Thursday, September 28, 2006

Quick Update

Sorry for not posting the past few days. I am deep in harvest now and time, motivation, and energy are all short at the end of the day. My problem now is that I can't even recall what I did on Monday. This is Thursday! Focus, Tim...

Okay here's a quick synopsis of the week so far.

Monday: I welded up some new hooks for the Lugger tool (see earlier post). I broke one of the original prototypes which was probably 12 years old. The new ones are beefy and work great. I really need to market these things... Then I cleaned lugs. I used a pressure washer to loosen and a big bin of water to rinse with excellent and fast results. I was cleaning 5 lugs per minute on average. That's pretty fast which is good as it is a miserable job. Then the Karcher brand pressure washer broke. I've used it like 3 times... I put the lugs out in the vineyard preparing for harvest on Tuesday.

Tuesday: Daniel and crew, 8 all together, picked 5 tons of chardonnay. This fruit was for me just as a change of pace (joke). They had to leave a lot of fruit on the vine due to rot, probably 25%. There are lots of kinds of rot. This year, at Cardinal Point anyway, there has been near perfect conditions for botrytis, or "noble rot." Botrytis is a fungal disease that usually infects grapes in the late ripening stage. It can lead to complete loss of a crop. It is not all that bad though. On its own, botrytis infected grapes develop pleasing flavors and actually increase in sugar because the fungi dehydrate the berries. The pathogen can cause enological (wine making) problems, especially with red varieties, but with care, can actually make wines superior compared to unifected lots, hence "noble rot". Botrytis, though can also lead to secondary rots, ripe rot, sour rot, and others, that smell and taste terrible. So, the fruit came in looking, well, bad, covered with brown, furry botrytis and who knows what else. It did not smell bad, though. There's hope...Later I took the Karcher pressure washer back to Lowe's and they gave me a new one!

Wednesday: We, Roberto and I, pressed out the Chardonnay picked on Tuesday. Many wineries sort their fruit before going pressing. This is a great concept. The idea is to pick out the bad clusters, berries, or bird nests before they are squished into wine. In practice this is can be tough to do. First, it is is difficult to find "sorters," people who do the sorting. Usually a winery uses their picking crew to sort. I find this funny. You pay a crew to pick fruit and then ask them to take out the stuff you don't want. I just ask them not to pick the stuff I don't want. Plus, it's tough to get people to sort when others need them to pick. More difficult is deciding what to sort. I know of a winery that sorted one bin out of six bins of fruit. On a lark, they pressed and vinified the ugly, sorted fruit. As you might guess by now, the "sorted" wine was far superior, full of flavor, rich with complexity. Don't get me wrong. Sorting can be a great tool. In this case, though, with my botrysized chardonnay, it wouldn't have. I wouldn't know what to pick out without snorting and tasting every berry. The infected fruit is very tender and the first juice to come out of the press are these easily pressed grapes. In this instance, this first, "free run" juice was remarkably sweeter than the juice later in the press run. I honestly feel that if sorted, we could easily have second guessed ourselves and thrown away some great flavor. In short, we pressed the 5 tons. Also I picked up 1.25 tons of Traminette from Dave Dexter (for the Quattro) which we also pressed... In the afternoon between press runs, I scrubbed lugs. I couldn't use the new Karcher pressure washer because the brand new replacement unit from Lowe's came with a broken on/off switch. It was along day.

Thursday: Today was the last day of our Chardonnay harvest. We took off almost 7 tons to be divide between CP and another winery. Bob Hughes came out again, thankfully. I'd have been crushed by myself. The crew was so fast today. They were done by noon. Bob was picking up all the lugs. He worked his butt off. We had the luxury of dumping the lugs into bins (big plastic boxes, 4'x4') right in the vineyard row. The purchasing winery guys then brought over a trailer that my feeble tractor's front loader struggled to place the bins on. It occurred to me after filling about 6 bins that if my front loader broke that day, I'd be screwed. 800# boxes of pure grape mass with no where to go. Its true of a lot of the equipment. If the fork lift goes down, I can't press or crush grapes. If the wine pump breaks, I really can't do anything. Well, this time nothing broke and we sent the grapes off happily.

