Archive for the ‘Wine Making’ Category
Finally, a quiet afternoon emerges (Thanks to a cancelled Viticulture class) to continue the 2010 Garagiste Saga. Picking up where we left off was my flurry of a weekend, getting my beloved Grenache Blanc up from Santa Ynez, neutral white barrels strapped in tow. (As told in Sonoma Rhone Garagiste Part 5 – Grenache Blanc Road Trip, and a new Test of Endurance.)
The weekend went mostly as planned, albeit with less sleep planned Friday and Saturday night. The Bonny Doon Cigare Volante Retrospective dinner was incredible, and a thrill. Beside’s getting some chat time with icon Randall Grahm, I managed to sneak in some tastings, served personally by GM, Heather who was a friendly wealth of knowledge. The Bonny Doon team is genuinely enthusiastic about what they do – and who could blame them.The dinner meant to end at 9ish went nearly til Midnight.
Saturday cellar work and tasting with Anthony Yount of Denner, and his own label Kinero, as well as Amy of Ranchero Cellars, (former winemaker at Edward Sellers) who makes an amazing Carignan, was a blast, and I stayed up too late having dinner with friends, cutting short the sleep for Sunday’s long day….but sleep is replaceable; time shared with special people isn’t.
Sunday went mostly to plan, with a minor trailer mishap. It was a 16 hour day; exhausting, but incredibly gratifying.
The Next Marathon Begins
The following week brought a new set of challenges. I still had Syrah, Grenache, Marsanne, and Roussanne to pick at Saralee’s Vineyard. Two were about ready, two needed a tad more hang time. Murphy’s Law rose its head; Mother Nature flexed her biceps, we had rain, coming, lots of it. Then that thing called work (my real job) reared it’s head with an emergency trip 3 timezones away AND With more behind it. ALL of the fruit would have to come in and I was gone part of the week. After suppressing some panic, I mapped out the plan.
It worked out, despite almost no margin for error. Up early Monday morning (right after the Grenache Blanc journey), blaze to SFO, travel East, full day of meetings, race back.
Russian River Madness
Thursday morning at Saralee’s it was a like a battlefield; every Vintner wanted their fruit off, many thousands of tons. Unruffled, Saralee sat amidst it all, phone in hand, never terse, always calm and friendly, marshalling troops like a General, as trucks rolled in and out. “This one to Napa” “That one to
Crushpad” “The next to San Fran”. I sat in awe and renewed admiration that my 4 half ton lots even registered, but she treated me as if I was some major label driving off with a semi truck load, not a trailer behind my Toyota FJ.
Technically, most of my harvest this year isn’t really “garagiste” depending on your definition. I have a crusher/destemmer and a basket press at home; but it simply wasn’t practical for this scale, nor do I (yet) have a forklift, and I needed a better press to whole cluster press the whites. I have small lots of each fermenting in the garage, and I did 1/4 ton of Sangiovese again this year by hand; but I decided at the beginning of Harvest, given I was paying 2k/ton for high quality fruit, a better facility was needed.
I lucked out in that I had friended Steven Washuta, a bright young gentleman, and recent graduate of Oenology from Walla Walla, who relocated here this summer to start as an Assistant Winemaker at a nearby, small winery, below radar to many, called Old World Winery. Darek Trowbridge is the winemaker and proprietor. Darek is an affable, hard working, passionate wine maker; we hit it off right away, and he agreed to let me to the bulk of my project at his facility.
Darek is a huge proponent of Natural Wine Making, long before it became the cool thing to do. This meant I had to jump more quickly dainto things I had planned, like native yeast fermentation, but I am glad I did. Darek has been supportive, patient, and he (and Steve) have been a Godsend. As blessed as I am to live in this wonderful region surrounded by wines; its in many ways the people here that enrich and fulfill my life, and I have been blessed, via the wine industry, to make the friendships of many great people, such as these too. (I have more to thank as well…next post.)
