Monday, January 31, 2011

CWT - Labeling Shiners

There's a term used in the wine industry: Shiners. It's used to describe wine that has been bottled but not labeled. The only way to identify the wine is that the bottle 'shines'.

We were talking about having to label shiners the other day and someone thought we said Shriner's and wondered how or why we were labeling them...and if it was hard to do as they zoomed by on the little go-carts. They move pretty fast, sometimes you hope to snag them by the fez and slap a sticker on 'em.

Ok, not really. A shiner is a bottle of wine without a label. No name, no identity. Just to be clear:



We ended up with 91 cases of these that we had to handle the labeling on and will distribute through our local sales rep.

We finally got a name and an identity but it was long after the bottling truck had been through, so Friday I went over to CWT with Estella and Gerardo and we spent a couple of hours labeling all 91 cases by hand.

Estella unloaded the shiners, Gerardo and I labeled them (mine all slope up on the right, at least I was consistent), and then he put the finished bottles back in the cases and taped them closed.

I really thought this was going to take a lot longer than it did, but we hustled and got it done.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mineral Hill Vineyard

I'm sure we'll come up with a bunch of different names for this site before we actually get grapes, but as of yesterday I was set on Mineral Hill. As the crew drilled post holes a bunch of different rocks showed up in the soil.

I brought home jasper, serpentine, yellow and red sandstone, chalk, something volcanic and porous, an aggregate, quartz and quartz crystals. They hit river rock and tree roots that slowed them down in a couple of spots, but mostly it went smoothly.

Gerardo and Paul, Mt. Umunhum in the background peeking out through the clouds. The latest news is that there are plans to demolish and remove the tower before they open the park to the public.

The posts...

The post holes...
Paul wanted to make sure I got a picture of him working so that you don't think he just stands around supervising the whole time. Gerardo and his brother-in-law Gil drilled the holes and Paul cleaned out excess debris then helped hoist the auger out when it got caught.

One of 34 posts...

They actually set 22 posts before fatigue set in and the light rain started. There are 4 holes that have to be excavated by hand because of roots so we'll head back later in the week and finish that up.

I'm hoping Paul will remember to upload the pictures of the rocks and Bruce the dog, he's going to be a great vineyard dog. We're very excited with this piece of property and looking forward to getting it online.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

St. Vincent's Paganalia

It's that day of the year again:

St Vincent's Day

or Paganalia

Herrardo was working at Chaine d'Or all day to finish up the last of the pruning. I also went up to help him and do a little work in the winery. There were just seven short rows left so it was not too much work.

I also stopped by our local church to drop off the traditional wine offering for Father Bennett who actually prefers to be called Father Chris. He did a wonderful service last year when Bill passed away and the entire staff at the church was great to my Mom. I wanted to thank him again for that and hoped he's say a prayer for the wines again this year.

We'll have a small party tonight to celebrate. Stef is going to make paella and we're going to open Spanish and Portuguese wine. For the last few years, in keeping with the Pagan theme, this has been a pajama party. Come as comfortable as you can get yourself.

In years past we've done this as a large party with 20-30 people. Stef and I decided though that this year we were going to make the winter parties smaller with just enough guests that we can sit everyone at the tables (10-14). The house is just too small for more than that if we get bad weather or cold. In the warmer months we usually spill outside and that makes it much more comfortable. We also can use the grills outside then and cooking for bigger groups is easier.

The first 'big' party we're working on will likely be in late April. I have a new cigar humidor and we'll break that in with a red meat, red wine, cigars and whiskey party.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Links and Ads

We have a small group of links on this blog. There really should be more but I'm bad about adding them to the page. If you have a link you think I should add please send me a note. As long as it fits in with our general theme I'll add it.

We do not accept advertising however other than the little tiny link that makes our page hit counter at the bottom go for free.