That afternoon I lost my wallet. I needed to rent a U-haul trailer to take some wine to a festival in Leesburg on Friday. I couldn't do it because I didn't have my wallet. I had to get the wine there Friday morning because in the afternoon and evening, I need to press some more chardonnay. I felt like the simplest thing was keeping me from getting anything done. It is frustrating and depressing. It wasn't catastrophic like an exploding forklift, but it was as effective. I lost about three hours of productive time before finding the clever wallet hiding behind our hamper. I did find some long lost sunglasses, though.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bauhaus "r" Us

I received a kind email from David Carnes, vineyard manager at Windham winery in Hillsboro, Virginia. David was dropping off wine for our mutually-used distributor on Friday and it was his first visit to Cardinal Point. In his email, referring to our architecture, he says "Cardinal Point has a hipness to it" and "Who can't make a winery look pretty with money? There's no challenge in that and the Napa look has been done to death." I appreciate the comment because including my wine and vine work, I also did a lot of the construction. Indeed the whole family was involved. My brother is an architect in Charlottesville and he came up with the useful design and clever layout of our buildings. Sure, they're just pre-engineered metal structures, but I think they're understatedly cool. My sister Sarah, who runs all our business operations, has final say on interior design. My parents bought, installed, and maintain our flower boxes. They also just had our gutters fixed which were damaged by ice flows of the winery roof several winters ago. I built the tasting room bar, did a lot of the painting. This year I designed and built a canopy system over the terrace. I like it and think it fits our "industrial/pastoral" look.

There is a saying in the industry:"If you want to make a little money in the wine business, start with a lot." Well, we are not paupers, but we, my family, started our winery with a lean business model by necessity. From the start we wanted to make a comfortable place to visit, but we knew that putting resources toward making the best wine we could was most important. Sure, I'm envious of deep-pocketed wineries, but I do like our little winery. (Cue violins). My family has been 100% behind this endeavor, my friends encouraging, our staff has been terrific, and the customers have kept it fun. I'm confident that eventually we'll realize all the dreams I have for this place (Google Kroller-Muller Museum for insight). It's going to take time, but it's the journey not the destination.

On practical matters, Friday I took some berry samples from a viognier vineyard I'm getting grapes from. They look perfect and the fruit is slowly ripening which I prefer. Looks like we'll pick that in two weeks or so. I'm getting ready for our own Chardonnay to come in next week, starting Tuesday. It was supposed to rain last night and today but so far so good, no rain!
Next weekend we are going to a big wine festival up in northern Virginia. It is causing lots of logistical problems. I'm going to have to figure out how to harvest and press AND how to get wine to Leesburg on Friday. Whoever decided to put wine festivals in the middle of harvest is a moron.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bob did it again.

Bob Hughes, Charlottesville's Superstar Realtor, was my guest harvest-helper today. Bob has worked on bottling days in the winery several times as have many friends. This, however, was Bob's second day helping harvest inthe vineyard of this still young 2006 crush (period of time when grapes are picked and made into wine). In fact he picked 16 lugs of riesling himself. That's a tough grape to start out on and a respectable quantity. Further, he now has my proprietary Lug Retrieval System (LRS) down pat. I drive the tractor down the rows with a hydraulic lift platform on the back. Bob walks behind picking up lugs, stacking them in 6 columns, 6 high until we get a half ton of fruit. Guess who has the hard job? The fully loaded platform is driven to an elevated cold room. We then slide individual stacks of six lugs into the cold room by using a proprietary tool, The Lugger. The Lugger is basically a modified hook on a stick with a D-handle on the end. The slider just puts the hook under the lip of the lowest lug in the stack, lifts up slightly and backs in the desired direction. Sounds silly, but it works and it's a lot better and faster than restacking 1000# of grapes everytime you put them in cold storage.

The cold room is an important tool for a vineyard. By cooling down the grapes you slow enzymatic degradation. Basically, the fruit stays sound longer. Also chilling leads to clearer juice at the press and better clarifying after the juice is in a settling tank. Chilling can buy a day or two at the outside before processing the fruit is necessary. This isn't much but it does lend some flexibility. We made our cold room from an old shipping container. It looks like a semi-trailer without wheels. I insulated it myself and had a local refrigeration company put in a "reefer" unit. When I was starting out I'll admit I was taken aback when other growers asked if I had a reefer.