More on Old World Winery in a future post; now that Darek is focused on making them no longer a secret, the word is already spreading quickly, as popular wine writer and reviewer Steve Heimoff wrote about Darek and Old World this week.
Back To Harvest
Thursday was a busy day, but went quite well. My biggest disappoint of the day was I got a good bit less grenache than hoped, the one I actually wanted more of. Nothing could be done, and I was damn lucky I got what I got. (I am looking for more still, realizing at this point its going to be already fermenting or done. Will gladly pay for 200-500 pounds of crushed or pressed if know if any excess.)
We whole cluster pressed the Marsanne and Roussanne. For experimentation I kept a small portion of each aside and did some skin contact for 24 hours. The Grenache and Syrah were destemmed (a small amount of whole cluster with stems went into the bottom of each bin) lightly crushed to break the skins, and briefly cold soaked. I took a small amount of Syrah and Grenache must (grapes and juice) home and pressed it for a 5 cases of a blended Rose.
The next day the rain began, and didn’t end for days. The cold temps and native yeast took a while for fermentation to kick off, but all are happily fizzing and bubbling away, and I beam over them like a proud expecting father.
The Quest for M – Mourvedre
One dilemma loomed…as I have shared, one of the main reasons I did so many varietals was for blending…and I really wanted to make a GSM. (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre.) I thought I had lots of time…Mother Nature was throwing me curve balls. I had banked on Paso, as they usually harvest right before Thanksgiving. Rarely seen frost, and rain blew this. I knew I had to drive elsewhere, little exists (for sale) in Sonoma County…but more widely grown in Paso Robles, Santa Ynez, Lake County and Livermore. Calls everywhere were coming up empty. The GSM was going to be a bit lopsided without any ‘M’ and I was already short on Grenache which I had hoped to be a dominate varietal. What would this hopeful Rhone Ranger wannabe do? Stay tuned!
The Garagiste Series (click to read):
It’s about to kick into over drive. Over the years I have been described with a number of terms, ‘Tasmanian devil’ ‘energizer bunny’ and a few others of color, as a compliments (one assumes) to my drive. This weekend it kicks off a whole new level and test of my endurance, especially Sunday.
If you know me personally, or follow my Tweets or Facebook updates, you know I am a massive fan of the Rhone white varietal called Grenache Blanc, which is growing in popularity in the US amongst knowledgeable consumers, branching out.
Of all the Rhone whites I wanted for my ‘project’ this year, this topped my list. Sadly its not widely grown in Sonoma County, and the few growers I talked to had lost some due to sunburn in this years challenging harvest. It’s grown much more abundantly in Paso Robles (a Rhone wine heaven) and Santa Ynez.
I had been putting out on the Social Media wire for awhile I really wanted Grenache Blanc, and with some luck and karma, a source was revealed, through none other than the Father of California Rhones, the original Rhone Ranger, and a man I deeply respect and admire: Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. (And of course, love his wines.) The source was in Santa Ynez, 6 hours away. I get to thank Randall personally tonight (as well as pick up my wine club and re-stock) at his Le Cigare Volant Retrospective dinner tonight in Santa Cruz. I can’t wait.
I called the Santa Ynez grower Randall tipped me to: my luck seemed to expand; the fruit was ready now, and I was already going to be in Paso Robles Saturday for the Grand Opening of Edward Sellers new tasting room. Thats four of the 6 hours already behind me. I have a new trailer I purchased for reasons like this why not. The plan aligned well; Friday night in Santa Cruz, Saturday in Paso, a leisurely day exploring Santa Ynez Sunday, and then leave early Monday morning with my grapes, and process them early afternoon back home.
The luck slipped after that, bringing back the theme, “No Plan Survives Battle’. A major account we have been pursuing in my real life job (that pays for all this) popped up and requires an on site Executive meeting on east coast that required Monday travel. (Additionally complicating the week as it looks like that my Saralee Vineyards Marsanne, Grenache (Noir), and Syrah will be ready as well! )
Now it all compresses and looks like this.
