Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
A nice title, it has connotations of boardrooms, nice business attire and reviewing operational results with investors. Or perhaps in our usuage its a bit different. While I am still involved in the Finance, (had to use that MBA for something) I spend a great deal more time as the "Farming" officer. Today was a typical example, finishing up the pruning at Soli Deo Gloria Vineyard, a bright pleasant day, amidst the splendor of the South County.
Pruning at our scale is a very hands on practice, even with mechanical pre-pruning, a person still has to walk the rows, and cut every cane, deciding on how many buds to leave and which canes are the keepers. By budbreak in March, I'll have touched every vine in the 13.5 acres and made over 300,00 cuts on 12,000 vines over 13 miles of cordon. Its taking me about 6-7 hours an acre, depending on the style of trellising, and the vigor of the vines, so that's about 100 hours of time contemplating nature up close and personal.
Neighboring vineyards are starting to prune as well, and its interesting to see the different styles of trellising emerge from the canes, and to note the different practices, whether they collect canes for burning, or shred in row and till them in. Since my farming office is only filled on weekends this time of year, the changes come in jumps, where last week the vines were shaggy, and this week they are all groomed, its pretty impressive what a multiple man crew can do working 5 days a week.
Jane and I have realized that we need to probably add to our tools, as just the task of inspecting the irrigation on the bigger vineyards (8 miles of wire) will take something moving at better than walking speed that can carry spares. I may start on my mountain bike, but suspect we will end up with one of these. The alternative is an ATV, but at our age, the idea of riding powersport toy vs driving something more like a small pick up is not as appealing.
We've just returned from the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium at the Sacremento Convention Center. As with many conferences, its a mix of technical sessions, vendor visits, networking and even some good times. We enjoyed ourselves, and took in quite a bit.
The main theme was winemaking under challenging conditions; from the vineyard to the cellar, and even to the retail channel. Speakers from New York, Oregon and Washington addressed the issues of rain at harvest, and how to deal with resulting fruit that may not be as pristine as you would prefer, and yet still make great wines.
The message was simple, plan, react and "cover your ground", get the appropriate spraying, leaf stripping and thinning done while it matters, and then harvest your best fruit first. We were fortunate that our Chardonnay and Pinot growers the Thomson Vineyards of Carneros were keeping an eye on the forecast and were proactive for last years early rains at the end of a cool season. Jennifer relates in their blog how she was running all over Napa and Sonoma seeking chemicals and field crews and they got the leaves off the Chardonnay and sprayed early before the rain hit, so we saw only a very small amount of Boytritis, which we were able to sort out at the winery.
In our Santa Clara Valley Merlot program, the Mazotti Vineyards were faced withcustomers who didn't want the fruit as the Brix was only 22 degrees. We were happy to get the really clean, ripe grapes, and they subsequently asked us to take the rest of the crop before the birds got it, so we now have a few more barrels of their great Merlot, some with Zinfandel and the rest as a pure varietal aging for 2013 release.
Trade Show Highlights:
While the 20,000 lb 20' tall grape harvesters are always fun to look at, we spent our time talking to more mundane vendors. We're sourcing glass, corks, foils and labels for our upcoming April bottling, and looking at the farming tools that will allow us to better "cover our ground" now that it's expanded to 13.5 acres under management. There are always new "magic" implements to look at and decisions to make on what is worth the investment. We stopped by the booths of several of our current vendors, and got information on their updates, and were pleased that there is an organic fertilizer company who has a warehouse just established about a mile away. There were some interesting developments in trellis hardware that should allow us to retrofit catch wires to the bigger vineyards at modest effort and expense and we got the usual "bags of swag" from all of the booths, it's fun to go to Safeway with a mix of wine industry bags to carry out.
This is sort of like the image of the duck that looks calm and smooth on the surface but is paddling like crazy underneath. The vines are dormant and ready for pre-pruning and pruning, the wine is either sitting in barrels waiting until bottling time, or in bottles ready for sale, and there is the illusion of a post-holiday lull in the work of the winery. But underneath is the work of planning out the next year, and where we stand in the roughly 3 years cycle of grapes to bottle. Barrels are being tested and tasted, oak added, and plans for bottles labels and corks are being finalized for Spring bottling. Appointments are being made with restaurants and wine bars, and flyers are strting to 'fly' for wine walks, passports and other events that count on the local wineries for support. In the vineyards, soil is being tested and amended, cover crops planted, and a spraying schedule is being developed.
This is our first January in business, and we spent many hours organizing our files and inventory for filing Federal and California State required forms, and of course, paying fees. As we organized our inventory (on paper) to submit the various forms, it gave us the opportunity to look ahead to the upcoming year and start planning Lightheart Cellars' year ahead.
About a year ago we had discussions on managing a vineyard in Gilroy, but the new owners didn't have water rights and it was not a good risk to undertake so we passed. This year, they have water installed, and have asked again. We agreed to manage the vineyard and have started pruning.
It's 8 acres of Merlot and Cab Franc, and will fit into our Bordeaux based varietals well.
A necessary part of running a business is doing paperwork. In the wine business, that includes reports for the various levels of government.
We just filed our annual statement of winery operations, which begets the Federal Excise tax payment, which begets the State Winegrower tax return (State excise).
We are also filing the state wine grape crush report and as needed sales taxes.
Its not too odious, but it does require review of records, and compilation of some statistics. When we'd rather be out in the cellar, making wines.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2). Perhaps Shakespeare's famous quote is true, and yet there's power and value in a name. Nothing is more intrinsically defining than a name, which is why parents invest a lot of energy in selecting names for children.
Our winery is the result of both planning and serendipity, and the choice of a name was a bit of both. We needed a name to file the business license and applications for county, state and federal alcohol permits, and as that would be on the label, it was important to have it right, to convey our values, aspirations, and dreams.
We wanted to imbue Lightheart Cellars with the attributes of abundance, joy, and spirit, and also to have a unique and memorable name that was mellifluous. We agreed on Light and Heart as aspects of those attributes, and concatenating them was obvious. Cellars is a classic expression of a winery, the place where grapes are converted to poetry.
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