The crew picked two tons today. Thankfully Daniel and Josefina stayed after the picking to wash lugs. We'll be ready for the next picking day which I think will be next Tuesday. In addition to picking up the two tons, Bob and I delivered grapes to two different wineries. Plus we picked up new wine glasses at nearby Veritas Winery. The glasses had to be delivered there because I was off making deliveries and I had the keys to fork lift. Veritas unloaded them and then loaded up my truck using their fork lift. Thanks Veritas (! It is great to have friendly and helpful neighbors.

Tomorrow I need to concentrate on some winemaking, walk through some vineyard blocks, and take some berry samples to determine where we are now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Chard...

Today we resumed the Chardonnay harvest. Big picking day, though. I'm selling this fruit as well and won't know the true weight until it's pressed, but I figure we picked over 7 tons. I was helped by Roberto "Pacho" Priani. Roberto met and married a neighbor and employee of ours, Kyla Saby. They met while Kyla was studying in Mexico. They now have a baby boy named after his father, but goes by Bear for short. Roberto was a huge help, as always. He also works in the tasting room and does an excellent job. We have one rule in the tasting room: Be nice to the visitors. Roberto gets it. He is very charming and has become remarkably well versed in wine in a short period of time.

All the fruit was picked up today by the buyer except for one ton. I will deliver that ton in the morning. It will make time a little tight, but you have to stay flexible during harvest and hustle when necessary. Also tomorrow we'll pick a couple of tons going to yet another winery, this one close by. I'll deliver this in a couple of truck loads with my F-250. For aspiring vineyardists, get a 3/4 ton truck with a full size bed. Don't waste money and frazzle your nerves with a 1/2 ton. Grapes weigh a lot. I had a 1/2 ton Chevy for 10 years and transporting grapes was always a white knuckle experience. The weight really beat the thing down, too. The better suspension on a 3/4 truck means I hardly notice the cargo now.

Both the in-tank Riesling and Gewurtztraminer were given yeast nutrient today. This is like vitamins for the yeast so they stay healthy and the fermentation can complete. As you know, yeast chews up sugar and, well, "releases" alcohol and carbon dioxide. As the amount of sugar drops, the level of alcohol increases. Most wine yeasts are tolerant of pretty high alcohol levels, but high alcohol environments can be stressful. Just come to one of our family reunions for proof. Anyway, keeping the yeast in shape gives it strength to persevere and avoid all kinds of problems which I'm sure I'll address later.

Last night I tasted both of our recent bottlings, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cabernet Franc Reserve. Both need some time, well, more time in bottle. I think the CFR is closer to release. It opens up well once it has been in glass for a while. We sold out of the 2004 Cab Sauvignon this past weekend. It's a good problem, but we have been sort of rushed to get our reds to market as we sell out earlier vintages. I like the idea that some newer wineries are doing of cellaring reds two and even three years prior to the expected winery opening date. That gives you an aged red right off the bat and time to age current vintages as well. Hindsight, right?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Today's delivery of Chardonnay to a winery a couple of hours north was mercifully uneventful. Man, the truck was really nice, though. Even carrying an estimated 3.34 tons of fruit, it handled like my Accord?. It had a powered lift gate which made the loading and delivery a snap. And the diesel for the whole trip (about 160 miles) was less than $30.

Still, deliveries eat up time. As it turned out no rain fell today. Once home I had to rinse out dirty lugs to prepare for tomorrow's pick. I was really counting on the rain to soften up the grape debris - skins, leaves, twigs - that get stuck, neigh cemented, inside a lug thanks to the grape juice. Ideally one would rinse lugs immediately after they are emptied, but I'm often a one man operation which is far from ideal (though usually preferred). Anyway, rain softens up the juice "glue" and then you can just thump the lug upside down on the tailgate bed to release the detritus (crap) as you load them in the truck to take to the pickers. So even when it doesn't rain, Mother Nature lets me down. My mother-in-law told my wife: "Never marry a farmer." Is it because we're never happy or just that she dislikes me?

