We’ve been very busy since our last update. There were significant delays in getting everything closed on our new home and we ended up in a hotel for 5 days. We finally got the keys on Tuesday afternoon and are getting things set up there. Stefania and I are really glad to put the process behind us and in getting our home together.
Grapes don’t stop and wait though and we had to carry on with harvest. It’s been warm and sunny this September and the vineyards are pushing ahead early like last year. Last Saturday we harvested the Crimson Clover Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon. I had my regular job of hauling out bins and Stefania sorted everything as I dumped it into the 1/2 ton bins.
We used a small crew of our regulars and a couple of family members, my Mom and cousin Matt. We had everything picked and were mobile to the winery by 11 AM.
Earlier in the week I had picked up 3000 pounds of Malbec. We’ll use some for blending but also likely have a Malbec release in the future. 3000 pounds is my preferred amount to buy. It produces about 4 barrels or 100 cases. It also is the max payload for the U-haul trailers I rent. The FJ Cruiser can actually tow much more but I’d need a trailer rated for more weight. We thought of buying one in the past but we had no where to store it. Now we will have space to store it so a purchase before next year is likely.
The first picture I took from the new house. Wild Turkeys that come visit every day. They come right up to the front and back doors. Can’t wait to see the first time that happens with the cats looking out the door.
I know everyone is waiting for part four of the news but we did have some actual winemaking to do this week. I’ll have Part 4 up soon I promise.
Harvest 2014 started like it does every year for us with getting the picking bins out of storage and cleaned up after a year of sitting outside. We do cover them but dirt creeps in. Millie is driving the tractor in the picture below with two of our bins on the back. I had the pressure washer set up and clean them as they got to the crush pad. Stefania helped out with a disinfecting scrub and I blasted away all the dirt.
While we were on site Stefania also set up the testing lab for the season. We’ll test pH, TA and Brix on all our vineyards over the next couple of months. Those are Chardonnay samples being tested. The testing is pretty redundant for us 10 years in. I walked through the vineyard before the samples were picked and said: “2 maybe three full weeks until these are ready.” Stefania walked down one row and picked about a dozen berries and said: “These are at 19.5 Brix”. The testing results were Brix 19.6 and pH 3.1 which means we are 2-3 weeks out.
With all that done we loaded up the FJ Cruiser with 3 bins to take down to the vineyard for picking the next morning. It’s a pain to have to deal with the u-haul office on the first weekend of the month but it had to be done. When we get into our new place I’ll have room to store a trailer and our rental days should be behind us.
The first grapes of the year came in on Labor Day. We got 3000 pounds of Viognier from Leal Vineyards in San Benito County. The grapes looked great and we were able to confirm with the assistant winemaker at Leal that we should be able to get Viognier from them every year.
It was a pretty easy drive to our new facility, although we did hit some holiday traffic. Here’s a little bit of a sneak preview of Part 4. It’s the Viognier being loaded into the press at our new facility. The crew there was fantastic and even with hanging around and chatting for a little we were in and out in less than an hour. Stefania was SOOOOOOOO happy to not have to clean a press or a tank and have the crew there to do those tasks. The wine is doing well. We’ll raise it half in neutral French oak and half in stainless steel. It will be bottled early and should be available to our mailing list next Spring.
So – It’s been more than a month. We finished harvest on 10/12 at Chaine d’Or. The earliest we’ve ever finished by 16 days. It was the biggest, best, earliest, harvest ever for us and from what we’ve heard and read for everyone in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley. We worked hard in the winery from the 12th to the 15th and then spent 6 days in New Orleans. We came back to finishing fermentation’s and completed all the pressing and barrel work by the 27th.
We also got a trip to Nashville in and otherwise have been laying low. We are doing a gluten free diet right now and no cocktails to try and avoid the post harvest 15. I had a bunch of pictures on my phone so thought I’d get them all up. First one is the press running the day before the Chaine d’Or Harvest. The timing was perfect. We had a few lots finish just as we needed the space.
I’m not really sure what I was taking here. It’s a hose in a barrel soaking t up so we can use it. Barrels dry out and won’t seal after a while so they have to be soaked back up before use.
Wine in the collection tray. Stefania loves it at this point.
Our pallet mover – which has been the best piece of equipment we’ve ever bought.
This was the day of the Chaine d’Or harvest. Not too early but cold. The stuffed shark is our driving warning. ‘Don’t move the shark’ is the rule when going up the twisty road to Chaine d’ Or.
More fog pictures and Stefania getting the pruners ready for the crew.
