Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We're Legal!

For weeks now we’ve been wondering what was going to potentially hold up shipments next month.

In our minds it’s been a neck and neck race between the California State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) in granting us a permit to sell wine at wholesale and a special ribbon we are having made.

I figured I’d just give our new mailbox a check at the UPS Store on Kettleman Lane in Lodi as I was dropping off a sample for ETS Labs today.

We rarely get anything in the box, since only a couple of government agencies and random junk mail businesses know about it.

I turned the key, peered inside, and noticed one white envelope leaning along the side of the small PO box. I could barely make out “Department of Alc…” on the return address and became immediately excited.

I reached in, saw the familiar pink paper – the color of a final permit – and began hopping around the UPS Store. The owner, Dan, asked how I was doing, and I said, “I’m just happy happy! We just got our ABC permit and now we’re legal!”

So if we can get that ribbon in soon, we’ll be ready to hand-assemble our 1,200 bottles!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Crush Has Started!

Like every year, this year is different but wonderful. The Cinsault was ready before any other varietal this year. In fact, weeks ahead of any of the other varietals including our Syrah, Petite Sirah and of course Mourvedre which we always want to be our last. The Mourvedre benefits from the longer hang-time on the vine.

Since we're specializing in small exceptional lots, this lot of Cinsault is slightly more than one ton. (The video below is the Cinsault being harvested) We allow the newly destemmed fruit to cold soak for 48 hours then move it to a room set at about 75 degrees F. After another 2-3 days, it begins natural fermentation. The picture gives you an idea of what it looks like about 3 days into the fermentation with a nice 5-6 inch cap of skins that have risen. I punch the cap down gently twice a day during the most active period, measuring the sugars (brix) and monitoring the temperature.

We can already tell that the rows and vines we picked this year are the best section the vineyard has to offer. As usual, the vineyard owner, Al Bechthold is right again.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sugars Moving Fast

Today’s visit to the remaining ripening vineyards of Belle Colline, Silvaspoons and Mettler all confirmed the buzz in the wine industry: all the grapes are ripening at once.

We are shifting the source for one of our Syrahs to one of many growing in the Belle Colline Vineyard, so this morning was spent focusing on which to take.

This vineyard-on-a-hill features four clones of Syrah (1, 2, 383 and 470) planted on two different soil compositions, each as a separate block. The block planted lower on the hill benefits from irrigation water running down from the upper blocks. The upper blocks are therefore as much as a week or more further along towards ripening than the lower blocks.

I found nice flavors in the clone 2 Syrah in the upper block, but back at the lab we found sugars to be 27.3˚ B with pH a bit too high at 3.98. So we had to pass on that one.

Markus Niggli, the assistant winemaker at Borra Vineyards, our custom crush winery host, will join me first thing on Monday morning to make a final decision.

Other stats are:

Silvaspoons Mourvèdre – 21.2˚ B, pH 3.43, will need a few more weeks.

Belle Colline Petite Sirah – upper block 25.3˚ B, pH 3.70 with nice flavors could be ready this week, lower block 23.6˚ B, pH 3.55 may need two weeks.

Mettler Petite Sirah – 23.7˚ B, pH 3.78 nice flavors could be ready in a week and a half or sooner.

Belle Colline Syrah – lower block clone 470 24.2˚ B, 3.73 pH, may need a week and a half.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Our 2008 Harvest Has Begun!

We kicked off our 2008 harvest today with 1.25 tons of Cinsault from Al Bechthold's 1889 vineyard near Lucas Road, between Davis and De Vries in Lodi. Flavors in these grapes from 119-year-old vines are very nice, even intense and exciting. And at 26.1 Brix with a pH of 3.59, everything about the grapes are in perfect balance.

Even my son, Alex, chugged down a glass of the juice without coming up for air. I don't know how he can drink that much sugar so quickly!

Being the first crush for the winery, we were ready for some possible hiccups. None of us had used the aging Demoisy crusher-stemmer for almost a year. We turned it on and the grapes just weren't dropping into the destemmer paddles properly.

We thought a drive chain for the rollers was loose, then, eventually, Steve Borra came on over to help diagnose the problem.

He pointed out that the rollers weren't moving in the correct direction and realized that some off-season electrical work had caused the polarity on the main power outlet to be reversed.

Once Steve live-rewired the outlet, we were crushing very quickly.

We are hoping this Cinsault will finally be a good fit for our Panthos blend this year.

Sure is exciting to be sticky all over again!