Things have been winding down, at least harvest-wise. The last 8 fermentors of Clos Pepe were pressed to barrel this past weekend. I'm still been plenty busy, packing wine for distributors, stuffing envelopes for my mailer and basically trying to catch up on about a billion things. The bulk of the mailers have been dropped off at the post office. I have a bunch of address changes to update, and I still have a few hundred mailing list sign-ups that I haven't processed yet. As much as I hate it, I think I'm going to have to start a waiting list. The good thing is next year I'll be tripling my production, so hopefully I can get wine to everyone who wants it.
Since harvest is basically over, I think this will be my last blog entry. I could go on and on about all of the things that I do the rest of the year to make the winery run, but after awhile it would just sound like all I do is complain -- as if these updates haven't already made you think that! The truth is I love making wine. It's the only job that I'd do for free. Come to think of it, I actually PAY to do this job. I guess that shows how much I love it!
I've enjoyed being able to bring you a small glimpse into what harvest is like at a small winery. I'm sure Kimberly, my mom (Helen), Andrew, Peter, Barry, Barry (the other one), Mark, David Dain and Wade would say that I've actually sugarcoated it. Winery work isn't glamorous -- it's long hours, hard work and not a lot of sleep. But the pay off is HUGE. In my day job, I never get any feedback from my customer. I've never had a Navy guy come up to me and compliment me on my missile-launch system. Or say that they just loved how the new torpedo controls responded. But I do get a lot of positive feedback from the wine I make. The fact that anyone is willing to pay for something I make, and then takes the time to contact me to express their appreciation is mind-blowing.
In closing, I'd like to thank all of the people who have helped me get to where I'm at. Without Josh Jensen at Calera, I wouldn't have had the inspiration. Without Norman Beko at Cottonwood Canyon, I wouldn't have had the opportunity. Without Adam and Dianna Lee at Siduri, I wouldn't have had the guidance. Without the support of my family, I wouldn't have been able to make it this far. Without the help of Andrew Vingiello, Peter Cargasacchi, Barry Golden, Barry Rossum, Mark Weiner, David Dain Smith and Wade Hostler, I'd never have made it through this year's harvest.
And without the dedication and passion of all of my awesome growers, none of this would have been possible at all. Any success I have is due to them. A huge THANK YOU goes out to Peter Cargasacchi; Wes and Chand Hagen; Steve Pepe; James Ontiveros; Jon, Jan and Bill Brosseau; Duncan Naylor; Mark, Jeff and Gary Pisoni; Gary Franscioni: Bill Price; Steve and Ned Hill: and Marcy Keefer. Thank you all for making me look good.
Of course the biggest THANK YOU goes out to all of you who have supported my winery with your purchases. You're all heroes in my book! Thank you for allowing me to live my dream.
Just remember: Everything's better with Pinot!
Saturday, Oct. 9
Kimberly, Audrey, Kenny and my mom joined me today to prepare the six-pack boxes for the distributors. This is some seriously mind-numbing, monotonous work: Use a hot glue gun to seal the bottom of the box, fold the 2 inserts, put the bottles in, lay the top sheet in, hot glue the top down, and then place it on the pallet. Repeat 1,500 times.
After figuring out how to set everything up so that we wouldn't be stepping on each other, we finally got rolling about 3 p.m. We "hit the wall" at about 10 p.m. We were able to finish the shipments for the Bay area and New York. We still have a lot left to do.
During the day, I got an interesting e-mail from Adam Lee (Siduri). He wrote: "I was just looking over your Web site and came across this line: 'The long term plan is to continue to grow slowly, with an eventual goal of producing about 3,000 cases of wine per year.' Gotta love looking back, don't'cha?"
I replied that the really sick thing is that I'd changed it from 1,500 cases about a year ago. This wine thing is a disease.
I also found some time during the day to inoculate the last pick's worth of fermentors from Clos Pepe with yeast. Yippee: more punchd owns to do!
Friday, Oct. 8
I spent the first part of the day figuring out allocations for my distributors. I really wish I had more of the 2003s.
I pressed off two of the remaining four Garys' fermentors. The other two are still hovering between 2 and 3 brix. They're not completely stuck as they have pretty good caps, but I decided that I needed to treat them as if they were stuck. Since the previous inoculation with yeast strain 43 didn't seem to take, I followed the stuck fermentation protocol, which requires slowly building up a starter and then adding the wine into it over the course of about six hours.
Thursday, Oct. 7
The winery is starting to look really good. All the barrels are stacked in their neat little rows, far enough apart to get our monster ladder between them. The case goods are all positioned for easy access. The remaining fermentors only need to be stacked two-high. And there's just enough room left over to get to the bathroom.
I loaded 10 picking bins' worth of pumice and stems into the BBFT and headed out to Peter's ranch to dump them in his compost heap. While unloading the bins, Peter would point out and identify all the different birds that flew by.
Neil Monnens and his friend Randall stopped by the winery later in the afternoon. Neil runs a website that lists release dates for wineries (www.winerelease.com). We opened a bunch of my 2003s and had a nice little comparative tasting. Barry Rossum and his wife also made it by in time to join us. Barry brought some of Joe Davis's Arcadian wines for me to try. Thanks Barry! Randall and I were surprised to find out that we were both friends of Norman Beko from Cottonwood Canyon. It turns out that Randall leases half of Norman's building in San Luis Obispo for his injection mold company. Small world.
Wednesday, Oct. 6
I'm going to do a bit of rearranging today. I must be going through withdrawal or something. I need to move one stack of barrels a few inches in order to make room for our new ladder. That will entail unstacking and restacking 48 barrels. The problem is that I have to take all of the barrels outside as I unstack them, due to the way their stacked in the winery.
I also need to dig out all of my 2003 bottled wine so I can start repacking about 40 percent of it into six-packs for my distributors. When we bottle, we pack all the wines back into the boxes the empties came in. We don't pack any of the wine into six-packs at that time because it takes too long (and slows down our bottling line) and because pallets of six-pack boxes can't be stacked. More space is the answer -- maybe next year.
I also need to take a run out to Peter's vineyard to drop off more stems and pumice for his compost pile.
I got a harvest update e-mail from Adam and Dianna Lee (Siduri/Novy) and I called Adam to see if I could add it to my blog. He said sure! So, let me introduce today's guests, Adam and Dianna Lee from Siduri/Novy wineries:
Those of you who have worked out on a treadmill will understand the last week of harvest. Just when you think you are done the computer program puts one last hill that you have to climb before you are truly finished. We've been going up that last hill this week. On Monday, we picked the final fruit at the Clos Pepe Vineyard. This had to be some of the last Pinot Noir picked in California. We were thrilled to get both the 115 clone of Pinot Noir but also a ton of clone 777 Pinot Noir (thank you Brian Loring). The fruit arrived around midnight when Dianna met the driver and unloaded the refrigerated truck. The next morning she led the sorting and destemming of this fruit while also managing to oversee the picking of 1.5 tons of Carlisle Vineyard Zinfandel. Oh, and we also picked our remaining Oregon fruit yesterday at Shaw Mountain, Arbre Vert and the upper 115 section at Muirfield. That fruit was loaded on a refrigerated truck and will arrive at the winery this morning. We'll also pick Sapphire Hill Syrah today (that's new for us this year) and also pick the old Zinfandel vineyard formerly known as Papera today. In between all of this picking we are pressing the wine that has completed fermentation to barrel. Since so much of the fruit was ripe at the same time it also means that much of the wine is ready to go to barrel at the same time. Pressing takes up much of our time between picks.
Just a few random thoughts to finish up this harvest report:
After this week all we will have left to pick will be Garys' Vineyard Syrah (tentatively scheduled for Monday), Rosella's Vineyard Syrah, Lone Oak Syrah and Grenache, and perhaps a bit of old-vine Zinfandel from the Barbieri Vineyard.
The Oregon fruit we have brought in thus far (Muirfield Dijon, Muirfield Wadenswil, Hawk's View 667 and Hawk's View Hanzell Clone) looked very good with sugars in the 22.8-24.9 range. It has been a close call in Oregon this year with 6 inches of rain between Sept. 1 and Sept. 15. Fortunately, high pressure built in afterwards giving us two weeks of warmer, drier weather. We sorted the fruit four different times to eliminate any rot, and just inoculated the juice yesterday. We picked the last stuff in Oregon yesterday and it is raining there this morning.
All of the stuff going into barrel at this point seems at least very good with some stuff tasting quite delicious. We're pretty optimistic right now about the 2004 vintage.
A sight to see yesterday: Dianna sorting fruit with one hand and holding Amber (our 11-month-old daughter) in the other with Amber occasionally grabbing a bunch of Clos Pepe Pinot Noir and trying to stick the whole cluster in her mouth.
A sight not to see yesterday: Adam driving our Honda and getting rear-ended on the way down to the Garys' and Rosella's Vineyard. He faired better than the car.
--A.L and D.L.
Tuesday, Oct. 5
We picked the last fruit of the year! I got to Clos Pepe at about 7 a.m. and the pick was already in full swing. Barry Rossum came out to help, and so did my mom. We started with my 2 acres of clone 115, then picked a ton of clone 777 from the Clos Pepe Estate block. Wes and Chanda were happy with the 32 barrels of Clos Pepe Pinot that they had in the winery, so they offered the remaining 2 tons of 777 to Siduri and Andrew (AP Vin). Andrew and I decided to split the ton of 777, and I'm giving him half a ton of my 115. It sounds confusing, but it helps us all out as we get more clonal diversity, which should make more complex wines.
It was also the last pick of the year for Clos Pepe. They had an end of harvest barbecue lunch for all in attendance. A very nice way to end harvest!
When we got back to the winery, Peter was just finishing up pressing the last of his Syrah. Peter is now all "barreled down." With the new Clos Pepe fruit, I feel like I'm starting all over. Barry came back to the winery and was able to stay long enough to help clean everything. I felt bad because he did all the crap jobs without experiencing the glamour of crushing. Of course, it's not really glamorous, but it is pretty cool. Barry did say that he got so wet that he wouldn't need to wash his picking pants. I bet his wife will have something to say about that. Thanks for all the help, Barry!
That left Peter and my mom to help crush. They're both seasoned veterans, so the crush went pretty quick. I think we finished up at about 10:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 4
Peter pressed more of his Syrah today. I ran a few errands and then checked on my four fermentors.
