Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
White wines are generallty expected to be clear, a delight to the eye as well as the palate. The juice is pressed and even after settling, contains solids and yeast that form lees after fermentation completes. Our wine making style is to allow extended contact with the lees, until first racking, and then to work to clarify the wine for bottling.
Tradtionally this is done by gently rackjng the wine from container to container, each racking leaving behind more. Since some of the sediment is microscopic, and remains suspended, the technique of fining has evolved to accelerate clarification. Fining involves introducing an inert agent into the wine that will agglomerate tiny particles into larger ones by electrostatic attraction and/or chemically bind to unwanted compounds.
Depending on the wine, and the desired outcome there are several agents that could be used. We typically use Bentonite and PVPP. Bentonite is a very fine clay, we use it to bind proteins that would otherwise show up as a haze, especially if the wine was allowed to warm. PVPP is a very fine powder of Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, an inert plastic, which agglomerates fine particles to itself and is then filtered out or precipitates as the particles clump.
Typical usage is in the range of a 1/2 gram per liter, and we run fining trials to determine the best rate, balancing clarity and flavor modulation, as too aggressive a fining can strip the wine of its aroma. This involves preparing a series of samples and introducing Bentonite and/or PVPP to obseve the results. With seven whites this year a ten way matrix involves a table full of 375ml bottles. A few days of standing and we then run the wine through a simple multiple coffee filter to emulate our production filter and evaluate to select the best treatment.
After determining which to add, we will mix into the aging tanks, and then filter while racking to to leave the wine ready to bottle.
Its been a while, since the last blog entry, we've taken a wee bit of a respite from farming too as is typical this time of year, and focused on family and winemaking. Our 2013 harvest was big, beautiful and we've barreled it down to age. Winemaking has focused on malolactic fermentation before the turn of the year, while bottling of more meads, a reserve barrel of our Merlot Zinfandel "Eroika", and Rosè of Zinfandel "Serendipity" rounded out January. We hope to release the Serendipity in February as it comes out of bottle shock.
We finished up after harvest with vineyard ripping, tilling and seeding a cover crop and then have been doing weed management under the wire while the vines are dormant. Our field crew is out doing pre-pruning, the last weeks and the much needed rain has delayed the start of final pruning, to avoid Eutypa problems. We try to prune starting in February on the hillside at Soli Deo Gloria in West Gilroy and then work through the Chirala & Behlmer Vineyards and finish up on the flat at Coop, Estate and Athena's Vineyard to minimize frost risks. We hope to have budbreak and shoot growth after the last hard frost of the season. With this years drought, its especially concerning as we want to get the vines growing while we have cooler weather and need to balance risks.
Today's rain, a steady soaking at 0.07 in/hr on the estate weather station will go a long way to moving the cover crop along and keeping the vines healthy. We will need to irrigate earlier if we don't get our normal 10 inches of rain by April 1st, and there is concern that the reservoirs are low and that wells may go dry. Each vineyard has a well to support it, but they all pull from the local acquifer, and if it runs too low we will have to adjust.
On a cheerier note, we were gratified to win a silver medal for our "Lioness" blend at the SF Chronicle Competition, and to have our 2012 Cabernets from both Soli Deo Gloria and Athena's vineyards score high marks at the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley panel blind tasting. The new wines are well received by those who taste them and we're happy to bring them out. At the Barrel tasting yesterday we had several cases of futures sold, and over a hundred people come through the winery.
This weekend was tranquil at Lightheart Cellars, we were closed and were able to spend time with our family and enjoy a traditional feast. Hoopefully you wre able to spend time with those you love as well. Tranquil is of course a relative term when you have a winery, and projects to accomplish.
We sourced an additional tank and 20 barrels we needed to age the additional 5000l of wine we finished up with, including Joan driving the flatbed up to Sonoma to fetch the barrels. Preparing the barrels is a sequence of soaking with an oxidizing cleaner, then rinsing and soaking with Suflites and Citric Acid to prepare them for use. As is typical there's one or two that leak and need to be tightened up with the hoop driver. We will transfer the wine over the next weeks and store it away for the winter.
