21 December 2010

Twas the week before Christmas . . .

. . . and all through the winery not a creature was stirring because we all went out to lunch.  I have a new recommendation for those of you who live in the area.  They have been open for a while and while I had enjoyed the fruits of their labor, delicious, I hadn't made it up there personally until last month.  And then we went again yesterday!  Some how The Bread Board in Falls City is very inviting on a winter day.  The cheerful paint; red floors with periwinkle, green and mustard yellow walls, not as garish as it sounds trust me, the huge brick oven and of course the ever charming Travis all combine to make it the place to visit and the excellent food make it the place to come back to.  They have built a beautiful brick oven and bake breads, scones, biscotti, pizza and more.  We all trooped up there yesterday to deliver some empty barrels, we being Sebastian, Barry, Mary and myself and had a wonderful lunch.  There was even some sunshine coming in.  What more can you ask for during winter in Oregon.  We had salads and grilled panini sandwiches finished off with a variety of biscotti, all of them were excellent.  I have heard stories about their sticky buns but have yet to have one myself, apparently one bun can feed three and I've also heard rumors that they go fast so you might want to call ahead and reserve one.  So if you are looking for a little place to check out some afternoon that's cozy and inviting or a new place to go for wood fired pizza I highly recommend The Bread Board.  I'm including their website here if you would like more information.
Back in the winery I am working on the next set of bentonite trials.  I was able to bracket the pass/fail point on the two wines last week so this week I am fine tuning that point by rerunning the test and dosing the wine in smaller increments.  Hopefully I can nail it with this test otherwise I'll have to do it one more time. Imagine putting my water bath in there!  I think it would boil away in just a few minutes.  Now pizzas on the other hand . . .
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!  
And may you enjoy your drink as much as Phineas!
Steamed Milk, good to the last drop!

17 December 2010

Soil Nutrition and Bentonite Trials

So as the title suggested I learned about soil nutrition and the use of fertilizer at a workshop on Wednesday I attended with Mary.  It was very interesting and I certainly learned a lot though I was distinctly reminded of sitting in High School Chemistry a few times.  I couldn't tell you the last time I looked at a Periodic Table and asking me to remember what cations versus anions are or even divalent ions!  Fortunately our lecturers were prepared for our lack of knowledge and we all got a brief chemistry lecture along with the soil science.  One of the most interesting things I learned, though it was by no means startling, is how badly humans have stripped the soil of life and thus productivity.  We are able to make it work with the use of chemicals but it doesn't work as efficiently nor is it as healthy for the rest of the environment.  We also learned about what different minerals do in the soil and some ways of improving the health of our soil not only for ourselves but also ways that won't show up for another 40 years.  Helping not ourselves but rather future generations.  By the way the answers are positive ions, negative ions and ions with a double charge.
In the winery I have been checking the wines for cold stability, everything failed, and protein stability, only Pinot gris and Gewurztraminer failed.  I was a little surprised that the Riesling failed the cold stability trial because it spent several weeks as juice kept at about freezing and I thought that would have caused most the tartaric acid to precipitate out but I guess not.  I don't know if the process of fermentation freed more tartaric acid or if there was more in the juice than could precipitate out in the time given earlier.
After the Pinot gris and Gewurztraminer failed I set up Bentonite trials.  I dosed samples of each wine with varying amounts of Bentonite, a clay, allowed the wines to settle overnight and today filtered a small amount of each dosed wine through a syringe filter.  I put all the filtered samples in a water bath where they will sit for the next 6 hours at 176 F/80 C.  After that I will let the samples cool and see if any protein settles out.  If I am lucky I will have bracketed the ideal dose and next week will run fine tuned trials so that I can add just enough to get the job done.  Bentonite, like all fining agents, takes other things from the wine besides protein so I try to use the minimum necessary for each wine.  And yes, I am working at home today, there is no club chair at work.

Back at the winery we have had lots of rain!  The bottom of the dock is at the surface of the pond which means the pond is very full! But we haven't had a lot of cold weather which means the vines haven't shut down enough for pruning.  We are still waiting for the sap to finish running back into the roots.  Hopefully next month we'll get a cold snap and be able to start.  A cold snap would help me with cold stabilizing the wine as well.  We'll see what nature brings us.

