Friday, October 29, 2010

Here I Am

Stefania has been doing most of the blogging lately but I'm still around. Every time I think I'm going to write a blog the only thing that comes to mind is what particular part of my body is sore at the moment (shoulders and right hamstring right now) and I know that's just not that interesting to people.

I did take one of our traditional start of day pictures though last week. It was a late start to the day at 8:40 AM, and that was because we knew if we got to the winery before 9:30 it would be in the high 30's there. It was 45 in our driveway in San Jose. Cold and pain, not compelling blogging I'm afraid.

Things are moving along though. We've pressed the Crimson Clover Cabernet and it's in tank settling before going into barrel. I'm really happy with that wine and think it will be the highlight of 2010. The 'Franken-Pinot-Stein' is also in tank, still slowly fermenting. Right now it taste and looks like a Port. We're not sure what we'll do with it but we're hopeful we've fixed all the major issues.

We filled a half barrel with Chardonnay. That's all we have for 2010. We may buy some grapes from the Coastview Vineyard to have more Chardonnay but we're just not sure right now and have to decide in a couple of days. The Haut Tubee is finishing up in tank and we'll likely press that on Sunday. There are also two bins of Harvest Moon Cabernet fermenting away right now.

Next week we'll likely harvest the Split Rail Syrah and salvage what we can of the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Once everything is in from the vineyard we should have another 3 -4 weeks or so of fermenting, pressing and settling. It looks like we should finish up around December 1st. Another long harvest season for us.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Best Artisan Chocolates? Dolce Bella in SJ!!

I met Audrey Vaggione at an event at the Capital Club downtown SJ a couple of years ago...she is awesome!!

The email invitation I received recently was to announce their Grand Opening this Saturday, October 30th at a new location in San Jose.

The link to her website is here:

Go visit and sample her creations, you'll be hooked.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


It's almost Halloween so it's fitting to talk about the FrankensteinWine in tank right now.

Brix came in under 50 (that's a joke), and the initial sulfur tests came back off the charts. Fun.

So I generally don't like what Laurie Daniels writes about for the local newspaper in her wine column. But today she actually got it right when she said this is a year that winemakers will need to put all their skills to work. Sure it's awesome when we don't have to intervene with the process, but there is always something that needs to be monitored.

This year, we are using all our skills with the FrankenWine (that's what we started calling it). We've added plenty of water hoping to get the sugars balanced, tartaric acid to fix the pH, and copper sulfide to fix the sulfur stink. And let me tell you what, this wine stunk like butt the first two days it was fermenting. We fixed that asap and it's no longer detectable, but I kept having to reassure guests that no, I didn't in fact just fart.

As of today, the wine is inside the winery in tank with the heat lamps on to help push it through the last stages of fermentation, we're at 3.8brix, we should have been at zero by now....we're trying not to freak out, but we are.

Everything else is going along as normal, the year wasn't a total loss but it has had some interesting challenges that's for sure.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"It made a loud popping sound and then...."

The day started at 7:30 a.m., it wasn't too bitter cold yet, but it was overcast and the clouds were rolling in for the first real rain of the season.

By noon, Paul and I had transferred 2 tons of pinot, bucket by bucket, into the press. We got one short break and then Gerry showed up with the first of two truckloads of cabernet.

The three of us processed that first ton, manually into the crusher. We were about 3/4 done when the guy we sold used barrels to showed up with his truck. No break before loading up a dozen barrels...but wait! Just as Paul was getting ready to pull down the first rack of empties, Big Joe died.

Paul came out from inside and said, did you hear that loud POP? (we didn't, the press was running) that was Big Joe, it's dead. So, for the rest of the barrel moving, no forklift...Super.

Gerry, Paul, and I ran relays with the hand truck and hoisted barrels and racks, up and over hoses and around various obstacles.

Next day we had the repair guy come out...his van.

The new batteries in Big Joe...

The deceased batteries...

And then, because I think I figured out how to take video and get it uploaded...a shot of the fog rolling in the other night (a couple days back) as we were wrapping up and leaving for the day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Shipping Update

I've gotten a number of calls and emails about shipping. We did include a note about shipping dates on the back of the order form but I think next time I need to put it on the front where it's easier to find.

We're going to start shipping the first week of November. This year we decided to wait until after all the picking was done before shipping. Last year we tried to manage both at the same time and it was too much. Shipping is pretty labor intensive and time consuming but it also takes up a lot of office time. Stef ends up spending a couple hours each day during shipping season answering phone calls and emails and sending out tracking numbers.

