Adventures in Truck Driving

I really hoped to have more updates as we harvested, but the reality of 12-15 hour days set in quickly. I fell asleep at a friends house Saturday night watching the Sharks game with a glass of Port in my hand.

In all I think we put 700 miles on rental trucks and probably another 500 on our own cars these past two weeks. As I was driving over Highway 17 Friday, I started to think about Stefania’s late father, Lt. Cl. Fred Von Gortler. He was a career Army officer, and I thought about something they teach at the War College. The saying is “Amateurs talk about strategy and tactics, professionals talk about logistics.”

Last year I said the key thing I learned for the season was how important leadership and a chain of command is in a winery. This year my leason was: “It’s all about logistics.”

Basically you make your wine making plans well in advance. I keep my options open though, and make choices based on the fruit as it comes in and we start to work with it. It all comes down to logistics though. You have to have everything in place, and move everything around effectively to make your choices happen. If the fruit is low in BRIX, you need to have the lower BRIX yeast at the winery already. You think the fruit needs destemming after tasting the stems, you better have the destemmer clear. You want the best fruit in the state, you better know how to drive a truck.

These harvest weeks really come down to how effectively you can manage the logistics of moving fruit around. I think that was really clear to me on Saturday as I worked with Bill and Ted at Uvas Creek to load the truck, and a couple of homewinemakers stood by. They wanted to talk about what yeast I would use, if I’d cold soak, what kind of barrels I had, and all the little details. I didn’t have time to shoot the breeze, all those options where already planned for, I just needed to move the fruit and make it happen, I had to get on the scales by noon.

Amateurs talk yeast and cold soaks , professionals talk trucks and bins. That’s the key thing I learned this year.

A Busy Harvest Weekend

Just a fast note on where we are at:

Friday –
7:30 AM pick up a 15 foot truck
9:00 AM arrive at Martin Ranch to pick our 1 1/2 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon
Noon: arrive at the scales for an official weigh in of the truck
12:30 PM drop of the grapes at Hallcrest in Felton
1:00 PM return to the scales for an empty weight
1:30 PM back to Hallcrest to crush the Cabernet
2:30 PM add yeast and start the fermentation
3:00 PM Wash out the bins
3:30 PM load the truck and drive back to Uvas Creek
5:30 PM arrive at Uvas Creek and drop of the bins
7:00 PM arrive home – a twelve hour day


Up at 4:00 AM
4:30 AM load up the FLPB (mine are Purple not Yellow) and drive to Portola Valley
5:30 AM begin removing bird netting
6:30 AM start picking and loading Merlot at Elandrich in Portola Valley
8:00 AM finish pick and drive to Uvas Creek
9:30 AM load up our two tons of Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
11:30AM arrive at the scales for an official weigh in of the truck
12:00 PM drop of the grapes at Hallcrest in Felton
12:30 PM return to the scales for an empty weight
1:00 PM back to Hallcrest to crush the Cabernet and Merlot
2:30 PM add yeast and start the fermentation
3:00 PM Wash out the bins
3:30 PM press the Eaglepoint Syrah and get it into the settlement bins
6:00 PM head home
7:00 PM arrive home- fifteen hour day

Wish us luck!

A Great Post Party Note

Right in the middle of harvest season, we like to take a little break, and invite all our friends over to celebrate harvest. We make some harvest season treats, and I put some grapes in the backyard for everyone to stomp, and we open 30 or 40 bottles of wine.

This year we had a full house at 40 people. Just about the maximum we figure we can fit. This morning Stefania got a thank you note from one of her friends and co-workers:

“I just wanted to say thank you for the invite…we had a preconceived notion that since we were not ‘Wine People’ we would feel uncomfortable and to put it harshly shunned by the other so called ‘Wine People’…. What we found out the moment we walked through the door was SO the opposite of what our stupid inclinations were (I don’t even know what ‘Wine People’ are anymore). You and Paul are the most gracious hosts and everyone made us feel so welcomed. I can’t even remember the last time I went to a party where I knew virtually no one and felt so comfortable, where people you do not even know come up to you and say ‘Hi I am such and such’ and just start talking to you as if you mattered, not caring that we knew nothing about wine and very willing to share their knowledge or experience. “

That was the best note. One goal we have is to make wine easy and enjoyable for people. We want to put aside all the anxiety and let people just enjoy a bottle with new friends or connect with old friends. “Good wine, good food, good parties and great friends!” as Stefania says. Friends are the key that makes the party, the food, or the wine truly great.