Additional projects include painting the forklift and building a re-usuable windscreen for the tasting room, with a startup of farming as well. With the first rains its time to get the vineyards ripped, tilled and seeded with cover crops.
Our fourth commercial crush, and its been a big stretch. Last year we harvested and processed about 20 tons of fruit from 6 vineyards, selling a little here and there to home winemakers and trading for some cabernet. This year we harvested 64 tons and processed over 40 from 8, selling to home winemakers and several commercial wineries, all with the same basic crush equipment our 4 year old hobby model destemmer, a few pumps and the two Speidel 180l bladder presses.
We harvested Alicante, Barbera, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Colombard, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Merlot (3 vineyards), Mourvedre, Petite Sirah (2 Vineyards), Rousanne, Syrah (3 vineyards), Tempranillo and bought Pinot (2 clones) and Chardonnay from Carneros.
Our only capital addition this year was a variable speed pump, easing barrel filling as it has a remote control that lets a person stand at the barrel and manage the pump, freeing up a body to do something else other than man the switch.
We started harvest on Sept 6 on the Athena's Vineyard Merlot and picked our last fruit Petite Sirah from the Chirala Vineyard on the morning of October 6th. Overall is about 3 weeks earlier than last year due to warmer weather during the spring and summer. At times we had three crews working in separate vineyards, and had to rent a flatbed truck and extra RTV to keep up.
Seeing a 16 man professional labor crew from Quality farm labor picking 8 tons in 4 hours was a bit daunting, they literally were picking faster than we could load the 1000 lb bins onto the flat bed for a while.
It was all assisted and made possible by good help; our employees who worked to support the pick crews, our intern Filipe who's looking at post high tech business choices, and of course the pickers. A hearty thanks to all, looking back it seems a blur, moving equipment, bins and people around the south county in the dark to setup for picks and driving fruit to Bonny Doon and Watsonville.
We are finishing up pressing over the next weeks, with our wines having had a prolonged maceration & soak and slower fermentation by intention. This year Jane is trying to limit the maximum temperatures to preserve more of the aromatics, so the reduced amount of yeast takes longer to convert the sugars to alcohol as it has to reproduce more generations, and the heat released is spread out over a longer time.
We've had to restack our barrels to fit all of the new wines, going to a pyramid or hexagonal stacking, where the barrels are sitting in alternating positions as shown on the left. We need the extra space as we crushed about 80 barrels worth this year and have a 600 sq ft space to fit it all. Sort of like playing Tetris with 500lb blocks at racking time. had to restack our barrels to fit all of the new wines, going to a pyramid or hexagonal stacking, where the barrels are sitting in alternating positions as shown on the left. We need the extra space as we crushed about 80 barrels worth this year and have a 600 sq ft space to fit it all. Sort of like playing Tetris with 500lb blocks at racking time.
Doing this sort of thing in your late 50's is that duality of being amazed that you can, and amazed/resentful that you need to, It really has highlighted the amount of brute labor needed, to move bins, shovel fruit and toss barrels around.
Fortunately we will be buying a used forklift that might actually be able to fit into the barrel room. Our neighbor to the west is shutting down his feed store and has an old Navy Surplus lift truck, Its not pretty, but we can fix that easy enough with some paint and a new seat. Rumors of "Lightheart Pink" have been floated. (see racks above)
As we wrap up Crush, and our aches fade, we'll have the satisfaction of lots of new wines to cellar and bring to release. We're very excited about the new varietals, and the vineyards we have been tending are coming up in quality and yield.
This year we are preparing to crush 40 tons, or about twice what we did last year. We will be also harvesting another 20 tons for other wineries and home wine makers. To give a scope to that number, a ton of wine grapes is about the volume of a long bed pickup. We will pick, sort and destem those grapes, punch down the reds and then press them all into barrels and tanks.
From our first commercial crush in 2010, where we made a ton each of Chardonnay, Colombard, Pinot, Merlot and two of Cabernet, we have come a long way.