08 December 2010

A quiet week in December

I don't have much to write about this week.  The winery is pretty quiet and it would appear that the gray days are here to stay for a while which always lowers my motivation.  I stopped the fermentation on the Riesling at the end of last week with a combination of chilling and sulfur and now the lees are settling to the bottom.  I'll rack it soon and then chill the settled wine for cold stabilization.  The Pinot gris and Gewurztraminer are still poking along but they are just about dry so I think they will be stopping on their own soon.  When I think they are done they will also get sulfur.  The picture is of the wines being checked by Clini-test tablets after being spun out.
I spent yesterday packing up packages for the tasting room but unfortunately the weather in the mid-west means that nothing is shipping out.  Hopefully the US will get a warm week before Christmas so that we can ship.  My understanding is that most UPS ground packages go by rail across the top of the US, come into Chicago and are redistributed from there.  If anyone can confirm or deny or even better actually has the standard routes I would love to have that information.  It is always disappointing to tell someone in Florida that we can't ship their wine because while its warm here and warm there it isn't warm enough en route.

I did realize last week that I have been posting for over a year.  Kind of hard to believe from my side that another year has passed.  Now you are going to start getting some repeat information as I do have a cyclic job but hopefully I can keep it interesting enough to keep you coming back.  My job keeps me coming back as it is never quite the same twice!  For your enjoyment, our shivering chardonnay vine and Christmas lights, Airlie style!  Thanks Mary T!

30 November 2010

ML Results

I just thought I would let you know that the ML sheets are looking good.  The Marechal Foch, first three columns on the left are finished, there is no dot in the middle, and will soon get sulfur.  The last two barrels of pinot noir, right edge of right page are done or almost done and they are closest to the heater.  Isn't it interesting what a little warmth can do.  I am going to put a heater in the middle of the row now to try and help everything else.

29 November 2010

After the Turkey

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  I meant to let you know that I worked in the tasting room on Friday after Thanksgiving, which I don't normally do but as I didn't you'll have to come in during the week sometime to ask me your really gritty questions.  Thanksgiving was great, we had a little cold snap a few days before with a splash of snow which helped make it feel more like a holiday.   We have been eating leftovers ever since of course, last night was turkey and dumplings, with dropped biscuit dumplings loaded with fresh herbs instead of rolled ones and it can out very good if I do say so myself.  My husband said it was so pretty I should take a picture but I was ready to eat so you'll just have to imagine it.  Now we have leftovers of that so I am going to try freezing the liquid part with the thought that I'll make fresh dumplings when we thaw it out.  A great meal some cold winter evening.
As far as in the winery, things are going smoothly which is good as I have no space today as all the wine is still out from the Thanksgiving weekend, though Barry is fast taking care of it.  The Riesling needed a lot of food but it finally is smelling good and seems to be happy and chugging along nicely.  I think the Pinot gris and Gewurztraminer are almost done.  I'm going to spin them out with the centrifuge so that I can evaluate them better as well as get a more accurate sugar reading.  As the wine finishes up I use Clinitest tablets to check the sugar, same as doctors use to check sugar in urine.  I also need to check the progress of the ML on the pinot and the foch in the barrel room.  The cold snap definitely dropped the temperature in there, even in my little fort, so I think I am going to have to beef up the heater.  I have a better one here next to me in my office and I think I'll move that one out to the barrel room.  We'll see after I get the results back from the ML sheets tomorrow.

On a side note, Rocky and Riley went to the groomers last week, don't they look handsome and Riley's litter mate Cooper won the best of show at the National Dog Show in PA on Thursday.  Kind of fun, no?  And just to make you laugh, Ferb in his hammock.  We rolled up the area rug to do some cleaning and put it on the couch, he made himself at home.

18 November 2010

Double, double toil and trouble

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
      Macbeth Act 4, scene 1, 10–11

Ahh, who knew that winemakers would get to quote Shakespeare while going about their work.  Today I inoculated the Riesling, it has warmed up to 48F which should be fine.  I will turn the chilling system on to keep it from going over 55F during fermentation, especially a concern early on when the yeast is gearing up and both the food source, i.e. sugar, and nutrients are plentiful.   I'll probably have to add nutrients in a few days after the yeast have eaten everything the grapes supplied.  If the yeast don't have enough nutrients to build healthy cells then they scavenge from either themselves or other yeast cells which can lead to reductive aromas in the wine.  Not pleasant and a problem I would then need to treat.  Right now the juice smells almost like a glass of fresh sweet tea.  I'm looking forward to seeing what develops. 

16 November 2010

Today is a good day

I have no idea what happened to last week, somehow it just slipped away from me.  It was a good week and the white ferments are going well, the ML is bubbling away in the barrels, I did build them a fort to help them stay a little warmer and I got in a little cooking; French Pork Stew courtesy of Cooks Illustrated.  Pretty good if I do say so myself though it needs a little tweaking.  The fennel was a little too soft for me and my husband it turns out isn't much of a fan of prunes and Mary thought it was a little pasty.  Critics all!  However it was excellent with a bottle of Airlie 2002 Two Vineyard Old Vines Pinot noir, just the right amount of structure and sweetness in both the wine and the food.  I also checked the progress of the ML fermentation over the weekend and all the barrels seem to be progressing.  And before you ask, all the barrels not in the fort would normally be full and I would be heating the whole room.

