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This is sort of a brainstorm that I hope will work out... Inspired by the recent food blogs (Melkor's, Pim's, and Marlena's, specifically), I thought I would start a year-long Wine Blog - but not of what I am drinking (which CAN be excessive), but of the growth of a vine with production towards wine.

I have a distinct advantage as I work at several wineries (Ladera Vineyards in Napa county on weekdays and Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma on various weekends.

I often marvel at the changing seasons and speedy growth of the vines. As we are coming out of winter and the dormant period towards the budding of spring, I believe this is an excellent time to get started. My plan is to introduce you all to the agricultural parts of the industry as well as winemaking in general. I have picked a particular vine which I will photograph once a week - over the next eight to ten months. You will see that vine be pruned, bud, grow, produce a cluster, and be harvested for wine.

Along the way, I will introduce you to the winery itself and the people that work here. I'll show you how wine is made and try to answer basic questions (I'm an office slug, but I have great resources at hand!).

To begin... as an introduction, the winery was built in 1886 by two Frenchmen, Jean Brun and Jean Chaix. It was called Nouveau Medoc and is literally a French Chateau...

i3584.jpg

It passed through a number of hands over the past 100+ years before being purchased by Patrick and Anne Stotesbery who have painstakingly restored the building (on the business website, you can view pictures of the restoration). But onto the grapes...

At the end of the harvest (November-ish), the vines go into dormancy and all of the leaves fall off. Starting in late January, they have to be pruned back to their stalk but the initial pruning is just to get long, spindly arms. It is a bit cold and rainy as our guys are pruning:

i3585.jpg

This is our Vine-of-the-Year: It is a Petit Verdot varietal - it was chosen because I can walk to it from my office:

i3586.jpg

As a contrast (which you can't tell yet until there are leaves and clusters), this is a Cabernet Sauvignon vine:

i3583.jpg

Right now there are still tall arms on the vines. Once the rains are closer to stopping, the vines will be pruned back to the stump (we don't do it now because it is easier for disease to go into what is essentially a raw, open wound on the vine when there are still rainy days ahead).

edited to fix pictures and some spelling

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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Very cool, Carolyn!

Should be a most excellent adventure.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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Let me know if I can help. We rack, filter and bottle on a small scale.

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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Fabulous Carolyn

What a wonderful idea!

Could you tell me what type of trellising they use?

Cheers

paul

The word from Gabriel, the vineyard manager: "Vertical."

I'll be getting a picture of him for my next posting as I rely on him daily... He's a fabulous guy who has been with the estate over 18 years (back when it was known as Chateau Woltner and the winery produced mostly Burgundian-style chardonnay).

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Let me know if I can help. We rack, filter and bottle on a small scale.

Thanks -- but did you know there are mobile bottling units? It surprised me as GunBun has their own bottling line and when I started working at Ladera and asked to see it, was told they have this company who comes in a giant truck, sets up, and bottles everything in a few hours! Amazing, really.

And our cellar workers do all our racking. Apparently, there is a heirarchy to who is allowed in the caves. Isn't THAT interesting?

BTW, for those of you unfamiliar with some of the jargon that will inevitably be thrown about, I'll attempt to define.

From WinePress.com, the definition of racking is:

a process of siphoning wine from one carboy or secondary fermemter to another.   The benefit of this is that as the wine sits and finishes its secondary fermentation, the dead yeast and lees fall to the bottom of the carboy providing a clearer wine.   This sediment can impart a bad taste to the wine, so it is good to get it away from the wine.   You'll want as much as you can get away from the wine.   Have you ever had a bottle which looked good when you bottled it, but after a year or so of sitting, you can now see sediment?

Racking is done quite often...

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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So our vine hasn't changed much in the past week - although the weather certainly has!

i3962.jpg

The weather here has been incredibly stunning and it is expected to be in the 80s and possibly 90s all week.

This is Gabriel, the Vineyard Manager (he REALLY hates having his picture taken):

i3963.jpg

I've asked him to tell me when our vine is going to be pruned, so you can see it. I somewhat assumed since the weather has been changing so much, that it would be quite soon. He let me know that he is going to wait until it is practically budding before those arms are trimmed back. I'm hoping to get a shot of it, as it is being pruned.

