We work in a small space, really small. Every move inside the winery has to be planned out and I can only have a few barrels in process at any time. It takes a lot of planning to pull things off especially during bottling. One big problem is what to do with single barrels of a wine. Normally barrels move around two at a time. We have three single barrel racks and that’s the first option.
The second option is to have one full barrel and one empty on the same rack. In our space though there’s usually only enough room to pick up a rack from one direction, so even though you can pick up a rack from either direction, in our space we end up with a front and back of the rack. In that situation the full barrel has to be in the front or the rack will tip over when picked up. I work hard and try to plan things well so that the full barrel is always on the front.
Sometimes though we end up with a full barrel on the back of a rack. When that happens there’s only one option. Someone has to go cowboy on the barrel. We ended up with a few of those situations this past bottling and Stefania had to jump on the empty barrel to give enough counter weight to lift the rack. I snapped this picture that I thought was funny given the ‘No Riding’ warning on Big Joe.
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.
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.
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.
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