"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties. And things that go bump in the night."
Yes, it's almost Halloween and I'm quite enjoying all the festive goings-on, including the harvest party at TWWIAGE last night. Good food, good wine, and good friends were all featured in bountiful amounts. Thankfully, the Moselland 2009 Zeller Schwarze Katz was not on the wine list.
To the superstitious out there, people who think that black cats are generally bad luck, I am here to reinforce your worst fears: do not let this black cat cross your path...or rather, your lips.
Black Cat Riesling, sweet and scary, just like Halloween itself.
I have been busy all week dropping dodgy looking Cabernet sauvignon grapes and removing leaves in the fruit zone to facilitate a headache free harvest. Prepping for harvest takes a bit of time, but it makes the actual picking of the crop go so much easier. In the course of stripping leaves from the bottom 8-10 inches of each shoot I came across this bird's nest, most likely that of a California Towhee.
Vinoland's Cabernet sauvignon is now cooling its heels as it waits patiently to be inoculated sometime tomorrow.
Vinomaker and I survived another harvest. Whoo hoo!
Harvest 2011...humph! Even the large, commercial wineries in the Napa Valley are having a bit of a struggle with mould this vintage. Cabernet sauvignon is quite susceptible to quite a few fungi most notably Botrytis cinerea however, the fruit in the above photograph is showing a rather vigorous crop of penicillium. Scary, they're large enough to cast their own shadows.
Fungi lack chlorophyll and need to live on other organisms to obtain nourishment, they are parasitic. Fungal diseases are known as 'secondary invaders' because they thrive on grapes that have been damaged by birds and bees, or grapes that have already had their overall health compromised by diseases such as powdery mildew (Uncinula necator). Wet weather, in the run up to harvest, often causes the worst cases of infection on already injured grapes, so because of the early fall rains 2011 may be a bumper year for fungi.
Of course yeast is a type of fungus, but it's also very important for fermentation. Wine made from spoiled berries is often tainted with smells and tastes like, well, mould. Lovely. But, it is problematic vintages like 2011 that seperate the winemaking men from the boys. Ferment on...
Concrete tanks as fermentors and aging vessels are not a totally unheard of trend in Napa winemaking, so I am not reporting anything new. However, it was only until this past week that I was able to get up close and personal to a clutch of 150 gallon egg shaped tanks at a local custom crush facility.
The Romans, some 2000 years ago, used concrete platforms on which to process grapes for winemaking and may have even used concrete tanks for fermenting wine. Clever chaps those Romans - look how they perfected the use of concrete for the unreinforced, coffered concrete dome of the Pantheon in Rome - just brilliant. To this day, there are wineries in the Napa Valley that have never used anything but concrete fermentors: just visit Mayacamas Vineyards during harvest to see their large concrete tanks in action.
Up until fairly recently, the majority of concrete tanks being used in the US were produced in France, Burgundy to be exact. Now, however, a California manufacturer using innovative technology has designed a superior egg with an improved concrete composition. Sonoma Cast Stone, a concrete company located in that other valley (in the town of Petaluma, coincidentally once known as the Egg Capital of the World), has true to American ingenuity, engineered a nifty new take on the egg. Any interested party can purchase an egg in one of eight designer colours. How Californian is that? The outfit has even added a pomace port for ease of cleaning which was a major complaint about the French-made eggs.
The pros and cons of fermenting in concrete? On the pro side; low temperature fermentations, elevated fruit notes, richer aromatics, and breathability. On the con side; excess aeration (breathability, anyone?), sanitation, and the possibility of contamination from spoilage microbes e.g.Brettanomyces. Perhaps laughably, a Monsieur Marc Nomblat, of the French firm ETS Nomblat SAS, has been quoted as saying "nobody had Brett problems with our concrete tanks." Titter, titter!
Vinomaker and I have not yet tried a wine that has been produced in a concrete fermentor, so we have no personal experience with the end result, although Chronic Cellars 2010 Stone Fox is on my radar.
This cute, little alien-like egg recently showed up at the winery where I am gainfully employed (henceforth to be known only as TWWIAGE). This egg is perhaps the most appealing piece of promotional material I have ever seen: it is certainly more engaging than the Boswell Company's French oak toothpicks. The hawkers of this little, elliptical wonder are onto something. I'd buy one!
A growing trend, it seems, is for winemakers to use the aforementioned eggs, or concrete tanks of various dimensions, as an alternative to stainless steel. I cannot see TWWIAGE switching from stainless steel, (when 85% of our white wines are barrel fermented and sur lie aged), to cement anytime soon - the approach to winemaking at TWWIAGE is rather traditional.
