Sunday, September 20, 1998 (morning low of 60; high of 90 degrees)
I spent part of the morning moving equipment around and setting up the winery for the first day of our crush on Tuesday, making sure to leave most of the heavy labor for my younger, more agile assistant Brendan who will be back tomorrow. I called John Teldeschi next door to see when he thought his grapes would be ready to harvest and found out that his reading and ours were over 2 brix apart, so we decided to do another, more thorough sugar test in the next couple of days to make a final determination on whether or not to pick his grapes this week. A few out-of-state visitors also stopped by this morning to pick up or check on their '97 futures orders and we did a little tasting with them before the 1:00 p.m. Raiders-Broncos' game, which I suffered through with Kate. Maybe I should have just stayed out in the winery and poured wine this afternoon; it would have been more enjoyable, I'm sure!
Monday, September 21, 1998 FIRST DAY of FALL (morning low of 48; high of 79 degrees)
It's 8:30 p.m., and I just went out to check the high temperature of the day and as you can see above, the high was only 79 degrees. This is the lowest high temperature we have had since June. We need 80's and 90's to get the fruit ripe. As I am writing this, I am rethinking our plans for the next several days. As a grower and winemaker, I spend each day calculating and then recalculating when we will actually harvest. In fact, we began this day in anticipation of harvesting tomorrow. Doug Nalle called and said that his tests from Saturday turned out lower than he thought. He would like to wait until this coming Saturday to harvest the rest of his grapes.
Brendan started off the morning doing several sugar tests, and at 8:30 a.m. while he was still out in the field, I got a call from my vineyard manager Steve Ryan that his crew was looking for work, asking if I was ready to harvest today and he would like to send them over within a half an hour. When they showed up 15 minutes later, I put them to work pulling weeds since we definitely weren't ready, nor we were planning, to harvest today, but I was somewhat hopeful that the tests Brendan was doing might tell me that we could harvest something today. However, Brendan came in with samples of the Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc which looked very inconsistent, and we decided to test the green bunches separate from the yellow (or more mature appearing amber) bunches. In a typical year, the Sauvignon Blanc bunches tend to be amber colored. This year, however, they are more like the red varietals, in that the color of the grapes on the clusters are very inconsistent. So we separated a few green bunches from the numerous amber bunches and did separate sugar tests. The green bunches gave us a reading of 17.8 brix, and the sample of the more ripe bunches turned out to be 22 brix. Since Lambert Bridge would like to have 23 brix, it looks like we're still off another week at this point and definitely no chance of harvesting today or tomorrow. I decided that Steve's crew will have to continue to pull weeds for the rest of the day.
The tests for our winery's harvest turned out to be surprising, too. Typically, in one of about every three years, a situation exists where the vines need a rest and the sugar samples do not go up for a week or two. This is one of those years. Today's samples reflected that situation. The bottom Sauvignon Blanc, the Merlot, the Barbera, the Petite Sirah on the knoll, the Cabernet on the knoll, the Cabernet on the bottom, the Teldeschi Zinfandel, and the even the Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc had not gone up since our last test seven days ago. The Teldeschi Zin did come in at 23% brix and we have made a decision to start harvesting that on Wednesday. Nothing is written in stone, however, and things may change tomorrow.
Bruce Simpson, a neighboring grape grower in the Dry Creek Valley and one of our first customers, has some Syrah grapes for us this year. He called this afternoon with a sugar reading of 22.4. That is encouraging since we would like to harvest those grapes next Monday.
Tuesday, September 22 1998 (morning low of 54; high of 71 degrees)
We woke up to a heavy fog. Heavy enough to get wet. The sun did not come out until 4 pm. We are a little apprehensive, but will be receiving two tons of Teldeschi zin tomorrow. I spent almost all my day tending to my computer. We had many problems which meant I had to go to Santa Rosa for repairs. I won't go into detail! It is too involved and I would get more upset. Some problems remain unresolved. We are still scheduled to crush our first Zinfandel tomorrow.
Wednesday, September 23 1998 (morning low 44; high 80) Our Crush Begins!
We crushed our first grapes today from the Teldeschi vineyard, our neighbor right next door. Since it is contiguous to our property, the possibility of using it for our estate wines exists. Two tons of Zinfandel were harvested and Brendan and I spent the morning hand selecting, de-stemming and crushing. Even though we would have liked to have had 23.0 to 24.0 brix and the sugar reading came in at 22.6 initially, we are so happy with the quality, flavors and the way the grapes looked and tasted, that we know we should be able to make great wine from this juice. We will let the crushed grapes soak up until mid-day tomorrow and then check to see how much higher the final sugar reading will be.
