan on a 2007 version.

Cleaning up after a pick of the Haut Tubee Vineyard

Next Up - The Haut Tubee Gets All Serious and Stuff (part 4)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Haut Tubee Finds a Home (Part 2)

Just two months after throwing out the 2005 Haut Tubee (It still didn't have a name, that came later) I spent a long day working the Chardonnay harvest at Chaine d'Or. At the end of the day I sat with Jerry Anderson on the stone wall at Chaine d'Or and chatted about our 2006 winemaking plans.

We had moved out of the facility we used in 2005 and were on to a new place in 2006. It was closer for us and we'd be one of only four wineries using the equipment. Jerry knew the winemaker and operation there and offered some advice on how to deal with the quirks we'd find over time. I told him we were excited though and planned on making three wines and crushing about six tons total.

I told him our only disappointment was that this place also had a one ton minimum and we would not be able to process the grapes from our small vineyards. He asked about the small vineyards, and how much wine it was. I told him we were expecting to make a single barrel, maybe up to a barrel and a half.

He said; "Why don't you make it here. I have an old half barrel you can try to bring back to life and there's some space in the corner."

We'd found a home for the Haut Tubee! The 1/2 barrel was old, it had 1992 written on the bands. With lots of hot water though it swelled back up and was sound enough to work. We had another old barrel we'd lined up and looked ready to go. We processed all the grapes as we had done the year before. Each lot was fermented on its own and pressed with the little wooden basket press. Then the juice was blended together with the other lots in the stainless steel tanks.

We had an extra addition in 2006. We pulled aside about 300 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Uvas Creek Vineyard for our annual grape stomp and harvest party. On a cool Saturday night our friends stomped the grapes into must. The next Sunday morning a few friends came over and we picked out all the stems, then ran a bucket brigade from the bin we had used for the stomp into a fermentation bin. The 'Stomp Wine' would be added to the final blend.

In what would become the standard for the Haut Tubee, as soon as the stainless steel tank reached capacity, we transferred the wine to barrel. In the end we had one full barrel and one half barrel of wine. We tucked it into a little corner in the cellar at Chaine d' Or and learned to use the equipment there for racking and sulfuring the wine. There it would stay cool through the summer of 2007.

In August of 2007 we would take over operations at Chaine d'Or and move the other 14 barrels we had made in 2006 from the facility we were in to the cellar at Chaine d'Or. We now had all our wine together. We kept tasting the Haut Tubee, and we didn't know what to think. Our expectation were pretty low but the wine tasted really good. I think we kept waiting for it to suck, but month after month it held its own against the other wines we had in barrel.

Through the busy harvest of 2007 we didn't give those two barrels much thought. We kept them topped up and safe and worried about all the other things we had to get done. It wouldn't be until the Spring of 2008 that we'd start thinking about those barrels again.

Early Haut Tubee experiments in our home kitchen:

-Next up , Part 3, "Is This Crap any Good?"

Monday, August 09, 2010

History of the Haut Tubee (Part 1)

Of all the wines we make the Haut Tubee generates the most email, most retail orders, most re-orders and most information requests of any wine by at least 3 to 1. I think it would be fair to call it our most popular wine. Most people I talk with are surprised that it's so good. We down play it in our release letters and the price ($20) is so low that most people have lowered expectations.

I thought it might be a good idea to run through how we came about making the Haut Tubee. To go through the process we use now to make it, how the final blend comes together and why we price it so low.

When we first planted vines around our house, we didn't have a name for the vineyard. It was our yard after all so mostly we called it; "the vineyard at home". We knew though that that was misleading if we didn't qualify it. Our home is small and the yard even smaller, we always had to add; "it's just 50 plants."

The first few years as the vineyard matured we had a small quantity of grapes, not really enough to make any real wine with. We played around with the grapes, but the results always ended up being dumped out. By 2005 we knew that would change. We had added a couple of other small vineyards by that time and combined with our home vineyard we knew we'd have a large enough quantity to properly store and age the juice.