We thought it would be better to do that when she's not having to spend all day out in the vineyard so that's why we waited to ship. We expect everything will go out by Thanksgiving. We'll likely start working from East to West so that everyone has wine by the Thanksgiving weekend. If you need yours sooner let us know.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Best Restaurant and Bar in San Jose

I haven't been at home for a birthday since 1995. It's been 15 years of being out of town. Since 2001 Stefania and I have spent the day in New Orleans. It feels a little weird not to be in NOLA right now, but the schedule just didn't work out this year with the day falling on a Tuesday and the mad rush of harvest zooming up on us.

We actually don't go out a great deal any more in San Jose. We do have some great restaurants in town, but now it's maybe twice a month we head out. That's because I think we have the best restaurant and bar in town in our house.

Tonight we're going to start with a cocktail. It will be shaken just right in an ice cold glass just to order. We'll probably have the baseball games on the TVs behind the bar, at least until hockey comes on at 7:30. We may have cigars on the patio next, or maybe we'll save that until after dinner.

Stef already ran out to the store, she's going to make a fresh wedge salad with bacon, and blue cheese dressing. The dressing will be from scratch with Point Reyes blue and a mix of chopped veggies. She's promised some bread made from scratch too and steamed broccoli. She has some rib eyes that I'll do on the grill. For wine we'll pick a bottle or two from our cellar. I''m leaning to our 07 Santa Cruz Mountains Cab, I really like that wine. Or maybe a Cline Mourvedre or a 1998 La Mission Haut Brion. I know our wine list is pretty good!

It's just hard to beat that in a restaurant. We've joked that all we need to do is hire a waitress / dish cleaner and it's the perfect set up. We'd never leave home. Tonight I can't think of a better way to spend by birthday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Orleans 2010

The Joint

10 Picnic Tables and some patio seating at The Joint

Pulled Pork, coleslaw and The Joint

This would be all I can afford from Natalie anymore, a bid on her paint stained stereo, or maybe one of her soiled smocks...we did get a good couple of visits in with her though.

I took two other photos on the trip, more outdoor shots of The Joint, by now you should have picked up on the idea that I really liked this place. Next time I'm trying the ribs and brisket, but I have to say, the pulled pork sandwich was awesome.

From low brow to high end in the same day we had dinner at Stella. Amuse Bouche was a play on sushi; watermelon "maguro", cantaloupe "ginger", and honeydew "wasabi" with a drop of balsamic "soy".

I had the egg, lobster, caviar to start and Paul had foie gras. He had a carrot salad that I can't really describe other than "just ok and too esoteric", I ordered the soup, salad, and grilled cheese...all just bites to whet the appetite and very pleasing to taste. For the mains, I had an awesome swordfish steak over a ratatouille garnish that would have been appropriate for a pork chop too (just sayin') and Paul had veal medallions. Dessert was a cheese plate and artisan sweets made in-house (nougat, caramel, ganache, marshmallow).

They offer an extensive vodka and caviar menu if you are so inclined...$425/oz for barrel-broke winemakers didn't fit our budget this year.

Our third new place to dine this trip was Mr. B's Bistro. I was craving BBQ Shrimp (these are not actually grilled or in anyway resembling something off the bbq) and was not disappointed with their sauce. Paul ordered the pasta jambalaya and said it was good. We polished off a housemade pecan pie that was so rich it was the only real sweet treat the whole trip and it made up for not having a single praline or beignet. Ronda swears they make the best GumboYaYa, so I'll try that next trip.

Of course we ate at Coops and popped in several times for drinks and snacks. Fay still makes a mean bloody mary.

Missed dinner at GW Fins on account of the evening getting away from us...we popped in there at 11 not knowing what time it really was, sadly the kitchen was closed. There is a new place on Bourbon St, a tequila bar with simple mexican a hand grenade and lucky dog for dinner. Yep, we got distracted with new friends we met over margaritas and chips/salsa, headed back there for a late quesadilla.

Treated ourselves to an early anniversary dinner at Bayona, still an all time favorite. Susan Spicer inspires me to replicate her creamed soups at home. This time it was potato leek. The pork chop was fantastic and Paul had the rabbit...both were excellent entrees. More cheese for dessert.

Other highlights? Our home away from home, Down on Dauphine (rental from vrbo) and the courtyard there...the little green lizard came to see us in the afternoons when we played cards.

We got a lot of visiting in with Natalie, Michael from Monterey (next door to Natalie), Ronda and Walt at Louisiana LoomWorks, our part time neighbors at DoD, and Fay over at Coops. And there was napping, lots of afternoon zzzz's.