When we started this blog it was really because we were so busy in the winery and vineyards that we didn't have as much time as we wanted to keep friends and family updated on how things were going. We thought putting some blogs up was less intrusive than blasting people with email. We've never thought of it as a commercial enterprise and we'd like to keep it that way. The cost to us is small, so we're willing to spend the few dollars with out Advertising.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I haven't really written a lot about pruning this year, but it has been going on. We're already done with Crimson Clover, Home, the Church, and almost finished with Chaine d'Or. We still have Split Rail and a couple of smaller vineyards to get done, but we think we can finish those soon.

The pictures below are actually out of order. You can tell by the fact that there is fog in the last one and then it's gone in the first one.

This is from a small vineyard in Los Altos that we pruned on Monday. The picture below is the finished vineyard. About 225 Syrah vines in total. The vines are young and just now being trained with Cordon's and spurs.

Below Stefania and I had just arrived and she was inspecting the vineyard. The little section she is in has a lot of dead plants and we're going to ask the homeowner to get the soil tested this year. The problem area is in a swallow from the home in the background. It looks like something is draining down that hill from the house above and into the swallow and killing the plants.

It could be a chemical that's decades old, maybe even something left over from the original construction. It may also be something as simple as a weed and feed fertilizer that they are using on their lawn and that is running off through the vineyard. In any case we won't know if it's a chemical problem until we test.

The total number of plants effected is small, just about 20, but we'd still like to find out what is going on as the rest of the vineyard looks really good.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winery Day

Saturday I was in the winery for a day of work. Stefania was helping a friend move so I headed up by myself for the days work. My first task was to top up all of the 2009 wines. That's the process of adding wine to the existing barrels. Each barrel loses about 1/2 a gallon per month through evaporation and that has to be replaced. If it's not the resulting air gap in the barrel can lead to spoilage and infection of the wine.

In the winter time when the cellar is at 55 degrees and the weather is humid, evaporation is slow and I top up every month. In the summer the cellar warms up to about 65 degrees and the air is dry so I top up every two weeks.

After topping up I drew samples from all our 2010 wines. The TTB and ATB of California require us to have a lab certified reading of all of our wines. So after the new year each year I draw samples to send into Vinquiry for official measurements. I try to take an equal amount from each barrel. Below is the Pyrex bowl I transfer the samples into and three of the five sample bottles are filled and ready to go. Vinquiry has a special tag I'll put on the bottles before shipment, but in the winery I use a Sharpie and blue tape.

The 2010 wines still have fermentation bungs in them. You can see them on the top of the barrels below. It's a small tube and water bowl. The idea is the tube allows air to escape from the barrel and the water bowel prevents air from getting back into the barrel. The water is treated with sulfur to make it bacteria free.

If the barrel could not vent itself, any gas created from ongoing fermentation or from the secondary fermentation would be absorbed by the wine. This could create off flavors or worse make the wine spritzy.

I was actually pretty pleased with the 2010's at this point. They all have really dark colors and I was not getting any unripe flavors, which had been a concern. The Pinot is still fermenting slowly but the other wines are all finished. The wines were rounder than I expected too with no angular tannins at this point.

I also spent some time out in the vineyard helping Jerry prune, and we had a couple of guests stop by for a brief tasting. The weather was great though and I wished I could have spent more time outside pruning.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wine Competitions

It's that time of year again when we start to get dozens of letters and emails, even phone calls, from wine competitions asking us for entries. In the past we've entered the SF Chronicle's competition. We did that mostly because a few people over the years have been less than supportive and we wanted them to know we're still around. Spite entry actually.

This year though when the Chronicle called I had to tell them no. We don't have enough wine to even give them 6 bottles to enter, much less the case we have to give them if we win something. So there will be no wine competitions entered this year.

I'm not sure if we'll enter one again. Probably not I think, but we may decided to again, you never know.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Q4 and Year End Results

Last year I had a series of postings about our results and business planning. I started with an update on the state of the wine industry that I mentioned our Q1 results in. I then followed up with our Q2 results in another post.

Those two generated a lot of conversation with regular readers and followers of the blog so I wrote two more pieces. One about our business planning and then a follow up when the plan was complete.

Stefania hasn't totally finished closing out the books on Q4 and 2010, but she's close enough to get me a few numbers to share. We finished the year with record revenue from wine sales (I track vineyard revenue too, but separately). We were up 61% in total. I had predicted a conservative estimate of up 40%, but thought 60% might be possible.

