Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
The current exceptional drought has been mitigated slightly by late rains, the estate gauge showing just about 9 inch since New Years. The typical range is 10-15 in, so that's not as bad as we had been looking at during February. We made choices to prune severely and have been doing shoot thinning earlier to limit canopy size, so that we need less water to grow a smaller crop. We've put quite a bit of time into checking for leaks, and fixing the ravages of coyotes, freezing and hard water deposits as we don't want to waste any.
In Athena's vineyard, we found that our irrigation pump can pressurize 1/4 of the acreage at a time, so we'll need to manually turn off half of the rows in alternation of each block to keep within a level where we get uniform dripping. We've mowed everywhere to reduce the evapotranspiration losses, and will continue to keep a low cover to reduce water needs and losses.
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.
You have probably heard of the OpenSSL bug called "heartbleed". We are assured by our website hosting/software company "Vin65.com" that their servers are and have always been protected by being in a virtual private cloud under Amazon Web Services, and that no customer data was at risk. From Amazon http://aws.amazon.com/security/security-bulletins/aws-services-updated-to-address-openssl-vulnerability/
We take your data & identity security seriously.
We've been building and renovating a bit for the spring passport and ongoing season. We realized that our bands had been very patient playing on plywood screwed to old pallets. When we almost lost a drummer off the back it became time to do something better.
Alex and Chris our vineyard crew took a hand at framing, and we built the bands an 8x12' raised deck with pergola top. It was one of their first times doing concrete footers, and raising heavy posts, and it came out pretty good. A learning and confidence building project is always good. They will be showing it off on Passport this weekend, as now that they are both over 21, we are inviting them to help pour instead of being banished to the vineyards.
We have taken down the winter wind screen and planted flowers, tidyed up the estate a bit and turned our attention to inner matters as well.
Our website, is served by a very powerful winery engine, and we have decided to start turning on some of the features. There are now active automatic action emails, for orders, visits, and similar events, such as birthdays, expect to get special coupons and the like. If we don't have your birthday, please let us know and we'll add it in. We have also activated some customer relationship software that does the linking between our database of contacts, and our social media accounts. We'll be more responsive on Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, and twitter to name a few and don't be surprised if we send our best customers and most active fans some appreciation as well. We want to be aware of our customers, but not overly so, please bear with us as we tune it.
One of the features we have enabled is a reservation system that is linked to our website from "vinovisit.com" You never need a reservation, but if you choose to make one, we'll be better able to prepare for your visit. As always, our tasting fees are waived for wineclub members, and with purchase.
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.
We're out in the vineyards working hard these weeks, racing to get ahead of budbreak.
We started with pre-pruning using a hedge trimmer so the pruning crew can be efficient and fast. Alex and Chris have done 16 acres so far. We also have been spraying a mix of Glyphosate (round up) and pre-emergent herbicide under the wire and along the fence lines to keep the weeds down, now that we have had a bit of rain to germinate them. Having the 25 gal sprayer in the bed of the RTV or in the tractor bucket for the narrow vineyards means we get to drive with one hand and use the other to hold the spray gun, which beats walking a mile per acre with a back pack sprayer.
We started pruning in Soli Deo Gloria last weekend doing the Petite Sirah on the hillside, as there's little frost risk, this weekend we moved to the 5 acres of the Chirala Vineyard, and brought in our harvest crew to prune. We traditionally pay the guys cash and provide morning snack and lunch, as we work pretty hard and it's more efficient to put out food than have the guys have to pack a lunch. When you are working on your feet for 8 hrs a bit of sugar is just more fuel.
Yesterday was clif bars and McDonalds, today we had Girl Scout Cookies and Jack in the Box. On the way to pick up Gator Ade I was mugged by a troop of Brownies outside Safeway. They seemed surprised that someone would buy a box of each type, but then most of their customer don't have 8 hungry guys working. While the cookies are more expensive than alternatives, their mothers are prospective customers, and took a card, We'll hopefully get the investment back soon.
In addition to working in the fields, we have poured at several venues; Viva Los Gatos, Drybar Santana Row, the Campbell wine walk and SF Chronicle grand tasting. Our wines are well received and we hope to see people coming to the winery on future open weekends.
We have even been buffing up our social media presence, including joining Instagram and claiming our location under Foursquare. We're trying to keep our focus on making grapes and wines, with enough effort to communicate so that people are interested and come try them.
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.
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.
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.
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