Back to winemaking this week, the message this morning from Millie was that the pinot cap dropped.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall Release Status

We had a little spat of orders this weekend that mostly came in over the phone and via email. I knew we were running low on some items so Stefania did a count for me Monday afternoon.

We are now out of the 2008 Eaglepoint Syrah. There is just enough left to do combo packs so if your allocation was for a combo pack we can still do those. We're very low on Haut Tubee as well. It looks like just about 6 cases left. There's about the same amount of Pinot Noir left. We should be good for another week or two I think if the current ordering pace continues.

The thing that made me think of doing a count was a note from a customer in Afghanistan who thought he might be too late. As an official company policy it's never too late for anyone serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to order. Stefania and I do keep a couple of cases of each wine for ourselves and we're happy to share those in emergency situations. This was our 5th order I could remember from someone on active duty in the Middle East and that's a big part of why we keep those couple of cases on the side.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Crimson Clover 2010

Sunday morning we gathered friends and our small crew and harvested the Crimson Clover vineyard. This is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard we've been making wine from now since 2008.

Jerry had gotten us all ready to pick on Friday and Saturday. Friday he took down all the picking and harvest bins and Sunday he and a friend removed the bird netting. Saturday morning Stefania and I rented the extra truck we'd need before we headed out to the winery for the day. That left us to just pick grapes Sunday morning.

Here is the first fruit coming in from the picking bins and going into the harvest bins.

The hill in the background is an old cinder cone so the vineyard has a high amount of volcanic soil. The valley though is a fault, thrust valley so there's a complex mix of soils.

The rows here are cleaner than in our steep vineyards. There's not as much need to keep the ground cover in place and prevent erosion. At the end of the rows in this picture you can see people picking grapes. It goes best if there is one person on each side of the row so you don't have to reach through the vine to cut fruit. You still have to stagger though and not work the exact same part off the vine at the same time. That leads to cut fingers.

This is Jerry's wife Estella and his cousin. Both are part of the little group we call 'The A Team', of our best pickers. When we've sorted after 'The A Team' picks we remove on average less than 1lb of bad grapes and debris for every 2000 pounds picked. They know their grapes and know how to keep bins clean.

I wore myself out Sunday. My Mom and Stefania did the sorting at the truck and I ran bins back and forth. I should have let the younger guys do that. It's basically lifting 30lbs on your shoulder and carrying it 50-100 yards and dumping it in the truck. Then repeat that about 140 times. To top it off I lifted all the grapes again in 20 pound buckets at the crusher. My shoulder still hurts.

We have a few days off now though to recover.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Pops Birthday & Sh*t My Husband Says

We watched the Giants game lastnight (that was disappointing), and one of the commercial breaks was for Conan's new show.

At the completion of the 30-second ad, Paul turns to me and says, "I wouldn't watch Conan if he was on fire in my front yard". And so we have our first installation of Sh*t My Husband Says.

This on the eve of his dad's birthday, and where Paul gets some of his crustyness.

Just this morning, I leaned over Paul's shoulder to see what he was posting and he too was channeling pops:

It's my Dad's birthday today. He's 68,69 or 70, depends on what set of paperwork you're looking at. Record keeping in rural New Mexico circa 1940 wasn't so great.

I love it when I hear people now talk about their dogs. What park they like best, what treat is their favorite, what toy is the best. I especially like the discussions about where the dog sleeps. End of the bed, middle of the bed, its own bed, ect.

My Dad's reply to where does the dog sleep would be; "I don't know ask the dog."

That's my reply to the question of where do the yeast come from: "I don't know ask the yeast".

They work, I like how the wine comes out, and they finish my ferments. I have not built my yeast friends into any kind of dogma, and I don't particularly think they need a marketing program. I'm happy they are there, like an old ranch dog, but I don't really care where they sleep at night.


ITB - Tour Guide, Truck Driver, Cleaner of Things, Winemaker


Friday, October 08, 2010

Ten Photos in Random Order

Wine Amplified main stage, our cabana was where the blue orb light is, just left of the stage!
And there is Paul smiling in front of our cabana before the event.

I was at the Crimson Clover Vineyard earlier this week and pulled samples, it's ready for an early Sunday morning harvest. I saved a robin that got caught in the netting.

Closer view of the Crimson grapes, don't look for the robin, he's long gone...

The "estate" Mourvedre grapes were harvested and tossed in with the rest of the Haut Tubee grapes from three other little vineyards.

The Haut Tubee Syrah, and just under that a close-up, not to show how awesome the grapes look, they do, but to show why I don't like to use any tape, twine, or other device to tie the cordons to wire. The green tie is cutting into the vine. We had to tie them that first year of retraining, but after pruning I'll go back and properly wrap the cordon around the wire.