Lastly, here is a side-shot of the Chateau - my office is the second from the left, on the bottom. What is hard to tell in this picture (because I took it on Friday, when it was slightly gloomy), is that the roof (which is brand new and part of the restoration) is brass and actually shimmers in the sun. It will be stunning as it starts to patina.

i3960.jpg

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Lastly, here is a side-shot of the Chateau - my office is the second from the left, on the bottom. What is hard to tell in this picture (because I took it on Friday, when it was slightly gloomy), is that the roof (which is brand new and part of the restoration) is brass and actually shimmers in the sun. It will be stunning as it starts to patina.

Wow. I want your job.

Actually, check that, I likely wouldn't have any idea how to do your job so I just want your office. Beautiful building and beautiful surroundings.

Thanks for posting. This is interesting stuff.

Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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This is a day late because I knew the vine was next up for pruning and I wanted to be be able to show it. In case you haven't heard, Spring has arrived VERY early in Northern California this year. I heard there was a snow storm in the Plains this morning and here we are going into our third week of heat being in the 80's, hence, very early budbreak. It is going to be an interesting year as I've heard <ahem> through the grapevine, that everyone is scrambling to get their pruning done due to the unnaturally warm weather. As a point of reference, I remember last year, on the first day of Spring, seeing the very first hint of budbreak.

This is Jose Luiz Alvarez pruning our Pedit Verdot.

i4151.jpg

I'm secretly enamored with Jose Luiz because he makes the best carnitas I've ever tasted (you'll see it, come harvest time). I have an agenda to get the recipe out of him (and he knows it!)...

i4152.jpg

To show you how remarkable the warm weather has been, this is the Merlot vine that is immediately to the left of our PV vine, in the next block over. This vine was only pruned last week.

i4153.jpg

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From WinePress.com, the definition of racking is:
a process of siphoning wine from one carboy or secondary fermemter to another.   The benefit of this is that as the wine sits and finishes its secondary fermentation, the dead yeast and lees fall to the bottom of the carboy providing a clearer wine.   This sediment can impart a bad taste to the wine, so it is good to get it away from the wine.   You'll want as much as you can get away from the wine.   Have you ever had a bottle which looked good when you bottled it, but after a year or so of sitting, you can now see sediment?

Racking is done quite often...

Don't they worry about oxidizing the wine by racking it so frequently (this is a real issue for home brewers)? Or do they do it under CO2 or Nitrogen or some such thing?

--

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From WinePress.com, the definition of racking is:
a process of siphoning wine from one carboy or secondary fermemter to another.   The benefit of this is that as the wine sits and finishes its secondary fermentation, the dead yeast and lees fall to the bottom of the carboy providing a clearer wine.   This sediment can impart a bad taste to the wine, so it is good to get it away from the wine.   You'll want as much as you can get away from the wine.   Have you ever had a bottle which looked good when you bottled it, but after a year or so of sitting, you can now see sediment?

Racking is done quite often...

Don't they worry about oxidizing the wine by racking it so frequently (this is a real issue for home brewers)? Or do they do it under CO2 or Nitrogen or some such thing?

I'm learning so much! I was informed this morning that we don't rack with carboys, but from barrel to barrel. And, in fact, there is really more racking done in the first year a wine is in the barrel (we generally barrel our Cabs for 24 months in 100% French oak). It is done to separate the wine from the heavy sediment.

The first year a wine is barreled, it could see racking every three months or so. With a full barrel, CO2 or Nitrogen is not needed (and we don't use any). The second year, racking need only be done once or twice and sometimes only to top off the barrel. The oxidation you mentioned is minimal and what exists is a desirable part of aging the wine (it is in a controlled cave after all, and not someone's garage...)

Does that make more sense? (It certainly does to me!)

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Carolyn, this wine blog is absolutely brilliant!

The photo of the vine with its new shoots and budding leaves has brought springtime into our house and transports us back to the wine country where we long to be.

I'll look forward to following your stories through the year.

Thanks and keep up the great work!

MP

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What a wonderful blog and a way for those of us who are computer and office bound to share in the process. Many thanks for making the effort!

I have a question/concern about this very early spring: are the vintners worried about such early budding? What issues could arise from such early sprouting? Will the grapes mature earlier, will the fruit be on the vine longer?

Ok, so it wasn't one question. :biggrin:

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I have a question/concern about this very early spring: are the vintners worried about such early budding? What issues could arise from such early sprouting? Will the grapes mature earlier, will the fruit be on the vine longer?

I think right now, there isn't concern because there is no way to anticipate what the weather will be doing over the next few months. The concern has to do more with the idea that some were unprepared for the early warmth (i.e., not completely pruned which made for some scrambling to get it done).

