September 6, 1998 (98 degrees high; 62 low)
What started out as a day reserved for watching baseball and football, turned to a morning of wine tasting when Ed and Ann from Missouri stopped by to check on their 1997 wine futures and to make arrangements for shipping. While they were here, the Whelans, the Lotts, Cliff and Gigi and also a few new faces "caught" us out in the winery. Anytime there are more than two people here, it is occasion enough to crack open a few more bottles. But we shooed everyone away at 1:00 as I headed into the house to watch baseball and football. We won't talk about the outcome of the evening's Raiders-Chiefs game. Let's just say it was a good thing we still had some wine left in those bottles we opened earlier today!
September 7, 1998 (morning low of 62; 100 high)
I turned on the drip irrigation in the second block of Carignane and have definitely decided not to water the Zinfandel again until after harvest. Steve Ryan, my vineyard manager, stopped by this morning and we discussed my impending purchase of a ton and a half of Pinot Noir from a vineyard he leases in the Russian River area. I have already purchased a chiller to cold soak the Pinot Noir before one of the fermentations. I am planning on three different types of fermentation, putting each lot in a separate new french oak barrel. Steve and I also discussed the possibility of my purchasing some Chardonnay grapes from the same vineyard. I told him I would consider custom crushing the grapes and then make a decision later about the possibility of bottling them under my label. I have been reluctant to make white wine in the past because it should be fermented cold, but now that I have a chiller for the Pinot Noir, I am thinking that maybe I should consider making some white wine to help recover the cost of the chiller.
11:00 a.m. Time to crank up the projector in the winery and get the baseball game of the season on the big screen. Lucky visitors from Connecticut Debbie and Dave O'Neil were with us (for the second time this weekend - they wanted more of our wine to take home with them!) when Mark McGwire hit the big no. 61. Shortly after that, the Radeskis came by to pick up their 1997 futures and do a little tasting - Jude Radeski holds the honor of being the first person that we know of to actually have read this diary - "Hey Jude" don't let us down - we hope you'll stay with us for the duration! We rounded out the afternoon with visits from Sandy Lindley, Doug Powers, Mary Ann Mullen, Ron van Thiel, the Thurmonds (who coincidentally were visiting from St. Louis, Missouri - but unfortunately missed seeing the game) and Bob and Joanna Swofford - Bob's with our local newspaper, The Press Democrat, and says he might link our Harvest Diary to their great web site: "Winetoday.com" - check it out!
September 8, 1998 (morning low 56 degrees; 88 high)
Chasing History: The Race to Label
Other newsworthy notes for today
2. Doug Nalle of Nalle Winery came by this morning. He has purchased wine grapes from me since 1991. He is always the first one to harvest from our vineyard. Doug is always trying to achieve a wine under 14% alcohol. Most wines produced in the market are under 14%. Zinfandel is one of the few varietals very difficult to keep under that percentage. The berries in an average Zinfandel bunch can vary from 18% sugar to over 30%, while a Cabernet bunch probably varies between 22 and 26% sugar. Zinfandel bunches have raisins integrated within the bunches which attributes to the inconsistency. So both bunches - Zinfandel and Cabernet - may turn out to be, for example, 24% sugar. Cabernet will stay at 24% sugar for 24 hours before it starts fermenting. Zinfandel, because it does have raisins, will go up in sugar within 24 hours after crushing. After soaking up the juice and expanding, raisins create more sugar. Zinfandel is very unique in that respect. That soaking up creates more alcohol than you might expect, so your final sugar level cannot be determined until actual fermentation, which doesn't take place until at least 24 hours after crushing.
3. Getting back to Doug Nalle, I have the highest respect for him. It is very difficult to create a Zinfandel under 14%. He is producing one of the most elegant Zins on the market today. I am trying to create a wine somewhere between 14 and 15% alcohol, but this is no easy task either. Doug thinks that he will be harvesting Zinfandel here within 10 to 15 days. Sugars change dramatically within two to three days, so we usually harvest right after Doug. He's trying to harvest the grapes at 23% sugar and got readings at 20% today, and my goal is to achieve 24% sugar, so it usually works out well if I pick a day or two after him. It's so hard to predict the sugar levels in the grapes until they are actually picked in bulk, so I rely on Doug's first harvest as an indicator of whether or not I should pick the next day.
September 9, 1998 (morning low 52 degrees; high of 82 degrees)
I woke up this morning and while flossing, my crown came off. Therefore, I spent half my day at the dentist (have to make sure my teeth are in good shape for grinding once the harvest starts). In the meantime, Brendan did some sugar tests of our sauvignon blanc for Julia Iantosca, the winemaker at Lambert Bridge Winery. Julia came out to taste these samples and we gave her readings of around 20 brix(%). The readings and tastes indicated to her and to me that harvest is at least two weeks away for their section of sauvignon blanc in our vineyard. Ferrari-Carano should be coming in to test their section of sauvignon blanc tomorrow. Brendan also went over to the bordering vineyard next door and got a reading of 17.5 on Teldeschi Cabernet and 20.5 on Teldeschi Zinfandel (both of which we are taking this year for use in our programs). He will do samples of the Lanes' Zinfandel (another "Neighbors'" lot located at Colline Vineyards on West Dry Creek Road) tomorrow.