- Leave Paso at 5-6 a.m. Drive two hours to Santa Ynez.
- Help a (now reduced) crew of 3 pick 3/4 ton of grenache blanc, load up, dry ice it and head north with a 6 hour drive home.
- Quick stop in Santa Maria to pick up as many neutral white oak barrels as I can fit on the trailer with 2 bins of fruit.
- Pull into North Sonoma late afternoon and process the fruit. (Haven’t decided vinification process yet.)
- Collapse in bed a sometime, then get up early morning to drive to SFO.
- Fly across the country, have a day of meetings, cross it back, and then pick/process at least 3 more varietals. Whew!
One highlight that emerged, I had planned a casual day Saturday in Paso. It’s their Harvest Festival and town is jammed pack, so any serious private tastings were out.
I had been communicating with Anthony Yount, the head winemaker at Denner, as well as his own brilliant label Kinero. (I will be writing more about Anthony later, and one of the best vineyard tours in my life.) He is a brilliant young wine maker, off the cuff, colorful, yet an old soul, whose knowledge, confidence, and wines belie his youth. This is a man to watch in my opinion. His Kinero Grenache Blanc and Roussanne sell out very quickly each year, and are two of the best expressions of the varietal I have ever had.
He has a new release, I wanted to try, buy: 2009 Cabrida Blanca (34% Picpoul,33% Grenache Blanc,33% Chardonnay). I also asked if I could have a few hours of consulting time as I have so many decisions still to make and love what he does stylistically. Turns out he is picking and processing Grenache Blanc that day and offered insight in exchange for help. Jackpot! I can always come taste wine, but a chance to do my favorite hard work on a varietal I love with Anthony is a not to be missed opportunity for this wine geek.
Never A Dull Moment:
For those interested, I will as best as time, cell coverage and batteries allow, leave a trail of updates and pictures on Twitter and Facebook.
To the local wine industry; I apologize for the decrease in blog coverage of events and things I said I’d cover, those who have reached out for my help. I am temporarily saturated, but promise to get my head back above water, very soon.
The Garagiste Series (click to read):
The Garagiste Series (click to read):
(Republished, as a accident of late night writing while traveling, I accidentally over wrote Article 3)
Thanks for following! Welcome to Part Four of the Series: My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagista or Passion Gone Runaway? (Part 3, Where to Crush, Part Two: It’s All About the Vineyard.
The First Crush aka D-Day
The first of my grapes ready was the Saralee Viognier. Taking vineyard samples, I was actually concerned the fruit was a little riper than I wanted; I seek to make wines that are lower alcohol, less extracted, expressions of the vineyard, vintage, and fruit….essentially I am making to my own personal palate, not what the average consumer buying at Safeway grabs.
The Viognier field samples tested at 24+ brix, time to crush right away, as I wanted under 14% alcohol. I made arrangements with Saralee, the winery, and was ready. I had my new wine trailer, barrel, and all details worked out.
Roll With Small Punches, and Leave More Room for Error
I re-learned a lesson I already knew well from my time in the Infantry; no plan survives battle. I got to Saralee’s Vineyard right on time at 7 a.m. (Grapes are best picked early, and cool.) She was warm and gracious despite it the place being abuzz….the last heat spike had things in overdrive, and crews were working fast for many varietals, for some big comtracts, thus we were a bit delayed.
Not a major issue, but I had shoehorned myself into a meeting with a major brand 45 mins away for 1030 a.m meeting….Saralee did awesome and we got the fruit picked swiftly.
As we went to load the ½ ton bin onto my new trailer, we discovered the tailgate ramp was too long, the forklift couldn’t get it on the trailer….my plan was to just let the forklift mash it to bits, but Saralee was gracious enough have the bin driven over (this woman is amazing…it’s a busy day, I am mosquito client, yet she doesn’t miss a beat.) Luckily it wasn’t far away.
