• More harvest know-how: The Cellar

    September 25, 2015 14:08

    Pressing matters. Literally. Once the red wine tank is done with its’ primary fermentation it is time to put the young wine through the press which separates the skins and seeds from the newly fermented grape juice. The skins and seeds are conveyed away and are now known as pomace. The pomace will be spread around the vineyards in a year, after it has taken the cure under a tarp.

    Once the pressing is done the wine is transferred to another tank for its’ secondary fermentation. This is known as malolactic fermentation and turns a somewhat harsh acid to a milder one. Think tart green apple (malic acid) turned to softer butter-like acid (lactic) by introducing lactic acid bacteria. If you have heard of ‘buttery’ Chardonnay it is likely it underwent malolactic fermentation. In red wine the process is there to do its’ job of making the wine more palatable. How long does all of this fermenting take? 2-3 weeks typically. We’ll be finished soon-and then the wine will rest before being transferred to barrels in January. A toast to the harvest and all the people who made it happen!

    This is a shot from harvest in 2006 of Humberto De La O (now retired) is pictured here overseeing the pressing of one of our red wines. Photo credit: Hipolito Cano, Cellar Master.

    2006 Humberto pressing wine

  • Last Day of Harvest

    September 23, 2015 14:15

    The final day of grape harvest is here. What began in a flurry of days in August-the 17th to be exact-turned into a bit of a slow down as the weeks progressed. The last day is here for the grapes and the cellar crew isn't breathing a sigh of relief just yet-there is fermentation to go through as well as pressing off the wines from the tanks. More cellar talk to follow but I'll raise my Dino to all the hard work of the staff from winemaker to cellar master to vineyard foreman to vineyard manager and everyone in between. Saluté!

    Bushnell Zinfandel, second crop, the last load of grapes for the season.

    Bushnell Zinfandel Harvest

  • Harvest Know-how: Pump Overs

    September 18, 2015 14:19

    Harvest know how takes focus from when to pick the grapes to how long fermentation lasts, and everything in between. Today I am taking a look at the term pump-over and what this process does to increase wine quality during the fermenting process.

    Beginning at the crush pad, the bunches are destemmed. The grapes (now berries with a lot of juice) fill the tank and are inoculated with the yeast chosen for the varietal. The process of converting sugar in the ripe fruit to alcohol begins. A tank full of red wine grapes typically takes about 10 days to finish fermentation. Technology stepped in years ago to help the cellar crew slow the process. They found the longer fermentation takes the more you get out of the grape and the quality of wine goes up. The new technology has been a part of our cellar since the 1970s.

    Thanks to our Cellarmaster Hipolito Cano, here is a bird's eye view of a pumpover.

    Pumpover 2015

    The pump-over process is designed to get the most out of the cap that floats to the top of the tank. The cap consists of skins and seeds. The pump-over method has the fermenting juice pumped from the bottom of the tank over the top of the cap-thereby soaking the juice in the skins where all the color, tannins and flavor are located. The increase in all three of these important characteristics helps to make a better wine. This takes place three times a day during the length of time it takes to ferment dry.

    A toast to the cellar crew with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino!

  • Harvest Know how: Berry Maturity

    September 4, 2015 14:24

    Grapes, like most growing things, have stages they will go through in order to achieve the desired combination of ripeness for a specific wine. I chose today’s post to take a look at our Sangiovese and how it achieves proper maturity for our Alto Vineyards selection.

    The four stages of development in grapes range from the green stage, the ripening stage, the ripe stage and the overripe stage. Obviously we target the ripe stage because in this state the resulting wine will benefit greatly when sugar, acid and pH are at their optimum levels. Like the story of the three bears, you want the fruit not too sharp (acidic or green), not overly ripe (alcoholic), but just right.

    The composition of a berry on a bunch is comprised of seeds (10%), skin (5-12%), juice (containing fructose and glucose), many nutrients and minerals in minuscule amounts, and water (70-80%). You’ll see in the photo below I have cut a berry in half and then taken out the seeds. These are chestnut brown color; this color is one of the ways to determine the right moment to pick. Sampling, as seen in a previous post, will confirm when the fruit is ready by measuring the sugar, acidity and pH.