Have to mention that we've heard from two more people who've read our diary. Thank you Jonathan Herman of New York and Paul Fernbach of San Francisco for your diary feedback. Is there anybody else out there listening? If so, let us know what you think and if any of this makes sense.
September 10, 1998 (morning low 47 degrees; high of 89 degrees)
(written by Brendan)
Today was a day of tests. It started with me testing Dave's patience by cranking up Tori Amos and PJ Harvey on the stereo (one of the great fringe benefits of this job). We then embarked on a complete testing of all of the properties that Dave is purchasing grapes from this year. Our results were varied. On the Lane property our sugar for the Zinfandel was only 16.7 degrees Brix (Brix is a measurement of % sugar by volume - 24 degrees Brix = 24% sugar) and the Petite Sirah was at 19.0 degrees Brix. There was a heavy discussion between Dave and Steve Ryan about irrigation practices at the Lane property. A low reading of 16.7 is cause for at least a little concern this late in the year but this has been a very unique year anyhow. I also tested the Pinot Noir for this year's Burgundian Adventure and it came in at 19.2. The new Syrah we are making this year from the Simpson Vineyard tested at 18.7. Our general goal for Brix is 24.0 which means that we have at least 2-3 weeks to go until we pick our reds.
For our property, Ferrari-Carano came and tested their Sauvignon Blanc block. They got a reading of 21.5 (which is similar to what I got when I tested the same block later in the afternoon). Since Ferrari-Carano likes their Sauvignon Blanc to be picked around 23.0 degrees Brix, we may actually be harvesting within the next couple of days. Ferrari-Carano will be coming out on Tuesday to re-test the sugars and if the grapes are ripe, then we may be harvesting on Wednesday. A good rule of thumb at this time of year is that sugar levels will increase 1.5 degrees Brix per week but the range can be anywhere from 0 to 2.5 degrees Brix per week, depending on many variables.
Friday, September 11, 1998 (morning low 54 degrees; high 97 degrees)
Good news! Kenneth Starr has decided not to indict David Coffaro Winery for our role in the Clinton/Monica scandal (rumor has it that innocent Monica was initially tempted by a bottle of our '94 Zin). Although our humble web page cannot match the 300,000 hits per minute that CNN.Com is getting for the Starr Report, our harvest log has gotten very good reviews and we thank you all for your notes. In fact, we just heard from Sean Colgin, vacationing in Maui with family and friends, that he's going to check in with us while he's there - now that's real dedication to our cause! Sean, we hope you are having a great time and drinking lots of fine California wine while you're there (including that Coffaro stuff you took with you).
Believe it or not, I was trying to watch the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament today, which CBS kept interrupting to give us all the sordid details on the Clinton fiasco. I did manage to see Martina Hingis make a come-from-behind win, as they kept cutting away to the likes of Clinton crying on cue. It was an interesting mixture of emotions. Brendan, on the other hand, spent most of the day running very important errands, generally preparing for crush and labeling an entire pallet of wine by himself. We briefly entertained winery guests and futures customers, Gary and Esther Koker and Gerry and Kenneth Walling. Remember those 35 cases of second lot estate cuvee I mentioned a week ago that I was going to evaluate for the possibility of selling? Well, the wine has acquired a new name, "ZPC Cuvee" (that stands for "Z"infandel, "P"etite Sirah, "C"abernet and "C"arignane) and the inventory of it has been dwindling little by little each day as I tell everyone this is a once in a lifetime effort (which is true by the way, since I haven't a clue as to how I might duplicate it). If you get a chance, drop by soon and get a taste of it.
Saturday, September 12 1998 (morning low 53 degrees; high 100)
As you probably know by now if you've ever met me, I get most of my sports activity sitting down, and now I can add soccer to the long list of spectator sports I enjoy, since my youngest daughter Susie played the first game of her first-ever soccer season today. So we "closed down the winery" and the entire family went out to cheer her on in the 95 degree heat of midday! We returned home just in time to cool off in the windowless, air-conditioned winery and to greet a few visitors who had planned to stop by today to pick up '97 futures orders and to do a little tasting. We saw many new faces including a big contingent of Compuserve/Internet wine forum users, brought here by futures buyers Randy Buckner and Jenise Stone and we thank them for introducing so many new people to our wines. This group of about 20 were from all over the country and had met up in Calistoga for a long weekend of wine country touring. Betty and Bob Walker got here in time to taste the dregs of a few bottles of wine and to see and hear a bit of the video "Tina Turner Live." Whenever we get a chance to put her up on the big screen and crank up the sound, the whole building vibrates to the beat. Also joining us for a few nibbles and additional wine tasting in the evening, were new friends and customers Q and Willy, and long-time friends and recent customers, Cammy and Einar. Although this was officially Brendan's day off, he was on a busman's holiday and came by with some friends for a little tasting in the midst of the crowded afternoon and immediately jumped in "behind the bar" to help out with pouring, etc. Did we ever mention that Brendan's "other job" is as a wine steward for a big hotel/restaurant in San Luis Obispo County? So he really knows how to talk up a good wine!