Somehow that boring description filled the entire day. I'm not sure what it is about a winery, but even the simplest things seem to take forever. We call it "winery time."
Sunday, Oct. 3
The winery seems strangely quite today. Peter's at a horse-riding competition; his wife, Julia, is a participant. Andrew is driving back to San Francisco. About all I have to do is check on my four fermentors and pay a few thousand bills.
I spent the rest of the day trying to finish up my mailer. It sounds like a pretty simple thing -- list the wines, the price and the allocation. But I like to try to personalize it a bit more than that. The result is often confusing and disturbing, but that's me! I can say with no ego that this year's mailer is the weirdest one I've ever done. Well, it will be when I am finally done. I still have to wrestle with the hardest part -- setting allocations. Then I have to get it printed and stuffed into envelopes. I'm thinking it will hit the mail in about a week.
Saturday, Oct 2
Today is Andrew's last day at the winery. He has to head home on Sunday to get back to his real life. I know he'll be coming down on weekends, but it won't be the same without him around. We've been talking about ways to do wine full-time. Consulting for or working at wineries in New Zealand is leading the list of possibilities. Anyone know of a winery or two that'd be interested? I can drive a forklift.
Andrew, Audrey, and I started the day by dropping off bins at Clos Pepe for Tuesday's pick. Then we stopped by Home Depot to buy a taller ladder. Our 6-foot ladder was way too short to handle barrels stacked four-high. Our new 12-foot ladder is great, but it's a beast. Now I have to shift one row of barrels a few inches so it can fit down the row. Good planning on my part.
Andrew needed a couple of single-bottle wine shippers, so we stopped by "the Ghetto" to see if anyone had any he could borrow. Sea Smoke to the rescue! We walked across the alley and said high to Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton. The B-C boys and I swap a case of wine each year. I'm pretty jazzed that they're willing to do that and, in fact, had been the ones to suggest it. Thanks guys! We also walked over to Sashi's place and saw his new destemmer. Peter Cargasacchi had told me Sashi's machine was a new technology, so we were interested to see how it worked. Our timing was perfect because Sashi was processing a few bins of Oregon Pinot for Kathy Joseph (Fiddlehead Winery). Kathy was doing an experiment in that half the fruit was destemmed in her traditional destemmer, and the other half was going into Sashi's machine. I look forward to seeing the results.
When we got back to the winery, Peter was transferring his Syrah rosé from tank to barrel. After that, Andrew helped Peter set up to start pressing his Syrah. I took some time to type out the past week's worth of blog updates. The hardest part for me is trying to remember what happened on what day. I yell out of the office, "Hey Andrew, did we stack barrels on Tuesday or Wednesday?" He responds with, "Wasn't that last week?" We all lose track of days. This harvest feels like it's lasted FOREVER.
Friday, Oct .1
We pressed off the last of the Clos Pepe 667. All that's left now are the four fermenters of Garys'. I spent most of the day getting the yeast ready. Since the sugar levels in the fermenters are low, and the alcohol levels are high (for the yeast), you have to slowly acclimate the yeast to the fermenter environment. Another easy day, finished off with a nice dinner. Three days in a row! I know this can't last.
Thursday, Sept. 30
We're finally reaching the end of the pressing week from hell. Two press loads today, and then two tomorrow. At least that's all that's ready to press right now. I have four fermenters of Garys' that are going really slow. I'll probably hit them with Strain 43 yeast, which is normally used for stuck fermentations. While the fermenters still have solid caps, I'd just like to push it through to dry a bit faster.
We got out in time to go to dinner again! I feel like such a slacker.
Wednesday, Sept. 29
The winery was such a disaster that Andrew and I started rearranging -- again. This time the goal was to get all the barrels stacked in their final resting spots. We started at the front of the winery and stacked them in rows. It ended up taking almost all day long, so we didn't do any pressing. That was cool, as it gave us the break we needed. While it was a long day, it wasn't as physically demanding as pressing. I don't have a hopper for my press, so we have to bucket all the fruit. As David Dain learned (see No. 4 comment), it's backbreaking work. I can't tell you how many tons of must we've all lifted this harvest.
As we were stacking the barrels, I was reminded that I needed to explain my theory of randomness in winemaking. Since I'm still new to the game, I don't have the experience to know what's going to work best with what. Whether it's what yeast is best or which barrel works best, it's all still a mystery to me. That's why I like to apply some randomness to what I do. For instance, I don't worry too much about which barrels I use for each lot of wine. I do try to balance the amount of new and old oak, but I'm not even exact when it comes to that.
If I tried to think it through, I might be working under a false premise, and could end up wrong more often than right. I feel that if I leave it more up to chance, I stand a better chance of being right. So I mix up the coopers, forests and new and old oak, and often decide which barrels to use based upon which are easiest to get to in the winery. This probably doesn't instill a lot of confidence in you, the consumer. But if you look at it another way, it adds a dimension of excitement, like a trip to Las Vegas. Or maybe not.
We got out of the winery in time to catch a late dinner. Man, it was nice to sit down to a nice meal.
Tuesday, Sept. 28
Kimberly got up early and met Sashi at his winery in "the Ghetto" to pick up twelve 1-year-old barrels from Jenne Bonaccorsi. I feel honored to have them in my winery. It makes it seem like Michael still is around. The barrels had left over strips of tape from the previous Bonaccorsi vintage -- Michael had used white first-aid tape to mark what was in the barrel. Since we're stacking barrels as tight as we can, it's hard to read the chalk writing on the heads, so we're using Michael's method now.
Andrew and Peter started pressing. Kimberly and I went out to check on the last of our Pinot hanging at Clos Pepe. Our 115 block is in a section of the vineyard that used to be Chardonnay. Wes had always had trouble getting the Chardonnay to ripen, and consequently he has the same issue with the new Pinot. Siduri has the same issue with their block next to mine. It's not really a problem -- quite the converse actually. Picking any Pinot in October this year is a pretty cool thing. The fruit looked like it was close, so we decided to pick early next week. Wes and his family were heading down to Long Beach for the weekend. Wes' grandfather died last weekend, and this Saturday will be the funeral. Our deepest sympathies go out to Wes and his family for their loss.
Kimberly headed home. These day jobs are starting to get really annoying. We finished pressing really late again. We need to have some kind of break soon.
Monday, Sept. 27
I'm feeling better, so I spent the whole day at the winery. We pressed another 4 loads today -- about 12 tons. It's starting to feel like we might actually get done someday. The past five days have been really tough. We're all about out of energy again. David Dain Smith sent me an e-mail about what he learned on his summer vacation. Here's what David Dain said: "Here are my thoughts about my summer adventure in Pinot Camp (aka prison), which I'll call "Top Ten Things I learned About Making Wine."
1. The most important skill involved in winemaking is not chemistry, microbiology or tasting; it is knowing how to drive a forklift.
2. The yeast do not do all the work.
3. You were right, Uncle Brian: Being a winemaker is easy, but making wine is backbreaking work.
4. There is no good way to lift a bucket of must out of a fermenter and into the press. Lift with your legs? Can't be done.
5. Grapes are made in the vineyard; wine is made with sweat equity.
6. Terroir has legs, wings and pinchers. It is OK to taste grapes while picking, but remember: Earwigs bite back.
7. Yellow Jacket numbers are a great way to estimate sugar concentration in must, correlating very well with hydrometer readings.
8. Drunken Yellow Jackets are insects from hell and they sting.
9. Llamas are wonderful animals and a possible food source.
10. Brian Loring, Andrew Vingiello and Peter Cargasacchi are the greatest. I learned more about winemaking in eight days than I could have anyplace else. -- D.D.S.
I'm not sure about number 10, David Dain. I know Andrew and Peter are great guys, but that Loring dude is questionable. Peter Dain, Andrew Dain, and I (Brian Dain) think you're pretty great too!
Sunday, Sept. 26
I guess it was inevitable: I'm sick. Not too sick to go to the winery, but sick enough to let Andrew and Kimberly do most of the heavy work. I'm doing mostly forklift stuff. I figure it's probably OK to operate heavy machinery when you're feeling under the weather. It keeps everybody on their toes.
More pressing today. I've already got more wine in barrels than I did last harvest. And there's no end in sight. I made approximately 1,500 cases of Pinot from the 2003 vintage. I had planned on doubling that number this year, but it looks like I'll end up making close to 4,500 cases! I guess allocations will be a bit bigger next fall. While that increase is kind of scary, it will allow me to expand distribution into more states next year, which is a good thing. I can finally offer wine to distributors who have been calling me for years.
I had to leave the winery in mid-afternoon. Andrew and Kimberly "pressed on" until about 2 a.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25
I've been talking with James Ontiveros about getting some "previously owned" barrels from Central Coast Wine Services (CCWS). If you're confused about how James fits in with CCWS, let me explain: In addition to owning his own vineyard, James works for the Miller Brothers, who own Bien Nacido, Soloman Hills and French Camp vineyards as well as CCWS and the new CCWS-like facility north of Paso Robles. CCWS is home to many small wineries, such as Hitching Post, Arcadian, Red Car and Lane Tanner. Meridian is one of the "big boys" who processes fruit there as well.
Meridian sold a bunch of used barrels from their Chardonnay program to CCWS and James offered some to me. I went to take a look at them on Monday and discovered that they were all stacked in a HUGE pile, about the size of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. All of the French barrels were buried somewhere in the middle, at about center ice (can you tell I'm a Kings' fan?). James offered to have his guys sort through the stacks and find me 60 French barrels. Well, as things normally happen during harvest, his guys got slammed with work, so they didn't found time to do any sorting. As I'm basically at the point where I NEED some more barrels, we offered to come "help" today. James thought that would be best.
When we got to CCWS, we ran into Joe Davis from Arcadian. I mentioned to Joe that we were looking for used barrels, and he said he had a bunch of 4-year-old barrels he was looking to sell. The barrels looked great, so we loaded up the BBFT with 40 of those puppies. Thanks Joe: The check's in the mail! We were also treated to the spectacle of our pal Barry Rossum doing some full-body punch downs for Joe. Thankfully, Barry was wearing some Speedo biking shorts. I've been told that some of the guys (and women) at CCWS go au natural.