Everything is ready here for the fruit to start coming up.
I always try and pick at least one bin of grapes when we get started. After the bins start to fill I get busy hauling bins and running the crusher so don’t usually get to pick past the first 20 minutes.
At Chaine d Or we keep everything in the 30 pound bins through the entire process.
This is a view I rarely take pictures of. It’s a section of the property I only access on the tractor. This morning I stopped the tractor to take this picture of the vineyard.
Axel looks grumpy but he likes getting all the cash before Christmas. This was the first year he really helped out through the entire process. We’d lose him in past years to playing with the dogs or running around the vineyard but this year he wanted to help with everything.
This is one reason we love the pallet jack so much. We can move the fermentation’s inside where the temperature is easier to control and it’s much easier to keep out bees and leafs.
Final picture was of a full barrel of ‘Roxy’ Cabernet/Zin. The vineyard owner was excited that we might be able to do his wine on its own for the first time without blending with other vineyards.
I know Stefania has a bunch of pictures she wants to get up so hopefully those will come soon. Look for a special sale too for Small Busines Saturday from us and Winter Futures will be out right after Thanksgiving also.
I realized it’s been 14 days since the last update. In general the busier we get the less we write. I know Stefania has a bunch of pictures to get up also but she’s been just as busy.
In the last update I wrote about the Crimson Clover and Roxy harvest. We brought in about twice the yield from those two vineyards that we’ve ever had before. Some was the season and some was new plants at Roxy starting to yield. I was exhausted the Sunday after that. I carried 90% of the 3 tons of grapes we had out of the vineyards on my shoulders. At one point Sunday I just had to go sit in the car for 30 minutes out of the sun.
At some point the following week I took this picture below of an old fashioned. Not sure what day it was or exactly why but it was on my camera. The days do get kind of blurry.
The next weekend we went out again to pick some of the smaller vineyards that were ready. We planned on doing the rest of Roxy as we’d left the Zinfandel there for another week to get riper. We would also do Red Hen and then the Harrison vineyard in Los Altos. The day before we go pick we get the crush pad staged which is the picture below. All the equipment comes out, gets re-cleaned and covered. We also make sure we have any of the supplies we will need for picking and transport.
Then the large bins and picking bins are loaded into the trailer and tied down. Each big bin hold 1000 pounds. I like to keep the smaller vineyards separate at least until we’re done picking, just in case one has enough grapes to do on its own. So we use a large trailer with three bins and do no more than three vineyards in a day.
The first day actually went fine. We picked Roxy fairly fast and loaded a good amount of Zinfandel which we decided we’d add whole cluster to the Cabernet already in vat fermenting. Red Hen was not so great though. Stef took a lot of pictures there but I took none as I was removing the nets. The nets kept the flying birds out but the chickens ate about 50% of the grapes.
At the Harrison Vineyard they had a group of friends picking so I just had to carry the bins out of the vineyard. They had about 750 pounds of Syrah in all that we also decided to do whole cluster as the start of the Haut Tubee fermentation. We were able to get out of the winery, home, showered and to the Roller Derby by 7:30 that night.
The next day did not go as well. We picked Mourvedre at Mineral Hill with the though of making a Rose from it. We knew there was too much fruit and it wasn’t going to get ripe enough to make a red wine. I figured there was about 1000-1200 pounds and 5 of us could pick in about 45 minutes. Turned out there was over 2400 pounds and I carried it all out 30 pounds at a time. By the time we headed for the winery I was pretty beat. As we processed and took lab reading we realized there wasn’t going to be a high enough sugar to even make a rose. The kicker for the day the was I got hit in the head with the large must hose as we were cleaning up and knock down hard. I ended up missing a day from the day job and had mild concussion. I’m ok now and will have more about the next weeks activities tomorrow or Saturday.
By now this is a really familiar picture. Start of the morning in the FJ Cruiser. I was up at 5:45. Crimson is not far from our home compared to some other sites so leaving at 6:37 we were actually the first ones on site at just after 7AM. Millie had come the day before and removed all the chopsticks from the netting so the first task would be to remove the nets. Normally we’d have Jerry and Gil remove the nets and everyone else would start picking. The weather was drippy and wet though with mist coming down and clouds all around the vineyard. I kept checking the hourly weather update (which showed clear from 8 Am until Noon) and watching the clouds. Everyone pitched in to take the nets off.
There was a little moister on the leafs but the clusters where staying dry. They really looked fantastic. We don’t generally leaf pull. I prefer to get dappled sunlight on to the grapes rather than direct sun.
