Saturday morning we went out to inspect several vineyards and put together the work orders for the next few weeks. Jaye was with us mostly so I could show her the way to Peacock Vineyard. I didn’t take any pictures at Peacock but things looked great there. The homeowner does the pruning themselves and we just have a little correction and clean up to do.
Next we were on to Crimson Clover. This also looked really good and the vines are really healthy and starting to get thick at the trunk.
The third stop of the day (after a bathroom stop at home) was at the little Red Hen Vineyard. This was the first place we saw bud break. We put in some flags there to mark spots where we want Millie to install additional posts. The vineyard was pretty vigorous last year and the vines need more posts to hold up the wires that hold up the growth. Stef had already bought the posts so we were just marking out the install points.
Our final stop was at the Brauns vineyard to check on the Pinot Noir Vines there. Bud break was also starting and I took the picture below. We have a few grow tubes to install on smaller plants. We took this vineyard over last year and I think it has suffered from over watering. The vines are scrawny for their age which is a sign to me the roots have not gone deep. That happens when the plants are getting all their water from a drip system at the surface. We’ll work this year to correct that.
Here’s one of the plants that’s furthest along. We’ll also try and limit fruit production here this year so that the plant can work on its strength.
Overall we were really happy with how everything looked and the work that’s been done so far this year. The crew will be busy over the next few weeks on the tasks we’ve put together.
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 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.
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’.
The last of the 2008 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Magnums were spoken for this weekend. The magnums usually go very fast and this time was no exception. Futures ordering will continue until July 15th. We’ll send out one reminder after this coming weekend. The allocation amounts are set up so that we will not run out of anything else but magnums are so limited that we can’t allocate them to everyone and they have to me first come first serve.
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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