I called James and apologized for the hassle surrounding the Meridian barrels. He actually sounded relieved, and very, very tired. I think James needs a few weeks off. Don't we all? After harvest, I'm thinking of a spending a couple of weeks on a beach, where I can have a steady stream of margaritas brought to me. Like that will happen. My day job is already pushing me to get back to work. Maybe next year.
We also ran into Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley (Hitching Post). It's always nice to see Frank and Gray. They saw the BBFT for the first time. Gray told us he helped install Carrier refrigeration units, so if we had any problems with the one on the BBFT box, he was the man to call. I also reminded Frank that he "owed" me a guest blog installment. It's not like he was pressing fruit from 4 a.m. until 5 p.m. yesterday, or has a restaurant to run as well. Frank must have found some time later in the day, because he sent me an e-mail with his entry. Thanks Frank!
We got back to the winery and unloaded, racked and stacked the barrels. Then it was time to start pressing again. Today it was the last of the Rosella's 667, some Garys' from my upper block, and some Garys' from my lower block. We also got to unstack, punch down, and restack the fermentors. I bet you're as tired of hearing about punch downs as I am of doing them.
So now it's time to bring in Frank for his report from the trenches of CCWS:
I bumped into Brian Loring today at Central Coast Wine Services, the cooperative facility where we make our Hitching Post wine in Santa Maria. Brian looks rather weathered, and I realize that we must look the same. This is the first day since the start of harvest on Sept. 7 that Gray Hartley, Gray's son Dana and I are almost normal people. We are bringing in 1.5 tons of Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah, and have 12 other fermentors to tend to. Mostly for the last three weeks it has been 14- to 18-hour days.
At harvest we turn into different animals. We spend lots of time in vineyards taking grape samples and guiding picking crews, and the winery work seems never ending. This harvest was especially intense. Most all of our Pinot Noir vineyards in Santa Maria and Santa Rita Hills were ready to harvest during the heat that arrived the first week of September. We brought in 40 tons in three days. One day we brought in 21 tons. Our whole production is only 75 tons, and usually it takes four weeks for all of our vineyards to ripen.
And of course all Pinot producers were in this same speedboat. Hence our facility, which houses more than 40 producers, was pressed to its limits. CCWS is home to many fine Pinot makers -- Arcadian, Ambulleo, Costa de Oro, Lane Tanner, Summerland, Red Car, Silver -- and a host of others. Most of us share the same destemmer. The biggest bottleneck is getting through the press after two weeks of fermentation. For this we start pressing at 4 a.m. It seems so much easier to work at this facility when most everyone else is still asleep. We did this three times last week, processing all that fruit that came in so fast on Sept. 7, 8 and 9. We now have 150 barrels of 2004 Pinot Noir in 16 separate lots from six different vineyards, with only 6 more tons of Pinot to press. We also have Syrah, a Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the fermentors. We'll pick Purisima Syrah again on Monday, then wait for the last 6 tons to fully ripen in the next week or two.
But the hardest work of the vintage is over. We are getting some sleep again. We begin the slow transition from single-minded, sleep-deprived winemakers to normal, social human beings with families and regular jobs. --F.O.
Friday, Sept. 24
David Dain got up early and went out to Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard to help pick his Pinot. I'm not sure that David actually got any sleep -- he was pretty excited last night about getting fruit from James. He said everything went great.
Nine more tons pressed today. We did the Cargasacchi, more of the Rosella's 667 and started on the Rosella's 777. It's somewhat surreal to see all of the empty T-Bin fermentors starting to stack up outside, after wishing we had more a week ago. We probably should start transferring the picking-bin fermentors into the T-Bins, but none of us have that kind of energy left. I fermented in picking bins for the first few years, so I guess I'm going "old school" this year.
My sister, Kimberly, was able to make it down to help this weekend, so she's on forklift duty this evening. Andrew's girlfriend, Brenda, is also down so that she can do Andrew's laundry. That's not fair: Brenda does a lot of work while she's here. There's no one at the winery who is doing exactly the right thing at the right time more often than Brenda, and that includes me! She's a HUGE help. And she did my laundry too! Thanks Brenda.
We had to say good-bye to our new buddy David Dain. He's headed back to Missouri in the morning so he can get some rest. It's not easy escaping Pinot Prison, so watch out for my posse, David Dain!
Thursday, Sept. 23
Let the pressing begin! We started with the Keefer Ranch and then moved on to the first of the Rosella's 667. We're able to do about 9 tons a day. Throw in more barrel moving, prepping, and those damn punch downs, and you get another freaking long day.
I was so tired near the end of the night that I dropped a stack of four empty barrels while moving them with the forklift. Thankfully no one was hurt, and the barrels seemed none the worse for the tumble. I'm sure Andrew and David Dain thought I'd lost it. They ordered food immediately, which seemed to do the trick.
Wednesday, Sept. 22
Andrew, David Dain, and I decided we needed a bit of a break, so we started the morning by visiting a winemaking area we call "the Ghetto." The Ghetto is located in the southeast part of town while my winery is on the "Westside." I'd wanted to be in the Ghetto, but there weren't any places available. It's a great winemaking area, with wineries such as Sea Smoke, Brewer-Clifton, Palmina, Longoria, Stolpman, Flying Goat, Worx and Fiddlehead. Not bad neighbors!
We stopped by Sea Smoke and talked with Kris Curran. She tasted us through some of the 2003 stuff, as well as some of the 2004 Pinot right out of the fermentation tank. Then we headed over to Palmina and tasted wine with Steve Clifton's new bride, Chrystal. Their Barbera continues to be my favorite of their Italian varietals, but really everything we tasted was great. Chrystal walked us next door to Brewer-Clifton so that David Dain could see it. The place is amazing. I'd be tempted to use the term "anal" to describe the way that everything is so perfectly laid out. But I think Chrystal's description is better: metrosexual. I'm not sure if it's a winery or an ultrahip nightclub. I think I'm jealous.
After we got back to the winery we discovered that way too many fermentors were getting close to needing pressing. We did what all good winemakers do at this point -- we panicked! We spent the rest of the day getting ready to press like crazed weasels for the next few days. That meant getting barrels moved from the other building, prepping them, and figuring out which fermentors to attack first. Of course, we also did punch downs.
Tuesday, Sept. 21
Since David Dain Smith didn't get a chance to experience picking, we decided to head out to Clos Pepe to help with the Bonaccorsi pick. The rest of the day was standard stuff - punch downs, punch downs, and then some more punch downs.
In my quest to expand the boundaries of normal blogging, I would like to continue to bring you guest blog entries. Today's guest is none other than our beloved Peter Cargasacchi. Peter is a very unique individual. He's as conversant with the Council of Nicea and Gilgamesh as he is with grapegrowing, and often confuses the hell out of us with his comparative analysis that merges said topics. Peter is way smart. He raises cattle, speaks Italian and can amuse himself for hours by digging in the dirt near his house (I think he's a frustrated archeologist). Peter's hard not to like, and we like him a lot. So take it away Peter:
This morning at 6:05 a.m., I am sipping black tea and eating oatmeal as the phone rings. It's Brian Loring calling on his way to Clos Pepe where Bonaccorsi is picking. He is calling to let me know he had sanitized a stainless-steel tank for me to saignée Syrah into. On the way to the winery I check on my crew in the vineyard who are retrieving the nets we use to keep the birds away from the grapes. I stop to feed the horses and bulls and check on some momma cows. We turned the bulls out last Christmas day and the cows are heavy with calf.
At the winery with the help of Andrew Vingiello and David Dain we carefully drew 300 gallons of juice from 12 tons of Syrah that is cold soaking in small fermentors. (About 15 percent of the total juice content.) The grapes taste great but I am concerned there may be green seed tannins because of the relatively longer days when this fruit ripened. To prevent extraction of these tannins in the presence of alcohol, I am going to shorten the end of the maceration and press before the must is dry. By lengthening the cold soak, shortening the end of fermentation and increasing the ratio of skins, I hope to have a higher ratio of skin tannins versus seed tannins. We will see if it works or if I make a tannic beast.
After re-hydrating and acclimating a Burgundian yeast for the Syrah rosé, I pitch it in. I punch down and check my Pinot ferments and am ready to leave the winery. Brian, Andrew and David are in full punch down mode. We are in a 2000-square-foot facility and with the rush of fruit that simultaneously ripened, the fermentors are stacked three high. The rows of stacked fermentors are unstacked by forklift, assessed for progress, then their "caps" are gently submerged (punched down) into the fermenting juice. Then restacked and another row begun and so on.
Back at the vineyard the sun is setting. It looks like we are in for another warming trend with higher temperatures for the next few days. I turn on the water pump for the vines. Despite being well-irrigated after harvest, they will need more water with the coming heat. At this time of year the vines are undergoing a root flush. Viticulture requires adherence to the vines' clock and responding to its needs. These last few days of warmth and sunshine are valuable gifts from Mother Nature. The extra carbohydrates will translate into a better dormancy and reserves of energy that will be needed next spring to push buds into canes, leaves, flowers and fruit.
At 9:30 p.m. I switch on the water for the final block of vines. The great horned owl that lives in a tree behind my house is sitting on top of an electric pole watching me. This beautiful but fierce creature is my signal that the night shift is taking over. I head for home where my wife, dinner and a half-empty bottle of Mourvèdre await.
Monday, Sept. 20
Andrew, David Dain, my Mom and I spent the morning in the BBFT. We dropped off some picking bins that I'd borrowed from Clos Pepe and then drove up to Santa Maria to drop off a couple bins that James Ontiveros had borrowed from Bien Nacido Vineyard. We then headed over to Central Coast Wine Services to meet James. He was going to show us some used barrels that Meridian was selling.
James was running late, so we went inside and snooped around. We ran into Joe Davis from Arcadian winery. Joe gave us the nickel tour and we talked shop. As Joe was getting ready to jump into the bins to do his full body punch downs, we politely excused ourselves.
James showed us the gigantic stack of barrels that were for sale. Given the extra fruit, I need about 40 more barrels than I have. The Meridian barrels were from their Chardonnay program, so there shouldn't be any worries about brett. At least that's what I've been told. The barrels are all pretty neutral, but I'm still going to make sure I only get French oak. I'd just worry a bit about American oak, even if it is (most likely) neutral.
As we're talking, James mentions he still has about a ton-and-a-half of fruit hanging in his vineyard, and wonders if we know of anyone who'd like it. David Dain just happens to know someone -- him! He calls the Crushpad guys, talks with James about trucking, and it's a done deal. Welcome to the crazy world of wine, David Dain!
