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.

Pictures From Sept 24th Vineyard Visits

Gravel and clay at Uvas Creek that Cabernet Sauvignon loves!

Hand manicured rows at Uvas Creek’s lower section.

Perfect grapes at Uvas Creek

Less than perfect grapes removed before harvest at Uvas Creek.

Taking samples in the lower block at Martin Ranch.

Looking through the refractometer getting BRIX readings.

Cabernet in the morning sun.

The old oak at Martin Ranch

In The Vineyards

This weekend it was time to check in on all the vineyards.

I started at Elandrich. First checking the netting and making any repairs that needed to be made, then taking BRIX readings to check on ripeness. The Zinfandel was at 20.1 and the Merlot was at 22.2. They’ve been gaining about 1 degree per week. I like to harvest each at 25+ so they are still some weeks away.

Next I got a call from Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch. He had some Syrah ready to harvest Tuesday, but I couldn’t pick it up just yet. So he’ll call me again in 7-10 days when the next group of Syrah is ripe.

Sunday morning we drove out to Martin Ranch and met Dan and Therese Martin. We wanted to check on where we’ll be dropping off bins, and introduce ourselves. The entire family was busy cleaning bins for 10 tons of Merlot that were coming in. So Stefania and I went out and took our own reading in the vineyard. The upper section Cabernet was at 23.1, the lower section at 22.9. It looked like 2-3 weeks still.

Then we drove over to Uvas Creek. Ted had given my readings earlier in the week, so I wanted to taste the grapes and check on ripeness. These grapes are further along and it looks like maybe 10-14 days.

So starting about October 5th and running through about the 20th, we’ll be very very busy bringing in grapes.

All the vineyards looked really good. The growers we work with are the same as us, they’ve removed any sunburned grapes from this summers heat wave, and have only healthy grapes left on the vines to harvest. Things look really good! Pictures to follow later this week.

How’s the juice burbling?

Even though we now harvest and buy tons of grapes from our own vineyards and vineyards around the state, I still like to keep up the first 50 plants we put in at home. It’s still a good way to learn and experiment on a small scale. I’ve also learned to use the little home vineyard as a way to judge how the season is going in the other vineyards.

Because we live in something called the “West Valley Thermal Zone” everything happens at home 2-3 weeks before it happens in the other vineyards, so it’s a good signal when I need to do things in the mountain vineyards, like spray, or prune or harvest.

So I harvested the 200 pounds or so of grapes last Saturday and started to make a little wine in the garage. I pick out any bad grapes as I go, and sort through them again before I put then in a food grade plastic bin to ferment.

Then it’s I Love Lucy time. I jump in the bin and smash the grapes with my feet. Just enough to release the juice and leave some whole berries.

I’ve been experimenting with something I’ve called partial native fermentation. Basically I heat the juice enough (about 95f) so the yeast that are in the garage/winery and on the grapes start to ferment. Native fermentations can give you more complex flavors and better color. The risk of that is that you can get jumping fermentations that go fast and then slow or stop all together ruining the wine.

So I’ve been letting the fermentation start on its own, then as it starts to slow a bit, I add cultured yeast to finish the job and avoid the risk of ruining the wine.

That was the plan anyway. The juice was stubborn and fermentation did not start on its own, I didn’t want to risk spoilage, so I added cultured yeast to kick off fermentation. It’s burbling along just fine now, turning into wine.

I good reminder for me, even if you have a winemaking plan, you need to stay flexible and do what the wine needs, and lessons like that are why I keep making that small batch of wine in the garage every year. Every thing you learn, no matter what the scale, turns out better wine in the end.

parlez vous francais?

Saturday morning I harvested the grapes at home. About 200 pounds of Syrah and Grenache. The first thing to do is remove the bird netting, which is a disgusting dirty job. It’s so dirty that I don’t usually wear a shirt I want to keep when I take the netting off.

About half way through the project I was thinking, “I’ve never heard the French term for bird netting, or pruners, or twisty ties.” All things essential in growing wine. You here wine people say “cuvee”, fruits “noir”, and “terroir” all the time, but never use French for the dirty parts of wine making.

At that point I decided to rid my speech of French wine terms. No I’m not going to start calling Pinot Noir, New Pine, but the terms used in wine growing and wine making. There’s no need to use the French words, English works pretty well, and even when we have a word like ‘terroir’ that doesn’t translate well, I can say “the environment the grapes grow in especially the soil. Not as clean as terroir, but it works.

Maybe I’m on a crazy crusade, but I want wine drinking to be fun and un-intimidating for people. Using a foreign language to describe basic things doesn’t help on either account. It just intimidates people and makes wine seem more mysterious than it is and wine more difficult to learn than it should be.

So out with the French terms.

By the way the, the grapes went into the bin (‘cuvee’) just fine. I picked out the bad ones (‘triage’) and decided not to bleed off any excess juice (‘sangee’). It’s fermenting away just fine right now.


I had this conversation with Jerry Anderson at Chaine d Or last year as we took a break during harvest.

I said “You know I feel like I’m getting pretty good at grape growing and that doesn’t scare me anymore, and my winemaking gets better every year and I’m feeling pretty good about that, but selling wine, that scares me.”

He replied “You’re worried about the right thing young man.”

So I have been worried. Worried for months. How am I going to sell this wine?
I started with a plan I thought was original. I wouldn’t make any more wine at first than I couldn’t drink or give to friends. I thought it was original until I read that John Alban had the same plan when he started Alban Vineyards in the 1980’s. Still, we would keep production small, focus on quality and build up slowly.

I still worried I’d have more wine than I could sell.

So I’ve had a huge swing in the last few weeks. How am I going to get wine to all these people who want it? My original plan was to have 400 mailing list names by 2008, with 1/2 who would buy 6 bottles per year, or 120 cases sold directly.

We’re at 120+ sign ups already, and we’ve got people asking if they can have full cases or more. I think by the time we release we can easily be up to 200+ names, and I really want to keep cases aside for restaurants and local wine stores.

Now I’m worried about how to come up with an allocation policy so everyone who wants wine can get some. Some might say it’s a great problem to have, and it is, but I still worry. I want to have happy customers, people who like doing business with us, and I hate the idea of telling people; “Sorry you can only have 2 bottles”.