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.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October 12. 2006

Sad news today. Daniel, my main vineyard guy, and his crew were picking Cabernet Franc when he received word from Mexico that his father had died. His father had been ill for a while, but had seemed to turn the corner. Still, Daniel was planning on going down for a visit as soon as harvest was over. Daniel was predictably devastated. He has often told me about his hometown, the house he's building there, and his father. I think losing his dad is especially tough because he's losing even more connection with "home." Incredibly, the crew finished the pick while Daniel made some phone calls. Daniel even returned to picking the fruit. They finished harvesting about five tons around noon. Daniel called me from Richmond later in the afternoon where he was catching a flight to Mexico City. He'll get there midnight tonight and he hopes to make it to his hometown by 7AM. His dad's funeral is tomorrow. It's amazing how fast everything can change.

Since the last post, the viognier that I was expecting Friday or Saturday showed up Sunday, delayed due to rain. I pressed over seven tons on Sunday. Monday I was mostly running around delivering bins and lugs to pick into. Tuesday the crew picked Cab Franc from two different vineyards. I crushed all the fruit as it came in, about 4 tons total. Some of it will be used for our nouveau, most for Cab franc wines. The color and flavors are quite good. Yesterday, Wednesday, I cleaned up the winery and reorganized. For my next trick I will juggle stainless steel wine tanks. As all the fruit comes in and becomes wine, it also takes up space. You need tanks to settle juice, ferment, and age wine. Eventually, tank space starts to become precious and that's where I am now. I literally have to think two weeks ahead to plan out what will go where and when. I kind of like it as long as it works out. It's like those plastic puzzles we had as kids with moving tiles that you had to slide and switch around to complete the picture of a clown or the periodic table.

I enjoyed yesterday, getting everything prepped (Tip: when starting a winery, whatever you decide is the largest tank you need, get TWO! You will need to rack, or move wine off lees, from one tank to another, and if your biggest tank is full, you'll need another one the same size or it's twice the work. Today was going to be relatively easy, not too much to do but pick up lugs. I was looking forward to it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Les Miserables

Not all that long ago I was a vineyard consultant. I met many people who wanted to put in grapes and were excited by the prospect. I would meet them at their land and go over what was involved in terms of sweat and cash. I also tried to convey the level of stress that comes into play. It was usually a warm spring day or a clear autumnal afternoon. I think I was always able to get them to appreciate the amount of work that was necessary and the hefty expenses vineyards require, but I rarely conveyed the heart-break that is all too possible by investing yourself in grapes...

Today, Friday, October 6, 2006, it is raining like mad. I don't know the actual amount of rain yet, but judging by the flooding in the roads, we have received over three inches now. Daniel's crew was supposed to be picking some viognier for me today and tomorrow. The rain made it impossible to pick today; I'm afraid tomorrow is in jeopardy as well. They will be able to pick on Sunday, hopefully, but next week they are booked everyday to pick for other vineyards. We'll see what happens. This is grape growing in Virginia. Everything can be going right just to have your whole crop in peril the day it is to be picked. In this case, the fruit should be fine. There is little doubt, though, that it won't be as good as it could have been yesterday. We growers in Virginia are more at the whim of nature than most viticultural areas. Europe gets rains but not the regular hurricanes that rumble through here. Australia and California have drought, but that's an asset in winegrowing. Our drought is followed be deluges they rarely have. We get hail here like Chile and Argentina, but we also get spring frosts.

We had a weekend of heavy rain last year during harvest, too. We frequently get rain like this during harvest. Regardless, it always is stressful. Heavy rain, disease, frost... None are romantic, but they are part of the romantic idea of vineyard ownership.

We call this time of year "crush" as it is when we crush the grapes into wine. It also makes sense because who can recall a crush without heart-break.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Friday I picked up a U-Haul trailer to take cases of wine to Leesburg for the wine festival we were participating in. U-Haul locations used to be everywhere, but no more. The nearby garage stopped offering them a year ago. Though there are two listed U-Haul outlets in Crozet, neither are functioning. In Waynesboro there is a still a u-haul place, but they didn't have the trailer I needed, of course. So, I picked up a trailer in Charlottesville. Tip: Spend the extra $5/day and get the double axle trailer rather than the smaller single axle trailers. It handles more weight and is far more stable on the road. After driving back and picking up 65 cases, I headed up to Leesburg. The festival grounds were a bit damp and my four wheel drive is out on the F250 (Wasn't I raving about it last week?). Plus the tents were tightly spaced. All this lead to me having to schlep all the cases, four at a time, about 40 yards to our space. No one thinks of this when they are dreaming of opening a winery. After getting things squared away, I hit the road for home. This was about 3:45pm in Northern Virginia on a Friday! Dumb plan. Traffic was no problem, at least to my fellow motorists at least. They all look docile and content. To me it was intolerable. It took one and a half hours to go thirty miles. Well, I didn't press any fruit when I came home though I did busy myself with wine.

Actually, that night, my wife Susan hosted a cast party for the play in which she and my son Sam just starred. "Two tales from the Twilight Zone" by Earl Hamner of Walton's fame. Well, they were stars in my opinion. It was a good party. Not the first cast party I have crashed, though.

Saturday I finished pressing the Chardonnay. It tastes pretty good considering the tough year it's been for the variety. I'm going to do the primary ferment in a steel tank so I can better control the fermentation rate and temperature. In the past I had fermented in barrels exclusively. I'm hoping to pull out more fruit notes by keeping the ferment slow and steady and off wood. Then I will put the wine into barrel for aging. This technique should lead to the use of better quality lees, but more on that later.

Sunday morning I headed back up to Leesburg with six more cases of wine. I worked the festival which was busy but not too bad. Apparently Saturday had been at least twice as bad and Sarah had fewer helpers. There are no easy jobs in wine. Turned out we could have sold even more. I always like to say "sorry, we're sold out," though. Drove home Sunday night, trailer in tow. Stopped at Five Guys for dinner. I love Five Guys. Tip: Get the "little," single burger. It's plenty big, and the double burger is so beefy you can't taste the toppings. Another tip: Order the regular size fries, not the large. You get more than you need. And put the malt vinegar on 'em.

Today, Monday, I returned the trailer to Charlottesvile. It was cheaper than I though. Just $75. Then I racked the pressed Chardonnay over to a clean tank. Racking is when wine or juice is allowed to settle out solids to the bottom of its tank and then the clear liquid above is moved to another vessel, leaving the solids behind. It's a means of clarifying. In this case it is done to improve the quality of the ferment and keep off odors from becoming a problem. You can get juice too clear, though. Some of those solids are necessary for yeast nutrition and without enough you run the risk of a fermentation problem. We'll see if I guessed right. I pitched the yeast in and now the wine should be on the way.