Wholesale sales were up 283% from 2009. I guess I was right. We could do a better job than the distributors I fired in 2009, 283% better. Everything was a new high for us in 2010, direct sales, wholesale and total.

At our meeting in September we had three options for 2011. One was to finance and build out a complete new winery operation. Option two was to build out a partial winery operation, keeping crush and fermentation at Chaine d'Or and moving storage and bottling to a new facility. The third option was to focus on debt reduction and paying ourselves back some of the money we've invested so far.

For right now we're going with option three. Stef is now getting a paycheck and we're committed to paying me back for all expenses I have in 2011. We'll use that to pay off debt we've used so far to finance the winery. We'll reevaluate at the end of Q1 and Q2 as usual and things may change if sales keep up at that high level.

The low crop levels in 2010 were a big factor. We would have been out of room at Chaine d'Or if crop levels were normal in 2010, but because they were so low we have enough room there in 2011 to meet our plans. That's taken some of the pressure off the need to expand. We also were not crazy about taking on another $60k-$100k in debt.

We'd like to see if we can get in a position by next year where we can finance that amount on our own or with a small group of private investors. The banks we've talked to are most interested in tying a loan to real estate and we're just not anxious to tie the house to the winery at this point. We think we could do better offering a real good rate to private investors in small amounts, so that's more likely what we'd do.

In any event we're excited that 2011 will be a good year.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Travel Plans

We will be out on the road again in February for a few visits. Details on events are posted here:

We don't really have anything planned yet for New Orleans other than the usual eating, drinking, visiting, art shopping and 'scholarship pageant ' attendance. We'll have our own place again though so would be really happy to get together with anyone in town. We'll be there from the 4th through 9th.

In Miami we have a pretty full agenda and will be there from the 10th through 13th. I'll be bringing along our newest releases and some barrel samples of our 2009's.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Line Up

Every so often we get a note from a friend that they've brought our wine to a big tasting or dinner and they'll share the list of wines with us. We got one last week from a friend in Miami and the list was impressive:

2005 Bodegas Nekeas Vega Sindoa El Chaparral Old Vines Granache
1969 Chapoutier La Bernardine Chateauneuf du Pape
1995 Chapoutier La Bernardine Chateauneuf du Pape
2001 Turley Estate Petite Syrah
1989 Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage
2001 Domaine Tempier Cuvee Speciale La Migoua
2003 Clos des Papes (Vincent Avril) en magnum
1985 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage la Chappelle
2001 Roger Sabon Le Secret des Sabon
2003 Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape
2007 Chateau Mourges du Gres Terre d'Argence
1998 Guigal La Mouline Cote Rotie
2003 Chateau Rayas Reserve Chateauneuf du Papes
2007 Stefania Eaglepoint Mendicino Syrah
2000 DuMol Eddie's Patch Syrah

A list like this always reminds me of the first time I took a barrel sample out for people to try. It was at a dinner in Maryland and everyone decided that the perfect time to try my little plastic bottle full of wine was right beside a 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia and a 1995 Ridge Montebello. That's a high pressure moment.

We've always done really well at these type of events though and we actually get lots of sign ups from people once the price comes out. Our wine is usually the least expensive by a wide margin.

I love hearing these stories now, so if you take one of our wines to an event, let us know how it did.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Seattle Pics

Our friend Noelle posted pictures from our trip on her Facebook page and I stole my favorites.

Our Group.

Our fearless leader being a dork.

Fresh shrimp in cream sauce. We cooked every night except for the night of the football game. I think we went through just under 30 bottles of wine.

View from the deck of the Space Needle. Noelle took a great video of the fireworks show on New Years Eve.

We had sunny blue skies every day.

The view over Lake Union from the balcony. Watching seaplanes was a major distraction for everyone.

We did lots of shopping in Pike's Place Market. Lots of fresh seafood, cheese, a great duck and veggies.

It was cold for us Californians though with highs in the low 40's. We bundled up all the time.