The fruit is delivered, (after traffic delays) and stored in a cool place. It’s dangerously close to departure time for my meeting. I race to Safeway to get dry ice to keep the grapes cool until we press that afternoon….they have none. Luckily the one 2 miles away does…race there, get it on the grapes, cover them, race home to shower, eat in car, and make my meeting on time.
I get back to the winery an hour late, and its smooth sailing. They are finishing up their own press. It’s the first time to whole cluster pressing on this new Puleo bladder press, so we do some setting tweaks, and off we go.
Wine making decisions:
As I wrote yesterday, there is an ever unfolding series of decisions, each impacting the next, in wine making.
Viognier is a fragrant, floral grape. Excess skin contact can overpower the wine, which is not the style I seek, especially since much of this will be blended, thus the decision to whole cluster press. Whole cluster pressing minimizes the time the pressed grape juice will be in contact with the skins.
Whole cluster press was also beneficial in this case, as we had some sunburn from the upper part of the block, and only modest field sorting; whole cluster press does the best job here, instead of grinding the raisins up.
I like the mouthfeel and texture that fermenting in a neutral oak barrel gives (note barrel fermentation is different than barrel aging.) so 60% of the juice (pressed 70 gallons total) went into barrel, the rest into stainless. This mix gives me options as we proceed, when making blending decisions.
Future Decisions (and places for help, input)
I have some future decisions to discuss, analyze , and make.
- Whether I barrel age most of the wine. (Must find another neutral 30 or 60 oak gallon barrel to do this, not easy. ) or leave it to age on stainless after fermentation. Ideally I’d find a 30 gallon neutral barrel used for whites and do both…but this is a very hard item to find.
- Whether to allow the wine to go through Malo-lactic fermentation. ML converts malic acid to lactic, softening the wine. Viognier is generally lower in acidity, so many do not do ML. However I am told, if I don’t, I’ll need to do sterile filtration…for a small amount of wine like this, this adds cost, and wine loss…more investigation needed, but have a (bit) of time.
- Once the Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne are all complete next Spring, blending trials and experimentation will shape the combinations: how much is individual bottled? What combination or combinations of blends do I make? What percentages?
I loathe chemistry, and the inexpensive tools home wine makers use (litmus paper ugh.) The nice thing about the larger scale production this year is running tests from Vinquiry, only a few miles away are now affordable on a volume basis, as well as fast and most accurate.
The Juice Panel test shows 22.3 brix, always more accurate than a field sample; I am pleased. Acids are good, Nitrogen levels to feed the yeasts are quite high, so no yeast food is needed.
The native yeast begin doing their job, and we are underway. Looks like the syrah and Grenache will be next, likely next week.
Coming up Soon: A More in Depth Look at Saralee’s Vineyard
Feedback Time: Enjoying the series? Interesting? Boring? What would you like more or less of?
The Garagiste Series (click to read):
Third in the Series of My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagista or Passion Gone Runaway? Summary: In Part One, I laid out my intent of making 5-7 barrels of Rhone wines (~150 cases). In Part Two I shared my good fortune of sourcing most of my fruit from the famous Russian River Saralee Vineyards.
Yesterday I said I would write about the first crush, but as the article evolved, it was too lengthy, so it has been split it into two parts . Tomorrow I will publish the first grape crush. Today’s article is focused on where to process the grapes, and make the wine.
You quickly learn that winemaking involves an ongoing set of decision trees that has many sub branches, and in some cases are dependant on the equipment you have. E.g. If I wanted to whole cluster press (no destem/crush first) a white varietal to minimize skin contact for various reasons, a basket press isn’t very effective, a bladder press works much better, and gentler.
The first decision I had to make was where and how was I going to process this much fruit. (5+ 1/2 ton lots. Small by commercial standards but a lot for home winemaking.) I have a small crusher/destemmer and press, and plenty of stainless, glass carboys, and other containers. I even have two ½ ton open top containers bought used.
Processing time is also a factor, especially for whites. Using a human powered machine to destem, crush ½ ton of wine grapes is a pretty large task, and best done by multiple sets of biceps taking turns.
