September 2010

Racking and Inoculation of the Gewürz…

by Serena on September 23, 2010

Sounds a little ominous but the Gewürztraminer really did enjoy it.  And how do I know it did?  – by all the bubbling activity in the yeast!

The Gewürztraminer grapes were picked early in the morning on Friday Sept. 16 and brought straight from Floodgate Vineyard to the winery where they were pressed over the course of 2.5 hours then left in a tank to settle for 24 hours.  After being in tank we need to separate the juice from the lees.  The lees are the particulate matter that precipitates out of the juice and settle to the bottom of a tank or barrel.

In order to “rack” the juice from the lees, we needed a forklift, another tank, some large tubing, and our friend Amato.  There is all sorts of equipment to clean and sterilize in order to get the juice from the tank it settled in to the fermentation tank (a stainless steel temperature controlled tank).  So the first hour of this process was cleaning tanks, tubes, lids, thermometers, etc.  Luckily, we all have big old rubber boots keeping our feet and legs dry.  Once everything was clean, we connected the settling tank to the fermentation tank with a hose and opened the valves and let the juice flow.  In order to make sure we were not bringing the lees from the settling tank into the fermentation tank, there is a looking glass on the fixture attached to the settling tank so if you hold a flashlight up to it, you can see the clarity of the juice.  Thus, when you start to see some lees flowing, you close the valve and you’re done. The lees are fermented separately and that wine may be included in the final wine if it has flavor or aroma that we desire in the finished wine.

1000 Liter tank

1000 Liter tank with cooling jacket to maintain temp

The Gewürztraminer rested for another 24 hours in the fermentation tank before inoculation with yeast.  Yeast smells delicious when it is mixed with warm water, think lemon bread baking in the oven.  When the yeast were bubbling up happy with the warmth, we then needed to very gently cool them down without shocking them and causing them to stop multiplying.  The reason we needed to cool them down was that the juice in the tank was at 44degrees F so had we just poured the warm bubbly yeast in, they may have been so startled by the cold that they would shut down and not kick off the fermentation. So over about an hour and a half we slowly added juice from the tank to the yeast container and waited for it to acclimate before adding more juice.  It’s a little bit like watching paint dry except that the yeast becomes thicker and foamier as they consume the sugar in the juice.

Eventually, the temp got where it need to be (within 10 degrees of the juice) and all the yeast got added to the fermentation tank where they are now slowly ticking away fermenting the Gewürztraminer juice.  This will be a nice, slow ferment over the next 2 – 3 weeks.  If it ferments too quickly (which happens if the juice gets too warm) then it runs the risk of burning off some of the aromatics that are so beautiful in Gewürztraminer. The target temp for this ferment is right around 50 deg F.

Here is what the juice looks like four days into the ferment. It has wonderful apricot and black tea aromas right now and a fizzy peach nectar flavor. It will stay this slightly cloudy color until late in the fermentation when the yeast die off and settle to the bottom of the tank. If you’re in the area now (sept 2010) and want to taste the awesome flavors of fermenting Gewürz. Let us know.

Cheers, Serena


8 tons of fruit from vine to winery

by Serena on September 21, 2010

In the span of 72 hours, we did three separate grape picks which yielded 8 tons of Russian River Valley grapes (6 tons of Pinot noir and 2 tons of Gewürztraminer) which kicked our harvest season into high gear.  This year we had several friends of Cartograph join us which made it really fun (thanks Deb Kravitz, Eric Hwang, Sherri Hashimoto, Marcy and Roger Gordon). Once the grapes are picked, the next step is the crush and fermentation process

The grape picking process:

All three picks happened at the Floodgate Vineyard and began during the early morning hours before dawn.  The reason pick starts in the middle of the night is to keep the fruit cool when it gets to the winery.  By keeping the fruit cool, it slows down the breakdown of the fruit making for a cleaner crush process and slowing down the spontaneous fermentation that can happen.

While the crew finishes an earlier pick, we pull leaves in the rows we are going to pick to better expose the clusters.  When the tractors pull into our rows, we  jumped on the side of the trailer attached behind the tractors in order to sort through the pick bins.  The picking crew collects about 20 pounds of grape clusters in smaller pick bins and then hands them to us on the tractor where we tip the 20 lbs of fruit into half ton picking bins.  While the picking crew collects the grapes, we field sort which means we pick through the bins on the tractor and pull out leaves, bugs, twigs and anything else that we don’t want to be in the bin with the grapes.

The crush process after the pick:

Once the grapes are collected, the bins get weighted and then loaded onto the tractor trailer to transport the grapes to the winery where the next step of the process happens.  The Pinot noir grapes get a second series of sorting on the crusher/de-stemmer whereas the Gewürztraminer goes straight to press.  What does this mean?

For the crusher/de-stemmer process the bins of Pinot noir grapes are tipped onto a sorting table where we pull out any additional leaves, or raisins that we missed in the field sort.  The grapes are then separated from their stems and the berries and juice tumble into a fermentation tank and the stems are diverged to another bin that will eventually end up as compost.  The berries and juice are now in a chilly temperature controlled tank (set at about 50 degrees F) for the next five days to “cold soak”.  Cold soaking allows the color and flavor from the skins to bleed into the juice.  We’ll talk in more detail about cold soak in a later post.