About 8:45 we got the clearing that we needed in the clouds and I sent the crew out to start picking as fast as they could. Clouds hung around the vineyard all morning but as volunteers arrived on site they all said it was clear to the north of us, the direction any rain would come in from.
The first bin of grapes. I picked about six bins total. Once the bins started to fill up though my job changes to picking up the bins and carrying them to the macro bins for sorting. Stefania calculated that I walked 12 miles in the vineyard, half of that carrying 30 pounds on my shoulder. In all I carried out over 100 bins on Saturday and over 60 on Sunday.
This is Stef’s usual job on picking days. She’s keeping a tally of the bins as they come in and sorting through the grapes removing any bees, spiders, lady bugs, earwigs, leafs, shoots, grass, water bottles or finger tips that come in. We had a good pick this time with no injuries or bee stings.
I thought we might pick heavy this year. Last year we brought in just under three full bins or about 2700 pounds. That’s 1 1/2 tons per acre and pretty normal for this site. I thought we would get 4 bins this year. That’s a little bit of a logistical challenge because the biggest trailer I can rent only hold three bins, and I wouldn’t want to tow much more than the 4000 pounds a fully loaded rig weighs up and down the mountain roads we have to travel. I figured we’d just come back Sunday though and finish up. The third bin though filled up on row 12 of 23. Rows 18-23 are shorter than the rest so we actually came back for 2+ bins on Sunday or just over 5000 pounds.
There was some drama driving back to the winery. The forecast held and at Noon it started raining again. We had covered the bins though and were already on the road when the rain started. When we arrived at the winery we had to weight about 30 minutes for the misting to stop. We then got everything processed and inside in just about 25 minutes, which was perfect because 5 minutes after we finished processing it rained as hard as I’ve ever seen at the winery.
We ended up with three full fermentation bins of must. That’s a thermometer sticking in the must getting a temperature. Brix was 14 and pH 3.80. Reallly perfect for this vineyard.
We were out of the winery in time to get home and take a shower and visit our friend Ingrid’s house for authentic Chinese food. The ‘pearl’ sausage balls were fantastic and there was a pot of ‘blood and guts’ that I really enjoy. We probably drank too much and ate too much and stayed to late given we had to get up Sunday at 5:45 again but it was fun.
Sunday we returned and picked the rest of the vineyard as well as the Cabernet from the Roxy vineyard a block down the road from Crimson Clover. For the first time there looks like enough grapes from Roxy (about 800 pounds so far) to do a barrel on its own. Usually it goes into the Haut Tubee blend. Sunday was one of those really tough days. At 1 PM I had to stop picking and hauling grapes and just sit in the car for about 30 minutes to recover. When we made it to the winery at 4PM with the grapes Millie was not there yet. We’d sent her to pick up some sandwiches so knew we had about 30 minutes before we had to process the grapes. I took my boots off and put them under my head on the cellar floor and fell asleep.
We ended up staying until just about 8PM. The Chardonnay was ready to go into barrel so while Millie and crew cleaned up outside, Stef and I got the barrels ready and all the wine transferred inside. Sunday’s dinner was traditional harvest food – beer and pizza.
Right now we’re doing a lot of testing and sampling. Sometimes we have Millie go out and bring samples back to us at home. When we’re at the winery we gather samples from that vineyard and test there. Most of the time though we go out and get samples and test them right in the field. The back of the FJ Cruiser is a completely odd assortment of gear right now. Both Stef and I have a change of shoes and socks in the car, there’s some dirty shirts, some mostly clean sweatshirts, tie downs, peanuts, apples, bottled water, a trailer hitch, plastic bags (for samples), clippers, and an assortment of test equipment and gear.
When we arrive on site we take out the plastic bags and start walking rows. Usually we walk every row picking berries from both sides. We then meet back up and combine the grapes. Stef smashes them and strains the juice. The first test actually happens as we pick. We’re tasting as we go. We’re also checking for the toughness of the skins. If they are tough, the tannins in the wine will be tough. Once strained we want to see most of the seeds brown and the juice should be reddish. Really unripe grapes will have brown juice. The picture below I would call brick red.
Next we have this handy field temperature and pH meter. The temperature is important because it will effect the other readings. The pH meter is usually + or – .10 degrees from our experience. If in doubt we’ll run a full test in the lab, but usually it gives us a good feel for the acidity.
