Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shedding some light on night harvesting.

Whilst walking the Vinodogs this evening after work, I noticed that the folks at Far Niente had decided to night harvest their Chardonnay vineyard that's closest to Vinoland. So, before I ran off to my evening class at NVC, I stopped to take a photograph of the preparations, portable lights in place and half ton picking bins just out of the shot.
Night harvesting can simply be a logistical issue, but mainly it ensures that the fruit arrives at the winery at the coolest possible temperature for processing, thus maintaining varietal characteristics and requiring less time and energy to chill the juice in the tank.
I love this time of year.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Biological tinkering.

How did you spend your Sunday? Mine was spent field-budding root stocks over to Cabernet sauvignon, Pinot gris and Syrah.
Unfortunately, there are unexpected casualties each year in a vineyard. Last year it was seemingly the mission of Vinodog 2 to prematurely dispatch a few plants to vine-heaven and it was primarily these that I was grafting today. However, there were also some gopher casualties and a couple of deaths from unknown causes.
The photograph on my post about field-budding last year (Sept. 20th), showed the taped up graft. This year I decided to show the graft, sans grafting tape. You can see that the bud is a pretty close fit on the trunk of the rootstock. This is very important as the cambiums of the donor and host should match perfectly to ensure that the non-specific cells in the vines will ultimately become cambium cells, and that the trunk will accept the chip bud. I won't know if the grafts were successful until next April or so.
My knees ached a little bit from all the getting up and down, but all the aches were forgotten after a cold Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA. I fared better than poor Ron Combo, who from now on will be buying wine it seems, rather than helping with its production.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What's Lincoln doing in the drink?

One of the main reasons for Vinomaker wanting to make Chenin blanc this year was a challenge from a fellow winemaker to participate in a 2009 'ferment-off'. This winemaker had given us a bottle of his 2008 Chenin blanc to drink and also the contact information for the grower. We chilled the wine down. It seemed nice at first, well balanced acid, nice fruity esters and then, as it warmed up, bam! Cabbage!
My tasting descriptors tend to be of the first thing that comes to my mind and this time, like one of the veggies in a good Sunday roast, cabbage it was. Vinomaker got more bad eggs than cabbage, so he initially identified the problem as H2S, or more seriously methyl mercaptan. H2S produces smelly, odoriferous sulphur compounds that may have developed in the wine because of poor fermentation practices. Time for the old copper penny routine.
A United States one cent piece, pre-1982, is 95% copper...drop one into a stinky wine and The Great Emancipator frees the bonds of sulphurous servitude and undesirable compounds. The metal in the coin reacts with the H2S in the wine, converting it into insoluble copper sulphide. It is rather rapid chemistry and what it usually means is that the previously stinky wine is now drinkable.
However, that was not the end of this little malodorous matter, the wine had actually moved beyond that and the problem was one of the compound methyl mercaptanVinomaker, where are you?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves.

Speaking of photosynthesis...there won't be much of it happening in my vegetable patch if the attack of the killer Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta) isn't thwarted in some way.
I have had a spectacular crop of fruit this year from many different varieties of tomatoes including heirloom and plum tomatoes. This not so little hornworm has contrived to make my 'Early Girl' tomato vine it's home and dining room. The cheek of it!
I first became aware of it's presence when I spotted a bumper crop of caterpillar turds in my veggie patch, directly below where I espied it nonchalantly chomping away on the tomato plants foliage. Charming! Tobacco hornworm indeed, even it's name is disgusting.
The hornworm is now languishing in a large specimen jar, (albeit with a supply of more tomato leaves for sustenance.) Let's see if it can chomp its way out of that little pickle.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lovin' Spoonful.

C6H12O6 is the simple fructose molecule. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), transports chemical energy derived from photosynthesis within the cells of grape leaves and converts it into sugar.
Today, we tested the sugar in our Syrah grapes for the first time this year. Using a hand-held optical instrument called a refractometer that measures the percentage of soluble solids in plant juice, we measured the grape sugar content in a random sample taken out in the vineyard. We got a reading of 21.8 °Brix. °Brix (°B) is a scale that is used to measure the percentage of sugar in grape juice.
Many growers still rely on sugar readings to decide when their grapes are ripe. However, sugar readings are only one indicator of grape maturity. There are other qualitative and quantitative evaluations that can best predict the optimal time of harvest. Amongst these are; the softening of the berries, the detachment of skin from pulp, brown seeds and stems, the analysis of pH and titratable acidity (TA).  Oh, and taste. Under-ripe, herbaceous flavours are personae non grata in Vinoland, but a °B reading of 24.5 or better is always welcome.
C6H12O6, the inclusion of which in grape juice makes a finished wine so appealing...and the exclusion of which in diet drinks makes Diet Coca-Cola so unappealing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Yesterday a crew of Far Niente workers passed through their Chardonnay vineyard, located near Vinoland, clearing the basal leaves from the vertical fruit-bearing shoots. This particular vineyard operation exposes the fruit so that it is easier to remove from the vine.
More and more wineries are experimenting with night harvesting these days, the fruit is still cool when it arrives at the winery for processing and the vineyard workers don't get so fatigued in the heat of the day. I half expect that when I take the Vinodogs for a stroll tomorrow the vines will be naked.
I have no idea what clone this Chardonnay is, I am only familiar with clones 4 and 76, but I would hazard a guess at this being clone 76 because of the smallness of the clusters...but I can stand to be corrected. Whatever clone it is I am positive that the folks at Far Niente are very pleased with the crop this year as it looks superb and plentiful compared with the frost troubled crop of 2008. Hats off to their vineyard manager.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Coals to Newcastle.

