Our little Toyota FJ Cruiser is a regular item in our blog postings. Pictures, especially of the time and temperature are featured in all kinds of posts.
We bought the car in February of 2007. It’s very first road trip was that May. We drove up to Oregon to visit a few Pinot Noir producers we liked. 2007 was our first year making Pinot Noir and we wanted to pick the brains of people who made it the way we liked it.
We’ve used the car to move barrels, one fits in the back perfectly. We also use it to move cases of wine. We can get in about 20 cases from the warehouse, or about 15 packages to go to UPS. It also hauls us to vineyard sites and can get up any road we throw at it no matter how rough.
It passed 91000 miles this month and the title showed up. It’s paid for. No major problems. The front end suspension needs a tune up that will run about $400 and we put new tires on it at 50,000 miles. Other than that it’s been regular maintenance. It still gets just about 19-20 miles to the gallon on gas.
The topper is I went to check Blue Book value on the car after a friend mentioned how much he saw used cars FJ’s selling for. I was blown away. With our miles and condition the retail is $19,200. I paid $23,500 for it new. We’re not planning on selling it anytime soon though. It’s been a great car and a key part of making Stefania Wine go.
It’s raining in Northern California. You may have read newspaper articles about the rain or even seen the occasional TV report. Those reports usually give an air of panic and desperation as wineries try and rush in grapes before they are ‘ruined’ by the rain. Hooey!
We have a rain event every year. Well almost every year. In 2006 there was no October rain, otherwise it’s an annual thing. We do try and bring in the thinned skinned grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay before the rains come. The thick skinned grapes like Mourvedre (in the picture) and Cabernet Sauvignon though will go just fine through the rain.
The key is to let the grapes dry out after the rain and before you pick them. In the picture you can see Mourvedre in our front yard and there are little drops of water on the grapes. Those little drops add up and can dilute the wine, lowering alcohol by as much as 2-3%. That’s why it’s important to let the grapes get some sun and dry out.
We had been scheduled to pick the Haut Tubee vineyards tomorrow, including Red Hen, the Church, and Home vineyards but I just sent a message to Millie and we are postponing until Tuesday. We’ll still go on with Crimson Clover on Sunday as we have 2 days of sun coming and that will be enough to dry out the grapes.
Then what’s next? Do we panic and bring in all the Cabernet out there before it rains again? No, we go to New Orleans for a week to avoid all the panic going on. The Cabs will be ready after October 20th from our testing. Some vineyards will actually be ready around the 31st. That’s normal for us, the warm September helped get us back to normal, so it’s best to stay calm and wait it out.
Saturday morning we were out for our fist harvest of the year. I took the traditional photo of the time and temperature from the FJ Cruiser.
This next photo is also a traditional stop for us now. Sam’s Donuts around the corner from our house. We get a dozen donuts or so for the crew and volunteers.
The vineyard we harvested is new for us this year. It’s the Brauns or Under a Lucky Star Vineyard. There are 400 Pinot Noir plants above Los Altos in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
We arrived on site just as the sun was coming up and the crew had already started working. In 2005 we tried harvesting earlier in a couple vineyards using lights. This sounds really cool and is trendy, but I figured quickly it’s a complete waste of time. The crew moves at about 50% of normal speed and you end up having to go back through anyway and get what you missed when the sun comes out. All we really accomplished was sleep deprivation and a higher risk of injury so we don’t do that anymore.
We used the ‘A Team’ for this pick since it was out first time in the vineyard to harvest. Jerry, Gil, Estella and Ysidro made up the professional crew and we had Wes, Ingrid, Joan and Ron come as volunteers. Everyone picking was an experienced picker.
Picking went very quickly and we were done well before 9AM. Total harvest was just about 900 pounds which is the most ever for this site we were told. There had been animal and bird issues in the past. We used a double netting system and sealed the net bottoms with chop sticks as we normally do. This is different from most vineyards but we’ve learned this method is key for our suburban vineyards.
The fruit looked excellent and I took the picture below of the soil in the vineyard. Stefania and I love this red volcanic dirt. There’s a small band through out the Santa Cruz Mountains and grapes do very well on it. The same band also cuts through Crimson Clover.
It took just about 25 minutes to get to the winery and then only about 10 minutes to process the fruit. There was a little drama with the pump that I had to tend to and then the winemaking so I didn’t take any pictures of the actual crush. Stefania took readings and the numbers were Brix 23.9, pH 3.7 and TA .61. Really great for a first time in this vineyard.
The juice went into a single bin and will ferment on native yeast. We used 1/3 whole clusters and I’ll only do two punch downs a day to avoid getting to much tannin extracted. We’re really excited about this vineyard and wine.
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.
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’.
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.
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’.
Stefania did clean up some suckers in the little vineyard and tucked up the growth in the wires.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Today we will go out and check on the southern vineyards and have pictures of those tomorrow.
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