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Vintage 2005 Wine Blog


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Harvest begins today, with petit sirah from Bogue Vineyard. Pictures to follow.

Fruit is scheduled for every day of the coming week, and indeed, it is highly unusual for Dan to crush fruit on a Saturday, as the equipment is right next to the tasting room and he worries about curious visitors stumbling around the equipment while he's working. Most of the time people stand off to the side and just ask questions, but you do get the occasional hyperactive adult who wants to snatch tools out of your hand, or unsupervised kids playing tag and chasing the cats around a moving forklift.

We are about to be slammed with fruit, and may finish the entire harvest tonnage in a week to ten days.

Although online reports elsewhere rave about the quality of this year's fruit, we're not seeing this vintage as one of overall high quality. It will be what we call a "selective" year. Not as impossible as 2000, more in line with the difficult-to-work-with 2002, not as easy and impressive as 2001 and 2003. The long, wet spring caused a lot of "shatter" in the clusters during bloom, resulting in many small unfertilized berries that remain tiny and green--if these "shot berries" adhere to the stems and are removed by the destemmer, the remaining fruit looks really, really good. Larger shot berries that pop off and into the crushed fruit will lend the resulting must an unfortunate green tannin character, and will affect fruit balance. In addition, a cool summer with a few extreme heat spikes has not lent itself to even ripening. Extreme heat does not ripen fruit--when the temperature exceeds about 88 degrees, vines shut down; resulting in berries that lose moisture content (thereby falsely increasing sugar readings), but without proper vine metabolism, the fruit is not really ripening.

However, after the unfortunate El Nino and La Nina vintages, most growers here have become extremely proactive. Growers dropped fruit in early summer to prevent the spread of mildew and provide more wind space between clusters, and growers have been dropping fruit again in late summer to ensure that the remaining crop load will ripen in the case of a cool autumn. Nona Vineyard spent $7,000 on 16 acres just dropping part of their crop on the ground. Grenache from Alto Pomar will come in at 50% of normal due to spring thinning.

After discussions with other local winemakers who are also seeing irregularities, Dan has decided to bring in less than half our usual production. As we are selling all the wine we make, and some releases sell out in five months, you can imagine my dismay. The remaining fruit will be very high quality, but there will be very little of it, here at least! If October is steady and warm, Dan may decide to bring in some later lots.

At any rate, I hope it will make for an interesting discussion here, and I invite everyone to ask questions, or hop in with their own vintage reports and observations.

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Mary Baker

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We will be picking the white on Monday and I hope to get some pictures. It's been a busy year for me.

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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Jerry Bogue, below, delivered a few tons of petite syrah from his Rancho Verano Vineyard on Saturday--first fruit of the season.

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The fruit is lifted by a forklift and dumped into a small crusher/destemmer.

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A large screw in the funnel-shaped top of the crusher pushes the clusters to the left end of the machine, where it drops into a spinning horizontal sleeve with one-inch holes , which separates the stems from the berries. The berries are lightly macerated (crushed) and drop directly into a bin below, while the spinning sleeve spits the stems out to the right.

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Mary Baker

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Preharvest QUIZ!

How many articles in the photo below do you recognize?  And which one do you think is the most important?  :wink:

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Uhhhhhhhhhh..........the basketball hoop, and pallets? I don't see a wine glass so it must be the basketball hoop !

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After discussions with other local winemakers who are also seeing irregularities, Dan has decided to bring in less than half our usual production.  As we are selling all the wine we make, and some releases sell out in five months, you can imagine my dismay.  The remaining fruit will be very high quality,  but there will be very little of it, here at least!  If October is steady and warm, Dan may decide to bring in some later lots.

At any rate, I hope it will make for an interesting discussion here, and I invite everyone to ask questions, or hop in with their own vintage reports and observations.

Maybe I'm not reading this carefully enough, or I'm just being dense. Are you saying Dan will leave behind roughly half the production, in the hopes that it improves? How will he decide what to pick and what to leave behind? Is it all more or less of the same (spotty) quality, or can you pick bunches selectively - best now, then hit the same vines later if the quality of the remainder picks up?

Sorry if you answered all that above and I missed it. You DID ask for questions and discussions, and somebody else already named the basketball hoop. :wink:

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Grapes sometimes ripen unevenly. You pick what's ripe, then sometimes you go for what's called second crop. As an amateur we pick it all and hope it balances out. But we make it for ourselves and don't sell it. They want quality, we will take quantity up to a point.

