Harvest is Upon Us

It has been a combination of getting used to the new blogging tool and being really busy that’s limited our writing. Neither Stefania nor I are really comfortable yet with the new blogging interface so we’re not writing much. Hopefully we’ll pick it up some in the next few weeks.

We did get to Vegas and had a fantastic time at Rock and Roll Wine.  Train was much better than I expected.  The concert was a blast and we partied and hung out in the cabana all night.  The next day we swam and sunned and watched the football games outside.  If you can make it to Vegas next year for the event, it’s highly recommended.

Offer letters have gone out and orders are humming in.  Almost everyone seems to want more Haut Tubee and I don’t think we’ll have enough to go around.

We’ve also been out checking on all the vineyards.  It looks like Pinot Noir will be first up this Saturday, then the Crimson Clover vineyard next weekend.  Stefania and I will be in the winery Friday getting everything cleaned, prepared and ready to go.

We’ll try and pick up the blogging some more as we harvest and work over the next few weeks.

The A+ Vendor List

One of the things that Stefania and I do twice per year, usually after bottling and harvest, is rate all of our vendors.  There are usually somewhere between 15 and 25 vendors that we rate.  We give everyone a grade from A to F.  A’s and B’s we keep.  If there was a reason someone got a B we make sure we communicate what we want to be done better next time.

C’s and D’s are on notice.  We tell them that we are unhappy and why.  We also tell them that we’re looking for alternatives and unless they improve we will replace them.  We end up replacing a lot of C and D companies.  They reason they get those grades is usually systemic to the company and not a matter of a few correctable items.  F is for fired.  We do give F’s and we do have vendors we won’t work with anymore.

So what in the world does this have to do with me and a sledgehammer?  Well we finally got the budget to break out the old cement slab in the backyard as the first step in installing a redwood deck.  Stefania and I did all the demolition with heroic help from our friend Eric.  A few people asked: ‘Why don’t you just go down to Home Depot and hire a couple guys?”  Well I thought about that, and I also thought my dad never went out and hired guys when I was a kid, he did it himself with a friend or two.  It occurred to me later that when I was a ‘kid’ my dad was 27 not 45.  No wonder he never needed to hire a couple guys.

The previous homeowner here we lovingly refer to as “F…in Jackwagon” had some surprises in store for us as we demolished.  Re-bar sticking out of the foundation, a buried 1/2 ton cement block (why dispose of properly when you can bury it???),   an unsteady pour of cement that went from 4 to 10 inches thick and my favorite a McDonalds soda cup circa 1967 embedded in the cement.  In all we hauled out by wheelbarrow 6 cubic yards.

It’s where we hauled it to that brings me back to the vendor list.  One vendor we’ve used now since 2009 is Steve’s Hauling.  We use Steve to take pruning out of vineyards and haul away any other debris we have from site construction or maintenance.  We call, give him the address, tell him what we need done, and he does it and sends a reasonable bill.  Every year we’ve given Steve an A+.  We used him again for this job and once again an A+ job.  Steve Stone – Steve’s Hauling 510-719-2994 A+!

This Years Weather

Early in the year there was a great deal of talk about the weather.  It was a cold and very wet spring.  We had unusual rain in May and June.  There was concern for the harvest this year.

The basic rule about the weather is that the spring effects quantity, summer effects the harvest date and fall effects quality.   The wet cold weather in the spring did effect quantity for us.  In our higher vineyards like Chaine d’Or we had really poor fruit set and quantities will be way down.  At another high vineyard, Split Rail, the quantity was effected so much that we won’t harvest any grapes this year.  The other lower vineyards will have smaller than normal yields but not as drastic as the high altitude vineyards.

The summer started cool, and we’ve not really had any heat waves.  I took the picture above from the top of Communication Hill in San Jose.  It should look familiar, it’s the same view you see on our labels.  That’s what summer has looked like all year.  Fog in the morning, sunny during the day, with highs in the 80’s.  That’s perfect.  Too hot and the grapes will shut down, too cold and sugars will not develop.