We got back to the winery and did punch downs, finishing in time to head over to the Hitching Post in Buellton for Monday burger night. Monday at Hitching Post is the best time to run into local winemakers. We saw Brad Lowman (Waltzing Bear), Jeff Fink (Tantara), Randy Rozak (Rozak Vineyard), Rick Longoria (Longoria Winery) and Frank Ostini. Frank is the owner of the Hitching Post, and he and Gray Hartley make the Hitching Post wines. Frank is a really great guy, and one of the true pioneers of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County. If it weren't for guys like Frank and Gray, as well as Rick Longoria, Richard Sanford, Bruno D'Alfonso and Jim Clendenen, I wouldn't be able to do what I do. I owe those guys a lot. Frank sat down with us for a while and chatted about the harvest. We talked a lot about Michael Bonaccorsi and how much we missed him. I asked Frank if he'd like to do a "guest spot" in my blog, and he said he would. I'm thinking that having daily guests would be fun. Kinda like a talk show. I'm not sure how to have the traditional musical guest at the end. I'll have to work on that.
Sunday, Sept. 19
Adam somehow was able to get up at 6 a.m. and make it out to Clos Pepe to test the fruit. He called me later as he was getting near Soledad and said he thought the fruit could go quite awhile longer. My lower block is next to his, so that was helpful information. Thanks again Adam! He called me about an hour later. He had stopped by Gary Franscioni's place and showed Gary one of the bottles I'd given Adam -- my 2003 blend called the Llama. I guess Gary really liked the story I included on the back label. I called Gary a bit later, and he told me he hadn't laughed that hard in months. That was cool.
David Dain Smith, a fellow Web wine-board poster, is out from Missouri for a week. He's made wine at home, but this year he decided to roll the dice and start making wine to sell. He hooked up with the folks at Crushpad in San Francisco and is making a few barrels this year at their place. He got Pinot from Amber Ridge and Brosseau Vineyards, and something called "sa-rah" from somewhere. I'm not sure what "sa-rah" is, so I didn't really pay much attention. I'm all about the Pinot. David Dain is visiting Andrew and me to see what we do. Welcome to Pinot Prison, Mr. Smith!
The rest of the day was spent doing -- you guessed it - punch downs.
Saturday, Sept. 18
Hmm, what should we do today? How about punch downs? Bite me. I'm starting to get forklift butt, and I think I've got carpal tunnel from the forklift controls. It's also really sad to get in your car at the end of the day and try to get the car to go in reverse by using the turn indicator, because the forward/reverse control for the forklift is where the turn indicator is in your car. The good thing is that I'm getting pretty good at stacking fermentors. If you need an experienced forklift operator after harvest is done, you know who to call.
We finished in time to go out to a late dinner! And it wasn't at Denny's! We met Adam Lee (Siduri) at the local Thai restaurant. Adam was down checking on his lower block at Clos Pepe. After dinner, we headed back to the winery to do some wine tasting. Adam brought along a few of his 2003s, I opened a bunch of mine and Andrew opened a bottle of his first wine. I think there were about a dozen empty bottles scattered when we left the winery at 1:30 a.m. It's not as bacchanalian as it sounds, as there were about 10 of us. I think we all needed that kind of break. Thanks Adam, you da man!
Friday, Sept. 17
We had another big day of punch downs and checking sugars and pH. We inoculated some more fementors as well. I'm losing track of what's fermenting and what's cold soaking. I normally can keep track of all of it in my head, but with the craziness of this year, I've had to start marking each bin with what's been done to it.
I had planned on getting about 50 tons of fruit this year. It looks like I'll end up with about 70. Andrew ended up with a couple of extra tons as well, which bought him up to about 7 tons. Peter brought in about 18 tons. And we're processing all that in 2,000 square feet of space. Or, I wish I had 2,000 square feet to use, as we also have our 2003 vintage wines stored in the back part of the winery. I think job one after harvest will be to find a bigger space. That is after I spend a week on a beach somewhere with people bringing me a constant supply of margaritas. Man, I'm tired.
Thursday, Sept. 16
We were up before dawn to head out to Clos Pepe to pick my 1.75 acres of clone 667. Wes had warned me that the yields would be higher this year, but I really didn't expect to get 6 tons of 667! Wow!! And the fruit looks great. With my lower block of 115 to go, plus some extra 777 from Wes' block (they ran out of room at the winery), I may be getting 14 TONS OF CLOS PEPE! That ROCKS!
Wes asked if I wanted him to help me with a blog update. Since I've been running so far behind, I jumped at the offer. So here it is:
"A short introduction might be in order: I'm Wes Hagen, surrogate blogger, vineyard manager and winemaker for Clos Pepe Vineyards/Clos Pepe Estate. This afternoon I'm trying to help out my friend Brian Loring, who looked a bit weary at 6 a.m. in the hillside 667 block here at Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County. As we picked in the glorious fog that lasted until noon, I joked that I would be happy to blog for Brian today. I was surprised when he said, in his usual easygoing way, 'Go for it, dude!'
The facts: In the world of Pinot Noir, the devil is in the details. I'm one of those freaky people that believe there's a right moment for picking each cluster, and I kept having that warm fuzzy feeling throughout this morning's pick. Today was the right day to pick the Loring Wine Company 667 Hillside Block. This is the vaunted block that created his 95-point 2002 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir that persuaded some wonderful soul at Wine Spectator to paste my ugly mug on page 56 of the September 15 issue. Brian helped me out with that wine, and got me some good ink, so the least I can do is to blog a day for him and add my commentary on a today's pick.
The day: We started at the crack of dawn and we were picking furiously by headlights before the gloom became illuminated enough to see what we were doing. By the weight and the smell of the clusters, I could tell that we hit the picking day just perfectly. Most of the velvety blackish-purple berries were still plump and well-shaped, while about 10 percent had started dimpling slightly -- a sign that the vines were just about done with the ripening process. For once, the yield was above 1 ton per acre, and the bins continued to fill while the coastal fog clung tightly to the Purisima Hills behind us. It was a sign of divine providence that the fog broke the exact moment when the last cluster was picked (I'm not kidding), which was the first time we've finished a pick in the fog during this 2004 vintage.
After loading 12 half-ton bins of 667 Pinot Noir into Brian's nifty refrigerated truck, I saluted Brian and his crew as they drove away, knowing their day had just begun. I imagine they are in the midst of crushing and destemming those hand-picked beauties into fermentors right now, and I would like to take a moment to recognize Brian's steely determination and the formidable nature of the brave yeasts that will turn the must into wine, without thought of payment or glorification. I suppose sweetness is its own reward.
The romance: Brian informed me that his goal this year was to find the romance in a whirlwind, gonzo crush. After six hours of picking, I had to use my imagination to find the romance, but this is what I came up with: Each one of those wonderful, small, lustrous Pinot Noir clusters that we lovingly cut off the vines are going to be crushed, fermented, aged and bottled -- handled like a writer who crafts a novel over many months. When they're finally finished, those bottles will end up on restaurant and bistro tables, in kitchens at important family and romantic gatherings, and maybe (just maybe), it might bring people together -- philosophically, platonically or even physically (smirk).
On the other hand, romance doesn't really sell that well on the Internet, but Brian vetoed my brilliant idea of integrating a fist fight and two pole dancers into today's picking narrative. Now THAT's high-end reality-blogging. Oh well.
The haiku: I promised Brian I would blog today's pick in a haiku. So Here it goes:
Pinot drops lustrous
in white plastic bucket
fog sticks to my gloves.
In Vino Veritas! --W.H.
Wednesday, Sept. 15
We play unstuck/stack the fermentors again. I was initially worried about stacking the 1-ton fermentors (T-Bins) two high. Now I'm stacking them 3 high. And the picking bins serving as fermentors are stacked five high. Did I say that unstacking and stacking wasn't too bad? It's starting to get a bit annoying now. I think that having all the vineyards ripen at the same time is actually a conspiracy between the growers and the propane industry. I'm going through a tank of propane every day on my forklift. A tank normally lasted me a week.
We've also been doing sugar and pH readings as we do punch downs. Since the sugar levels were all pretty high this year, we've been adding water to adjust to between 24 and 25 brix. I like to keep checking sugars until fermentation starts in order to make sure that we don't get any more sugar increase due to more raisins getting soaked up. I also don't want to overshoot the water additions, so we add water conservatively.
When I went to put the bin dumper on the forklift, one of the hydraulic fittings broke. I was able to get a repair guy out, and he basically redesigned the bin dumper/side-shifter hookups. The way the forklift had been delivered caused us to put a lot of stress on the hoses and connections. The repair guy reworked the hoses so that we wouldn't have any more issues. He left with a few bottles of my 2003 Pinot as a thank you.
We finally got ready (at 10 p.m.) to process yesterday's Ontiveros fruit, but we ran into a little problem. Peter Cargasacchi's Viognier tank overflowed. He accidentally added too much dry ice, and we had a Viognier Volcano. It looked really cool, but Petey lost a fair amount of wine, and the winery was pretty much flooded. We had to move about half of our fermentors outside in order to clean it all up. Peter felt really bad, but these types of things happen. We locked up the winery at 1 a.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 14
We processed the remaining fruit from yesterday, and then started unstacking fermentors to do punch downs. We also added yeast to all of the stuff we brought in last Thursday. Heaven help us when it's all ready to press.
We've had a lot of yellow jackets this year. For some reason, I'm the only one who's been stung. There are hundreds swarming around as we crush. My mom came up with a great idea -- we set up fans so to blow the yellow jackets away from the grape hopper on the crusher destemmer. It's a bit windy for the person helping to "guide" the fruit into the machine, but it's better than getting stung. Maybe we've never seen them before because we were always crushing at night. Crushing during the day kinda sucks, but we don't have any choice.
James Ontiveros showed up with the rest of the fruit that we didn't get picked on Monday. He thought there would be three more bins -- but he brought six! That meant I got nearly 12 tons of Pinot from James this year, which was more than 2001, 2002 and 2003 combined! The fruit looked amazing. And since I got so much, I graciously allowed Andrew to have a ton and a half for his AP Vin label. (With James' permission, of course.) We didn't have time to process these extra bins, so they went into the BBFT to stay cold overnight.