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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Yes, Kathy nailed the basketball hoop. Stress relief is very important. :laugh:

What I meant by cutting our production is that, in addition to our estate fruit, we also purchase fruit from other growers, generally 60-70 tons a year. This year, which is iffy for the varietals we specialize in, we will probably purchase about 35 tons. If the weather holds as it is now, sultry and warm, we may buy more, although our decision will also depend on quality and not just degrees of ripeness as measured by sugar.

At this point in the year, it's not clear that the grapes will ripen appropriately even if the weather holds. When daylight hours decrease and nighttime temperatures drop, the vines herald this as a signal to shut down and go dormant, so vines are already exhibiting autumnal colors and lignified stems. Lignified stems are turning brown, woody and fragile, losing their steady current of moisture and nutrients.

On Monday, we will will pick all the syrah. That's an easy call as it's all uniformly ripe!

We are monitoring the zinfandel. Zin always ripens unevenly--over a field, per vine, and even on single clusters. A single zin cluster usually features mostly ripe berries, with some lavender-green, and some completely raisined. This uneven ripening is a classic characteristic of zinfandel. That's why zinfandel has a reputation for high alcohol.

Say you're at a sorting table working your way through clusters of pinot noir grapes. Here's a fat, juicy cluster, and another one, and another one, and then oops, here's one that's all raisins. And you toss it.

But in zinfandel, most of the clusters will have some degree of raisining. When the wet must is fermenting the raisins will soften and release their sugar without a corresponding ratio of moisture, thereby spiking the resulting alcohol.

So, back to tonnage. We have a lot of green fruit that we didn't finish dropping which we will leave behind, but we hadn't really figured that into our final projection anyway. And as the pickers go through the vineyard, we'll be looking over their shoulders to make sure they don't pick clusters that are predominantly lavender. Or raisined. We want only those clusters that are fat, juicy and purple.

We'll also be spot-tasting the clusters to make sure that the fruit inside is as voluptuous as the outside. In other words, the zin is going to be a lot trickier than the syrah.

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Mary Baker

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Thanks rebel rose and wiinesonoma! This is really fascintating to see and follow along. Hope you you have time to also take and post some snaps winesonoma, but in any case, it's been fun to follow both crops simultaneously.

It seems like there could be significant variation depending on how carefully bunches have to sorted for picking, but how much does each picker typcially harvest in one day? How about a comparison between professional and non-professional pickers? (I'm assumng your crew is non-professional, winesonoma...)

Are the grapes be picked at any time of day?

How are the grape bunches actually harvested? Are they collected in smaller containers to minimize pre-mature crushing or is everything (bunches, juice) just put rather into the crushing device without delay?

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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We pick into 5 gal buckets which get dumped into a pickup lined in plastic. Bucketed out to the stemmer/crusher, bucketed into the press, pumped into the barrel. We did 2 tons of white in 4.5 hours, with hired help (3 guys). Crushed, pressed and cleaned up by 4:30. If we and our friends picked we would have ended at midnite. Rate for picking is $14 an hour. Well worth it. http://homepage.mac.com/winesonoma/PhotoAlbum20.html

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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Observant questions, Claudia.

We pick into picking "lugs" which are large plastic trays, and the trays are dumped into half-ton picking bins which are hauled around behind a small tractor. In some vineyards they use "gondolas" which are one or two ton steel wagons that can be lifted and dumped into trucks or presses.

The pickers use a small curved knife with an orange handle. They set the picking lugs on the ground, slice off the bunches at the stem with one hand, break their fall with the other hand, and sort of bounce the bunches into the lug, while kicking the lug along the row with one foot. There's a scene in Walk in the Clouds where Keanu Reeves races the vineyard owner in a macho picking contest.

Dan is very choosy about when fruit is picked and delivered. It must be picked first thing in the morning, kept cool, and delivered by noon. If a grower can't get it picked and delivered in the morning, then he'll have to wait and finish picking the next day. The mass of a half ton of grapes will keep itself cool for an hour or two, but if the bins are sitting out in the vineyard until 2 pm in mid-afternoon heat, and then delivered to the winery, and then processed in our crusher, the fruit will become warm and possibly rush through fermentation or attract nasty organisms.

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Mary Baker

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  • 2 weeks later...

The last ten days have gone by in a blur. I apologize for not posting pictures more frequently. Beginning tomorrow, we will be visiting the Dusi old vine zinfandel vineyard.

