Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
Harvest, its a season that I've come to view a bit differently over the last years. When we first moved to CA, the lack of a noticeable Autumn when compared to New England was a bit disappointing. The days get shorter and its a bit cooler, but there's no clear sense of "Fall".
Working in vineyards, you do get that chronograph. The vines go from summer growth, to veraison and senesence, the berries swell, color and develop sugar and flavors. We have started our harvest last weekend, with the picking of Coop vineyard's many white varietals. We are not sure what there are, just that there are quite a few different ones, the original owner is passed, and there's no documentation. Shoveling the fruit through the destemmer, you see tiny golden berries, large round ones and the flavor variation is intriguing. This will be our first harvest of these vines, and we will fashion a field blend, incorporating our estate Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. All we know is that all of the vines were white and within about a mile of each other. It will be an interesting experiment to see what we get, and an interesting marketing challenge to find a fanciful name for it.
Our red vineyards are coming along, we are taking weekly Brix readings, from 6 vineyards, of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Petit Syrah, Syrah and a mystery red at Coop, as well as our venerable Colombard at Behlmer vineyard in West Gilroy.
We are planning to harvest Soli Deo Gloria's Merlot this weekend, and we will make a rosé as well as a red from it, we recall the Coté de Provence rosé wines from our European trip fondly.
From here to November, it gets really busy, we have been insulating more space to put the barrels, checking field equipment and ordering more fermenters and pick bins in preparation.
One of the necessary items for making wine is a container to do it in. We use French Oak barrels by preference, and choose to buy used ones and supplement with convection toasted oak inserts, as its both more economical and allows us to tailor the oak exposure.
Since we buy the barrels used, they are empty when purchased, and may have been empty for a while. Usually that is no issue, if they have been gassed or had sulphur burned inside every 6 weeks or so. However if they have been left empty and were allowed to sit outside in the hot sun, then they can start to dry out. This results in the seams opening up.
Not per se a huge issue, its the experience of every Northern wooden boat owner that their craft will leak in the spring when re-launched until it swells up. And so it is with barrels. We soak them, depending on the leak rate by simply filling, or if they are particularly weepy, by sitting in a bath of water to allow them to take up the moisture they need.
Occasionally a barrel will sit long enough that the hoops become slack, and that is where the new tools and skills come in. We've ordered a "hoop driver" and cooperage supplies to allow us to tighten the hoops which hold the staves. The supplies include wedges and splies which fill in leakage paths and also coopers nails which hold the hoops in place.
I'm looking forwards to re-working the few barrels that seem to need some attention and learning another archaic skill.
Both Jane and I have "day jobs" which provide the bulk of our income and underwrite Lightheart Cellars establishment and expansion at a rate that exceeds our organically available funding. From time to time they take precedence. Such was the case last week, when I needed to be in Dallas for four days. On the weekend prior, we had toured the vineyards and taken samples, and Jane had noted the bird pressure was higher in the two big ones that she was comfortable with.
So we ordered more nets from Nancy Sweet at http://www.bryanbins.com in Gonzales. Nancy is a great person to deal with, as you can call her mobile on a Sunday, and she dropped the nets off Monday morning, while I was sitting in the Los Angeles Airport. I figured that I would be putting them on when I returned. Jane had a better idea.She decided that she would take a vacation day, and put them on with the help of our field crew, who had been finishing up the posts at Soli Deo Gloria. But there were a few problems.
The guys dropped the truck off and told Jane that there was a flat tire on the RTV, the Kubota utility vehicle we use for netting. Following a few rounds of text and phone calls, Jane determined that she could take the truck to get the tire fixed on Tuesday, After visiting 4 tire places she was eventually able to get it patched and out into the fields to put nets on the Petit Syrah. We will cover the Cabernet today, and net some of the Cab Franc as well.
Its great to have a partner who can overcome the problems and carryon in your absence.
We've ordered a spare to avoid the hassles in the future, and picked up a replacement battery for the truck to avoid hassles during harvest.
We are looking into the abyss a bit this week, planning for our third commercial harvest. We expect to crush somewhere in the range of 20-25 tons this year, between what we are farming, what we have contracted and what people are offering us as opportunities.
Jane and I have invested in a 2" Diameter Flexible Impeller pump that should be able to move wet must. This will be a key labor saving device, as it replaces our trusty red 5 gal buckets. We will still have to shovel from the pick bins on the back of a truck or trailer into the destemmer, and then hopefully that is the last hand labor until we are handling bottles.
We will be harvesting Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Syrah from Soli Deo Gloria, expecting 1-2 tons each depending on bird losses. Athena's vineyard should yield 16 tons of Cab Franc and Merlot, though the birds have taken a toll on the Merlot up near the powerline. Behlmer vineyard's Colombard is looking especially good this year, and the Coop vineyard's mystery grapes and our Estate will round it out.
We've managed to retain our contract with the Thomson vineyard for Pinot and Chardonnay, even though they were made an offer for their whole crop at a premium. Future Pinot prices will have to reflect that unfortunately.
And then there's the recent offers of Syrah, Malbec and Chenin Blanc, all in the last week, where there are opportunities to broaden our lines, which we have to fit into our production plan of barrels, fermenters and space.
The first brix readings are in, and they are in the 19-20 range, so we're about 3-4 weeks out at this point. October should really be "crush" based on the season so far.
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