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1998 Week 40

Sunday, October 4 1998   High 87, low 45 

I talked to Steve Ryan last night, and we have made a decision to harvest his Pinot Noir on Tuesday. As of this morning, this appears to be a good decision as there was no fog and clear blue skies promise warmer weather today. 

I plan on using three different methods to ferment the Pinot. 

The first will be the same method I use on all my fermentations that is - stem, then ferment hot with the fastest-acting yeast and punch down many times a day. After approximately five days, the wine should be ready to press. I will press it very hard to extract as much flavor as possible. From what I've heard from many winemakers, this is not the traditional way of making Pinot Noir. In other words, no one I know recommends this first method. But since this is the method I use for all my other wines, I would like to see for myself why it doesn't work for Pinot. 

The second method will be completely different. I plan to not stem the grapes at all. They will go into a half ton bin, just like the first fermentation, but the bunches will remain on the stems and be pretty much whole berry. Of course, just the activity of cutting the bunches off the vines and throwing them from the pickers' tubs into the harvesting bins will create cracks in the skins, and juice will naturally increase as the days go on. I will add no yeast and let this fermentation develop on its own. I am not sure what  temperature will be achieved, but I will not try to control the temperature in any way. Instead of vigorously punching down with our stainless steel punch-down tool, we will exert only slight pressure to create more juice. I am not sure when I will press this wine. There are different theories on when to press red wine. Wineries can press anywhere from 10 percent sugar to completely dry and even after extended maceration , we don't have the spell checker installed on this program!), which involves leaving the wine on the skins for several days after it ferments down to zero percent sugar. This is a method I do not like at all, but I'm planning to see what happens during my fermentation and then will make a decision to press somewhere between five and one percent. The pressing will be slow and easy. 

For the third method, I plan on stemming and then cold-soaking the skins and juice at 40 degrees for several days. At that time, a highly recommended Pinot Noir yeast will be added and fermentation will start slowly as the wine warms up. This should still create temperatures in the high 80's or 90's at full activity. I plan to punch down twice a day (figuratively speaking, that is--young, strong assistant winemakers make much better "punchers") and then press slowly, but to medium pressure. I'm told this is the method used by most who make high quality Pinot. 

These wines will be put into three separate - but exactly the same - new French oak barrels and then the fun will begin as the wine develops and we get to taste the experiments in progress. 

Monday, October 5 1998       (54 low; 90!!! high - finally, a warming trend?) 

This was my day to pay my bills and savor another Raider win. I also had to create more debt by going to Costco. I talked to Shon today (the assistant at Limerick Lane from 93-95 and now at de Lorimier) and he gave me some hints on the Pinot. Now Shon is even MORE opinionated than I am. I take in everything he says. He has heard from all the great winemakers out there!! He suggests that I use DRY ICE for my second method of fermenting Pinot. I have heard of dry ice for most of my life. I have even seen it in action and I know it gives off a gas(Co2)!?, some of you know I flunked out of Cal in 1961--mainly because of an F in Chemistry). I did not know until I picked it up today that the gas is at 109 degrees below zero. I do not want to touch it. The box I picked up weighs 600+ pounds. The gas will make it dissolve in about three weeks. In the meantime, I should be able to slowly add pellets to keep the bin of uncrushed grapes at 60 to 70 degrees and protected from air while it ferments. I need to calculate how much money I have into this experiment. I have spent $9000 on a chiller to keep the third method of grapes at 40 degrees for 5 days. I will spend $3000 for the grapes. I have spent $275 for the dry ice. I will spend $2000 on the 3 barrels. I have not even started the processing and I have already spent $14,275. If I can make 90 cases, I would already have $14 per bottle into the wine. 

Tuesday, October 6 1998      (46 low; 86 high) 

The weather gods were apparently on our side again today as we were greeted with another morning of clear skies. Today, Brendan and I were joined by Tom, a futures customer, who traveled from the Bay Area to help us with our wine making efforts. Since there were a lot of impromptu decisions to be made today, and Brendan and I were slower than usual because of our respective lack of sleep (Brendan was partying and I was worrying), I'm afraid Tom went away quite bored. I think he expected a lot more action, but as I explained to him, this is pretty much a two-man job, with a lot of down time (thinking, planning, organizing and then reorganizing). 

One of the biggest surprises today was that we found several unpicked vines of Sauvignon Blanc, which after harvesting, yielded a half a ton - this will make a barrel, or 25 cases, of our first dry white wine. Since Brendan and I have never made a commercial white wine, it required much thought and planning to decide on exactly how to handle this fruit. We eventually decided to press it, without crushing first, and then moved it to a tank and added some dry ice to chill it down overnight. Further decisions will be made tomorrow morning. 

Steve Ryan and his crew picked the Pinot Noir the first thing this morning, and when the crew and grapes arrived here at 9:30, we sent the crew out to our vineyard to pick the Sauvignon Blanc we had just "found," as well as Merlot, Barbera and some additional Zinfandel (these particular vines were interplanted many years ago in the same block with some Petite Sirah vines). Thus, we had to flag the Zinfandel vines to make sure only those would be picked and not the Petite Sirah, which probably still needs another week to sugar up. Then Brendan, Tom and I began to set up for work in the winery - now not only did we have the Pinot to work on, but also Merlot, Barbera, Zinfandel and even Sauvignon Blanc! Later, when we crushed and tested the individual lots, all four reds registered at between 25 and 25.2 brix. 