In the meantime, we have brought in and processed carmenere, petit sirah, three lots of syrah from four sections/clones, grenache, mourvedre, and two lots of zinfandel. Because we are not processing much fruit this year, only about 15 tons so far, it's been a relaxing harvest. However, Dan has still found enough for me to do on our crush days that my hands are either full or sticky or both, so I haven't had much opportunity to snap photos during the daylight hours.

We picked our estate syrah quickly as this is our first harvest of syrah. Two tons off of our small 2 acre parcel, and finished before 10 am. I was kept hustling all morning. We set the crusher at a low speed for whole berry destemming. When we finished, Dan was so excited by the color and quality of our first pick that he insisted I take a picture of the syrah after it had been crushed. "Look at the ladybug," he exclaimed, pointing out a little lady who had survived being dumped into picking bins, spun through the destemmer screw, and bounced and sieved through the crusher. Dan gets excited by "healthy bugs," like ladybugs, earwigs, and spiders, in crushed fruit. They're a sign of successful organic and sustainable farming.

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So far we haven't seen any tarantulas yet, but it may be a little early yet. Tarantulas in the vineyard are an omen of a fruitful yield and a quality harvest.

In the meantime, Rebel Rose has quickly learned that the forklift and pallet jacks do not roll over hoses and cords.

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Mary Baker

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We have begun getting the Benito Dusi old vine zinfandel. This is the same fruit that Ridge purchases. The Dusi Ranch vineyards encompass three sites, owned by the Dusi brothers and one son: Beni, Dante, and Michael. The other two sites are younger, as Dante got discouraged and tore his vineyard out in the sixties, later replanting. Only Beni's portion, and I believe some rows around Dante's home, are over 80 years old. The vineyard was planted by Beni's grandfather and has been in the family continuously. Beni grew up on the vineyard and has worked it all his life.

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Ordinarily we use a 24 foot Morgan trailer to transport fruit, but for the Dusi, Beni loans us his little trailer and we bring the half-ton bins over two at a time. It's easier for Beni as his crews can pick our lot directly into the bins while they are on the trailer.

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Here's an inside shot of the crusher-destemmer. The paddles rotate counter-clockwise, while the drum rotates clockwise. We can set the speed high to macerate the berries, or low to simply knock them off the stems for whole berry fermentation. The Dusi is set to whole berry. As soon as we started crushing, Dan and I looked at each other in amazement. Normally you can smell a certain grapeyness while crushing, but this fruit was amazingly aromatic. Very zinny.

After the fruit is crushed, I reach in the bin with a small beaker and take samples of juice from several different spots, then run upstairs to do a pH reading. The Dusi is 23.5 Brix, and 3.5 pH. Perfect. Although as zin always includes some raisins when ripe, the Brix may rise after the raisins hydrate in the must.

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I wasn't able to photograph the process of inoculating with yeast as by that time it was 8:30 pm and I scampered up to the house to light the barbecue and start caramelizing some onions.

This weekend is Harvest Wine Affair, a local wine festival. But we also have fruit arriving every day this weekend. Dan avoids processing fruit during the heat of the day, and especially on weekends, when people tend to wander onto the crush pad and peer into the machinery while it's operating. :shock: So we will be hosting visitors and barbecuing during the day, and crushing at night. It's going to be a looong weekend.

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Mary Baker

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I remember some wonderful zin's from Dantes vineyard in the 1970's, produced by Mastantuono Winery. Thanks for the memory. We picked the Syrah today but I got no pictures as we are running short handed right now.

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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  • 2 weeks later...

The past ten days have gone by in a blur. My 22 year old son is visiting and has absconded with my camera, but I have it back today and will try to get some shots loaded up into ImageGullet tonight. Several of the reds have finished fermentation and Dan is pressing today.

Although we are taking in less fruit than usual, we have just found out that we will be getting a total of 12 tons of Dusi old vine zinfandel. We were expecting six tons. As of this vintage, only Ridge and Dover Canyon will receive the old vine Dusi fruit. :cool: Benito Dusi will also sell a few tons to home winemakers with whom he has been doing business with for years. (Sorry, he doesn't have any more available.)

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Mary Baker

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  • 4 weeks later...