The rains seem to have come to stay for winter though it hasn't been overly cold and the vines have been dropping their leaves.  Though in the time it took me to write this post and go out to get a few pictures the sun came out in spectacular fashion.  Our Chardonnay plant is starting to look a little bedraggled.  You can see some of the fruit that we left behind.  In a normal year there would be no grapes on the vine at this time of year.  The clusters with no fruit on them were eaten by the birds. Ugh, sort of depressing.  Any way, last week the vineyard was a spectacular gold color.  I wanted to get a picture but somehow the camera, the day and my energy level never came together.  So you'll have the settle for this lovely shot of the driveway below Mary's house looking west.  Our star Chardonnay plant is the first one in the Y were the driveway splits.
I also lost some time last week setting up our new office computer.  The hard drive on our old one up and died and true to form no one had backed up in forever so much information has been lost.  I must say though that not much very critical and we had a surprising amount of information in e-mails or on random disks so it hasn't been too bad and has actually provided some much needed housekeeping.  The scary day was when two days later Mary thought she had lost our contacts file, the backup of which was on the now dead office computer.  Ten years of customer information on about 3000 names just magically gone, that was a little nerve racking.  Fortunately my guru husband got me pointed in the right direction and we were able to recover the files after only a little blood, sweat and tears and now Mary might be more serious about backing up her own machine which is the only place all the company bookkeeping files are kept.  I guess that is one of the appeals of cloud computing, someone else is holding your information for you.  I also had to replace the ballast in one of our winery lights.  I had no idea what I was getting into when I lifted off the reflector!  I guess 4 bulbs need a lot of wires and then we have a motion detector on it as well.  It was a little uncertain at one point but with the help of the internet which provided schematics on both the light and the motion detector I was able to get it up and running.  Now it just needs to be rehung, I need the forklift for that.

So back to wine making and why today is a good day.  We bought some Riesling juice so I get to make Riesling.  I'm so happy!  I love Riesling and was very sad about not having any to play with let alone drink, slight exaggeration I know.  Fortunately Amity Vineyards decided that they had more then they wanted and were interested in selling.  The fun part is that I am getting a blend of 3 vineyard, all LIVE certified for those who are interested, and that will be the same blend that Darcy has at Amity.  She will be fermenting the pieces separately and leaving the finished wine a little bit sweeter than I but it will be fun to compare the two wines in a few months.  So the juice is arriving today and is ready to be inoculated unless it is still too cold.  I'll take its temperature after I pump it into one of my tanks and make a decision on the number.  If not today it will be tomorrow.  Turns out it's only 34F, I might be waiting a few days.
So other than that things are quiet.  I have to do some publication redesigning because of the lost files, not necessarily a bad thing and we are setting up a new website.  I don't quite know when it will be up but when it is I'll move the blog there.  Our web design people think it is for the best and apparently I shouldn't have it in two places so I hope you will all follow me.  I don't really know how fast it will happen but I will be sure to post a link here so that you can follow me with only one extra click.  I might even be able to put the 'follow me' link on the new page, I'll have to look into that.

02 November 2010

Time for an Experiment

As I think I mentioned in my last post with less fruit coming in I should have more time to experiment and try out some new processes and this weekend I got to do the first of those.  In a normal year we drain the wine from the fermentation totes directly to the barrel, this is called going to barrel 'dirty' and there are two reasons we have done this in the past, one is because we can use gravity flow.  It is a gentler way to move the wine, and actually quite easy.  The other factor is space.  I like to keep each of the fermentations separate so that I can watch them develop in barrel and see which enzymes and yeasts I like for each vineyard in a particular vintage.  Trying to keep each ferment separate would mean that it needs to be moved to its own vessel, allowed to settle and then moved to barrel.  Time is another factor but a less important one.