Not even a thimble full of wine could be fermented in this solid concrete marketing tool from Sonoma Cast Stone, but it would make a great paperweight. More to follow...
The soil is not white in Oakville, these mounds are large piles of fertiliser heaped around the edge of the Opus One vineyard waiting to be applied and disked in.
Whilst vineyard managers are primarily concerned with all things harvest at this time of year, they must also consider whether an application of fertiliser is necessary. Apparently, the people at Opus One who are responsible for the health of this particular vineyard have decided that a good dose of potassium sulphate (K2SO4) is in order. I am assuming that it is K2SO4: potassium chloride (KCl) is another form of of potassium fertiliser that could be used, but it should not be used in a vineyard that may perhaps have an existing salinity condition.
Late autumn or early winter is a good time to treat a vineyard as full advantage can be taken of winter rainfall to move the fertiliser down into the soil and on into the root zone. Seeing as this vineyard was ripped out last spring, perhaps due to some unnamed creepy crawly, this empty field is a clean slate on which a new and improved, and fertilised, vineyard can be planted.
At only 22 Brix, but fantastic flavours (and lots of juice), our Syrah fruit was detached from their Mother Vines today - perhaps slightly prematurely. But, when one is faced with the prospect of more rain, and ever decreasing opportunities for photosynthesis, a Vinogirl has to do what a Vinogirl has to do. Or, something like that!
The past two nights have seen the crew at Far Niente strip their vineyard bare of Chardonnay grapes...except for this one lonely cluster. Well, I'm sure there are more clusters abandoned deep within the rows and aisles of this vineyard, but I'm very particular about what items I anthropomorphise and this little, solitary, sad bunch of grapes is the item of my obsession right now.
Anyway, I wish the winemakers at Far Niente a happy fermentation.
Vinoland's Syrah is coming in tomorrow, whether it likes it or not.
Harvest 2011 began in Vinoland today. The Pinot gris must (a respectable 23.2 Brix) is now tucked up in the winery for the night. It is most likely resting and readying itself for an initial racking tomorrow that will separate the juice from the solids. We also brought in a tiny amount of Orange muscat. This is just fun stuff...the Cabernet franc is due to arrive on Thursday...yay!
It was a beautiful day to begin harvesting. With the temperature hovering around the 72 F mark lunch on the deck, after a busy morning, of a modified Caprese salad and garlic bread was just what the Vinomaker ordered. To drink? Wine? Nah, beer!
...well, not quite. This row really undulates rather than winds, but looking down this row, in the Far Niente vineyard, I couldn't get one particular song out of my head. More often than not, Beatles songs are the soundtrack to my everyday life thanks to my sister, La Serenissima, who placed them in my head subliminally. Well, them or The Ramones actually, (thank you Thud). Anyway, yesterday the hard working folks at Far Niente stripped all the lower leaves off their Chardonnay vines in preparation for harvest...or just to let the clusters dry out from our recent four day rain event. Humph!
Last year, the Far Niente Chardonnay was harvested on October 16th which happened to be the same day we picked Vinoland's Syrah. Fat chance of that this year!
This Chardonnay must had it's vital statistics taken; it was tested for Brix, pH and nitrogen (YAN) levels and, after being inoculated with a commercial yeast, it is now enthusiastically frothing through fermentation. The barrels on the other side of the aisle with a different yeast selection are, by comparison, staidly going about their business.
The Cross Evolution (CE) yeast being used, in this particular fermentation, is a hybrid yeast from a breeding programme at the Institute for Wine Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Here in the US, at the winery where I am gainfully employed, CE is selected for it's ability to increase mouthfeel/texture and enhance varietal characteristics in Chardonnay. But, perhaps more importantly, CE is chosen because it is tolerant of high potential alcohol (up to 15%, important for Napa wine) and can withstand fermentation temperatures as low as 58°F (important for a non-ML Chardonnay).
Vinomaker, unlike me, is quite a Chardonnay fan and was drooling, just as much as this bubbling barrel, at the thought of the finished 2011 wine.
With it's tall Rhine-style bottle, Starbucks logo-like bronze medallion adorned label, single vineyard designation, and Vino-lock closure I approached my glass of Robert Sinskey's 2009 Abraxas with no preconceptions. What I discovered was a wonderful grapefruity, floral, light to medium bodied wine with vibrant acidity. A blend of 43% Pinot Gris, 23% Riesling, 17% Gewurtztraminer, and 13% Pinot Blanc this Alsacesque wine was just the thing for a lazy Sunday evening.
V2 has really turned out to be a great dog; intelligent, quirky, cuddly, and very, very entertaining...she deserves a great birthday celebration. So, it's squeaky toys, biscuits and chews for her (and V1) and an adult beverage for myself and Vinomaker. Party on.