So I get a call Monday from one of the partners and he tells me we're picking the late harvest Wednesday. Seems they had left a row of the white so we could make a dessert wine. Picked and pressed we have 30 gal of 31 brix Sauvignon Blanc/ Semillon. Oh boy, dessert wine.

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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We picked our estate zinfandel on Friday, October 28. Dan rousted us out of bed at dawn and we joined the pickers as the sun rose. Our two pickers were bashful and didn’t want their pictures taken, and my hands were full—picking lug, clippers, gloves, fruit—so I wasn’t able to snap many shots. As the sun rose it shone through the stained glass colors of the vines.

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Doves, sparrows and quail carried on their morning conversations from the walnut trees and grassy creekbed nearby. As the sun rose it rapidly became warm, and so did we. By 9:30 am I had stripped down to a tank top and jeans even though our breath was still frosting in the air.

Juan and Lucky picked the upper portion of the zinfandel, which was fairly uniform. Papa Eddie and I were assigned the creekside portion as there was a lot of variation and would need to be very selectively picked and pruned. Dan, being el patron, drove the tractor and moved the picking bins around.

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As you can see by comparing the photo above to the one of the dryfarmed zin upthread, the vines are now much drier, and are beginning to hibernate.

The same weekend, we also brought in a little more syrah, and some zinfandel from Dove Pond Vineyard. Later, we also purchased cabernet from Jimmy’s Vineyard, all Templeton Gap fruit.

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All of our fruit this year was destemmed and fermented as whole berries, except the Jimmy’s Vineyard cabernet, which was crushed at Doce Robles and then delivered. Their crusher was set for heavier maceration, so you can see here that there is more juice in the fermenting bin.

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After the red grapes are destemmed or macerated, it’s time to add the yeast. The yeast comes in vacuum packed bags like coffee. If you’re a wine geek, it can be fun reading the yeast catalogs—various yeasts emphasize different qualities—spice, floral aromas, color extraction, palate, etc.

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During harvest, our winery fridge has at least one shelf packed with various yeasts, a crisper drawer full of yeast nutrient, a shelf of beer, and a freezer full of lamb racks. You know what they say, “It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine.”

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When adding the yeast, we generally add a little nutrient first, sprinkling it over the surface of the fermentor and patting it in a little with a punchdown tool. The yeast nutrient is mainly ground yeast hulls, whilch are high in Vitamin B. Then we add the yeast to one corner of the fermentor and punch it down into the wine about one foot. This allows the yeast to establish a warm, healthy colony overnight. The next morning when we do a thorough punchdown, the colony will be distributed evenly throughout the fermentor.

Once fermentation starts, the cap of skins rises to the top and will form a crust. Therefore, we punch the cap down into the fermenting juice two to three times a day. Since all of the pigment and tannin, and much of the flavor, comes from the skins of red grapes, it’s important to keep the cap of skins hydrated and stirred into the juice at all times. This is a custom punchdown tool for hand punchdowns. (Other options are to use hoses to pull juice from the bottom of a fermentor and sluice it back over the cap, or use a pigeage tool designed for grape stomping, sort of like a pogo stick.) We start in one corner of the fermentor and press the cap down, down, down. Then lift the tool, move it over a few inches and repeat until every inch of the cap has been pressed down.

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When the skins are soft and the must is juicy, it’s time to test the wine for dryness, press it, and move it into barrels. As the season progresses, we usually have a range of activities happening in any given week—some vineyards being picked, some lots going through fermentation, and others ready for pressing. In the meantime, the white grapes have been pressed upon arrival and are fermenting in their barrels. They have special bungs with a little “Parkay lip” top that allow gases to escape so the bungs won’t pop out. Although Dan is known mostly for his red wines, he loves babying his whites. He used three different yeasts on the viognier and roussanne, and he will frequently ask me to smell the various barrels and listen to the soft sizzling sound of the fermenting juice, just like a proud papa checking on his sleeping daughters.

We finished punchdowns earlier this week. Dan no longer has to get up before dawn, and punch down again after dark. (On the other hand, he’s burning with unexpended energy and health so he likes to follow me around looking for things for me to do.) We have one more pressing—the Benito Dusi old vine zinfandel.

Like children, each vintage is a blessing, and each wine has its own character. You can only do your best and then let them go, hoping that they will mature well, and that someone you have yet to meet will cherish and appreciate them.

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Although we still have a little more to do—pressing, malolactic inoculations, racking—the end of the harvest season approaches. Questions, anyone?

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Mary Baker

Solid Communications

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