Monday, February 26, 2007

Labels... are on.

Last Thursday the naked bottles of Quattro and Rockfish Red finally got covered. It was a long, uneventful day. Labeling already full bottles, called "shiners," is frankly anticlimatic. We know how the wine tastes now. There was no anticipation and no welcome feeling of putting the vintage to bed. The wine's been in bed for weeks, getting it's beauty sleep. No, the labeling process was all the work, plus some, with no dramatic climax. I really appreciate the help from Dan, Roberto, Trey, Susan, Daniel, and Jose-Luis all that much more. Can't wait for next time.

Speaking of, next bottling is March 12. We'll put the 2006 Viognier and A6 "to bed." Also, a very limited release of Riesling made in a fairly dry style. I'm tweaking all the wines right now, but they're all pretty good. I think the 2006 whites are fairing better, generally, than the reds. All the rain during September affected the October harvested reds ripening. Sure, the rain diluted the September harvest whites, but the flavors from the warm summer are pushing through. Hopefully that will be true of the reds with time.

I'm putting up our new winery sign. I think I mentioned earlier that hooligans stole our original sign. The new one is identical, but I plan on making it a bit tougher to snatch. Did you know you can buy bear traps on Ebay?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bottle Neck

Yesterday we bottled the 2007 Quattro and Rockfish Red. It is great to have them in bottle. Unfortunately, we did not LABEL the bottles yesterday. There is always something that can go wrong. Yesterday it was the labelling machine's turn to foul the works. We use a mobile bottling line to bottle. This is a trailer that contains a trillion dollars worth of high-tech Italian bottling equipment... just begging to break down. Joe, the bottling line owner is phenomenal, and I don't blame him for a second. There is just a lot that can go wrong on the line. The malfunction yesterday was at the bottle sensing motherboard that tells the machine "put a label on now." Just wouldn't work. Joe tried to fix it, but with weather coming (4 inches of snow last night), I decided to get the wine in bottle. Now, we'll need to run all the cases back through the machine when the labeler is working in a couple of weeks. No worries on the availablity this weekend of the two wines though. We have a high-tech hand labeler at Cardinal Point named Sarah. Speaking of, thanks very much to Sarah, Jodie, Christine, Roberto, David, Bob, Bill, Susan, and Trey for working the bottle line yesterday. And thank you to Mom for helping out and giving me a birthday cake during lunch. That was really nice!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Saturday and there's work to do. Bottling is coming up on February 6. That's this Tuesday. The forecast temperature for Tuesday: 20F! This will add some extra effort to the bottling campaign. The mobile bottling line sets up outside on the crush pad. I'll need to keep the empty bottles inside until the last second they are needed. Essentially temperature management of the bottles, wine, and bottling line trailer is necessary so that the labels will stick to the bottle. It's all about condensation. So, though not insurmountable, our finite space in the winery will require a lot of forethought and muscle in order to make this a smooth bottling. Plus, it'll be damn cold!

The best wine appreciation article I've read in years:

Monday, January 29, 2007

Today I hit the ground running. Well, sort of... first I need to spend some time blogging while I enjoy a fresh baked biscuit and cup of coffee and avoid going out the door into the cold, cold world. Seriously, I have loads to do this week. Today I must filter the Quattro so I can have it ready to bottle a week from now. I'm still working to soften the finish and filtering may help. I also must clean off the crush pad today. We bottle out on the pad, but any day this week I will receive ten pallets of bottles. I'll need all the room on the pad just to unload the bottle with the fork lift. I'll need to put them inside, and I'm not sure how that will happen. Fortunately last Friday we had a winery clean-up day. Almost everyone who works here showed up to straighten up the winery, like an early spring cleaning. I took it as a passive/aggressive scream to keep my space clean, but I also really appreciate the help. Thank you, all! The place looks great. I should be able to find space for the in-coming bottles.

I forgot to mention last blog some new features at the winery. The wine bar in the tasting room has been extended and resurfaced. We can handle many more people now, especially those weekend rushes. You can check it out pictures in the February issue of Nelson County Life, but, as a teaser, it's not done yet. Also, outdoors, I built a walking bridge across the little creek next to the stage. I hope to make some trails through our woods for casual hikes. At the very least, the bridge should help keep the kids dry during our concerts... maybe.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Well, I'm back. Not that I went anywhere other than Procrastinationville. My last blog was in early November and now it's late January. Not too much has transpired. We have a new kitten. The country has a new congress. The world has a new year.