    Once the fruit was destemmed at the crush pad, the Sangiovese berries (juice, skins, seeds) made their way to the fermenting tank. Here the cellar crew takes an overall look at the combined Brix (sugar), acidity and pH of the 15.1 tons in the tank. There is a total Brix (sugar) of 25.2, total acidity of .765 and pH of 3.11. Over the next 10 days or so, in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, the fermentation process will convert the sugar to alcohol and it is recorded as seen in the form below.

    Sangiovese Chart

    To give you an idea of these three components in a finished wine here are the stats on our 2012 Sangiovese: alcohol (formerly known as Brix) 14.1%, total acidity is .690g and pH is 3.43. A splash of Sangiovese in my Dino as the harvest continues.

  • Harvest Know-how: From Grape Boxes to Gondolas

    August 28, 2015 14:39

    Picking grapes at their optimum ripeness level is very important to the vineyard manager as well as the winemaker. While we seek balance overall in the fruit we harvest, today’s post is about what those grapes are put in once cut from the vine.

    I remember in the 1960’s watching pick-up trucks bring the harvest to the winery weighed down with boxes of grapes. These grape boxes were used many years ago and they were wooden and very heavy-weighing in at over 50lbs once filled with grapes. Once at the crush pad they were dumped one by one into the crusher. Most of these are now gracing barns and storage as they are rarely if ever used by picking crews these days.

    Plastic buckets are used now and are smaller and easier to lift because, when filled with grapes, they weigh 25 pounds. And lighter tubs means faster work between the vine and gondola. Speed is an element greatly desired by those who are picking the grapes-more boxes/buckets/tubs means more money in the bank. Once the tubs of grapes are filled they are whisked to the gondola, waiting at the end of the vine row several feet away. Speed as a runner is also important to empty the grapes and get back to the business of picking.

    To give you an idea about a day in the life of the harvest here is the report from Wednesday’s crush: The following loads came in: Chardonnay from Frank Johnson Vineyards, Merlot from estate vineyards as well as the neighboring Long Vineyards. The total tonnage was roughly 75 tons, which is well above the usual amount for a regular harvest day, which is nearer to 40 tons. The Chardonnay was machine harvested but the rest was all handpicked. A toast with a splash of Chardonnay in my Dino to all the hands picking and making our wines!

    A wooden grape box that typically held 50 lbs of grapes.

    Wooden Grape Box

    The crew in 2006, photo courtesy of Cellar Master Hipolito Cano who journaled the harvest.

    Cellar Master Cano 2006

  • First Pick

    August 20, 2015 14:47

    First day of harvest is much like the first day of school, at least for the grapes. Or maybe like a final exam. They have been growing and maturing all summer long and now the big day is here: the first gondola of harvest. This year's vintage kicked off on August 17.

    2015 Harvest taking samples

    The crew had been picking since 6am. The first two gondolas of our Sauvignon Blanc arrived around 9:30 to weigh in at the scale. Together they totaled 10,575 lbs and a sample was taken by the cellar crew to determine Brix (sugar), pH and acidity. They were transported to the crush pad where the gondola was tipped into the conveyor. You see Polo Cano, our cellarmaster, at the crush pad.

    2015 Harvest polo at crusher

    As the grapes were poured from the gondola two generations of Pedroncellis stood by to check out the quality. Jim Pedroncelli (2nd generation) on the left and Mitch Blakeley (4th generation) on the right. 2015 is starting out early and going to go very quickly as most other vineyards are nearing what is called proper maturity. You’ll remember our bud break was early and the season following has been mostly mild and without many problems. A toast to the 2015 vintage with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc in my Dino!

    2015 Harvest Jim and Mitch

  • Hitting the Brix

    August 13, 2015 14:56

    Sampling the grapes from a vineyard block determines how ready or close we are to picking them. Today’s post is about vineyard sampling.

    Judging when a varietal is ready for harvest is crucial. There are quite a few headlines about early harvest this year but keep in mind that many of these vineyards are destined for sparkling wine production. Needless to say we’ll be harvesting our first grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, next Monday. This is a few days earlier than last year but not the earliest on record-that would be August 11, 2004. Taking a vineyard sample is the way all wineries determine when to pick.