Monday, Sept. 13
Another freakin' huge day of bringing in fruit. Andrew, Barry and I went out to Rancho Ontiveros at 6:30 a.m. We were just in time for the start of our pick. I've never gotten much more than a ton per acre at Rancho Ontiveros. This year it's closer to 3! It was so much fruit that I wasn't able to bring it all back in the BBFT, so James delivered the rest.
The fruit from Rosella's showed up shortly after we got back to the winery. Andrew jumped in the truck box to help the driver (he never learns). The first thing Andrew does is point at the grapes and yell at me, "There's something wrong with the fruit in the front." I'm a bit perplexed, as what can go wrong with fruit in picking bins in a refrigerated truck? "They're white!" This cracked me up. Audrey wanted to make some Chardonnay, so we got a ton from Rosella's. It's nothing we'll ever sell, but it might find its way to an offline near you!
We set up the press and started shoveling the Chardonnay in. I then realized I had no idea what we needed to do. Do we add sulfur dioxide, and how much? Do we go straight into the barrel/fermentor or do we let the juice settle overnight? As everyone was pondering those questions, I called Adam Lee (Siduri/Novy) and asked him what he does. Problem solved! Thanks Adam.
Peter also brought in some Pinot from his vineyard for himself. Man, we got a lot of fruit waiting to be processed. I'm thinking that some will be left for tomorrow. That's OK because I'm wiped out.
Sunday, Sept. 12
Stacking fermentors works! It wasn't too bad unstacking them to do punch downs. I think we may even have more open floor space than last year. Of course, we've got lots of fruit coming in tomorrow.
Kimberly dropped off picking bins at Rancho Ontiveros for our Monday pick. I coordinated things with Gary Franscioni for our last pick at Rosella's. It KILLS me that I won't be there, but I'm still having problems figuring out how to be in two places at once. Kimberly and my girlfriend, Laurie, both left for home. Day job issues again.
We ended the day by taking stems and pumice out to Peter Cargasacchi's Vineyard. He feeds the stuff to his cows. They really like the pumice since it has alcohol. The beef from Peter's cows must be really tasty as they've been marinated on the hoof.
Saturday, Sept. 11
I drove to SLO for more dry ice. Getting dry ice during harvest has its own set of complications. The biggest issue is that the dry ice guys only have so many containers. I try to be good and get empties back as soon as possible, so I usually have enough "brownie points" that I can get more when I need it. Not always, but the guys take good care of me.
When I got back to the winery, Kimberly jumped into the BBFT and headed out to Cargasacchi vineyard. It was a pit stop that would have made an Indy car driver proud. Kimberly came down for the weekend since she couldn't stand being away the whole previous week. Darn day jobs. Wade went out to the vineyard with her. Another buddy, Barry Golden, was already there when they arrived. Barry is a home winemaker from Arizona, and he comes out for a week each year to play around.
Andrew and I stayed back at the winery and processed the last of the Thursday pick (the Garys' fruit from my 2 acres in the upper block). When Kimberly got back with the Cargasacchi fruit, we processed that as well. The winery is now so full that we're stacking fermenters. That's right, we're stacking our T-Bins on top of each other. They all have lids, so there's no contamination issue, but it'll be a bugger to do punch downs. We'll have to un-stack everything each day. I'm not looking forward to this.
We got out of the winery in time to make it to Carrow's before they closed. I thought they were open 24/7. I guess not in Lompoc. Oh well, at least it was a change of pace from Denny's.
Friday, Sept. 10
Another big day. We tested all the previous few days' picks for sugar and pH. We added water and tartaric acid as need. We then pressed off the Brosseau and Dry Hole because they'd pretty much finished primary fermentation. We also crushed the Rosella's 777 bins. The Garys' bins got moved to the winery to wait their turn for crushing tomorrow. I would have kept them in the BBFT, but I needed to get up to San Luis Obispo on Saturday morning for more dry ice. The fruit was pretty cold, so I thought it would be OK.
Wade Hostler, a new pal of mine from the Internet wine boards, showed up to experience the glamour that is winemaking. He decided that there isn't any glamour. Andrew and I didn't tell him it's at a McDonald's in Soledad. We had to search for a long time to find it, so we weren't about to make it easy for him. We cleaned up and left winery at 1 a.m.
Thursday, Sept. 9
This was the biggest picking day ever in the history of Loring Wine Co. We got so much fruit that we needed to hire a trucking company to haul back most of it. I think it totaled about 17 tons from Garys' and Rosella's for both Andrew and me.
Things were hopping when Andrew and I arrived at Rosella's at 8 a.m. Gary Franscioni asked Andrew if he'd be willing to take clone 777 instead of the Pisoni clone Gary had said he'd be getting. Andrew looked at me, and I was shaking my head yes, so he said "yes." Gary then said he would probably be able to give Andrew a little Pisoni clone as well if he still wanted some. I was still nodding my head yes, so Andrew again said "yes." Andrew is a little bit freaked because he hasn't sold a single bottle of wine yet and is making decisions to up production on the spur of the moment. I don't think he'll have any problem selling his wine, but he's still cautious. Prudence is a good trait, but you have to have some riverboat gambler in you to make a winery work.
The way Andrew got some of Rosella's fruit is neat story. The Garys had given Andrew a full acre from Garys' vineyard this year. Peter Cargasacchi had also agreed to give Andrew an acre off his Jalama vineyard. Peter later asked Andrew if he could drop the fruit on the acre he'd promised him because the young vines didn't look strong enough to support a crop yet. Andrew of course agreed, and then called me and asked if I had any idea where he might get some more Pinot this year. I told him to call Adam Lee at Siduri, since Adam works with so many vineyards that I was sure he would know of someone looking to sell some tasty fruit. When Andrew called, Adam said he should call Gary Franscioni to see if he could get some Rosella's. Andrew didn't feel right about making the call, since the Garys had been so nice to give him an acre at Garys', and they'd already laid out their allotments for 2004. He told Adam that, and Adam said he'd keep his ear to the ground. Well, Adam decides on his own to call Gary, and Andrew ends up with Rosella's Pinot. Pretty damn cool!
Another buddy of mine, Mark Weiner, met Andrew and I at the vineyard. Mark likes to hang out at the winery and lend a hand now and then. After the 777 clone had been picked, we jumped in the BBFT and headed back to the winery. We stopped in Soledad for fuel and a quick bite to eat. When we walked into McDonald's I saw Mark Chargin, who is working as an assistant winemaker at Golden State Vintners in Soledad. Mark had been working at Cottonwood when I was making wine there, and he helped me with the 2001 vintage. On the way back to the winery, Andrew and I figured out what the "glamour" was that we had been searching for in the wine biz. It was being able to go to McDonald's and sit down to eat, like Mark had been doing, rather than just getting your food to-go. We were jealous of Mark, but glad we had figured that out.
My sister called on the way back to the winery. I let Andrew tell her all the news, and then he handed the phone to me. About 20 seconds later, I looked over and Andrew was asleep. Kimberly and I cracked up. The poor boy was already wiped out and it was only day 2 for him. Pinot Prison has a demanding warden.
When we got back to the winery, we unloaded the Rosella's 777 bins into the winery and started to get things cleaned and ready to go. Both my mom and Audrey had been busy getting stuff ready, as well as doing punch downs. The truck arrived with the rest of my fruit and we unloaded it. Andrew made the mistake of "helping" the truck driver, which meant he pretty much moved all the fruit from the front of the 53-foot-long box to the back by himself.
We ended up processing the 667 from Rosella's. The 777 stayed in the winery overnight, and the Garys' got put into the BBFT and was kept at 38 degrees F all night. We shut the winery door and headed over for a celebratory dinner at Denny's. It's the only place open in Lompoc at midnight.
Wednesday, Sept. 8
I met Andrew at Garys' vineyard at 8 a.m. When I drove up, he was talking with Jane and Eddie Pisoni (Gary Pisoni's folks). I had brought along a few bottles of my 2003 Garys', so I was able to give them one to see. The theme for my 2003 vintage labels is vineyard family portraits. I asked the growers to send me a family photo to use for the label. The Garys decided to use a photo of their parents, so I was excited to let them see the label for the first time.
We got about 7 tons from two acres of the lower portion of the vineyard. One acre was mine, and one was Andrew's. I got 20 more pounds off my acre than Andrew did. I think the Garys like me best.
We got back to the winery, processed the fruit, and hit the road back to the SLH (Santa Lucia Highlands). We got to Rosella's vineyard at 1:30 a.m. and unloaded the picking bins. We were really lucky because one of the Garys' head guys, Juan, had stopped by Rosella's to pick up something they needed down at Garys' vineyard. As all three vineyards (Pisoni, Garys', and Rosella's) needed to be picked, the Garys starting picking at midnight. Juan was able to help us unload. Andrew and I got to Soledad at about 2 a.m. Andrew was looking pretty beat. He'd just had his first day back in "Pinot Prison," as he likes to call it, and it had been a 22-hour day. Welcome back, Andrew!
Tuesday, Sept. 7
I made it back to Keefer Ranch at about 6:30 a.m. Marcy starts the pick at 3 a.m., but there was no way I could be there then. When I arrived, there were a bunch of bins ready for Ehren Jordan (Faila), and my grapes were being picked. I hopped on the back of Marcy's ATV and we headed out into the vineyard. I amused the pickers by picking a bit of fruit. It's always fun for pros to watch amateurs try their hand at something.
It was nice visiting with Marcy. She's a pretty special lady. After her husband died unexpectedly a few years, she had to take over full control of the vineyard and business. She's done an amazing job. The wines made from her fruit are some of my favorites. I'm so excited to be adding Keefer Ranch to my lineup! I got about 5 tons total, a mix of various clone. The fruit looked awesome. On the way back to the winery, I stopped in San Luis Obispo to pick up dry ice. I go through a LOT of dry ice each year. Literally tons and tons of the stuff. I use it to cold soak the fruit. The dry ice gets added directly to the must as we crush. It's really neat to see the "fog" rolling over the sides of the fermentors. I got back to the winery at about 6 p.m. We processed the fruit and I loaded the bins back into the BBFT and got back on the road. I made it to Soledad by 1 a.m. and got a few hours sleep so I would be all rested and ready to go bright and early on Wednesday. Ya, right. This was one freakin' long day.