Some of the varietals will be blended, but we have a lot more flavors to work with in the coming vintage.
Our venerable basket press is no longer in use, with two Spiedel bladder presses, though our original destemmer is still in the plan, along with shovels. We picked up an additional 10 fermenters, to give us the ability to ferment 24 tons concurrently, and we will be punching that down twice a day. Along with the vineyards that we have taken on, we have a barn to work in, where we have a bit more space to do the crush and fermenting.
Its been quite a ride so far, from just about 3 yrs ago deciding to start a winery, after making a few gallons of estate Chardonnay, to crushing 23 tons from 7 vineyards this season. As we have tried, erred and learned we have made better wines, better decisions and had improved results, though some lessons had to be learned twice.
Since this is the season when it is traditional to reflect upon your blessings, and to express thanks, in keeping with that, I'll give it a shot.
I am thankful first, continually and ultimately for my partner Jane. Her warmth and serenity coupled with dogged determination have been critical factors in our decision to initiate, and continue Lightheart Cellars. She embodies the brand, her approach to life and people is what we have tried to capture in our wine, simply put by our tag line: "good wine, good times".
After Jane, comes the family support, from Noah and Joan with the meadmaking and assistance during crush and tasting hours, to our granddaughter Casandra who has manned the corker and helped shovel tons of grapes while a petite "slip of a girl". Their help has been key to making our wines and presenting them.
Our east coast family has been supportive and as they have been able, physically helpful, our two younger sons Matt and Carl and Amy have all lent their help as they could.
We have had the benefit of good work from our field crew Alex and Derek, who are learning the value of reliable labor the hard way, most of the time cheerfully, and our pickers, Miguel, Antonio, Lasaro, Angel, Hugo, and the others who brought in the crop, sometimes in >100F weather and were smiling at the end of the 9 hr days.
Our competitors have been more collegial then competitive, offering help, tools and advice as needed and supporting us by referring people to our wines when they might be a better fit. We appreciate their support as that of our trade customers, Rocca's Market, Rosy's at the Beach, the Ladera and Westside Grills.
Most recently we have reason to appreciate our new representative Darlene, of ClassicArtisanWines, whom we are hoping will take our sales upwards on our path of growth.
Our many vendors who have patiently worked to educate and serve us deserve recognition as well, Nancy of Bryan Equipment, Mike of C & N Tractors and the glass, cork and label suppliers who have helped us get our product to you.
And finally our customers, who started with us in a 10x10ft tent, and have stayed as we have grown, supporting us with their purchases and positive appreciation for our wines. We wouldn't and won't make it without you, and we appreciate your choice to share your table with us.
Yesterday Jane and I attended the "Grape and Gourmet" event at the California Expo Fairgrounds. (State fair by any other name). We picked up our first two awards; a Gold for the Carneros Pinot and a Bronze for the Cienega Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and then poured for the attendees.
An interesting event, mix of 200 wineries and Sacramento restaurants in a large concrete floored exhibition hall. We learned a lot about what to bring to the next event of this type, and had good reception of our wines, though being 150 miles away, its unlikely we'll see much business.
Its been nearly a year since Lightheart Cellars opened quietly on June 18th, 2011 with 160 cases of inventory. We simply put out signs on Monterey Highway and waited for the crowds. The steady business since has been gratifying, some weekends more than others as weather and calendar progressed. Participating in the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Morgan Hill Wine Stroll and getting more requests for donations, we are feeling like we have arrived.
PHysically we have gone from tasting in a 10x12 canopy, to a 10x20 fabric enclosure over the winter and now have a 50x25' stamped concrete patio, where we are building a 16x20 hard shade structure over the bar this week to get ready for the anniversary and Pinot Release party. This year we've bottled 380 cases, added Alderin's Mead to our offerings and have expanded our vineyard management from 1 1/2 to 13 1/2 acres. Thats a lot of growth to manage and we've been working hard to keep up with it.
Jane and I took three weeks off in May to visit vineyards and wineries in Europe, partly as a long overdue vacation, and partly to see how the "old world" vineyards are run with the same varietals we have. It was very interesting, and we've some ideas of what we want to do in our practice. Coming home to the winery running smoothly by Jane's son Noah and his friend Joan was gratifying.