In the winery, I've been preparing two wines for bottling on February 6th: the 2006 Quattro and the 2006 Rockfish Red. The Quattro has a slightly larger percentage of Gewurtztraminer than last year but otherwise is usual foursome of Riesling, Gewurtz., Viongier, and Traminette. Despite the pending bottle date, I'm still working the wine. The aroma is great, but the finish isn't as smooth as I'd like. I'm hoping to"fine" that out. I'm pretty sure the wine will relax and soften the finish on it's own with time, but I'll feel better toning it down a bit now. The Rockfish Red (RR) is all Cabernet Franc. I first made this wine last year. I aimed at an easy finishing, low tannic red. It was fermented and aged in steel. This year the aim's the same, but the wine did see some time in barrel. I think I mentioned tank juggling in an earlier blog. I have a finite amount of wine tanks to use and I needed the tank the RR was using. Barrels are convenient temporary storage vessels though not without some flavor/aroma significance. I'm really happy with the RR. I strived to keep the finish soft and approachable. It seems to me to have Burgundian character, in a way.

Yesterday I was in Richmond, lending my hand to the effort to allow wholesale self-distribution by Virginia farm wineries. As most of you know this has been a struggle. Farm wineries had been allowed to self-distribute directly to restaurants and retailers since the inception of the Virginia Farm Winery Act back around 1980. This allowed small wineries to grow their wholesale business without sharing the slim profit margin with a distributor, a middle man. Typically, as the winery's business grew, the need for a distributor to handle the wholesale business became desirable for logistical reasons. The winery would then sign-up with a distributor to take care of warehousing, deliveries, etc... Well, this was a great set-up, but ultimately illegal. About 18 months ago, Federal courts decided that this practice was unfair as wineries outside Virginia did not have the same distribution ability. It wasn't a level playing field and, therefore, against the Commerce clause of the Constitution. Last summer Virginia wineries lost the right to self-distribute. Quickly wineries either made plans with distributors or just stopped their whloesale practice. Signing on with a distributor, especially when you don't have economy of scale like most new winery start-ups, eats into, if not devours, profit margins. Also, a producer/distributor contract is literally tighter than marriage, and an unhappy relationship can lead to a failed winery business with no chance for divorce.
As always, ultimately the consumer pays for all of this, with higher bottle prices and less selection.

Stay with me, though. THERE SEEMS TO BE A SOLUTION! The problem has been that the distributors, naturally, did not want to give up any of their government given rights as mandated middlemen. They must get a cut of every bottle you drink thanks to our representatives. Right or wrong, if I were them, I'd do the same thing. They fought any solution our side came up with on the grounds that it weakened the Three Tier System (TTS: When it comes to alcohol you can be a producer, a distributor, or a retailer, but no business can be on more than one "tier." The exception has been Farm wineries and the result has been phenomenal. Six wineries in the state in 1980 has grown to over 110 wineries in just 26 years thanks to the Farm Wine Act). The distributors have been around since the repeal of Prohibition and have many friends in government. Our still nascent Virginia wine industry has little to compete politically with them. Except of course for people probably like you. A grassroots effort was started to help Virginia wineries. The legislators heard it. It wasn't deafening, but it was constant and consistent. I think I heard described as "the mosquito factor." I like that. Anyway, some forward thinking representatives like Del. Saxman and Sen. Hanger came up with a novel idea, made wineries and distributors sit down together, and I think we now have a solution that we all can live with.

Here's how it will work: The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) will form a distributorship. Farm wineries can join this distributorship and distribute up to 3000 cases through this distributor. Simplified, the winery will set up a leased bonded space for the VDACS Dist. The winery can go to a restaurant or shop and make a sale. The order is sent electronically into VDACS. They issue the paperwork (FW; invoice) and the wine can then be delivered. There will be a cost for this service (and it is unknown right now), but it is expected to be much lower than the typical 30% a distributor commands. Plus, the winery will be able to terminate the agreement with VDACS at any time. I've been told this concept is constitutional as Virginia already is in the Alcohol business with the ABC stores, and has passed muster in court challenges for this. Apparently, the Attorney General agreed, as well.

This system isn't perfect, but it should allow small wineries to grow and succeed. It should also allow consumers access to more wines they want at a fairer price. This Bill has only made it through sub-committee, though, and will need to go to full committee, the House floor, the state Senate, and then on to the Governor. It is not a done deal, and your continued encouragement of your representative is needed. There seems to be bi-partisan support and both the Virginia Wineries Association and the Distributors seem to be happy. Let's hope this holds up.

In reporting this, I do not want to imply credit for anything. The Virginia Wineries Association has had a strong presence this year in Richmond lead by Anne Heidig of Lake Anna Winery and David King of King Family. The wineries' long-time political leader Terri Bierne has worked tirelessly for years,... and literally up to the last second in sub-committee last night! Many winery people have driven to Richmond to speak with representatives. Many growers have as well, lead by the Virginia Vineyards Association president Rock Stevens. Grape growers need the wineries to succeed to succeed. Retailers, hospitality, the Farm Bureau, and county representatives have all helped the wineries in this cause. Del.s Saxman and Albo have been instrumental in introducing legislation to achieve the goal. Indeed the distributors need to be gratefully thanked for working out and implementing a solution we likely all can live with. And the most important help has come from all the voices of friends of Virginia wine (mosquitoes) who contacted their state representatives. Thank you very much!