It should be noted, there are custom crush facilities (like Crushpad) that do 100% turn key with your ‘guidance’, but that’s not the type of winemaking I want. If I didn’t travel, had more equipment, and the proper storage until the heat abates, I’d be doing as much as home as a could, as a true garagista.
Luckily we have 100+ wineries in a small radius of where I live, and I am blessed with many good industry friends. I found a solution via a small winery nearby who could assist with equipment and storage, as well as keep an eye on things when I wasn’t around. The winery has good equipment, but takes a very traditionalist philosophy to winemaking, which appealed to me greatly.
This did mean I had to embrace a native yeast fermentation, as this winery does not inoculate with commercial yeast strains, and you need to keep those strains off premise, as yeast are promiscuous little buggers. I had planned at least one more year of commercial, then experimenting, but figured why not.
Does using a small winery’s equipment make me less of a garagista?
Perhaps, but this is too much money, time, volume and quality fruit to risk a bad production. I will be doing several small lots at home, including a Syrah rose (if can get some free/discounted fruit) and another batch of Sangiovese as I did last year.
Come back tomorrow to learn about the first crush and how it went, cheers!
The Garagiste Series (click to read):
Second in the Series of My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagista or Passion Gone Runaway? aka: Continuing on my dilemma on how much fruit to source and where. (Sorry it wasn’t next day, my now ‘3’ jobs are keeping me very busy.)
As I discussed last article, small lots of grapes from established growers can be hard to source, it’s not worth their effort and paperwork. Scouting around websites and asking friends, there were people offering Rhone fruit in smaller quantities, but often unknown, ranging from Marin to Lake County.
If I am going to put my ‘name’ on these wines, (even if not selling) and make the time investment; I want high quality fruit from a reliable source. I believe wine making is done on the vineyard, with minimal manipulation, and I want to let it express itself. (Funny how every Vintner says this, only to bury a wine in oak, extraction or high alcohol.)
So where would I find fruit? While a half ton per varietal is a small amount for a grower, it’s a lot for a garage project; 6 different varietals would mean 6 barrels, or 150 cases.
I kept asking friends and winemakers, and focused in on one of my favorite Kenwood/Glen Ellen Vintners, Eric Luse of Eric Ross; whose’ Marsanne/Rousanne captured me when I first met him several years ago. It’s sourced from Saralee’s Vineyards, operated by Richard and Saralee Kunde, the Russian River Valley’s well known Grower, for over 20 years. (Eric’s Saralee Pinot is also amazing.) Assuming someone of this size and reputation wouldn’t touch me, so I asked Eric if I could piggy back onto his order, get it from him when delivered.
Eric, being the straight up guy he is, wanted to ask Saralee for permission. To my surprise she said ok, and that she would sell to me direct, as an exception. Looking over her varietal list, I decided why not focus on one Vineyard and source everything I could from here, especially since I favor cool climate conditions for many varietals. How awesome would it be to showcase most of the fruit sourced from this world recognized wine grower? Would good fortune play my way?
Saralee and I spoke live, and she agreed to sell me Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, which I plan to bottle separately as well as make 1-2 small lots of white Rhone blends. While the size of my order was atypical, Saralee was enthusiastic to support the project, both for the rare Rhone focus (a large vintner who had acquired a small one with a cool Rhone white blend, just ceased making it and cancelled their fruit); as well as she quipped “Everyone has to start somewhere.”
My luck expanded – for reds she had Grenache (my favorite) and Syrah she would also sell. I agreed to a ½ ton (60-70 gallons, 1 barrel, 25 cases, 300 bottles) of each. I need only now source Mourvedre so I can make the classic Rhone GSM red blend, and I intend to bottle separately as well. Mourvedre is one of the last varietals to come in; and worst case I’ll source and drive some back from Paso Robles around Thanksgiving if need be. No luck on my white rhone Grenache Blanc yet, but will engage resources to look shortly.