Monday, Sept. 6
After spending a few hours at the winery, I loaded some bins into the BBFT and was off to Sonoma. On the way up I stopped by Garys' vineyard to drop off some bins for Wednesday's pick. The forklift at Garys' was DOA, so I had to unload the bins by hand, which basically meant that I pushed them off the back end of my truck and dragged them into place. I got to Keefer Ranch a bit before sunset and dropped off my bins. Marcy's rental forklift worked fine.
Sunday, Sept. 5
Today we finished bottling the 2003s! And just in time. I'm off to Green Valley tomorrow to drop bins off at Keefer Ranch for the Tuesday morning pick. The winery is as empty as possible for the onslaught of fruit that will be coming next week. I'm not sure it will all fit, but we've done the best that we can. Hopefully, the Brosseau and Dry Hole will be ready to press on Friday. That way I can free up 12 fermentors for the Rosella's Pinot that's coming next Saturday and Sunday. What a crazy year.
I got another update from Adam Lee this morning. He'd just sampled at Garys' and the lower block was at 27.8 brix and the upper block was at 27.0 brix. Good thing I'm picking Wednesday and Thursday. I'll be doing a lot of post-harvest irrigation this year.
It was almost 100 degrees F in Lompoc today, which is really unusual. Tomorrow looks to be hot as well. The good news is that it's supposed to cool way down next week. I sure hope so, because I need the Clos Pepe and Cargasacchi fruit to hang awhile longer. There's no room at the inn.
Saturday, Sept. 4
We set up the winery for pressing Peter's Viognier. It's a good thing we waited until today, since it's now a little after 8 p.m. and Peter's not done pressing yet.
The rest of the crew (me, Kimberly, Audrey, our buddy Kenny and my girlfriend Laurie) kept busy moving more stuff between the winery and our storage space. We cleaned picking bins for me to take up to Keefer Ranch on Monday. We inoculated the Durell fruit with Assmanshausen yeast. We did punch downs, just like every day (even if I don't mention it every day).
This coming week is going to be the craziest I think I've ever had during harvest. I'll be driving up to Keefer Ranch in Green Valley on Monday to drop off bins. I'll also drop some bins at Garys' on the way up. I'll get 5 tons of Pinot from Keefer on Tuesday and drive it back to the winery. I hope Audrey will have everything cleaned and set up to process the fruit, since I'll need to be back on the road for Garys' that evening. Andrew (AP Vin) and I will be getting about 3 tons each from Garys' on Wednesday. Then back to the winery to process, then back to Garys' for the Thursday pick when I'll get the rest of my Garys' fruit (6 more tons). Then back to Lompoc to process. I'll probably have to press the Brosseau and Dry Hole on Friday, but Rancho Ontiveros might need picking. I'm scheduled to do back-to-back days at Rosella's on Saturday and Sunday (12 tons total). Then a last pick at Rosella's on the following Tuesday. And Rancho Ontiveros is still lurking out there. Arrrrrggggg!!!
Friday, Sept. 3
More bottling today. We bottle the Brosseau and the Naylor Dry Hole, both from the Chalone AVA. I'd gotten a call last year from Duncan Naylor, who is a neighbor of the Brosseau's up near the Pinnacles above the cosmopolitan town of Soledad. Duncan asked if I'd like to make wine from his 1.5 acres of Pinot Noir. We talked for a while, and then he told me the name of the vineyard was Dry Hole -- Naylor Dry Hole. That sold me! Duncan tried drilling a bunch of wells until he hit water, and he didn't get much from that last well. He decided to name the vineyard after all those dry wells, or "dry holes" as they're known.
We tried to get done early since Peter Cargasacchi was bringing in 3 tons of Viognier from Paso Robles. Peter was running late, and didn't get to the winery until about 5:30. After we cleaned up from bottling and got everything set up to press Peter's fruit, we realized we'd didn't have a chance of getting the pressing done before breakfast on Saturday. So, we threw the fruit into the back of the BBFT (Brian's Big Freaking Truck, in case you forgot), got it good and cold, and let it sit over night. I think we got the door of the winery shut at about 10 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 2
We spent the day transferring wine to tank and reorganizing the winery (yet again). Reorganizing the winery must be my favorite thing to do in the whole wide world, as I seem to do it an awful lot. The 17,000-square-foot building that's for sale down the street is looking better and better each day. But then I'd probably still be complaining about having to move stuff around every day. Size does matter, but bigger space has its problems too. But I'd be willing to give those problems a chance. It's amazing how fast 10 hours disappear when you're having fun.
Wednesday, Sept. 1
Today started with our new bottling-day tradition -- a shot of tequila. Adam Lee (Siduri) had been down in the area the other day checking on Clos Pepe and Cargasacchi vineyards. He stopped by the winery and dropped off "something to help with bottling." Adam's idea of "help" is tequila! So everyone starts each bottling day with a swig from the bottle. I learned today that root beer isn't the best chaser for tequila. I just thought you'd like to know.
Barry Rossum stopped by to assist with the bottling. He lives in the area, and occasionally helps out Joe Davis at Arcadian. Barry's one of those wine fanatics that just likes to hang out and pitch in when needed. Today's bottling lot was the 2003 Garys', the largest single lot I'd ever made (about 380 cases). That's a big day of bottling for our little bottling line.
I talked with Gary Franscioni and it looks like we'll be picking the lower block at Garys' next Wednesday. I have one acre in the lower block, right next to Andrew's (AP Vin) acre, and we'll pick them at the same time. Then we'll probably have to go back the next day for my 2 acres in the upper block. Then we might pick the 777 clone from Rosella's on Friday, and perhaps come back on Saturday for the rest of my Rosella's. I'm sure Keefer and Rancho Ontiveros will be ready at the same time as well. Thing's are really starting to get interesting now.
Tuesday, Aug. 31
We spent the morning cleaning the crusher/destemmer and six fermentors. Then we processed the Durell fruit. We normally process fruit in the evening, so we drew quite a crowd, mostly folk from the other businesses in the industrial park. One really great thing about having Peter Cargasacchi around is that he'll take all the stems out to his ranch. He says the bulls love to eat the stuff. The stems come out the end of the crusher/destemmer and fall into a picking bin. I grab the full stem bin with the bin dumper and dump it directly into the bed of Peter's pickup. It's fun to watch. The first time we did it last year, we dumped from too high and the stems smashed into the truck bed. I think the truck almost got airborne from the recoil of the shocks. Kimberly and Audrey have a video of it. I'll have to put it on my Web site (www.loringwinecompany.com) sometime.
After processing the Durell Pinot, we started getting ready for bottling on Wednesday. We also reorganized the winery a bit. Since we're so short on space, we had to make sure everything was where it needed to be. Adam Lee (Siduri) called with numbers for Keefer Ranch Vineyard. Things are getting close, but Adam says we need to wait. When Adam speaks, I listen.
We finished the evening with punch downs and headed back to the condo for a late dinner.
Monday, Aug. 30
The alarm clock went off at 5:15 a.m. Did I say picking days start early? I made it to the vineyard by six, in time to see the crews finishing up picking a Chardonnay block that they'd started in on at 3:30 a.m.. And I'm complaining about getting up early! In order to see what they're doing in the dark, they use a second tractor outfitted with fluorescent lights that hang over each side of the row being picked, like mini-scaffolding. Very cool.
I met up with Steve's son, Ned, and headed down the road to where my Pommard 5 clone fruit was being picked. Ned explained to me that the Pommard block was in a cooler location because of its location at the base of the "Petaluma Gap," where the ocean wind makes the area very cool. The 115 block I was getting grapes from was on the top of a hill a few miles north. It was warmer because it was somewhat protected from the ocean breeze. After the Pommard was loaded up, I drove back up to the northern part of the vineyard and picked up my 115. All the fruit was BEAUTIFUL. Very ripe at about 27 brix, and super tasty. I'm excited to see how the wine turns out.
I hit the road at about 9:30 headed for the Poke. I had to make a detour through San Luis Obispo to pick up 500 pounds of dry ice, as well as a couple of extra punch-down tools for this year. If I've got extra hands, I plan on putting them all to work! When I was talking with the punch-down tool dude (I call him "Stainless Steve"), I mentioned that I needed a better screen for sucking the free-run juice out of our fermentors. He said he had one to sell me, but I had to stop by Domaine Alfred winery to get it (they were trying it out). So I headed over and said hi to Terry Speizer (owner) and Mike Sinor (winemaker) and got my new screen.
I made it back to the winery around 7 p.m. The crew had just finished bottling the 2003 Clos Pepe when I arrived. Since I'd increased my acreage from 1.75 to 3.75 acres last year, I actually got a good amount of the Clos from 2003 -- 300 cases. Hooray! Andrew and Brenda had left before I got back because they needed to get back to those pesky day jobs on Tuesday.
Kimberly got the Purple Heart Award for the day. Or maybe it would be more correctly called the Purple Knee Award. She fell over a palette in the middle of the day and hit her knee really hard. Being the trooper that she is, she filled up a bag with ice and duct taped it to her pant leg. It seemed to work, until she realized later that her boot was filling up with water.
Since it was getting late, and we had a lot of cleaning and punch downs to do, we didn't process the Durell Pinot. It would just have to wait for Tuesday morning. That's the way it goes at a small winery. You do what you can and then reschedule.
Sunday, Aug. 29
We started at the winery early in anticipation of a big day of bottling. I helped move barrels around and organized until about 11 a.m., when I jumped in the BBFT and headed for Sonoma. I left a very frightened Andrew Vingiello (AP Vin) to transfer his six barrels of Garys' Pinot to tank and then to bottle. My sister, Kimberly, was there to help, along with the rest of our crack bottling team. But Andrew was nervous that I wasn't going to be there to help. It was a good thing for Andrew -- he needs to start doing more things without a safety net. It's the only way you really learn.
As it turned out, there were issues with Andrew's labels. They didn't want to go on without air bubbles. And as the roll got past the halfway point, it would start slipping on our label roller. The printing company had screwed up and used too small of an insert. Reason 1,435 why bottling sucks. It took all day, but Andrew's 150 cases got done and are ready for a thirsty world.