We are looking forward to releasing more wines this year, harvesting a lot more grapes, and to building our brand and business, further serving our community.
We've been documenting the fun of a startup business which depends on the whims of nature and customers. Jane and I are having fun while working our tails off, finding reserves we didn't think were still there in our late 50's. Its a process of effort, reward and realization.
The weekend of the 14th we bottled 340 cases of our wines; > 100 Colombard, ~60 Chardonnay, ~60 Pinot, 25 Mead, 16 Viognier, and 75 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot isn't quite ready to bottle and we're thinking about some blends and additional Meads. These should be ready to release in late May or early June, to augment our rapidly diminishing stock. It was a balancing act to make it through nearly a year based on our initial inventory, and to date, we've only run out of the Santa Cruz '07 Pinot, taking the last case for the library.
Our '10 Pinot from Carneros will be even better, based on barrel sampling, so we're happy to get it out and share. The '10 Colombard and Chardonnay continue to sell well and we'll work a bit harder to place them locally when the '11's release as they are quite distinctive. Our '11 reds are aging and ready for racking soon, and we'll get a first look at the wines and how they are developing.
All of this and we're busy in the fields too. Its just the start of spraying season, and we're still mowing and tilling to keep weeds and cover crops down. At an 2 acres an hour, that's a lot of "tractor butt" for an old guy, but it's worth the aches to see the vines respond. Our tasting and baking associate Joan Funk is also interning on the tractor, and will be assuming some of the responsibilities midweek, to reduce the evening and weekend frenzy.
Of course when it rains it pours; this few weeks we've had not one but two couples that want us to consult/help/install a vineyard for them. We're looking at the sites this week and will see what the possibilities are.
The first day of passport we had dire forecasts, initially for the night before and all day of rain. While rain is welcome and much needed, it would be preferable to not have it during the celebration. Our bands were worried, as we have outside tasting, and we assured them we would leave cancellation to their discretion.
We did our best buying addtional canopies, and Saturday dawned dry, but overcast. We put up the canopies, tied them together and then the band cancelled while I was out mowing vineyards and moving the tractor between. It seemed a bit odd, because at that moment I had removed jacket and was standing in bright sun.
Returning home, the preparations were underway, and there were actually people waiting in their cars for 1100 opening. Chef Eichelberger was working his magic in the kitchen, Joan Funk of Sweetzbydesign was making chocolates with our Cabernet and all went well.
We did a brisk business, and then received word that the band was un-cancelling, followed shortly by their arrival and two great sets, between 1 and 4, when it finally did start to sprinkle.
Many compliments on the wines, the food, music and people were having a great time.
We closed the day out with the 4:30 pm arrival of a 20 passenger excursion limo, full of NASA folks who were gracious, erudite and had an appreciation for the Mead sample that Noah had brought out. Who knew that "Rocket Scientists" were the market for that ?
A great day. We had dinner at Rosy's to celebrate and got a bonus of 1/2 in of rain between dinner and dawn Sunday.
March 11, 2016
September 18, 2015
July 7, 2015
May 28, 2015
May 23, 2015
January 7, 2015
November 2, 2014
October 5, 2014
August 27, 2014
June 6, 2014
- November 2014 (1)
- October 2014 (1)
- August 2014 (1)
- June 2014 (1)
- April 2014 (3)
- March 2014 (1)
- February 2014 (3)
- November 2013 (2)
- October 2013 (1)
- September 2013 (2)
- August 2013 (3)
- June 2013 (1)
- May 2013 (2)
- April 2013 (2)
- March 2013 (2)
- February 2013 (4)
- January 2013 (3)
- December 2012 (4)
- November 2012 (5)
- October 2012 (4)
- September 2012 (4)
- August 2012 (3)
- July 2012 (1)
- June 2012 (2)
- May 2012 (1)
- April 2012 (3)
- March 2012 (3)
- February 2012 (4)
- January 2012 (6)