Harvest has begun in Vinoland. Earlier today Vinomaker and I picked our little crop of Pinot gris and Orange muscat, but that was after a brief road trip. Vinomaker, always anxious to try something new, had contracted to buy some Chenin blanc grapes and so at the crack of dawn we headed off into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to collect our fruit.
An extensive system of earthen levees, creating low lying tracts and islands separated by sloughs, have enabled wide-spread farming throughout the delta. Its peat soil makes it perhaps one of the most fertile agricultural areas in California, contributing billions of dollars to the states economy: That includes our donation of $1200 a ton for the Chenin blanc. We passed by expansive fields of tomatoes, sprawling pear orchards, swaths of golden feed corn, and vast sea-like plantings of alfalfa replete with marauding, rapacious great blue herons.
We drove through the delta towns of Rio Vista, Isleton, Ryde, Walnut Grove, and Locke (the term town is used loosely here), finally arriving at our destination: Courtland, elevation 5'...yes, it is extremely flat out there. The Chenin blanc had already been picked and we just had to load it up and take the berries back to Napa (apparently we have a shortage of grapes in Napa!)
Evidently everybody else in the delta was harvesting that morning too, and not just grapes. We were at one point delayed behind a couple of giant, dual-gondola trucks brimming over with tomatoes and cucumbers, which resembled a colossal mobile Greek salad (albeit sans feta.) At least it did to Vinogirl, who like the herons, had began to work up an appetite.
Returning to Vinoland there was just enough time for a quick cup of Earl Grey and a handful of Cadbury's Chocolate Animals before Vinomaker cracked the whip and the processing of the grapes began.
Happy harvest 2009 everyone!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some rain must fall.

Someone should remind Mother Nature that it is September in California! Summer rain? Whoever heard of such a thing?
I shouldn't complain, it hasn't rained since the beginning of May, but the Vinodogs are bored and I had vineyard activities planned for today. Ho hum.
It's not all bad; it smells great outside, the thunder and lightning accompanied breakfast was fun, and the grapevines have had a quick shower and photosynthesis may be aided and abetted by the nice clean leaves.
Now where did I leave my wellies four months ago?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Labour Day.

Happy Labor Day!
For those of you who had a leisurely, unofficial last day of summer, I hope you enjoyed it. I laboured all day at the winery...but that's OK, I had fun and I got paid!
I just wanted to remind everyone that September is California Wine Month. Arnie wants you to get out there and support the Californian wine industry.
C'mon folks...go forth, partake of the Golden States' wines and keep Vinogirl in gainful employment.
Thank you!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Happy Blogday.

It is one year today since I started blogging. The photograph on my first blog was a close up of yeast cells. Fascinating stuff eh? Well, yes it is and it just so happens that Vinomaker got a delivery of an exciting selection of oenological yeasts yesterday from the kind people at Scott Laboratories.
Vinomaker likes to make a variety of wines; Cabernet sauvignon, Viognier, Cabernet franc etc. Every harvest the fruit arrives and many decisions must be made, yeast selection is perhaps one of the most important. The Rhone 4600 in the left of the photograph is the yeast that he will be using to produce a Marsanne for 2009. However, the yeast he is most excited about is the RP15, second from the right, which he will use to ferment the Syrah grapes grown by yours truly. This is a newly available yeast isolated from spontaneous fermentations by Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars. RP15 has low to moderate nitrogen demand, is alcohol tolerant up to 17%, and will show "bright cherry components, dark colour and sweet tannins"...everything you want in a yummy Syrah. I can't wait.
I just want to say a quick thank you to those who regularly comment on Vinsanity. It is always a pleasure to read your comments and I am very appreciative of your input.
Roll on year 2!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Je t'aime Rosé.

Vinomaker, our friend Sky King, and I decided to have an impromptu rosé tasting tonight.
It is a testament to living in one of the better known wine regions of the world that such a tasting can be pulled together with just a moments notice. There are not many places on the planet that you could do such a thing, but thankfully there is a large assortment of varietals available to the oenophile here in Napa. The selection of wines was quite diverse; two French, one Spanish, one from Oakville, and the last from a vineyard just a stones throw from where we were sitting. It was a very interesting tasting.
I have always loved rosés, ever since I was a teenager, and have never quite understood why they haven't been more popular, until recently that they are quite trendy. My favourite was the French one in the front of the photograph. It was quite a mongrel really, in view of it being a blend of 6 different varietals. I suppose just like my choice in poochies, a blend can be best in show.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Holy wine.

Whilst my family OTW has jetted off to Lucca for a mini-holiday, school is back in for me and I won't be going anywhere, anytime soon...least of all Tuscany. So, to put myself in their holiday spirit, I decided to have some Vin Santo after dinner.
The best known of Italy's sweet wines, the grapes from which Vin Santo is made, are left to dehydrate for months after harvest to concentrate the sugar content. The grapes can either be red or white, but white is more typical. It is found all over regulation-crazed Italy ( it is called Vino Santo in Trentino-Alta Adige), but mainly Tuscany. The wine is then aged in barrels, up in attics, to produce a madeira-like effect, developing oxidised characteristics, with complex aromas and flavours. Vin Santo should be at least 3 years old, 4 years for a riserva, and may be sweet or dry.
One small glass was not really a sufficient amount to transport me to some medieval, walled city, but it was enough to distract me from my Humanities homework.