The Gewürztraminer does not go through the crush/de-stem process that the Pinot undergoes.  Gewürztraminer goes from the vineyard straight to press stems and all (it’s called whole cluster pressing).  So it is really important to do a clean and thorough field sort.

The Pinot Noir

Beginning in the early morning hours on Sept 16, with Warren Burton, his crew, and several friends we picked the first two tons of Pinot noir from the flats at Floodgate Vineyard.  These were younger Pinot vines and we picked two different Pinot clones – Pommard and 667.  It took about and hour to pick the two tons of Pinot noir.

Two mornings later, we picked another 4 tons of Pinot noir but these grapes came from six different blocks at Floodgate vineyard.  The clones we picked during that day were Pommard, 828, 777, and 667.  This pick took much longer because we were moving around the vineyard and helping to pick for other winemakers as well.

At both picks the grapes looked wonderful, nice tight clusters with small berries.  They tasted both tart and simultaneously sweet.  During the crush/de-stem process we were delighted at what a clean pick it was in that there were very few raisins and leaves.  The color of the berries and juice after the crush/de-stem was a beautiful deep pinkish-purple.

The Gewürztraminer

On Friday September 17at at 4am we found ourselves again at Floodgate Vineyard.  It was a dark and foggy morning but surprisingly warm.  Dawn had not made its appearance yet so in the light of the tractor, we pulled leaves hoping to better expose the clusters while racing to stay ahead of the pickers.  We then jumped onto the tractor and as the pick bins came in, sorted through the grapes pulling out leaves and raisins.  In about 90 minutes, 2 tons of Gewürztraminer was picked which is a surprisingly quick pick. Gewürztraminer tends to be a longer pick than Pinot noir because the clusters are tucked higher up in the vine and, consequently, there is more canopy (leaves, branches) to push through to get the cluster.

The fruit was in beautiful tight clusters and tasted delicious!  Gewürztraminer is one of the few grapes that you can pop in your mouth off the vine and taste what the wine will be like.  So delicious!  We were really excited to get the grapes to the winery and commence the press.  The Gewürztraminer went straight into the press upon arrival at the winery.  The juice was gently pressed out of the grapes over the course of two and a half hours.  Post press, the juice went to settle in tank for 24 hours with a big dose of dry ice to help the settling out of solids and to keep it cool and protect it from oxygen.  Click here to see what happens when you add 50 pounds of dry ice to fresh juice. We’ll write another post all about the racking, lees, and inoculation of the Gewürztraminer.

– Serena


Harvest 2010 kicks off with Floodgate Pinot Noir

by Alan on September 16, 2010

With a huge sigh of relief and a massive amount of pent up energy we hit the vineyard this morning and pulled in the first Pinot Noir of 2010. The fruit was from Floodgate Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Several friends helped us work ahead of the picking crew to drop heat damaged fruit so our bins were clean leaving the vineyard. Pick decisions have been tricky this year as we’ve seen such cool weather that the grape chemistry is unlike anything we’ve encountered for a very long time. It’s pretty wild to see mature fruit at such low sugar levels. Growers and winemakers who pay close attention to when the flavors develop this year stand a very good chance of racking up yet another amazing year for Pinot.

We’ve got two more days of consecutive picking to beat the threat of rain so updates might be brief but we’ll check in and let you know whats’ going on. Below is a slide show of the pick and crush today. It’s a bit hit and miss because we spent most of the time up to our elbows in sticky grape juice. Grape juice and expensive cameras don’t really mix.

Thanks to everyone who has been wishing us good luck. So far, so good.



The Summer that wasn’t suddenly was

by Alan on September 10, 2010

This has been a year that seemed to never warm up…. Until a few weeks ago when it hit 109 deg F with little warning. And this was in the Russian River Valley where temps rarely come close to that. For many growers it has been a year they are already willing to wipe out of their memory but the curve balls keep coming. It goes a little like this:

Winter: Cold, rainy

Spring: Cold, rainy

Early Summer: Cold, rainy

Summer: Cold, foggy

Late Summer: WTF?

We spent all summer wishing for a little heat and dry weather to help ripen things up and avoid mildew. Then in a true case of “careful what you wish for…” a few Tuesdays back we got our wish when it went from 51 deg F to 109 deg. F in a single day. The grapes had no time to acclimate to the heat since they hadn’t seen any this year, and most everything that was in direct sun was toasted. Not a disaster for most growers since we’ve been waiting to drop extra fruit to balance the crop load out on the vines. Well, we dropped the sunburned fruit just in time to see two more consecutive days of 100 degree heat. Now there are bunches dehydrated from the prolonged heat.

It’s going to be a year where those vineyard managers who have the skill and hands on deck to manage the damage will be able to come out way above the standard for the year. I can only speak for those of us focused on Pinot and other early ripening varieties but the weather pattern seems to be holding. Who knows what is coming, however.

I’ve heard from winemakers who have already pulled in fruit that they have never seen fruit that has come in mature at these low sugar levels. So for every winemaker who wishes they could make a “Burgundian” Pinot, this is the year where we will see mature flavors from grapes with lower sugar levels.

After such a harrowing tale, it might seem odd that I’m really excited by this harvest but we’ve taken the drastic measures in the vineyard to eliminate sub-par fruit, now we get to work with grapes that have a very unique and, to me, appealing character. We’ll see what song I’m singing after we barrel down, but for the growers and wine makers who have the ability to be very selective and hands-on before the grapes hit the winery, this should be an amazing year.