Right now I think we’re in for a late harvest.  Like 2009 and 2010.   It looks like it will be sooner than 2010 and that’s good, but we’re not worried.  We are used to waiting into late October.

So far quality looks really good.  We’ve had clean vineyards for the most part with mildew pressure only in the higher vineyards.  The clusters and berries look good.  A few more weeks of weather like this and we’ll head into fall in really great shape.

There’s still alot that could go crazy.  Too much heat, rain at the wrong time, or a number of other things could effect quality.  If, and it’s always a big if, we have a normal fall though we should be looking at an excellent quality, low quantity year.

Tucking and Thinning at Chaine d’Or

Saturday Millie had been tucking and thinning at Chaine d’Or when we went and pulled her away to inspect the new Brauns vineyard.

Yields will be very low again due to shatter and poor fertility of the nodes.  Fertility is determined the year before (2010).  The nodes where new growth will come from need lots of sunshine before flowering to be fertile and last year there was little sun in the vineyard in May and June.  So, fog in 2010 effects yield in 2011.

Shatter can have many causes.  This year the two big issues where rain and cold during flowering.  Grapes self pollinate .  In the late Spring and early summer small flowers open up on the clusters.  The flower then drops pollen on to the base and the grape is pollinated and will form into maturity.  The weather needs to be warm and calm.  Cold weather will keep the pollen from releasing.  Stormy weather will disrupt the dropping of the pollen.  We had cold weather and rain during flowering.  Above you can see what happens.  The cluster ends up with just a few grapes on the cluster.  It looks like the cluster has been ‘shattered’ and the grapes have fallen off.

What we really needed to get done though was tucking and thinning.  Tucking is making sure that the growth is up and into the wire system.  This insures the plants get the right amount of sun and that we can get mildew spray on the vines.  You actually tuck the shoots up into the wires.  Thinning is removing any excess growth so that there is good airflow (which prevents mildew) and sun access for the shoots that remain.

It was clear on Saturday that there was more work than Millie and I could finish on our own on Sunday.  The regular crew would still be working in Saratoga so we did something we have not done in a few years.  We sent out an email to friends asking for emergency help.  Amber, Dave and Wes came out to help Millie, Stefania and I on a warm Sunday.

Here’s what a row looks like before we start, note the fog hanging over the ridge line a mile away:

And after thinning:

Nice and cleaned up.  We worked until 2PM, and Dave’s new work out routine made him the star tucker and thinner of the day.  In all we finished 12 of the 22 rows.  They were the longest ones though and Millie and I were able to finish the other 10 the next day.


Vineyard Visits

Saturday Stefania and I went out to visit vineyards and check on how things are going.  We’d normally do this around the 4th of July but we were out of town unexpectedly.

First stop was the Peacock Vineyard.  This would actually be the best vineyard we visited.  Everything was very clean and there was good fruit set.

The rows were in great shape and healthy with no signs of mildew.  I’m estimating we’ll get 1500-2000 pounds of Cabernet Franc from this vineyard.

We’re excited to have the Cabernet Franc.  Stef’s wanted to make a Cab Franc since we started making wine.  We’ll also likely do a blend of Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with some of the grapes.

Next stop was at Crimson Clover.  At 9 AM we still had fog overhead.  This is a familiar picture above of the back of El Toro.

The rows looked nice but fruit set was light.  We’re expecting the same yield here as in 2008.  There was shatter in the vineyard and a low number of clusters.

We had one little surprise in the vineyard, the tiny birds nest with an egg in it on this small vine.

Our third stop was at the Red Hen vineyard which has been full of vigor.  There was about 400 pounds of Merlot here.  We’ll need to come back and do some more thinning.

And the red rooster and red hen stopped by to say hello.

Next stop was at the Copenhagen vineyard.  We had a crew of seven there thinning and tucking the vineyard.

