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'.

14 October 2010

What's a winemaker to do?

What a view!
So the grapes have been sampled and need at least another week or more, the harvest crew has arrived and the sun is shinning so what are a winery owner and her winemaker to do?  Why go frustrate ourselves, I mean go have a great time playing golf of course.  After a brief discussion in which we decided that stressing ourselves out over something we have no control, i.e. the unripe grapes, was not a good solution to the problem Mary announced that is was time for our annual Harvest Crew Golf Scramble.  I must admit that I was uncertain that this was great idea, albeit it wasn't the thought of walking around a beautiful course spending time with people I like but rather the thought that I haven't picked up a club since Mary broke her wrist last year.  And since I don't practice lets face it I'm lousy and the fact that my personality hates being lousy at anything means that as the game progresses I usually manage to get frustrated and thus lousier.  Does this sound familiar to any of you?  Well today I tried to not get frustrated and to keep reminding myself that this is supposed to be fun well at least the part about a great walk with friends.   The beautiful weather, great company and that we played best ball all contributed to a good day.  I might even have a little sunburn!

Di, Grape Squisher Extraordinaire
So back to the nitty gritty of winemaking.  I promised last week that I would better explain the sampling process which helps us to decide when to pick.  So here goes.  Yesterday Di, one of our harvest volunteers, yes, you too can volunteer, and I went out and walked the vineyard picking berries off the clusters.  We tried to pick a representative sample which means, for our vineyard, we pick 3 berries off a cluster from the top, middle and bottom, ideally without looking as your eye automatically tends to choose the ripest grape, walk down 5 plants cross the row and pick three more from that plant.  Then we do this every three rows except the small blocks which get every other row.  So in this way we slowly walk the vineyard, getting our exercise, checking on the quality of the fruit and at least in my case, enjoying the quiet before the mayhem of harvest.  The next step is to take our zip-lock bags of grapes up to the winery lab and squish them.   The juice is then drained into a jar and the testing begins.  I mainly test for three things: sugar, pH and titratable acidity.  Then I look at how many of the seeds have turned brown in the juice and finally taste the juice.  This step while it tends to be the last is key in the actual picking decision.  The flavors, both good and bad, showing themselves in the juice will also express themselves in the wine.  While we like the numbers to be right it is also important that the flavors are there.  A long ripening season like the grapes are getting this year definitely helps flavor development but if they never get ripe then we won't get to see that great wine.  I;m keeping my fingers crossed for the longest Indian summer ever!
Juice and a refractometer

07 October 2010

Are you suffering from WIBS?

pic courtesy of Van Duzer Winery
Chances are you aren't unless you are a winemaker on the west coast this fall and more specifically one in the Willamette Valley at which point I am almost 100% sure you are among the suffering.  I myself was an unknowing sufferer of the disease until I was recently diagnosed by my good friend and fellow winemaker Jerry Murray at Van Duzer Winery, about 45 minutes north of here.  Jerry says that Weather Induced Bi-polar Syndrome (WIBS) can be aggravated by repeated checking of the weather forecast and then looking at fruit in the vineyard.  The symptoms are feelings of elation when the sun is out and the thermometer reads 80 followed by extreme lows and the conviction that no grapes will be harvested this year when the clouds roll in, rain threatens and the temperature isn't above 62.  The fact that these highs and lows can occur on the same day only increases the severity of the swing as well as raise stress levels and here at Airlie has caused Mary to run to the coast and go crabbing.  I am very appreciative that Jerry formally diagnosed the disease and gave it a name.  I am hoping that he is working on a drug to alleviate the condition as I type.  I was thinking something alcoholic (smile . . . feel high) but then remembered that none of us have any fruit to be making alcohol (sigh . . . another low).  If you are interested in reading more about Jerry and his philosophies click here, you'll be taken to Jerry's latest comments on the vintage, beautifully expressed I think. 

As far as what else I have been up to, last week we bottled the 2009 Willamette Valley pinot noir, it went very well, and the little bit of 2008 Dunn Forest Pinot noir that had an extra year in barrel.  We were scheduled to bottle the infamous port on Saturday but the bottler was giving us problems so that didn't get bottled till Monday of this week.  Mary had some friends in town who took on fixing the problem piece on the bottler.  Thank you Orv and Alan it worked great on Monday.  I must admit that I feel at loose ends with almost no wine to look after and that I'm not scrambling to get get ready for fruit to be picked.  Just the 7 barrels of 09 pinot I held over for another year of aging in barrel.  They look so lonely.
Muller Thurgau,      Pinot noir,      Marechal Foch
Yesterday Sebastian pulled our first samples of grapes for me to test.  And apparently my blogging brain was turned off because I didn't take any pictures.  I still had the juice sitting on the counter this morning so you can see the three grapes we sampled and the color difference though amongst the three.  The Muller and Pinot noir have oxidized in the jar over night so aren't as green or pink, respectively, as they were yesterday.  Isn't the colour on the Foch amazing!  I'll explain the process next week when we sample again but suffice to say the grapes are not ripe.  The Marechal Foch has at least 10-14 days and that will be the first fruit to come in.  I went looking at past numbers to see if I could give you and me both an estimate for how far behind we are and it turns out I have never sampled the Foch at as low a number as it is right now.  The closest year was 2007 and the fruit then was a degree of brix higher, about a weeks worth of ripening, on September 13th, versus October 6th.  And we didn't pick for another 19 days.  Deep Sigh!  I never should have gone and looked.  I should add checking past vintage numbers to the list of don'ts while suffering from WIBS.  I think I'll go join Phineas on the couch and hide my head under the blanket.  Let me know if the sun comes out.