The issues are as-yet unnamed (if any). There COULD be a myriad issues or they may be none. There is no way to anticipate the what-if's because there are so many variables (a freezing storm, a deluge of rain, a heat-wave, or simply perfect weather from here on out, etc...) Also, bear in mind that this winery is on a mountain at elevations that range from 1,300 to 1,800 feet. We tend to have milder weather than those wineries "on the valley floor" which will see more heat during the "dog days of summer."

Yes, the grapes are inclined to mature earlier with this early budbread, but that would ultimately mean they could be picked earlier, not stay on a vine longer. Last year, due to our incredibly mild Fall, our grapes were able to stay on the vines until mid/late October while some wineries were picking as early as the end of August - it all depends on the grape varietal, its growth cycle, location, etc...

Of note was last year's odd Fall. There were a series of bizarre rainstorms that came in late August and early September (we usually don't see rain that time of year). One storm started in Healdsburg (a bit northwest of Sonoma), rained through Sonoma but stopped at the mountain range (the Mayacamas Mountains) and never hit Napa. A week or two later, there was a rainstorm in Napa that never hit Sonoma. It was the sparkling wine producers that were concerned by this as their grapes were mostly mature and the rain was a detriment as keeping those grapes wet could have produced a fungus. Those were the folks that were picking early last year.

A bit of a convulated answer, but I hope it makes sense...

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I have a question/concern about this very early spring: are the vintners worried about such early budding? What issues could arise from such early sprouting? Will the grapes mature earlier, will the fruit be on the vine longer?

So our winemaker, Karen Culler, came in today. She's really cool and consults for us but also makes her own wine, Culler Wines, wines for Wolf Family Vineyards, and yet another, Tres Sabores.

BTW, here is an interesting Wine Spectator article about Karen.

Anyway, when I asked her about this early Spring, she said she was thrilled. Barring a freezing cold front, this means that the grapes will be able to be harvested earlier. This is beneficial only in the idea that if the vines bud and fruit later, than the harvest time is later which runs into the potential of having an early, cold Fall.

It is all about getting the maximum maturation on the fruit. If there is a late harvest because of a mild Summer and Fall, the risk runs into the idea that the grapes may not come to their full potential before the cold come in.

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Carolyn, fabulous topic and great job so far. Vineyards can be so beautiful. This will be a truly educational and fun topic. I can't wait to follow your posts from week to week (and in between).

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Our vine hasn't changed much since its pruning:

i4447.jpg

So, until there is more to show you agriculturally, I'll show you some of the business part... This is Karen Culler, our fabulous wine maker:

i4444.jpg

We had a tasting last week of some of the Howell Mountain 2002 wines in Karen's office:

i4445.jpg

And a close-up:

i4446.jpg

Here is where some explanation is needed. When you drive around the wine country and see acres and acres of grapes, these are broken up into lots. The lot can vary in soil quality, irrigation, number of vines planted per acre, etc. All that together is the terroir. When the grapes are picked, crushed, and barreled, it is not as one giant amount. Each lot is carefully kept separate from one another until bottling day.

Throughout the wine-making process, the lots are tasted individually. Some might need different types of fermentation. When we taste the lots in this fashion, everyone tastes first and makes notes - then the notes are compared. There might be decisions made that a certain lot does not have the quality as the lot next to it and perhaps it should be sold out for bulk wine or only require a mild amount of blending with other lot to make it exceptional. Very specific notes are kept and compared from year to year. A certain lot may not be producing as well as it did last year and the amount of irrigation needs to be changed. Sometimes two or three years' worth of experiments are given and if the quality is not up-to-snuff, the entire lot might be budded over with another grape. Or a lot is producing exceptional wines and that technique needs to be mirrored. All these things are determined when these types of tastings are done.

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Carolyn:

Brilliant idea. Brilliant execution. This has been and I'm positive will continue to be, fascinating.

We forget sometimes, that wine is simply produce, in a liquid and fermented form. It comes from the earth just like the vegetables and fruits we consume daily. Thanks for the gentle reminder of our and the wine's, connection to the earth.

Oh yes - and I want YOUR job! :biggrin:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I have been remiss in thanking you all for your encouragement in this endeavor. I truly have a great job and work for wonderful people who allow me this indulgence! It will be over before you know it, however - as I am constantly astonished at the fleetingness in the passage of time.... (okay, I'm being philosophical now).

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