The crew had finished about have the rows when we came by.  We’ll have to spray for mildew again here but otherwise it looked good.  Fruit set here was just ok as well.

You can see the little blue Toyota in the background here and Stef and Jerry talking in the row.  We ran to Chaine d’Or next to pick up Millie who was thinning there and then went together to a new vineyard above Los Altos we’re taking on.  I stopped taking pictures though as we were busy taking notes and coming up with a vineyard plan.

Everything looked pretty good, but yields will be very light again this year.  Down 40% from 2009 I think, which was our last ‘normal year’.

Our Most Expensive Wine Ever

Saturday I had a full day of work to do in the winery.  All of the barrels needed topping and that takes a couple of hours.  I also was going to bottle the 2010 Chardonnay from the Chaine d’Or Estate.

This was going to be a hand operation since I estimated (correctly) there were only about 10 cases.

Here’s the sad story of the 2010 Chardonnay.  Last year the growing season was cold and foggy at Chaine d’Or well into July.  We were worried that the grapes would never get ripe.  So in mid-July we took the very expensive step of removing all the leafs from the fruit zone to try and get more sun to the clusters.  There were many vineyards doing the same thing.

In early August things seemed ok and it looked like we might be able to pick in October.  We also noticed though that Mildew was starting in the vineyard.  The late verasion had increased the risk of mildew so we were prepared.  We went out and did two treatments, the first with an organic product called Oxidate, and then a week later with Stylet oil.

We zapped the mildew, no problem.  We also left a nice shinny sheen on the grapes for the hottest unexpected August heat wave in memory.  Without leafs the clusters had no protection and baked in the heat.

We knew there would be only a few hundred pounds in the vineyard.  When we eventually did pick we used just the ‘A’ team and it took about four times as long to pick.  They only picked good clusters.  Stefania and I set up a table and as the 30 pound bins came in from the field we hand sorted each cluster and then cut out the bad grapes with scissors.  Grape by grape.

When it was all done we had about 25 gallons of wine.  It was really good, and I put it in a small barrel to age before transferring to a tank for bottling.  We knew though we could never sell this wine.  The cost we estimated was about $165 a bottle for us to produce it.

Stefania decided she wanted it though and we would bottle it for our own use.  She really wants it for her Crab Feed party so that’s what the plan is.

This is the tank lifted up to help the wine flow for hand bottling.










The first picture is the hand corker I used. I filled each bottle one at a time and corked them with some left over 2008 corks.  No labels for this wine, it would have been too expensive to print a small run.

Memorial Day Tours Part II

Saturday morning we headed to the vineyards south of us outside of the town of Morgan Hill. That includes the Crimson Clover vineyard, source of our very popular single vineyard Cabernet. The vineyard had a little drama earlier with the gates being open and some deer damage. It looked though like the damage was limited to about 20 plants.

The view above is from the top of the vineyard out across the valley. It looks like we’ll need to do a new fertilizer sprays on the vines soon to make up for some low nitrogen. I’ve gotten to prefer using teas and sprays on the leafs to ground applications. I think the uptake is better with less waste. Fruit set looks low again this year. The wind in the little valley helps limit vigor and we usually get just about one to two tons of fruit per acre.

Our second stop was at the Peacock vineyard south of the city of Morgan Hill. This vineyard is doing very, very well. It will need to be thinned and suckered still, but overall looked really great. There is much more fruit than we figured the site could produce in its fourth year. A real rough guess at this time is about 1800-2400 pounds.

The owners were not 100% sure what they had in the vineyard. They thought it was Cabernet Franc, but also thought it might be Zinfandel as the crew lead who installed the vineyard told them Zinfandel. We’re 99% sure right now it’s Cabernet Franc and not Zinfandel. The leaf is wrong for Zin. We’ve only handled a little Cab Franc though in the past, just about 20 plants, so I won’t be 100% sure until we see some fruit bunches.