We also spent a day in Woodinville tasting wine.

A great trip with great friends and Stefania had another fun birthday!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Church

Stefania and I have both had a cold since we got back from Seattle but Saturday morning we still decided to get out and prune the little church vineyard.

Santa Teresa Catholic church is around the corner from us in San Jose along Calero Avenue. We're not sure who put the vineyard in but it's now about 5 years old. The church is on our regular route to the Post Office, gas station and local independent coffee shop. A few years ago we notice that the vines were in terrible shape so I stopped by one day and told Father Chris I'd volunteer to take care of them.

There are just 20 plants and it's only 20-30 hours a year we have to put in, so it's not much of a burden to help keep the neighborhood looking nice.

Here you can see that it is a suburban vineyard, right along the street and next to the fire station. The trunks on the plants are a little funky from the first couple of years of neglect before we took over.

We have been able though to get the cordons and spurs trained properly as you can see below.

The plants are very low to the ground so it's a little hard to work, but not impossible. We've had to replace a few of the plants that died as well and the little ones are doing good. The little spot actually produces about 250 pounds of grapes. We'll continue to keep up on it all through the year.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Our Phone Policy

In the trade magazines we get there have been lots of articles about direct marketing to your customers via the phone. It's the latest greatest craze. All the articles say that bigger wineries should even have a full time person who calls customers to make special offers, tell them about new releases and offer wine at discounts. These articles say smaller wineries should call as well and dedicate time to the effort.

Many of the wine boards have had discussions about wineries that have called them. Usually the call is about some sort of discount or special offer. Normally the tone of these discussions is that the wineries must be desperate to make a sale. From what I've read though it's just the start of a new trend of direct marketing.

We're not going to participate in this trend. We promise.

We do ask for a phone number when people sign up. We do that because UPS and GSO ask for a phone number when we ship. In case someone has forgotten to include it on their order form we can fill the info in without bothering them.

We have also used that sign up number a couple of times to call people when we had a question about an order they've placed. Usually we will try email first, but once or twice we've had to call. The only other time I can recall us using a phone number is when we've been going out to dinner with someone, either them visiting San Jose, or us visiting them and we've needed to call to coordinate plans.

That's it, that's the only time we'll use your phone number.

We also will never sell any information, emails, phone numbers, nothing to third parties. We have been contacted in the past with interest in buying our mailing list, and I've flat out refused to consider it. That also will never change.

We do love it though if you email us, or call, and especially when you come visit. Don't stop that please!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Happy New Year!

Every other year Paul takes me on a trip for New Years and my birthday. This past weekend was our year away and we spent it in Seattle with 6 of our friends. What a blast!

The condo we rented on Lake Union had a gorgeous view of the Olympic mountains, overlooked the lake and had an unobstructed view of the Space Needle. At 11:59 New Years Eve they light up the Space Needle with an eight minute long fireworks display, it was fantastic!! We popped a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon to toast the new year and promptly fell asleep at 12:12 a.m.

On Sunday we attended the Seattle Seahawks vs. St. Louis Rams game. After watching the Rams stomp, squish and otherwise annihilate the 49rs just the week before I thought for sure they would win and take the championship title. What a surprise!

Not knowing that the Seahawks are hosting the Saints this coming Saturday, I wore my Saints T-Shirt underneath a newly acquired Seahawks sweatshirt to the airport on our way home. I mention this only because I told the TSA agent that no, I was not going to remove my sweatshirt, and claimed I was shirtless underneath..."you want me to pass security in my bra? I don't think so". I got the full female pat down, which, for the record, is faster than taking the shirt off and on and less hassle with hair, glasses, earrings getting caught, etc. I figure he must have been a Rams fan...

At the market after we got home I couldn't help myself with a bag of fresh cranberries...with no plan on what to do with them I bought them anyway, and a fresh pineapple. After unpacking and settling in a bit, I got online and found a recipe for fresh made cranberry juice. It's amazingly easy.

I like that on the weblink there is a Top Five Things to Try list and 3 contain alcohol, woohooo!

Cheers and Happy New Year everyone!