So this year having plenty of both space and time I decided to try draining the fermentations to new totes and then pumping the wine to barrel.  I was able to use gravity to drain the fermentation bins and the press like normal but did have to pump the wine after the settling to the barrels.  Pumping is actually an easier way to fill barrels than with gravity because the flow is controlled by a remote and there are fewer overflow mistakes.  The reason for going to the hassle of settling the wine now before going to barrel is that the gross lees that I had to rack the 2009 pinot noir off of back in March never gets into the barrel.  There will still be some settling of lees as the wines are far from clear and I plan to rack the wines again after ML is complete but what I hope is that most of the reductive aromas that can become a problem will never get a chance to form in the wine and I won't be having the treat the wine later.  I think this is a good example of my hands on/hands off philosophy.  I can handle the wine less now but it may cause me to have to be harder on the wine later.   As it turned out I am really glad I settled the wine first because already in two of the totes the lees that had settled had some off aromas.
Sorry I forgot to take a picture so you could see the lees sitting in the bottom.  Look at the sides of the tote I am emptying, you can see both tartrates that have precipitated out and the lees that have gotten caught on them.The whole process will have to be modified for a normal year.  I settled the wine in the barrel room and there was barely enough space to work around the totes.  The trade off may be that I'll pump the wine out of the fermentors and the press and allow it to settle upstairs and then will be able to use gravity to fill the barrels downstairs.  The other thought is that I may have to make the decision to combine some fermentors upstairs beforehand so that I don't need quite so many totes to settle the wine before going to barrel.  I'll have to think on this some more.  So to sum it up the wines are done fermenting, have been allowed to settle after pressing, inoculated for ML, and racked to barrel.  They are now tucked into the barrel room and the little ML bugs are hard at work converting all that malic acid to lactic acid.  What fun!  ML sheets here I come.
As for the whites they are bubbling along at a very cool 54F and quite happily though it means I need a space heater in my office as I write this.  Unlike reds I want to whites to stay cool to preserve aromatics and to increase in complexity and mouthfeel.  At this point they are about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through their sugar and will take about another month to finish to dry.  I think everything I have this year I will ferment to dry, I hope.  The yeast tend to start giving out sometime in December and I usually have to start cheering the ferments on at that point.  I am sure you will get to read about me complaining about them later.  But for now they are going at just the right speed and smelling great.  Isn't is great the different patterns the ferments make.

27 October 2010

Harvest 2010

I've been thinking a lot about what to write about this year's harvest.  It has been difficult on a very personal level because this is my job.  Taking care of the grapes and making them into the best wine possible are what I do all year and this year I have much less fruit to work with compared to a normal year.  If you figure that I get, at best, 25 chances to make wine and I started young this is one of those chances mostly gone.
We were able to bring in some fruit, mostly off BeckenRidge Vineyard and a tiny bit off of our own, Dunn Forest, and I still have my fingers crossed that the Gewurztraminer came through the 4" of rain we have had over the last 4 days as well as the pea sized hail that came down on Sunday though I have not been out to check.  I must say that one of the great advantages of having the Dunn Forest Vineyard grapes picked this year by our wonderful volunteers is that what was brought to me on the crush pad was in beautiful condition and the long hang time has developed the flavors and provided some nice complexity to the juice.

The pinot noir and chardonnay sadly weren't ripe enough to make wine and after some joking then serious discussion we did decide to try and make a sparkling wine.  So I took those beautifully picked grapes, perfect for methode champenois and whole cluster pressed them.  This means the whole cluster, stems and all are put in the press and the juice is squeezed out immediately.  The idea is to minimize contact between the juice and the stems, seeds and skins.  I don't know yet if we will try to do the second fermentation in the bottle as we have none of the equipment and would have to be borrowing or else sending our wine elsewhere to be finished.  But I'm working on it and reading about it and picking other winemakers' brains so hopefully there will be something fun to drink at our 25th anniversary next year.

We also brought in a small amount of Foch, enough for about 3 barrels so I'll be playing a little bit there too trying to make a different style wine from our normal Foch.  I'll be interested in feedback as it starts to develop in the barrel so if you are visiting next spring and summer, ask.  The majority of this years fruit came from BeckenRidge: Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Gewurztraminer.  Lower yields than normal but still ripe and some good flavors.  The Gewurztraminer in particular is smelling nice and I am looking forward to watching it develop during fermentation.
The pinot noir has been destemmed and placed in white fermentation bins that hold about 1.25 tons of fruit.  They were allowed to soak for two days and then I added yeast to start the fermentation.  They are now going along quite happily and should be dry in another 3 to 5 days I would guess.  At that point they will be drained, the skins shoveled into the press and then the skins are pressed off.  All of that wine will be put in barrel, inoculated for ML and the maturation process will begin.  The Pinot gris and Gewurztraminer were pressed off immediately and sent to tank.  After settling for a few days I racked the juice to clean tanks and Mary filtered the lees, adding that clean juice back to the respective tanks.  I then inoculated the juice and now they are fermenting along with the pinot/chard sparkling base.  This is one of my favorite periods in the wine making year.  I love smelling and tasting fermenting white wine.  They can be beautiful, fizzy and fun and as my dad would say 'all potential'.