Testing TA on the pinot...sugar came in a little high.

The pinot.

Teaching Jerry how to play gin rummy while we waited for the 2nd bin of pinot.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Recycle Glass Week

Our sales guy Ron is always asking me about recycling wine bottles and how that works, so just for him, I'll copy over some text from a mailer that arrived today.

According to The Wine Mirror, Recycle Glass Week was September 12-18th (just got the mailer today, 10/6).

Glass containers, such as wine bottles, beer bottles, and glass jars, are endlessly recyclable without a loss of quality or purity. The recycled crushed glass, known as cullet, is used to replace or supplement raw materials, including sand, soda ash and limestone. Turning recycled glass into new containers requires an average of 40% less energy than is required for raw materials alone. For every six tons of recycled container glass used, a ton of carbon dioxide is reduced in the process.

Regardless of color, all container glass can be recycled. To produce Flint (clear) glass, cullet needs to be color-sorted in order to avoid putting too much colorant to finished glass. Optical resorting systems allow us to do this but, ideally, glass should be sorted by color as in some countries, such as Switzerland and New Zealand.

SGCI 2010 * Special Issue, A Verallia Publication

I pulled that directly off the mailer - there are a few other tips, like removing metal capsules from the glass before recycling, but that's about it. I looked up and found a link to their recycling info page,

Ok, so they are in France and it's not directly relevant to recycling in the U.S. but mostly I wanted to poke fun at receiving the mailer three weeks past the date of the event. :-p

Monday, October 04, 2010

Busy Days

Here's a recap of the past few days.

Thursday we spent all day at the winery.

Friday we started the day with picking Chardonnay at Chaine d'Or. Most of the Chardonnay had been damaged by sunburn so we knew this would be a difficult process. We set up the shaded table below to cut out sunburned berries one at a time. It was a long slow process and at most we think we'll have enough Chardonnay just for personal use at parties from 2010.

When we were done at the winery we had to drive down to Aptos to drop of bins for the next days pick. We got home after 9PM.

It was a long, slow day of mostly waiting. We finally left the vineyard at 3PM with only half the grapes we were expecting. We couldn't wait any longer. There's not enough outdoor lighting at the winery to work in the dark and it is an hour drive from Aptos to Woodside.

We processed just under one ton of Pinot Noir. The fruit was very ripe and we had to add about 14 gallons of water to lower the sugar to a level that will ferment ok. This will be a hard wine for us to make. Usually we just take initial readings, add yeast food and then check Brix daily. With the high Brix, and water addition on this we'll have to take full readings all along and continue to add yeast food through fermentation.

Saturday we also had to transfer the Chardonnay out of the settling tank and into a tank to ferment. We're going to do a stainless steal fermentation this year. Mostly because the amount is so small.

I know I've talked before about how we wrap all our bins in plastic to keep bees out but I've never posted a picture before. Here's what the bin looks like with the top on and sealed in plastic wrap. There's a ton of Pinot Noir fermenting inside.

Sunday we had another busy morning of punch downs and taking readings at the winery. We also had to be at the truck rental at 7AM to return the truck from Saturday.

Monday the last 3/4 of a ton of Pinot Noir came in and we processed it in the morning. The Brix was not as high but we still added 8 gallons of water. It was just Stefania, Jerry and I working but we still managed to get home at 3PM after cleaning the winery.

Tuesday I'll be back at my day job. Stefania and Jerry are going to harvest and process three of the Haut Tubee vineyard (home, Church and OttiGurr) on their own. I'm not sure yet how I feel about it. It will be the first processing I've ever missed. Stef knows her stuff inside and out though and I know she'll do a great job, it's just weird to miss it. I hope they will make it home before 5PM.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Waiting is the Hardest Part.

We are at the vineyard in Aptos now waiting on the picking crew to finish. We knew this would be a slow pick. The clusters are small and spaced apart. That slows a crew down a lot. Still we hoped to be on the road by 1 PM. Now it looks like 4PM at the soonest. That will crate a bunch of logistical issues for us.

Worst of those issues is we'll be stuck in traffic on hwy 17 heading back towards San Jose. Traffic returning from the beach is at the worst from 4-6 PM. We'll also have to finish processing the fruit in the dark tonight. We're really not set up for that at Chaine d'Or so it will be tough.

We also won't be able to get a weight tag. The public scales all close at 5PM and there is no way we can get an empty weight today. It will be a long night. Suspect we will finish well after 10 PM.

I did take this video though of the vineyard. I'm using the new netbook we got and Verizon's 3G system to try and get the video published.