Cabernet Franc is an earlier grape to get ripe. There is already good flowering here and it would not surprise me to have this be the second vineyard we harvest this year. Maybe as early as September 15th or so. I’ll have to redo some winemaking plans for the year. We figured on 700-1000 pounds based on the 300 that were harvested last year. I had just planned to add that to the Haut Tubee.

With the potential though for up to 2400 pounds we could make three barrels of Cab Franc. I will replan to ferment and age this wine on its own if we can get three barrels. If it holds up we may release it as a single vineyard wine. I think more likely though is that we will use it to blend out some other wines. We can add up to 15% to our Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon and that wine always benefits from having some Merlot or Cab Franc to round it out and soften it. We may also consider a Santa Clara Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blend as a new wine. That would include fruit from a few new sources. There’s also the very good chance that it will go into the Haut Tubee though and I suspect at least some will go into the Haut Tubee.

Memorial Day Weekend Tradition

The namesake

Every Memorial Day weekend Stefania and I go out and visit each vineyard and inspect it in detail.  We do this so we can plan out the work that needs to be done over the next six to eight weeks.  It really helps to see all the vineyard in a short time to see how they are doing relative to the others.

Our first stop was the ‘Church’.  Just 20 vines at Santa Teresa Church that we take care of.  The vines have started to flower as you can see below.  This is the process of the hard green grapes getting pollen on themselves and turning to real grapes.  This is a sensitive time in the vineyard and if the vines shake too much the flowers will fail in their efforts and the resulting clusters will have ‘shatter’.

Cabernet vines flowering

Stefania did clean up some suckers in the little vineyard and tucked up the growth in the wires.

clenaing up suckers

After a short stop at a wine store that wanted to try our wine we headed up to the Mount Eden area of Saratoga to inspect our vineyard there.  This is a view across the little valley from our location.  The vineyards on the far left are Mount Eden and Peter Martin Ray.   In the center is Copper Garrod – Francville, George’s, Lone Oak and Valley View. To the far right is Kathryn Kennedy.

Vineyards across the valley

This is the view down the vineyard looking out at the Santa Clara Valley and downtown San Jose.  The vineyard looked in pretty good shape. We need to handle a gopher outbreak and the vines need suckering and tucking, but that’s what we expect in June.  There were no signs of mildew and the Cabernet was just starting to flower.

looking down the vineyard across the valley

It’s a good hike to the bottom of the vineyard and back, probably a 150 foot drop.  The rows look really nice though and will look even better once we get everything tucked up.  One thing I’ve learned over the years is it is better to single task a crew rather than trying to do many things at once.  So here we’ll start by sending out Jerry to weedwhack under the rows.  Then we’ll send out a little crew to sucker the vines.  Finally we’ll do thinning and tucking in another effort.  I’ve found that if you have a crew out trying to do all those things at once, none of them really get done perfectly.  It’s better to do one at a time, do it once, and do it right.

looking back up the vineyard

Next we checked on a little 40 plant Merlot vineyard outside of downtown Los Gatos we just took on.   As I was inspecting the plants I heard a noise behind me.  I went; “what the f… is that?”   I turned around and this little hen was pecking at my leg.

The red hen makes her appearance

We hadn’t had a name for this vineyard yet.  We’d just been calling it the ‘Los Gatos’ vineyard.   Now though we’ll call it the “Red Hen Vineyard”.

The namesake

Stef loves chickens.  She had to play with these ones as we cleaned up the vineyard.  Stefania and I will go back and do the suckering, thinning and tucking here on our own.  No sense sending the crew for 40 plants.  We’ll have some after pictures soon to see the changes that happen as a vineyard is cleaned up in June.

birds in the vineyard

Our final stop was at the Gurr vineyard in suburban San Jose.  There are about 40 Syrah and Zinfandel vines here that go into the Haut Tubee blend each year.  There’s a new house under construction in the background.

Syrah and Zinfandel

Today we will go out and check on the southern vineyards and have pictures of those tomorrow.