People are already chuckling in conversations; 150 cases; that’s 1800 bottles; from the guy who already complains about his 650 bottle collection he can’t drink. No, I don’t intend to sell it. I don’t plan to become a winemaker or start a winery; I want to become be a Rhone grower who makes small lots to showcase his fruit. I know what I want to achieve stylistically with these wines, and to share with the world, but lack the experience (my 3rd go at winemaking), the OCD nature, and completely abhor chemistry, so its hard to imagine this path unfolding, at least without a partner.
So then, why so much wine? Well those that know me here, understand well I have two speeds; Go big or Go home. And I need the volume – these 6 varietals are a canvas for a myriad of blends, and experiments. And wine is ‘lost’ along the way in some processes, from sterilizing, to bottling.
I have some ideas and possibilities what to do with the wines, assuming they come out well. I won’t do anything that’s not legal, risk anyone’s bond, and I have some more investigations to do. Plenty of time right now, bottling is a ways off, even for the whites. At the very worst case, we’ll have some great Rhone parties, and Rhone consumer education events.
Next in the series; The first of the 6 crushes; or “No Plan Survives Combat”, as well as an article spotlight on Saralee Vineyards and Saralee Kunde. Hope you will follow along – cheers!
The Garagiste Series (click to read):
2009 was my first year living immersed in the middle of Sonoma Harvest. I had taken severance from my employer in July and had planned to take 4 months of work to complete a semester of wine and wine business classes, as well as spend time as a harvest volunteer and cellar rat. After years of home brewing I also decided to jump in both feet into home wine making, or being a garagiste.
For someone on ‘sabbatical’ I was buried – Simple Hedonisms was in the middle of being birthed, was carrying an overload of classes, creating the blog from scratch learning new frontiers, diving headlong into establishing my Social Media presence; so unfortunately I didn’t capitalize and capture my harvest or home wine making experiences in blog posts.
My harvest volunteer experience was shortened on both ends by two phenomenon; I broke an outer bone in my foot and was in a boot cast early harvest, and then received an offer to return to my previous role in the technology space (VP Sales/Marketing) that couldn’t be passed up. In between that though I was fortunate to be able to spend time with great people and wineries like Mounts Family Winery, Hobo, and C. Donatiello; doing everything from picking, sorting, pressing, and of course the habitual cleaning rituals. I loved it immensely.
I also made two small batches of wine; an unoaked “naked” Russian River Valley chardonnay, and a Sangiovese (Barolo clone not yet bottled) from Alpicella Vineyard; which I picked, and crushed at home. It was a special thrill, hand cranking to de-stem, crush, and press on my improvised crushpad at home.
I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. I still aspire to focus on being a grower over a winemaker in future years, but the small hand production is thrilling. This year I strongly desired to marry my love of Rhone varietals with my garagista hobby.
This presented several challenges: (a) Rhone varietals, especially some of my favorites, are not widely grown in Sonoma County, especially available in small ¼-1/2 ton lots that a home winemaker would want; it’s too much of a hassle for the grower. (b) Rhone wines often shine best when blended (white combos of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc (the latter my fave, and near impossible to source here) and my beloved red GSM combo – Grenache (noir), Syrah, and Mourvedre. (Again the latter hard to obtain, especially in small amounts.) And I also wanted the option to bottle some as single varietals, depending how they came out.
The amount of work to process a ¼ ton, versus 1 ton, is quite similar. Indeed, fermentation, and aging vessels, like barrels (especially neutral, since not a new oak fan) for ultra small lots are hard to obtain as well. So why not just make less varietals, or more amounts of each. Would any grower of reputation even deal with a guy that wanted so many small lots? What the heck would I do with 100-150 cases of wine? (1/2 ton = barrel= 25 cases.)
I cast the Net and got lucky. Very lucky. (Although I am still looking for Mourvedre and Grenache Blanc. )
Tomorrow (which is the first varietal crush as well) I will reveal just how lucky I got, and my decisions.
Stay Tuned – Cheers!