October 2010

OK, the headline is a bit inflammatory but after visiting a Cabernet pick for Leslie Sisneros’ Ispiri wines on Pine Mountain yesterday, we drove by the Kendall Jackson Vinwood facility near Geyserville and saw the long line of trucks with loaded valley bins waiting to check through the sugar shack and unload on the crushpad. We swung through the parking lot to get a look at things, and heard that they would be processing 1,100 tons of fruit in a single day.

That’s a lot of fruit. Eleven hundred tons…

At our current production level it would take us over 100 years to process that many grapes. Granted our production level will go up but that number – 1,100 – just blew me away.

Here’s a short video of the line of trucks waiting to get to the crushpad.

Each of those bins holds about five tons of fruit. So those double trailers can bring in 100 tons or more.
The coming rain has everybody picking as fast as they can but facilities are hitting their limit of how much fruit they can process in a single day. And, tank space for fermentation is a precious commodity right now.

I’m feeling very lucky that all of the 2010 Cartograph wines are in barrel. It’s a wild ride out in the valleys right now. Hang in there folks, we’re almost to the finish line.



Pressing and Barreling Down the Pinot Noir

by Serena on October 13, 2010

The last of the 2010 Pinot Noir is going into barrel today!

The grapes were picked the last couple weeks of September and had about a five day cold soak followed by 8-10 days of fermentation.  When the fermentation was over (meaning the Pinot was dry which means no residual sugars as evidenced by a Brix reading of -1.5-ish), the Pinot was allowed to “free run” into a tank.  After the free run was captured, the must was moved to the press where it was gently pressed over a two hour period to get the remaining wine from the must.

With each press cycle there is an increase in pressure which means that as you taste the wine from each cycle, it tends to become sharper and more tannic but you also get a tiny bit of sugar from the berries and mid press run the wine is very soft and supple as a result. It was interesting to notice this year in all Pinot noir lots that the pressed wine was not picking up any green or sharp characters. Our guess is that the very long growing season let us reach optimal maturity so the tannins coming from the seeds were mature and not sharp. During the Pinot pressing, the flavors varied from  soft strawberry to earthy and varied in color from a milky light purple/pink to a dark clear dark purple/red color. Depending on lot size and vineyard we go directly from the press to barrel, or sometimes let the wine settle for 24 hours, and then move to French oak barrels.

The process of going from the tank or press to barrel is called “barreling down.”  We used a combination of new, one year old, and neutral French oak barrels for the Pinot.  It’s really interesting in spring to compare the tastes between the different barrels and see how the wine is influenced by the quantity of oak that each barrel gives off.  Alan chooses this mixed regimen of barrels to get the greatest variety and depth of flavor so that when he blends the barrels together before bottling the wine has greater complexity.

It is immensely satisfying to  get the wines into barrel in such great shape. And this season, more than any we have seen,  was a challenge for growers. We owe a huge debt to Warren Burton at Floodgate and Steve Alden at Perli Vineyard for the many sleepless nights and hard work it took to deliver such wonderful grapes.

Cheers, to them.


Punching Down the Grape Must

by Serena on October 7, 2010

With our Pinot noir we do one punch down per day while it is cold soaking and then increase it to three times a day while it is fermenting vigorously, and then we back off as the fermentation slowly finishes.

A punchdown involves a tool that looks like an oversize potato masher and gently pushing down the cap (the grape skins, stems, and seeds that form on top of the juice due to CO2 rising from them) into the juice blelow.  This allows the juice from underneath to rehydrate the cap.

This is done for several reasons:

  • to bring the juice back into contact with the skins which helps with color and flavor extraction
  • to introduce some oxygen to the yeast which helps fermentation
  • to prevent harmful bacterial growth by mixing up the must and the juice
  • punchdowns can lower the must temperature to keep things from getting too warm which might cook off the delicate aromas of the Pinot noir grape

As you push the cap into the juice you see gorgeous purple foam rise up from the fermenting juice. this video doesn’t quite do it justice but you can see the activity in this fermenting Pinot.


Cold soaking the Pinot Noir

by Serena on October 3, 2010

We picked two different lots of Pinot noir last week.  Both lots went from the vineyard to the  winery for crushing/de-stemming and then into tanks to undergo a cold maceration (“cold soak”).  Keeping the grape juice and skins in a cool environment for a couple of days makes several things happen:

  • compounds from the grapes get extracted into the must
  • color is extracted from the skins which helps create a darker colored juice
  • the aromatics of the wine are increased as elements from the skins, seeds, and grape body seep into the juice
  • it reduces the chances of a spontaneous fermentation

Pinot noir macerating

In one of our lots, a spontaneous fermentation began on day 3 so we let it kick off for a day before inoculating it with yeast.  We’ll go into detail about inoculation in another post.

– Serena