Stefania is working away in the office on offer letters for our Fall Release. Letter will start to go out on the 15th. We’re expecting that the wine we have available will sell out very quickly. It could be as fast as two weeks. I’ve just updated the Wine section of the site with details on the three wines being released.
Bottling has always been a chore for us. It’s the hardest thing we do in the winery. There are lots of moving pieces and lots of vendors to work with and coordinate. Then there’s the bottling line itself which can be prone to all kinds of problems. Our latest biggest challenge has been finding a bottling truck to use. We really liked the company we were using but the truck really did not fit in our space. It took 7 hours last time to back the truck in through the gate and down the hill. It clears the gate by just 2 inches on each side and that’s not even the hardest pat of backing it in.
When we’re done bottling we would have to call a tow truck to wench the bottling truck back up the gravel road. It was just too difficult for the space. Every other bottling company we talked to though was either missing a key piece of equipment or was just too big to get in our space. We finally decided to move the wine out to another facility for bottling.
There was the usual drama with the glass company, they sent some of the wrong shape. Stefania was able to get that corrected. Everything else went pretty well including loading the barrels up on a truck to move. Friday was a long day – 15 hours total and there were several problems through the day, but in the end we got it all done. Our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignons; Crimson Clover, Santa Cruz Mountains and Chaine d’Or were all bottled.
Monday the trucking company will come back and pick all the finished cases up. One more bottling down and one long day behind us.
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.
I thought I was late getting in a barrel order this year, but when I checked my records it was the exact same time last year that we put in an order. Barrels are a huge expense for us. We only use French Oak and I select very high end barrels. The cost, depending on the exchange rate of the Euro, is usually about $1100 a barrel.
Our primary barrel supplier is a French company called Sequin Moreau. We also use Claude Gillet for our Chardonnay and Ermitage for Syrah, but most of our new barrels are Sequin Moreau and are used on our Cabernets. Barrels come in two basic formats: 225 liter ‘Bordeaux’ or 228 liter ‘Burgundy, which are slightly fatter and shorter. For Cabernets I use the Bordeaux barrels. Next you have to decide on thickness. They either come in 21mm called ‘Chateau Ferre’ or 27mm called ‘Export’. I always select Chateau Ferre. I’ve just heard that it is superior and it comes in a wider selection of barrel types.
The next choice is barrel grade. Sequin Moreau offers 5 different grades of barrel. The basic is called ‘Selection Terrior’. That’s really just a brand name. The grades represent an increase in the age of the wood and the tightness of the grain. The older and tighter the wood, the more desirable as the impact of the wood becomes more subtle. In the past I’ve tried a selection of the top 4 grades from Sequin Moreau. The one I’ve found I like best is their second highest grade called Selection Vendanges Tardives or SVT for short. The SVT seems to really bring out the aromatics of the wine and add nice spice and gentle tannin development. The barrel below ‘Selection Cabernet’ is nice, but just not as fine as the SVT. There is also a Selection FX which we tried but I thought it was too drying for our wines with too much sweetness.
So this time I ordered all SVT barrels. They seem to be best for our wine. The next big choice is ‘Toast Level’. This is the amount of fire toasting that the barrels get and probably has the largest impact on the finished wine. There are five levels of toast and the option to toast the heads of the barrels. The toasts are Light, Medium, Medium Long, Medium Plus, and Heavy. You can then select with each option to have the heads of the barrel toasted too.
This is probably the thing we’ve learned the most about in six vintages. Certain vineyards and certain wines respond better to certain levels of toasting. At a basic level the lighter the toast the more vanilla and simple flavors you get and the more tannin and structure is added to the wine. The heavier the toast the more complex spicy, smokey flavors and the less tannin extract you get. For most of our wines, we have more than enough tannin in the grapes and don’t need to add any with the barrel treatment. For those vineyards we use heavier toasts and even toast the heads.
At first I was reluctant to use Heavy toast or Toasted Heads. I’ve learned though that in a very tannic site like Chaine d’Or the wine benefits from the complex flavors and it’s best to avoid adding any tannin. For Chaine d’Or we’ll use a combo of Medium Plus and Heavy toast barrels with Toasted Heads. For a wine like our Haut Tubee that has lots of Zinfandel and warm site Syrah we’ll use a lighter toast to add some structure to the wine.
We ordered a bunch of different toast levels and combos. That will give us some flexibility at harvest time.
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.
I’ve been having some terrible issues getting pictures off of my Samsung Fascinate so I’ve been slow on putting blogs up. Verizon and Samsung like to send out updates to the phone regularly. Here’s a picture of the Engineering and QA teams at Verizon and Samsung preparing for their next update.
So basically every updates totally and completely breaks picture transfer and it takes hours to sort it back out. With that little rant out of the way, here’s some happier thoughts.
We’ve had bud break in all the vineyards now and as usual the home ‘Haut Tubee’ vineyard led the way. This is a Thompson Seedless vine in the front parkway. One of our neighbors asked us if we would plant some table grapes so we did.
This is one of the remaining ‘old boys’ from the original planting. This is a Grenache. That’s Italian Parsley growing around it. Stefania planted all kinds of herbs and flowers around the vines. We’ve been using the parsley a lot and I actually discovered that the stalks get pretty thick and if you peel them they are a good addition to stews.
This is a Mourvedre vine with some California Poppy’s in the foreground. This little plant will send runners down the line this year that will become cordons. The plants in the background are a mix of Crimson Clover and wildflowers. It will be another two weeks or so for the colors to really start coming out.
Here’s a more mature vine closer to the house and some Crimson Clover that’s already started to bloom. This plant will send out the start of spurs this year and should produce about 10 pounds of fruit.
This is one of the ‘old boys’ in the backyard that we’ve retrained to cordon and spur training. I used this particular plant in past blogs about pruning and thought I’d give an update on how it looks this year.
Another one of the ‘old boys’ in the backyard sending up two new shoots from its spur. This little growth here will eventually produce four clusters of grapes that will weigh in at about 6 pounds. Everything in the backyard now is Syrah.
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