Our problem was that the facility we were making wine in had a one ton minimum to process grapes. We thought we might be close to a ton, but we also knew that all the grapes would not be ready at the same time.

That year we decided we'd just make the wine at home again. We bought some improved equipment that year to help out. We purchased two 200 liter stainless steal tanks for aging, a 35 gallon wine press and a couple of 60 gallon fermentation tubs. All classic top end home winemaker equipment. Since we were making the wine at home, our plan was we'd just bottle it for ourselves. It couldn't be something we sold because it was not made in a bonded facility.

The grapes all came from small vineyards that we took great care of so everything was really high quality. I rented a crusher de-stemmer and we processed each lot individually just like we were doing for the commercial wine, only on a smaller scale. That year I kept the small lots separate as we fermented and then after pressing the finished juice I added them together into a stainless steal tank.

I bought Argon to help protect the wine and the tank we used had an adjustable top so the wine was protected as it would be in a commercial winery. That first year, 2005 the wine turned out really good. Through the Spring of 2006 Stefania and I both actually thought it was excellent.

Then Summer came. We had a heat spell that got the garage up over 100 degrees for almost two weeks in a row. We had no way to cool the tanks and no additional insulation in the garage. The wine was cooked. We ended up dumping it all out after the heat wave. It was a great disappointment because it had been doing so well.

We talked a lot about what we could do different in 2006. After kicking it around for awhile we decided that the answer was nothing. We didn't really want to invest the money in insulating the garage. That was money better spent on the commercial wine. Everything else we had purchased to make the small lot we could use in the future on our commercial wine, but redoing the garage, we could not reuse or justify.

We planned on making it again in 2006, we just knew that it would probably be ruined again the next Summer. Still we though it was worthwhile to try. It gave us good experience in making wine, and we were after all the experience we could get. We just didn't want to throw more money at it. That's a big part of where our low expectations on the wine came from. The first year we planned on making it we planned on keeping it for ourselves. The second year we planned on throwing it out. It was never something we thought would be a big thing for us.

Next up- The 2006 finds a home.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


I never have any fun trying to figure out what amount of wine to offer people. It's a hard process and I always wish I had more wine to offer. I start the process by sorting everyone on the mailing list by points, highest to lowest. The higher the points, the higher the allocation.

Next I make breaks into groups based on how many people fall into a group. Then I assign an allocation amount to each group. It's pretty straight forward but the amounts are always a bit of a guess.

I'm pretty sure this time we will sell out of everything pretty quickly and the only wine available to some people will be to reorder some of the 2007's we still have available. The really hard part is I don't want to have anyone who ordered wine last time, to not get it this time.

Stefania and I will have to work something out so the order form is not to confusing and maybe get creative with some sampler packs. I'm sure we'll also want to have some way for people to request more wine than they have been allocated so that on the chance we have some left we can get that to people who want it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Upcoming Release

We've started to get some email about the timing of our next release. We've picked a date and it will be September 15th. Shipping will start in November.

I listed the new wines we will have available back in June

We will also have a few 2007 wines that we will be re-offering. We are going to have to go back to doing letters in waves like we did in the past. We will probably do three waves, starting on the 15th, then the 22nd and finally the 6th of October. The first wave will go to people with more than 1000 points. The next wave will go to people with less than 1000 points and new people who have signed up since the last release. The last wave will go to people who have signed up in the past but have not made a purchase.

It seems very likely that we will sell out of Syrah and Haut Tubee in the first or second wave of letters. I'd bet in fact the Haut Tubee is gone in the first round, with an 80% chance the Syrah will go as well before second wave letters go out. I think the Pinot Noir will last a little longer because it's more expensive, but I'm betting there's a 50% chance it too is gone after second wave letters.

I guess that means we're back to having a waiting list at least for some wines.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

American Express

Thanks to Todd D. from California. He finally inspired us to jump through all the hoops we needed to jump through to add American Express to the list of credit cards we can take.

Some how in the transaction we also can now take Discover cards as well. I'm not sure yet if our mobile application will work with American Express, but for all other orders we are finally able to also accept American Express!