I'll try to be more timely with these blogs. Feel free to hassle me into writing. -- Tim

Thursday, November 02, 2006


On November 16th the "plan" is to release our first wine of the 2006 vintage, our Nouveau Red. That is the same day that Beaujolais nouveau is released in Paris and all over France and the world. Yep, that's the plan. I should be able to make it. This year I actually have the bottles on hand (arrived today), I have the labels ordered (half will be ready to hand label bottles the day before release), the corks and caps are ready to go. Oh, yeah, the wine. Well, that's coming along. Pushing a wine like this, and, honestly, I'm pushing, is a pretty interesting exercise in winemaking. The effects of fining, filtering, temperature, CO2 levels, anything that is manipulated is immediately obvious. Not always great, but obvious. Too soon to comment on the wine too much, but it does have that young, juicy-fruit aroma of French nouveau. I'll keep you devoted readers in the loop.

I have just two tanks still fermenting, a Cab franc and our Cabernet sauvignon. The Cab S. cold soaked for several days which means it was kept chilled, delaying the start of alcohol ferment with yeast. This is to extract color and flavor without too much tannic astringency. I can still increase tannin extraction later by leaving the must on skins for a while (extended maceration), but it's good to get the color up front.

Man, it feels good to have all the fruit off the vines. I picked up a cold for the last week of harvest and pretty much exhausted myself, but that happens to all winemakers, I bet. Long days, stress, and cold wet cellars are not what the doctor ordered. I'm lucky I didn't get pneumonia, I guess.

I have been spending nights lately on eBay, cruising for snowboard deals. I bought some boots and I'm going to bum a board off a friend, but I need bindings. Anyone know a good, cheap source? I have plans to ski or ride a lot this winter. That's the other "plan." I think both may be a little wishful, but without plans, nothing would happen.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The past two weeks or so have gone by too fast. The urgency of the work has subsided, thankfully, but the amount is still up there. The Cabernet Franc, picked and referred to last blog, has been destemmed, fermented, and pressed-off. It currently sits in a settling tank and will be put into barrels today. I'm really happy with the wine so far. Of note, it came in with botrytis. Botrytis is a fungal pathogen, disease, often referred to as "noble rot." Readers may recall that the Chardonnay this year was rife with botrytis. In whites, the disease can increase flavor and sugar levels. It can also lead to secondary infections like sour rot and ripe rot (rots are never good). Reds face the same issues plus the botrytis can cause a large build-up of laccase. Laccase actually reverses color stability. When this happens in reality, the juice starts out with pretty good color only to, day by pitiful day, lose the color and start to resemble a color I can only think to call khaki. Not cool. Fortunately I took some preventive actions which all basically tie-up any laccase. The results worked. The Franc isn't inky, but the color is very good.

I have a small amount of Petit Verdot in this year. It is inky and wonderful. I have more P.V. coming into fruit each year in the vineyard and I'm excited about the potential. Eventually I'll probably make a varietal label Petit Verdot, but for now I'll use it for blending.

The Nouveau is almost ready to start preparing for bottle. The fruit in a nouveau goes through carbonic maceration (CM). Simply, red wine is made by destemming and crushing grapes and then fermenting the juice AND the fruit together. The color for red wine is in the skin and during fermentation, the color is released from the skin as the cell walls are broken down by alcohol. With CB, whole clusters are placed in a vat that is full of carbon dioxide. The CO2 diffuses into the individual cell walls, expanding the cell and bursting it open, thus releasing the color. After a while the CM fruit is pressed and then traditional alcohol fermentation is started to finish the wine. The resultant wine has low tannins and unique flavors. This is the method used to make Beaujolais nouveau in France. Our release date for the Nouveau is the same as the traditional date in France, the third Thursday of November. This year that is November 16. I need to get my butt in gear. I'm pretty sure the Beaujolites didn't have us in mind, but nouveau in my opinion is great with Thanksgiving turkey.

Today we start the end of harvest. The Cabernet Sauvignon will finally come off the vine. I really love this block of vines. They are well behaved, meaning they grow to the top of the trellis and stop. There isn't a lot of excess growth which leads to canopy management problems and vegetative issues in the wine. The berries are small and dark. Small berries are desirable because most of the flavor and all of the color are in the skin layer. The smaller the berry the larger the skin-to-juice ratio per berry. I have high hopes for this years vintage. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Jeff, Julie, Tammie, Deb, Dan, Lisa, Stuart, my cousin Nancy's daughter and her boyfriend, and mostly my sister Sarah for the great work at the Town Point festival in Norfolk over the weekend. It was chilly but a huge success. Thanks also to Michael, Laura, Val, Kim, and Roberto for the hard work in the tasting room while everyone else was gone. In addition harvest and festivals, fall is also the busiest time of year for the tasting room. The festivals are over for the year (well, excepting our own Oyster Fest 11/11 and 11/12) and harvest is winding down. Our workers have preformed fantastic!
Thanks to everyone for dropping by the winery.