I am still having trouble with my computer and we also had 8-10 groups of visitors come by in the afternoon for various reasons - some to pick up wine, some new people who wanted to taste, some neighbors checking in, and even someone who just wanted to hear the sound system! Even though I feel that I want to greet as many people as possible, I know my primary purpose is to do the best job I can with the wine and I don't want to lose that focus. I have to work on being firm, yet diplomatic, which is a difficult accomplishment for me at any time of the year, but especially so at harvest!
There was no fog today. Even so, the temperature only reached 80 degrees, an improvement from the last two days, but we still need higher temperatures before we will be able to harvest any more grapes. Tomorrow I hope to spend more time on my computer, while Brendan tends to the grapes just crushed and prepares further for upcoming harvest days. No matter how long you wait and how ready you think you are, there's always still more to do!
Thursday, September 24 1998 (52 degrees low; 79 high)
After 24 hours of soak-up, the Zinfandel grapes harvested yesterday did not disappoint me. We achieved an average sugar reading of 24.0 brix. We inoculated the two one-ton fermenters with two different types of yeast. One being a slow fermenter and the other, PDM which is a fast fermenter. I plan on doing more experiments with yeasts this year which I will explain in more detail as the season progresses.
Brendan spent most of the day installing 3-inch stainless steel valves on 10 or so new one-ton fermenting bins. We have been fermenting all of our grapes in half-ton and one-ton fermenters. A half ton will produce one barrel of wine, but we prefer one-ton fermenters because they produce more heat during fermentation. So with these new bins, we now have 20 one-ton fermentation bins, which will enable us to do almost all our fermentations in one-ton bins this year. By using 3-inch valves, we are able to pump from our stemmer (many wineries also use rollers, thus the terminology for the de-stemming machine becomes either a crusher or a stemmer-crusher) to our fermenting bins and then after a week or so, back out of our fermenter into our press, saving us many laborious hours. A very small percentage of wineries do all processing with gravity, rather than pumps. In other words, their fermentation vessel is higher than their storage tanks or barrels. On the other hand, almost all wineries of over 2000 cases use pumps. Many theorize that pumps agitate the grapes or wine to an extent that creates bitterness or harshness in the wine. I am not one of them. However, I did invest in the most state-of-the-art pump available, which is said to be the most gentle on the grapes and wine. In the next several weeks, I hope to explain my theories on many different types of fermentations.
Last year a new winery was established just south of our place on Dry Creek Road. Virginia Morgan and David Cooper are calling their new venture Yoakim Bridge Winery. Today David asked me to come over and take a look at his vineyard. I was very envious of the apparent visual quality and taste of the grapes. Their vineyard appears to be at least a week to ten days ahead of mine in maturity. I advised him to pick tomorrow and he agreed with me. I am anxious to see what sugar readings he gets tomorrow on his harvested grapes. This will be their second vintage, and they are planning to release their first wine, a1997 Zinfandel, in January.
Friday, September 25, 1998 (morning low 54, high 72 )
Did we move to Carneros and someone forgot to tell me? For the fifth day in a row it was overcast and the sun did not come out until about 3:30. This is really strange for the end of summer in Dry Creek. I spent the entire day in the field sampling grapes for our sugar tests and pH's. The results were mixed. On one hand, all of our sugars were up from the previous week. Unfortunately, on the other hand, they were only up about half of a degree (translation "These grapes are movin' slower than turtles in molasses" - not a pretty sight, trust us). Dave ended today talking with the always enthusiastic and brilliant Julia Iantosca, winemaker for Lambert Bridge Winery (she promised to read this entry later, "Hi! Julia").
The good news is that I have my weekend free so I can terrorize the Sonoma countryside in search of cool new wines. Dave will probably spend his weekend preparing for and mourning over the Raiders game against the Cowboys on Sunday.
A note from Dave: One of our faithful readers, Michael Whelan, asked a question which I thought should be answered for everyone. He wanted to know "since the weather is turning cool and the grapes are still on the vine, is there any risk to the crop?" My answer is that as long as it doesn't rain, the crop should be of great quality. Even if there is some rain, only the Zinfandel could sustain some damage from rot because of their thin skins, and that hopefully would be minimal. The Cabernet and Carignane are historically harvested in October anyway and can withstand rain very readily. Of course, the best possible scenario would be warm weather and no rain for at least another month!
Saturday, September 26 1998 (morning low 47; high 77)
Another day of overcast skies and cool temperatures. Well, at least we can look at two tons of Zinfandel fermenting away in our open-top bins as a reminder that we really are in the middle of the harvest season! After another afternoon soccer game for Susie, we rushed home to greet lots of guests (all from California and many from right here in the Healdsburg area) who stopped by today to pick up wine, chat, taste, and listen to a little music. One unsuspecting couple from Orange County were visiting the Dry Creek area for the first time, and you could tell they didn't know if they were in the right place when they stepped into our wine warehouse/movie theater set up!