I made it up to Durell Vineyard at about 6 p.m. I met the vineyard manager, Steve Hill, and he took me on a tour. As weird as it may sound, I'd never been to the vineyard before. The owner, Bill Price, has been on my mailing list for the past few years, and had offered me Pinot from some of the new blocks at Durell. I'd finally been able to take him up on his offer this year. I committed to the vineyard based on its reputation for Chardonnay (especially the ones made by Kistler), as well as the fact that Flowers and Patz & Hall had signed on for the Pinot. The vineyard is amazingly beautiful. While that might not guarantee great fruit, it did speak volumes about the folks that manage it. After the tour, I dropped off my picking bins and headed over to Sonoma for some sleep.
Saturday, Aug. 28
Kimberly started cleaning our bottling line at 8 a.m. I needed to catch up on some sleep, so I didn't get to the winery until about 9:30. Andrew and Brenda drove down from San Francisco, stopping by Garys' Vineyard to grab some samples.
We got the line all set up and started bottling the Llama, but we ran into problems with the corker. For some reason, it wasn't pulling a vacuum correctly, so the corks kept popping up. After about an hour, Kimberly figured out that the timing mechanism that caused the vacuum to activate was turned off. We couldn't figure out how to adjust it (the instructions are all in Italian) so we bypassed the on/off timing mechanism. It meant that the corker ended up constantly pulling a vacuum, but it turns out that was just fine. Another case of something being way too complicated. This type of thing is VERY stressful for a winemaker. Just another example of why bottling days suck.
We were able to finish bottling the Llama and the Rancho Ontiveros -- a total of about 250 cases in eight hours. Not bad for a first day of bottling. Tomorrow should be better. Yeah right. After I did punch downs on the Brosseau and Dry Hole fermenters, and we got everything cleaned up, we locked the winery door at 11 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 27
We all attended the funeral of a very special lady, Vesta Silver. Vesta was my parent's next-door neighbor for my entire life, and she was a surrogate grandmother for both Kimberly and me. Our biological grandparents had all died when we were young, so Vesta always had filled that roll for us. She died a few months short of her 99th birthday, and she was completely "with it" until the end. She had given up her driver's license two years ago, not because she couldn't drive anymore, but because taking the driving test was too stressful for her. After a very brief bout with cancer, she died at home in her bed, just as she had wanted. It was sad to say good-bye to this amazing lady.
Kimberly and I headed back up to the winery Friday evening. I had to get the BBFT box and some more picking bins cleaned and ozoned for picking at Durell Vineyard on Monday. I left the winery at about 10 p.m. Tomorrow we start bottling the 2003s.
Wednesday - Thursday, Aug. 25-26
More moving of barrels and cleaning. Is this the glamorous part? My mom and Audrey headed to Los Angeles on Wednesday. I inoculated the Brosseau and Dry Hole fermenters with Assmanshausen yeast Thursday afternoon. Kimberly and I headed to Los Angeles on Thursday night.
Tuesday, Aug. 24
We started transferring last year's wine into tanks for bottling. I got a bunch of new portable tanks, so we needed to scrub them pretty hard to make sure they were clean. After that we decided what wine needed to go where. That entailed unstacking all of the barrels in the winery. We got about half of what we wanted to get done, but it was 11 a.m. and I was hungry for lunch (because I hadn't had time to eat all day).
Monday, Aug. 23
Picking starts EARLY. You want to get the fruit off the vines and into the bins while it's cool. It's better for the fruit. It's better for the pickers. When you pick fruit that's as ripe as wine grapes are, you get sticky, sweet juice all over your hands. That juice finds its way onto your face, neck, arms, etc. As it warms up, the bugs start to wake up, and you're breakfast. So getting the fruit picked before it gets warm is a good thing. But I just HATE getting up at 5:30 a.m.!
We ended up getting about 3.3 tons from Brosseau. The David Bruce clone came in at 27 brix, and the 113 and 115 clones were 25.5 brix. We loaded the bins into the BBFT and headed back to the winery. Once we got there, we had to clean the crusher/destemmer and the six fermenters. I ferment in Macro T-Bins, which are slightly larger than the standard picking bin. T-Bins hold about 1 ton of crushed fruit.
Once we were ready, I lifted the full bins into the air with my trusty forklift and dumped them into the crusher/destemmer hopper. Peter Cargasacchi showed up to help, and he helped guide the fruit into the hopper. The process isn't as simple as lift and dump. We have to go kind of slow as the hopper won't hold an entire bin's worth of fruit. Someone needs to help me position the bin and tell me how much to tip. We can dump about 3 to 4 bins an hour. As we destem and crush the fruit, it drops directly into the T-Bins. We layer in dry ice because we like to cold soak the fruit for a few days before fermentation starts.
We closed the winery door at about midnight. Just your normal 16-hour harvest day.
Sunday, Aug. 22
Kimberly, Audrey, my mother and I headed up to the Chalone AVA. It was Mom's birthday yesterday, so we celebrated at the Brosseau's B&B, the Inn at the Pinnacles. The B&B is in the middle of their vineyard -- so it's really convenient for us to stay there when we pick. Plus, it's REALLY nice as well.
Duncan's Dry Hole Vineyard is so isolated that we can't get the BBFT over to it. We have to park at Brosseau and have Duncan take the bins over on his tractor's bin trailer. Because this year's harvest is so early, there have been conflicts with picking other crops. Duncan couldn't get a crew to pick Monday, so we had to pick Sunday afternoon. Even though I'm able to get the BBFT box down to freezing, I still decided to layer dry ice in the bins as we picked the fruit. The mass of 1,000 pounds of grapes is such that if the fruit going in is warm, the fruit in the middle of the bin would be really hard to chill down. Duncan was pretty excited about this year's crop, as he had only gotten about .5 ton from his 1.5-plus acres last year. This year we got 2,200 pounds (1.1 tons). The fruit looked beautiful, and the three clones (777, Pommard 5, Swan) came in between 24.5 and 25.0 brix.
After the pick, we had dinner at the B&B. Michael Brill from Crush Pad was down to pick some Pinot on Monday as well. Crush Pad is a new custom-crush facility in downtown San Francisco that caters to people who want to make a small amount of wine. The fruit he was getting Monday was for David Dain Smith, a fellow Internet wine geek who decided to take the plunge into the dark side!
Saturday, Aug. 21
We spent most of the day continuing to make the winery ready for harvest. Of course, "ready" is a relative term. Since we haven't bottled the 2003s yet, we're basically scrambling. Did I mention that harvest is really early this year?
Tuesday - Friday, Aug. 17-20
I tried to tie up all the lose ends at my day job (software engineer) before the crush begins, but couldn't quite get everything done. Oh well, that just means I get even less sleep in the coming weeks.
I also spent some time providing moral support for my buddy Andrew (AP Vin), who got to experience the thrill and joy of having labels printed. You would think that printing labels would be easy. Not so much. Andrew spent a lot of energy and time working with a designer to get the label design just right. Trying to take a somewhat fuzzy visual image from your head and having someone else translate it to paper is a super difficult task. Then you get to deal with the printing company, who asks a thousand questions that you can't answer. It's like they're talking a different language. At one point, I e-mail Andrew to tell him that I'd seen a report on the news that listed people's "dream jobs." Winemaker was No. 2! So what was he complaining about? Andrew e-mailed back, asking, "What was No. 3?" I responded that he should just remember that it'll only get worse. Caring and nurturing -- that's just the kind of guy I am.
I also went back and forth scheduling the pickings at Dry Hole and Brosseau. We finally decided that we would pick Dry Hole on Sunday evening and Brosseau on Monday morning. Pretty much the plan we started with, but it wouldn't be "fun" if you couldn't change things around 600 times.
I drove back up to the winery Friday night. Let the harvest begin!!
Monday, Aug. 16
The water-filter guy showed up with the real filter. I told him about the charcoal in the water from the loaner, and he noticed that it had been installed backwards. I panicked at first since I'd used the water to wash off my barrels. He said that it was OK, that the charcoal acts like a sponge and sucks out the chlorine, so the water had been fine. Phew!
I talked more with Bill Brosseau and Duncan Naylor (Dry Hole Vineyard) about picking on Sunday. It looks like if I wait until Monday, the David Bruce, 113 and 115 clones at Brosseau will all be ready, so we decided to hold off picking until then. Duncan's stuff is also ready, but he had some problems finding a picking crew for Monday, so we'll probably pick his 1.5 acres on Sunday afternoon.
I'll take some dry ice along and layer it in the bins as we pick: That way, all the fruit in the bin should stay cold. Then we'll put the fruit in "The BBFT" (Brian's Big Freakin' Truck) and crank up the refrigeration overnight. I can keep the fruit near freezing, so it should be fine. But without the dry ice, the middle of the bins would probably stay warm, which wouldn't be good. Warm fruit could start to ferment, and there could also be some Volatile Acidity (VA) issues. We'll pick the Brosseau fruit on Monday, throw it in the truck with the Naylor, and head back to the winery to process it. Once again, The BBFT saves the day!
The Gas Guy hadn't shown up by 3 p.m., so I decided to start cleaning bins for the Brosseau/Naylor pick. I first power-washed and then ozoned out The BBFT box. I then started scrubbing, power-washing and ozoning the picking bins. The Gas Guy showed up at about 4:30 and got the gas turned on. But the water heater wouldn't start. It felt like a surreal version of that credit card ad -- New hot water heater: $2000; three guys to install system: $1000; hot water for your winery: How the heck do I know? I STILL don't have hot water!
I continued cleaning bins, and as it approached 8 p.m., I decided that I'd be spending another night in Lompoc. I was soaking wet from head to toe. Even my underwear was soaked. Lompoc gets really cold when the sun starts to set and the wind kicks up. I got all the bins into The BBFT, hauled everything back into the winery and headed back to the condo for a hot shower. I keep asking myself: Where's the glamour?
Sunday, Aug. 15
Bill Brosseau stopped by the winery yesterday. Bill is the winemaker at Testarossa and his family owns a vineyard in the Chalone AVA that I buy Pinot from. Bill was down in SBC (Santa Barbara County) checking on vineyards that Testarossa buys grapes from (Bien Nacido, Sanford and Benedict, and Ashley's). He brought along some samples from his family vineyard for me to try. I'll be getting three acres of fruit from Brosseau this year, the same amount as last year.
I've got an acre of 25-year-old David Bruce (DB) clone vines, as well as an acre each of 113 and 115 that were grafted onto 20-plus-year-old Chardonnay vines back in 2001. The DB fruit had brown seeds, good flavor and was at about 25 brix. The 113 and 115 weren't too far behind. We tentatively decided to pick the DB next Sunday, and then the 113 and 115 maybe that following Friday.