My lack of sleep last night was mostly due to my concern over the Pinot Noir and how to ferment it. As I have discussed in the last two days, we had decided on three distinct fermentations. The first fermentation was the traditional method I use described yesterday. The second fermentation, a carbonic maceration, which was modified by crushing half the clusters and adding those on top of whole berry clusters in the fermentation bin. We will use the dry ice to preserve them until fermentation starts naturally in the next several days. We decided to crush some of the grapes, rather than to leave them all whole, because the clusters were very small and did not juice up naturally. The third fermentation involved a cold chill down to 40 degrees after crushing and we'll keep them there for probably a week.. 

Wednesday, October 7 1998      (39 low; 80 high)  
(By Brendan) 

Just for the record, Dave can sometimes be very impressive. You'll NEVER hear this from him and in fact he will vehemently deny it if you ask him. For me the foundation of any great wine is the location of the vineyard and the winemaker's ability to know and extract  the uniqueness of that vineyard. Truly great wines require a depth and understanding of the varietals that you're growing and a deep awareness of all of the unique characteristics of the site they're grown on.  For this reason (and others) Dave is really cool. After 20 years of growing grapes and making wine from the same 20 acres of land, Dave possesses a knowledge of his estate property that I am in awe of.  As a small example, today we were sampling 6 different blocks of grapes (2 Cabernet, 2 Carignane and 2 Petite Sirah). After having me test the first 3 samples, Dave started predicting the readings I would get on the next 3 samples. Dave's prediction for the 2nd Block Carignane- 23.0 (actual 23.0).  Dave prediction for the 3rd Block Carignane- 22.0 (Actual 22.0). His final prediction for the bottom Cab 22.0 (Actual 21.8). If you've read our previous comments about the incredible variability between varieties and blocks, then you get an understanding for how difficult this could be. As a Viticulture Geek, I'm impressed. 

Although being impressed by Dave could be a full-time job (that should be good for a raise), we actually did many other things today. The most interesting was Dave's decision to pick an additional ton of Sauvignon Blanc to add to the Sauvignon Blanc we had picked yesterday. We now have enough to make about 110 cases and I'm getting scared; first a little Sauvignon Blanc, then some Chardonnay later in the season....... before you know it, we will stop making Zinfandel and Petite Sirah because we need the barrel space for Muscat Canelli and Chenin Blanc!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  (O.K., maybe I'm over-reacting). 

The cool thing about making the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Noir this year is that we get to use Dry Ice.  Whenever we add Dry Ice to the Sauvignon Blanc in our small stainless tank, the juice starts to bubble and a thick, white mist comes up from the inside of the tank and spills over the side like a smoking cauldron. Industrial Light & Magic eat your heart out! 

Thursday, October 8 1998      (50 low; 80 high) 

It wasn't until this morning that I had a chance to look at Brendan's notes from yesterday. As any proud employer would be, I was surprised that Brendan has a certain admiration for me. Brendan is wise beyond his years; otherwise, I wouldn't put up with him, nor he with me. He is smart enough to praise me and smart enough to take my abuse. He also commands everyone's respect. Brendan has decided to go to school at Cal Poly to pursue his viticulture degree for two semesters out of four each year. He has been insightful enough to understand that he can obtain more knowledge from on-the-job training during the other two semesters. I am very proud to have him as my assistant winemaker, but enough of this mutual admiration society - as we have a lot of  work to do tomorrow. 

Most of our time today was spent preparing for the pressing of nine tons of Zinfandel. We hope to fill 25 barrels, or 625 potential cases of Zinfandel. Since we have already pre-sold 450 cases, we must end our futures program for Zinfandel at this time in order to be able to participate in a couple of winery-related events next spring. We had to fill these 25 barrels with water to make sure they sealed up without leaks, and we will have to empty them tomorrow morning before we press. At this time, we are not sure whether we can finish all the pressing in one day. 

We decided to take the Pinot Noir cold soak (third fermentation) out of the tank because we could not get the Sauvignon Blanc below 60 degrees with our dry ice experiment. I would like to ferment the Sauvignon Blanc at 55 to 60; therefore, we replaced the Pinot Noir with the Sauvignon Blanc in the chiller tank. The Pinot will slowly warm up from 47 degrees and we will let it get to 60 before we will add our yeast. 

We will probably harvest some Chardonnay from Ryan and Cab and Carignane from our vineyard next week. 

Friday, October 9 1998      (47 low; 77 high) 

Our day began at 7AM and ended at 6PM. We filled over 25 barrels. The color on some of the zin was light for this vineyard, but respectable. There seems to be more tannins than usual--maybe because of a lack of body? IT IS SO HARD TO TASTE WINE THIS YOUNG. There is a great deal of fruit and spiciness and that is what I want at this stage. It will be so hard to beat 1997 for concentration. 

Saturday, October 10 1998      (48 low; 80 high) 

Today we did a lot of clean up and greeted 30 customers. We sold out of our last 2 cases of ZPC Cuvee and since we only have Estate Cuvee left, we are trying to decide whether to accept customers for tasting in the next few weekends. The Pinot fermentations are coming along just as we hoped. The First  - hot fermentation - is at 90 degrees and is down to 10% sugar. The Second fermentation - the Carbonic - is warming up and has just started fermenting. Also the Third one -  the cold soak -  is warming up and I added the Assmannhausen yeast which starts real slowly. The Sauvignon Blanc is fermenting at 55 degrees, just where I want it. The Syrah which we will press Tuesday has fabulous color. 

Ryan called today and said he was getting booked up for harvesting next week. So it looks like we will go with some Carignane, Petite Sirah and the Aca Modot Cab on Friday or Saturday.