We’re headed out tomorrow to drop off bins and get back to winemaking!

Update on Eaglepoint Ranch and some notes on the 05’s.

Well we made it back!

What an adventure in truck driving. 5+ hours up to Mendocino County, with the last 5 miles (including 1.5 miles of dirt) on a step mountain road. We picked on the morning of 10/11 before the Sun came up. Four full bins of fantastic Syrah. We had planned on just 3 bins, but I took the fourth just in case Casey at Eaglepoint would let us take more and he did.

The picking crew was excellent and they left any problem grapes on the vine. We loaded back up and drove back to Felton. 6+ hours through 7 counties, across the Golden Gate, through San Francisco, all the way to Santa Cruz to get on a public scale. The grapes went into the crusher with just a minor issue (the forklift got stuck in the field and had to be pulled out). Fantastic fruit, even the crew at the crusher said it looked great.

We 100% destemmed but did not crush the berries, and it went into 3 one ton bins to ferment. I’m using two different yeast this year to see what might work best on this fruit.

The 100% destemming was a hot topic at dinner Tuesday night with Casey and Larry Roberts, a winemaker from Paso Robles. Almost everyone making Eaglepoint Syrah follows Sean Thackery who uses 100% stems, or Wells Guthrie (Copain) who uses 60% stems. I guess I’ll just stand out. I love the pure fruit and floral nose our wine developed in 05 without stems, so We’ll be the mavericks who will go total destem with Eaglepoint. I think the fruit has good enough tannin and complexity on its own.

We finally got home at 9:45 PM on the 11th, and returned the truck yesterday. Today I’m off to Bonny Doon and Elandrich to check on the grapes, then Uvas Creek to drop off a Bin for 1000 pounds of Cabernet we’re getting tomorrow.

And oh yeah some tasting notes have been put up on our 2005’s:

Getting Ready to Go

After we’re done lounging with some coffee this morning, we’ll be off to clean our bins and get them ready for harvest tomorrow. Then we swing by the truck rental place and pick up a 14 foot box truck to drive to Mendocino. We should get to Eaglepoint Ranch about 5 PM today.

We’ll unload the bins and settle down for a little wine and food with the folks at Eaglepoint and then get to bed early. We’re staying at the Ranch tonight. We’ll get up before dawn tomorrow as harvest starts. Once our bins are full, we load back into the truck and take the 5+ hour drive back to Felton and Hallcrest.

We should arrive about noon. We’ll crush right away and the must will go into T-bins to start turning into wine. The process should go fast and we’re hoping that by 6 or 7 PM we will be able to call it a day.

Stefania will take lots of pictures and we’ll post them here and to our website as soon as possible.

And we’re off……..

A few frantic phone calls to Hallcrest and Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch and we’re ready!

Tuesday we’ll rent a truck and head up to Eaglepoint Ranch. Casey is going to let us pick our rows out Tuesday afternoon. We’ll stay the night at the ranch and then pick the next morning! Then a drive down 101 to Hallcrest, and John is ready for us. Our first fruit will go into bins this week.

I still have to confirm the truck, and wash the bins but we’ll get that done tomorrow. I’ll also call Casey and offer to cook rib eyes for everyone Tuesday night at the ranch.

We’ll take lots of pictures! Finally, we’re off and running!

Here Comes the Sun Again!

After days of cloudy drippy wet weather, we woke up this morning to Sun! The outlook now is for sunny weather and warming over the next two weeks. The tequila worked!

The forecast could not be better. So after a hard week of waiting and hoping, we’re ready to go again. Everything has been pushed back by a week or so it seems. Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch is going to call me today with numbers and set up a picking date.

Uvas Creek sent me numbers on Friday, and that looks like it will be picked the week of the 15th.

I’m pretty excited by what we’re seeing. Sugars are not to high, and acidity is really good. These should be great grapes to make the kind of wine we really want to make. Updates should start to come fast now.

Sharks and Wine

It might seem odd that we list a small get together on Thursday night at our house as a wine event. It was opening night hockey for the San Jose Sharks.

For us it has a very real wine tie in. We had been season ticket holders for the Sharks for many years. We had even worked our way down to the 7th row. Two years ago though we had a tough choice to make. The season tickets are about the same price as the fee we pay the facility we make wine at. So it was Sharks or make wine. We made wine.

We’ve had to make a lot of financial sacrifices along the way. We didn’t get into making wine as a vanity project like so many people, or a way to waste dot-com millions (we didn’t have any to waste), it’s been a tightly budgeted project all along.

We’ve known the risk in that. A big factor in the failure of most new wine projects is being under funded. So we put a tight business plan together. Slow controlled growth, cost containments, limit risks, generate cash flow early, lots of planning to get by on a small budget and focus every dollar on the wine.

For a night it was nice to push that aside though and have some good Pizza and watch the Sharks win in overtime. I miss the games, but it sure would be sweet to toast a Stanley Cup with some Stefania Wine, even if we can’t be at the game.

Gin for the gods of Rain.

Yesterday Adam Lee from Suduri/Novy wines posted something he’d heard
form Pinot Noir grower Martin Van der Kamp:

There is an Native American tradtion that the God that brings rain also likes to drink gin. So to delay a rain you leave 1 shot of gin outside and the God then either becomes drunk or certainly distracted enough that the rain is delayed. We will be putting a shot of gin outside the winery tonight and would appreciate it if all of you could do the same at your homes as well. “

We put a shot of gin outside last night as well, and I’ve heard Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch did too.

Right now we just wait and hope the coming rain is light and doesn’t slow down the grapes too much. The forecast is for dry weather in the 70’s after the storm goes through, so all in all the rain may just push back harvest 3-5 days.

Kenneth posted a review and some pictures from the barrel tasting on Saturday. Take a look at:

And put some gin out if you have it!

Harvest at Chaine d Or

We met Anne Anderson of Chaine d Or a few years ago at a tasting event at Copia in Napa, and followed that up with a picnic at the winery last summer. Jerry and Anne took a liking to us and offered lots of great advice as we started our winery.

Last fall Jerry invited me to help with harvest. No small deal, Jerry had turned down all offers of help for over 10 years he let me know. I think our enthusiasm and dirty boots though convinced Jerry and Anne we were serious so I helped with both the Chardonnay harvest, and the Cabernet harvest.

Jerry asked me to help again this year, and Saturday morning I headed out before dawn to get to the small vineyard high in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

This was my view from on top of the crusher. Our Elandrich vineyard is on the lower left, and Ridge’s Monte Bello vineyard is the cloud covered peak on the right.

I’m in charge of the “crush pad”. The grapes arrive and I lift them into the crusher destemmer. Jerry puts the crusher in the truck bed so that we can use gravity to feed the crushed and destemmed grapes into the wine press. The juice collects in the bin below the press and I then pump it into the large tank in the back to settle.

You can see the pump on the right, and the cellar doors in this photo. I use the wheel barrow to haul away the discarded stems.

Jerry on his tractor far down the row. The picking crew loads the tractor and Jerry brings the bins up to me at the crush pad.

Chardonnay grapes fresh in the bin. In the wine business these are called. F.L.Y.B.’s Short for little yellow bins. They are harder to work with than 1/2 ton bins because each one has to be lifted into the crusher (by me in this case) rather than using a forklift. They hold 30 pounds.

Another task I do is run up and down the rows and push all the FLYB’s into a row. The pickers leave them on the ground when they are full. I then go line them up like this so Jerry can load them onto the tractor by passing down a single row.

4 bins are loaded on the front. I do that. Two pickers then load the back up with 20-25 bins, and Jerry then drives them up to me at the crush pad. One of the crew lifts them to me, and I lift them into the crusher. I quickly remove any leafs or bad clusters before they get crushed.

I had to leave for a little bit at 9 am, but we were mostly done by then. I got back in time to press the juice and finish getting it into tank. Jerry lets it settle for 24 hours before he transfers it into barrels for fermentation. The last task of the day was getting the crusher off the truck. No easy task for sure.

We finished the day cleaning up and Jerry asked me how our harvest schedule looked. I let him know that we were likely going to make the Elandrich Zinfandel at home because there was not enough to make at Hallcrest. Hallcrest has a one ton minimum and we will only have about 1000 pounds of Zinfandel.

He very kindly offered to let us make the Zinfandel at Chaine d Or. So we will have a single barrel (25 cases) of 2006 Elandrich Santa Cruz Mountain Zinfandel from Stefania Wine after all.