It was nice to see Bill. I don't get up to the vineyards very often due to my day job, and I like to see the growers since they're all such nice people. An added benefit to buying fruit from such dedicated, passionate people is that I've made a lot of new friends. It was a bit amusing that Bill drove right past the winery and I had to go out and flag him down. He'd never been to my new place, and I told him to look for the big wine press that was outside my door. I forgot that Bill works at a winery where big press means a 20-ton monster that stands 15-feet tall. I have a 3-ton press that rolls around on wheels. It's big to me since I used to use a 1-ton basket press that's about the size of a wine barrel.
Today, Andrew, Brenda and I tried our hand at creating my first-ever blend. It's something that I've always wanted to try, but never had enough wine to do. This year, with seven vineyards and more than 60 barrels to play with, I decided now was the time. My goal isn't to make a "reserve" wine, since I don't want to lessen the single vineyard-designated wines. I also don't have a desire to make a "declassified" blend. I just want to take four or so barrels that happen to blend together to make something fun, maybe something that's better than the individual components.
I've also decided that I'll name each of my blends, a la Sine Qua Non. Actually, it'll be more like Red Car's wines, because I'm going to write a tiny little story to "explain" the name. The Red Car guys are writers, so their stuff is really cool. I'm an engineer, so my names will certainly be strange. I like to think of what I'm doing as a homage to Sine Qua Non and Red Car, but I'm sure they'll view it as stealing their idea. As with all great artists, I'm often misunderstood.
The first blend will be called "The Llama." You'll just have to wait to find out why. I wasn't sure how to go about creating the blend since the number of permutations of barrels is overwhelming. I discounted using any Cargasacchi, since I only have five barrels. I also decided that the one barrel of Naylor Dry Hole couldn't be a part of the blend because, well, there's only one barrel! That left Rancho Ontiveros, Clos Pepe, Brosseau, Garys' and Rosella's. I had randomly picked four to six barrels from each vineyard to play with. I really like the idea of randomness since it helps remove any preconceptions I have, which often lead me astray. I'll talk about the random factor in winemaking as harvest proceeds.
We tasted through the samples from each vineyard and made notes about which barrels might add something fun to the blend. Once again, we weren't looking for the best barrels. If we found one that had a short finish, we tried to find a barrel from another vineyard that filled in that gap. We played around for a few hours and finally decided on a four-barrel blend that fit the "image" of the Llama. I'm not sure I can describe what that means, since I'm sure the Llama brings up different images for everyone. Whether it was a llama you knew from childhood, or one you ran into in a dark alley somewhere, we're all shaped by our various llama experiences. All I can say is that I hope you respect the Llama, because if you don't, it'll spit in your eye.
We did some more cleaning and then Andrew, Brenda and Kimberly had to head back home, since they all have day jobs as well. I had hoped to head home as well, but due to the Gas Guy fiasco, I needed to stay until Monday. Peter Cargasacchi called and asked if I wanted to help him and his wife, Julia, herd some cows. Peter said I could ride his ATV while he and Julia did all the real work on horseback. I thought it sounded life threatening, so I was in! When I got there, Julia's horse wasn't feeling well, so we hung out at their house for a while and drank some wine. Peter then suggested we go on a hike.
Peter grew up in the Lompoc area and knows all about the history, geology and lore of the valleys. Peter, Julia, and I walked over to Rick Longoria's Fe Ciega vineyard. Peter pointed out all the different soil types along the way. He also gave real and imagined information about the surrounding hillsides, vineyards, fossils and animal tracks. It's really fun to see Peter stop and start digging around in a patch of dirt. I think he could spend hours sifting through a few square feet, all the while comparing the things he finds with their relative significance to evolution, human history, the Council of Nicia and Gilgamesh. Peter's way too smart for any single human. He's also REALLY funny, but watch out for his dry wit, or you'll be the one he's laughing at.
Friday, Aug. 13
Today is THE DAY. Hot water for sure! Oops, I forgot I don't have gas. The plumber finally finishes his work and I at least have my new hose outlets and chlorine-free water. The only problem now is that the water is full of charcoal from the filter. It looks like tiny ball bearings. If I let the water run for 10 minutes or so, it seems to clear. If I leave the water off for any length of time, the stuff is back. This can't be right, but it's too late to get a hold of the filter guy.
My sister's partner Audrey and I start washing out the winery because I'm hoping to get everything extra clean for bottling. I don't like having dirt and dust around when I start transferring wine to tanks and then to bottles. Hosing down the winery is a lot harder than it sounds. I may not be a certified general contractor, but even I know that a building's floor shouldn't slope into the back corner -- where the bathroom is. So we squeegee the floor so the water doesn't ruin our new bathroom cabinets. Audrey builds a super cool paper towel roll dam across the bathroom doorway to help out.
We then tried out my new ozone machine. This nifty gadget outputs water with ozone that can be used to sanitize stuff. I had been cleaning equipment with chlorine and then neutralizing that with sulfur dioxide. Ozone cleans as well as the former method and I can use it on and in my barrels. We set the unit up and start cleaning barrels -- or should I say barrel. Somehow we break the input hose connector, so we're done for the night. That's OK by me because it's late and we're both tired from all the squeegee work.
Thursday, Aug. 12
I made it up to Lompoc at about 10:30 p.m. last night. I pretty much move up to Lompoc during harvest. This year I rented two condos near the winery. Andrew and I will be sharing one, and the rest of my family will share the other one.
I was excited for Thursday because I was FINALLY going to have a sink in the winery bathroom AND hot water! I spent all day Thursday transferring stuff from the winery to another space in the industrial park.
A few months ago, I realized that my 2,000-square-foot space wasn't going to be big enough for this year's harvest. I talked with the owner of the industrial park where I am located, and he found us some space in another bay. It's a shared space with a book company and a welding company. The book company didn't want all the space they had, and was happy to give it up. They said they would free up the space by mid-July, but they didn't actually do it until last week. That caused me a lot of extra work. I'd had new barrels, empty bottles and boxes delivered in the past few weeks, anticipating putting them all in the new space. Instead, I had to rearrange the whole winery and stack stuff to the ceiling to get everything to fit. And when I say "to the ceiling," I mean it. The insulation on the ceiling is now dirty because the top layer of boxes on the bottle palettes was dusty.
Wednesday, Aug. 11
I've been a wine geek since I started working at a wine shop during high school. After college, I started working as a software engineer, designing weapon systems for Los Angeles class submarines, as well as sonar systems for various other Navy platforms. Owning a winery was always something I had thought about, but I couldn't figure out a way to start. After becoming friends with Norman Beko at Cottonwood Canyon, an opportunity to make some wine from Cottonwood grapes presented itself, and I was on my way. It's now six years later, and I have my own facility and equipment. It's a very small, 2,000-square-foot building in an industrial park -- not much to look at, but it's MINE!
A couple of buddies make wine at my place as well. Peter Cargasacchi owns two vineyards in the Lompoc area and has already gained a cultlike following due to the Cargasacchi Pinots made by the likes of Siduri, Brewer-Clifton, Hitching Post and -- hopefully soon -- Loring. He's making wine under his own label, Point Concepcion. He'll be releasing his 2002 vintage wines very soon. Andrew Vingiello is a stock trader by day, but has decided that Pinot Noir is his future. Just like me, he's trying to balance the demands of a day job with the never-ending demands of owning a winery. His label is A.P. Vin, and he'll be releasing his first wine, a 2003 Garys' Vineyard Pinot Noir in a few months. Between the three of us, we'll probably make close to 4,000 cases of wine this harvest.
Peter Cargasacchi called me from his cellphone last Saturday. The connection was bad, but I thought he'd said something about picking some Pinot Noir to make sparkling wine. I was sure that I had heard him wrong, because who would be crazy enough to want to make sparkling wine? Well, Peter calls me again today and says that he thinks he can get enough fruit off some new vines at his Jalama Vineyard to make a few barrels of sparkling wine -- and would I be interested in helping him pick?
Well, as crazy as Peter is, I must be crazier because I agreed. I immediately e-mailed Andrew Vingiello, who was coming down Saturday to top his barrels, and told him to get down Friday night so he could share in the "fun."
Dinner tonight will likely be an In-N-Out burger, eaten in the car somewhere along the coast on Highway 101. So starts the endless series of burgers, pizza and tacos. You'd think winemakers would lose weight during harvest, but we eat nothing but fast food, so we actually gain weight. Lucky us.
Tuesday, Aug. 10
Today started like any other work day (for my day job writing military software). The alarm went off at 9:30 a.m., and I dragged myself out of bed. We software guys are night owls: That early-to-bed, early-to-rise stuff doesn't work for us. Of course, that means those early mornings during harvest KILL me.
On the drive to work, I listened to a phone message from Gary Franscioni. He said the sugar levels at Garys' and Rosella's vineyards were about two weeks ahead of last year, so I should be prepared to start getting fruit around Sept. 10. At least that will be after I bottle the 2003s the last week of August. I received an e-mail yesterday from Duncan Naylor (Naylor Dry Hole Vineyard in the Chalone AVA) saying that I should expect fruit in a couple of weeks. (And yes, that really is the vineyard name.) I'd heard the same thing from Jon Brosseau about his vineyard a few days ago. Bottling AND fermenting at the same time -- where am I going to find the room? The winery is already packed to the roof.
After spending a grueling hour or so at work, I grabbed a quick lunch and then made a few phone calls for the winery. I had to coordinate when the plumber would be at the winery to install the hot-water heater. For last year's harvest, we had one cold-water faucet and a bathroom with only a toilet (no sink, no light). This year we'll have not only a sink and light in the bathroom, but hot water and two faucets! I bet all the other wineries will be totally jealous.
I ordered some other winery supplies and fixtures, and then got a phone call from Adam Lee (Siduri). He was calling to tell me he'd heard from Gary Franscioni, and wanted to make sure I knew what was up. What a great guy! He also said he and Dianna (his wife and winemaking partner) were going to be out checking other vineyards later this week, so they'd give me additional updates. I can't tell you how great it is to work in an industry where "competitors" are friends, and everyone wants to help each other succeed. Can you imagine Pepsi helping out Coke?
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions