Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
We are approaching four years of being open, and will celebrate with a party on June 20th. Its hard to write the highlights of four years, the time spent in pursuing an undergraduate degree, in a few short paragraphs but these are the highlights.
It has gone quickly from about 150 cases when we first opened on the third Saturday in June of 2011 under a 10x10 canopy out between the vineyard blocks. Jane and I sat out behind a small bar and waited to see who would stop in. One of our first customers was Steve Beck who was gracious and complementary and lead to our first commercial placement. We got over our nervousness, learned to give good customer service and to welcome feedback. The first time Dan Rocca stopped by, we knew we had "made it" and having our wines on the shelf at Rocca's Market has been a point of pride. Attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival as a wine tent participant was memorable.
With the spring of 2012, we had our tasting patio poured to match our driveway, and hosted our first WSCV mixer at our new bar. We were involved in the local wine walks and had our wines at Rosie's at the Beach. Our vineyard management program picked up with the Athena's Vineyard and Soli Deo Gloria vineyards. Traveling in Provence we decided to make a Rose for 2012, and crafted our Enchante from Rose we harvested from the Athena's vineyard. Noah and Joan made the first meads and we introduced them to our customers.
Over the next years, we cellared and vinted our vintages, learning from each one and expanding our volume and the varietals along the way as we expanded our vineyard portfolio. We decided to be open both first and third weekends, and have built a loyal following, leading to this spring being open every weekend.
We've met many good people, have developed staff and colleagues who have helped us and have continued to upgrae our facility with recent renovations to our patio cover and expanded bar. We look forward to the future.
Drought is a very serious thing, and this past several months we have experienced the highest level of drought, level "D4" or "Exceptional" shown in the Dark Red, which up to last week covered 22% of the state. There are places in the Central Valley and near Paso Robles where wells are going dry, the earth is subsiding and in general it was looking like a dust bowl was coming. While we had not seen that level of problem yet in the Southern Santa Clara County, to the east of the notch in the coast which is Monterey Bay, we were starting to plan for it.
Agriculture under that dark red blotch is a multi-billion dollar industry, and employs thousands who feed a good part of the United States and supply nuts, fruits and vegetables to the rest of the world. The state of California and Federal agencies had constructed reservoirs and aqueducts over the last 100 yrs to alleviate the effects of periodic droughts, and up until 5 yrs ago it was pretty effective. At that time there was a change in policy that diverted the much of the stored water to support the "delta smelt" a small fish living in the Sacramento River Delta.
Without rains and good snowpack up in the Sierra it was looking like a very brutal year for agriculture, the people who work in it, and the consumers of local foods. Sending relief money to the farmers and workers does not replace their land, work and pride, though it may let them buy food from others, when they "fed a nation" in the past.
John Mellencamp's song "Rain on the Scarecrow" is probably the most poignant descriptor I can point to that describes my feelings about land. My family has had agriculture in our hertiage, since my great^8 (great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great) grandfather John Haynie apparently got off the "Margett and John in Northumberland Virginia, CA 1621 and was listed as a "planter". I've developed a link to the soil that was seemingly latent, an urge to get up at early hours and go out and husband the soil, taking pride in growing a crop, working with and in spite of nature to bring in a harvest.
While jane and I are not solely dependent on farming for our living, we do depend on the wine grapes we grow to make Lightheart Cellars wines and we've both worked many hours to establish our estate vineyard, and recondition the vineyards we manage, bringing their yields and quality up over time.
So its with elation that we celebrate the recent rains that starting this week on Wednesday have brought over 3 inches to us. The plot from the Santa Clara Valley Water District's Church Street Station shows the results of this past storm, bringing 1/3 of our normal rainfall in 3 days. The forecast is optimistic for the next day at least to continue to get more rains.
With 6 inches, we can make it through the season, we may have to use caution and conserve more than usual, but we'll have a crop. If we get another 3-10 inches we'll have abundance.
Gene Kelly ain't got nothin on us, we'll be out there dancing in the rain.
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.
This year's harvest and crush have been busy and shown us where we needed help and bigger tools. Coincidently our neighbor Willy Silva is divesting some of his big tools as he retires and leases out his Feed store on Santa Theresa. We had agreed to buy an old TCM forklift which is mid '80's vintage and we stopped in to finalize the deal with Willy, when we got to talking about his multiple trucks. Willy showed us that he had a 1995 C3500HD 16' flatbed which he had just put a new 454 motor into, that he was selling for basically the price of the motor. Jane lit up at the opportunity to buy a > $40k truck for a very reasonable price.
We've brought it home, and will be using it for moving wine and grapes in the coming years, so that our '06 Silverado 1500 can get a rest. With a payload of 8000 lbs the flatbed will be able to move 4x the load of the pickup, and save us time and fuel.
As we finish the pressing this weekend, we'll take a few days off, and then clean up the truck and forklift, get them outfitted with current safety gear including work lights and paint them to preserve our investment and show our Logo. Look for the Flatbed to be parked at the corner of Roosevelt and Monterey on weekends we are open, it's a great platform to hang a banner on.
Passport is the traditional big event in the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley Association. Its a weekend where most of the wineries are open and you can taste at any for the price of a single "passport' booklet. Wineries have food and music to make the day more fun.