We like to run a hydrometer and refractometer test. They hydrometer tends to be more accurate. The picture below is actually from the day after we were in the field. We always bring the samples home and let them soak overnight then retest. With not ripe grapes there’s not much of a difference, but grapes over 24 Brix can soak up 2-3 degrees pretty easy. THis reading is right at 20.
Somehow Stef got a picture of the inside of a refractometer. This is from the same sample and shows a slightly lower Brix of 19.1 That’s why we like to do both tests.
And this is what you do after you’ve driven 112 miles round trip in stop and go traffic to get samples you knew probably were not close to ready but had to anyway because the vineyard owner was ready to pick in two days of you didn’t test.
Last Saturday we picked Chardonnay at Chaine d’Or. I posted most of these pictures real time on Facebook on Saturday in real time. I’ll try to do the same again this Saturday as we pick at Crimson Clover but I know getting a signal there is even harder than Chaine d’Or. The day started at a decent hour for picking. I was up at 5:45 and we were in the car at 6:33 and 60 degrees. We did make a stop for coffee and arrived at the winery at 7:15.
Jerry and the crew had arrived at 7 and were already at work getting the nets off. Stef and I had prepped and cleaned the winery and equipment the day before so there was no additional work that morning other than getting started picking.
The fog hung low around the vineyard well into the early afternoon. I was able to help with a little of the picking before switching to my regular job of driving the tractor and picking up the full bins for processing.
The grapes looked really nice coming in. Some were very golden. The upper section of the vineyard gets more sun and those grapes usually are riper than the grapes from the lower section.
After driving the bins up in the tractor I dump them into the press. I started doing whole cluster pressing last year.
I did take a short break from the bin dumping to run down into the lower section of the vineyard and pick the ‘rouge’ Pinot Noir I wrote about last week.
After pressing the wine is pumped into this large chilled tank to settle for 24 hours. That helps the juice separate from any solids.
The dogs watch the entire process. Sofie on the right was a puppy in 2005 when I first worked at Chaine d’Or so this is her 8th Chardonnay harvest.
On Sunday we went back up to the winery and transferred the settled wine into an inside tank to start fermentation. We’ll let it burble in here until it reaches about 12 Brix. The tank is chilled to keep fermentation between 60 and 70 degrees. Once we reach the 1/2 way point on fermentation and the temperature is not likely to spike up we’ll transfer the wine to barrel to finish fermentation.
Final numbers on the wine looked great. Brix was 23 exactly and pH was 3.36. We expect a smooth fermentation and the wine should turn out like the 2008 version based on the numbers and handling so far.
I wrote about the visit and testing at Chaine d’Or we did on Saturday. We also visited a small Syrah vineyard in Los Altos Hills that the owners now maintain all on their own and visited a potential new site in the Gilroy-Watsonville Road area. For those out side of the South Bay, Gilroy and Watsonville are two small towns south of San Jose. The irony of the Gilroy-Watsonville Road is it goes to neither Gilroy or Watsonville. We finished up the day at the Crimson Clover vineyard which is in the town of Morgan Hill behind the big hill everyone things is named Morgan Hill but is really named El Toro. Whoever named things in that part of the valley was definitely trying to confuse people.
Sunday we watched the Saints game in the morning. They seem to have their defense figured out this year which was encouraging. Then we headed to the Mineral Hill vineyard to watch the 49er game with the vineyard owners there and check on the grapes. This will be a hard one to figure out when to pick because the vines are just three years old and a vineyard that young tends to have a great deal of variation from plant to plant. Stefania says it’s really year 7 when the vineyard starts acting like a vineyard, and stops acting like a collection of individual plants.
The grapes planted here are Mourvedre and the yield looks to be pretty high. I’m sure some of the clusters won’t make it and will dry up and some will not be ripe and have to get cut off so probably 75% of what is on the vine now will make it into a fermentation bin. The vineyard is over an ancient creek bed and water still flow under ground so the plants are particularly strong for being three years old. I’m thinking we will pick here right around the 1st of October.
One last picture from Crimson Clover on Saturday. The vineyard tested at 22.25 Brix. Flavors are well past the green state and in between red and black fruit. We set the pick date as September 21st, which is in the normal to early range for the site. With the weather pattern we expect to pick right around 24 Brix. Yield here looks average for the site and I think we’ll get just under two tons. We will also pick the ‘Roxy’ Vineyard at the same time. Roxy is a mix of Syrah, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon that we put in the Haut Tubee Blend. Yield there looks high this year, close to a 1000 pounds. That would be cool actually if we got that much as we could keep the vineyard on it’s own through fermentation and into barrel.
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