    So how is it done? The vineyard manager or foreman will walk through a vineyard block to take a sampling of berries from random vines, culling a good cross section of grapes. The sample is brought back to the winery and analyzed in the lab. There are three main and very important indicators from the sample: brix (sugar), titratable acidity and pH. Ideally the winemaker wants all three to be in balance-you may have the sugar but are lacking perhaps in acidity. The waiting begins as the sampling takes place over the course of a couple of weeks leading up to the big day. Of course you can always test berries in the field using a refractometer which will give you a quick reading. For accuracy’s sake the lab test helps determine the optimum levels in the three important areas indicating the right time to pick. Here is a great video (a very geeky one in my opinion, love the voice-over) on how it is done, thanks to Yakima Valley Community College. A toast to harvest as we get closer to our 2015 vintage.

    A beauty shot of our Merlot from a previous vintage looking luscious.

    Merlot grapes bunch

  • Harvest Know-How: Waiting

    August 7, 2015 15:01

    This month the theme is harvest know-how and today’s topic is waiting. Patience is a virtue especially when it comes to the starting date of harvest. Tom Petty had it right when he sang “the waiting is the hardest part”. Lance our vineyard manager and his crew are out testing the vineyard blocks for ripeness and keeping an eye on things between our vineyards and our grower’s grapes. He works with Montse to target a picking date but it seems we’ll be waiting another 10 days or so, depending on the weather and other conditions.

    Now the vineyard crew is kept busy pulling leaves to expose the ripening fruit to the full benefit of the sun, the cellar crew is wrapping up bottling because they won’t begin this process again until November, following the final pressing of new wine and gearing back up for the next tank of finished wine. Preparation of the crush area as well as repair on any of the equipment is in the last stages, deep cleaning is taking place in the cellar. We’re anticipating a somewhat early harvest and stand ready for the first load of fruit to cross the crush pad. A toast to waiting for the perfect moment to pick.

    The vineyards are slowly ripening with our warm days and fog-infused nights. Seen here is our Sangiovese terraces in late morning as the fog burns away.

    Sangiovese in Fog

  • Harvest Know-How: Growing Season

    August 5, 2015 15:06

    This month’s theme is a behind-the-scene look at harvest and everything leading up to it. Today’s post is about the growing season and what we have experienced so far.

    The growing season stretches from bud-break to the first grapes harvested. After that we usually refer to it as the harvest season and all the successes and challenges of that time period. Bud break occurred very early this year where some of the vines were coming out of dormancy in the very beginning of March, about 3 weeks early because of the warm winter weather. It felt like spring in February. This was followed by bloom and crop set taking place over April and May, also a bit earlier than normal. The ensuing weather during June and July gave us some warm to hot days, some as high as 102 while others were in the 80’s. The vineyards then experienced veraison -the period when the hard green berries on the developing bunches start to soften and turn color. Another influence over this season was the drought we are currently experiencing.

    Here are two views of the upcoming harvest as outlined by our winemaker Montse Reece and Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley at the end of July:

    Montse said, “We are 2-3 weeks to harvest of our Sauvignon Blanc. Yields overall are average. We do have smaller berries due in part to the drought. With less water in the berries they are more concentrated. We will be picking as early as possible to avoid high alcohols in the wine.”

    Lance said, “Early-around August 14-18 for Sauvignon Blanc. Quality looks very good but yields are lighter-Zin off 10% from last year. Vines are averaging themselves out from the larger crops in 2012 and 2013. As to the drought, this year we have been affected less than last year because we had more rainfall but we followed the extreme water-saving model from 2013 where we set up shorter water cycles and tried to stretch the intervals as best we can. We watch for yellowing leaves (a sign of vine stress) and cut back overall. We noticed smaller berries from shattering in the spring and think the grapes will achieve good ripeness in spite of some challenges.”

    A toast to the upcoming harvest with some vino in my Dino.

    Here is a comparison of Cabernet Sauvignon, on the left, and Zinfandel on the right. These were taken in July and show the process of veraison, a pivotal point in the growing season.

    Cab Sauv vs Zin

  • On Vacation

    July 10, 2015 15:44

    The grapes aren't on vacation this month. They are turning color (veraison is the term) and beginning their journey to harvest.

    Veraison time