This will be our fourth passport starting in Fall of '11, then Spring and Fall of '12. We've evolved our style over the time period, and will be featuring two bands playing "acoustic" music and may have some trays of pre-packaged sandwhiches to offer so we comply with county ordinances.
We expect to see our regular customers and hope to meet some new ones over the course of the two days. March 23 & 24.
Its not a weekend that's a big sales time, but its the fundraiser for the Winery Association and pays for the brochures, rack cards and maps we use all year.
Please stop by and tell us you read this .
Our hours are posted online as First and Third weekends. We put out signs and banners when we are open, so that people can find us. So when we are not open we don't expect to see customers.
Recently, we are not only getting phone calls asking if we are open, we are seeing people dropping by. It's flattering to have them seek us out, with no visible indication we might be open, and occasionally disconcerting to look out the living room window and see people at the bar.
Guess we are starting to do something out there, to get more attention. Jane and I are discussing the need for a gate, to be able to be "closed" as a 2013 need to do.
This week has been a rare vacation for us, a get away after crush to recover and rest. Of course, anyone who knows Jane and I would understand that to be a relative statement. We are taking time to sleep in, read, do puzzles and walk on the beach, while mostly unplugging from the electronic connections.
We are staying in Kaanapali on the West side of Maui, and in three days have already circumnavigated both volcanoes, driven the whole road to Hana & back, been to the Haleakala Crater for sunrise, started inquiries on real estate, and finishing yesterday at the Old Lahaina Luau.
Today we will start off with a hike down the beach, and then strap on the trusty Dodge rental car and go visit the Tedeschi Winery on the South Western slope. This winery has been here 30 yrs, and we are of course curious as to what a Hawaiian winery and vineyard would look like. The possibility of a future Lightheart Maui has been broached and while it would be years away, we will do due diligence and explore to satisfy both ourselves and the IRS's possible scrutiny.
Lightheart Cellars is a federally bonded estate winery with a winegrower 02 license. That means that we have vineyard and vintning operations on premises. There are other categories of winemaking, including alternating premises, where you share production areas, or only buying your fruit from growers, or even to sub contract it all out to a custom crush facility where all you supply is money and label artwork.
Doing it all, is perhaps the hardest way, to have responsibility for the whole process, what we call "soil to foil". While it does require a lot of time and energy, its the only way that we believe we can offer the best wine at the best price.
By farming ourselves, we are able to control the vineyard, to use viticultural practices that we prefer to make the crop what we want. We can prune, shoot thin and manage the canopy to achieve a balance of quantity/quality and cost, while using low impact & sustainable methods that we can feel good about at the end of the day. There is no great romance to being on a frozen tractor seat before dawn tilling up somebody else's back yard, but its a means of securing winegrapes that meet our needs and allow us to grow while ensuring that the fruit is grown to our specifications.
We could have just sent our fruit off to another facility, and hired out the winemaking. There are varietals such as sparking wines where that makes sense due to specialized equipment requirements. We chose instead to make our own, starting with hobby sized tools, and slowly upgrading as we could afford better, from one barrel in 2009 to ten in 2010, sixteen in 2011 and 40 in 2012.
Our production process is very labor intensive, Jane and I have both gone to bed tired, stained and weary from working more than 12 hours in a weekend day many times this crush season. For a pair of grandparents with graduate degrees, we are working pretty hard at physical labor, along with family and some part time hired help. Its a good feeling, to "get my back into your living" to quote The Who, but we are a long way from "Teenage Wasteland", though some of the casual help is right there.
We made some strategic investments, including a must pump and a rented forklift that vastly reduced the heavy lifting, but there were still 50 barrels to clean and place on racks, and 23 tons of fruit to shovel through the destemmer and then bucket into the presses.
And that is just the farming and winemaking.
Earlier this week, we attended the Annual meeting of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, a slightly raucous event where the budget was passed, the dues increase defeated and officers elected. And your author was not nimble enough to dodge faster, and was tagged as President for 2013. A little subsequent drama and I'm also acting President for the remainder of 2012, just because we don't have enough to keep us occupied, without chivvying a bunch of strong willed rugged individulists who own wineries.
Today we are re-arranging the furntiture inside & outside and cleaning up after a two day re-build of the patio cover roof by the same teen age field hands, using impact drivers on ladders instead of tractors in the field. Its been an interesting education for all, but the work is done, it looks good and the rain does not get through. We've roofed over the site of our future commercial kitchen, and are planning the pergolas for the grove adjacent to the patio, where we had the band for last Passport weekend.
This is the stuff they don't teach at Davis, or in any of the how to be a winemaker books.
"Crush" is the term winemakers use for Harvest, Its a very apropos, with connotations of the process and the energy, when the pace of events becomes overwhelming and the wineries are running flat out.
The pace depends on the weather for the year, if you've had near ideal growing conditions, the Burgundies come in late September, then the Merlot in Early October and the Cabernet and red Rhone's a bit later.
This year we had a bit of a warm spell in late September in the Santa Clara Valley and our Merlot is coming in nearly two weeks ahead of the Carneros Pinot and Chardonnay. With 4 days over 100F, our Syrah is being picked on Thursday 10/4 and we may be all done by 10/15. Compressing all of that picking into only three weeks is daunting when you have a day job.
Fortunately we have some good help, family and a developing cadre of part time younger neighbors and local pickers.
When you add in a major industry event the Semi Annual Passport, which is usually safely ahead of major harvest it makes for a very full schedule.
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