Tomorrow we will be trying to pick up to nine tons of Chardonnay for yet another winery. They will be picking up from me so that will save time. Still, that's a lot of fruit and there is bound to be some crisis to relate. Wish me luck and stay tuned.


So, yesterday I pick up the rental truck. It's huge but handles awesome, honestly. I got it from Penske in Charlottesville. Since I was in C-ville, I stopped by Old Navy to get some t-shirts. Okay, yes, these shirts are incredibly cheap. They're on sale for about $1.93 each. BUT, THEY'RE ALL PRE-WORN. Soft, yes. Pre-washed, yes. FRAYED AT THE EDGES? MOTH EATEN? YES! When I was in college, and even after, and even today, I shopped thrift stores all the time looking for gems. I guess Old Navy is trying to tap into this lucrative market of used clothes. Well, I had a coupon, bought two t-shirts and two casual dress shirts and spent $5.37, including tax. Frayed I'll be going back.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Daily log...

Today we started picking chardonnay. All grapes at Cardinal Point are picked by hand. Those hands usually belong to Daniel and Josefina Sanchez and the workers that they gather. It is pretty tough work though more mind numbing than muscle aching. The pickers this morning were just harvesting 220 lugs (boxes that stack so fruit isn't crushed) that I will be selling to another winery. Tomorrow rain is forecast so I want to get some fruit in. Plus I'll need to deliver this fruit and I'd rather use a rainy day for delivery as it is a wasted day for any vineyard work.

I have a lot of chardonnay, always more than I need to make wine at Cardinal Point. As I used to grow grapes and sell the fruit to other wineries, I planted more for demand than with the notion that eventually I'd be making wine myself. I planted several blocks of Chardonnay in the 90-'s when demand was high. Ironically, all the chardonnay turned out to be an impetus to go into the wine-making biz. The demand for chardonnay dropped steeply at the turn of the century. Prices were at or below what they had been in 1990. And that was if you could sell your crop at all. I let six tons of fruit rot one year as I could find no buyer. That's about 300 cases of wine! Anyway, grape growing on our scale (15 acres) just to sell fresh fruit is tough going. The profit margins became smaller each year, or the loss margins grew I should say. We needed to find a way to add value to our grapes and wine was a pretty obvious choice.

The lugs picked today probably average about 29# each. That means they picked about 3.2 tons. Starting at 7AM with just six people, they were done at 10:15! That's pretty fast. The clusters this year are larger than normal due to a really good fruit set period this past spring. The fruit itself has been abused by mother nature the past couple of weeks. Lots and lots of rain. There is a fair amount of botrytis (fungal disease that splits berries but can also improve flavor and/or cause vinification problems) but very little sour rot (bad stuff, smells and tastes like vinegar).

In the winery, both the Gewurtztraminer and Riesling are happily fermenting. Both grapes came in last week before I started this blog. The Gewurtz was grown by Dave Dexter about 15 miles south of Cardinal Point. It came in at a little over 3 tons. The Riesling is estate grown and we got over 8 tons which made me happy. Anyway, both have been pressed, settled and racked, and are now slowly fermenting in temperature controlled tanks. I find that the slower I ferment these varieties, well all varieties, the more aromatic expression I get from the resulting wine.

Got to go pick up the rental truck to deliver the grapes. More tomorrow.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Throwing monkeys at Shakespeare...

Hello and welcome to my first blog posting.

My name is Tim Gorman and I grow the grapes and make the wine on my family's farm, Cardinal Point Vineyard and Winery. The farm and winery are in Afton, Virginia, which is along the Blue Ridge Mountains, just west of Charlottesville. It is a beautiful place and I'm fortunate to live and work here. Like everwhere the days, development is encroaching on our countryside a little, but we're still pretty "out-of-the-way" for most people.

So, my plan for this blog is to convey what is going on in my vineyard and winery on a very regular basis. This should give readers, and hopefully fans of Cardinal Point wines, some sense of what goes into making wine, the problems, successes, and pure serendipity. I'm sure that I won't be very technical nor will I always stay the course, focused on wine. Sometimes you have to tell someone about a good song you've just heard. I work alone most days so it'll be good to have a space to relate my experiences, which are often pretty funny.