Monday, November 10, 2008

Season Change

Like clockwork the rain started as soon a the last fruit arrived. It makes working a bit less pleasant, but a rather impressive show of textbook maritime climate.

Wine Hands

The last of the cabernet arrived last week and marked the end of the harvest season here in Northern California. One by one the tanks are being emptied of their extended maceration inhabitants and my hands are stained purple. I think it's permanent. We are still performing many punch down and pump-over techniques like the one above referred to as a delestage (del-ess-TAHJ). This benefits the wine by exposing it to oxygen and separating seeds, ultimately resulting in smoother tannins.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Each barrel is tagged with a lot number, vintage, varietal, vineyard, type of oak and the last date moved.

Shh! Wine sleeping

The most serene place in the winery is the barrel room. Thousands of wines laid down to mature in oak and blow off their youthful, under-developed tones. Gregorian chants echo quietly here, and I like to wander through the aisles to catch my breath when the cellar gets too hectic.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In the Cali Sun

These tanks hold fermenting wines in our outside cellar. The grapes go from the selection table into one of these, and if it's a red, it generally goes into cold-soak for a couple days before warming to inoculate with yeast. The cold-soak process involves maintaining a low temperature by keeping dry ice in the tank 24 hours a day. It also keeps the fruit covered in a layer of CO2 which preserves its quality to extract color from the skins.
Cold inside the tank, but pretty pleasant working outside with the sun shining.

Chard Fest

Most of our Chardonnay came in last week. The fruit arrives on trucks of all sizes carrying these half-ton micro-bins. The vineyard name and block is specified on the sign, and it goes to the selection table or directly to the hopper, depending on the quality. The selection table is used for the more expensive fruit to insure the leaves and detritus is removed, whereas the lower quality fruit is used to make bulk wine for blending.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Young Love

I found a little bit of my vim hiding in these tanks of fermenting wine. Spending my days gazing into tanks has become a fascinating introduction to some intriguing young hopefuls. Watching them develop day after day has taken on some form of relationship--it's like I'm dating. There's a tempranillo in tank 310 that's peaking my interest, and the merlots with their sensual aromas are quickly becoming my favorites. Everyday I notice something new on the nose or find their colors becoming richer. I find myself wondering if I'll like some next week as much as I do now, and imagining the day I'll say 'goodbye' when they go off for barrel aging.
Perhaps the long hours and lack of sleep is finally showing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tank Cleaning

About half of the work in the cellar is some form of cleaning. Tanks, hoses, pumps, and every piece that connects them must be fully sanitized between uses. Most is done manually, and looks like this. My good friend Oso above is scrubbing out a 1,000 gallon tank, which is pretty tight quarters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Maybe it's the middle of the week, maybe it's just exhaustion, but I'm lacking inspiration for the vino today. Maybe a good article on dry farming could perk me up, but sometimes the reality of wine-making is a back ache. Perhaps a little touring is an order. I'll report back.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dreaming In the Lab

This wine cellar is overflowing with macho men. Not for the faint of heart, this is a world full of the coarse and grimy. When I leave at the end of the day, my hands are stained purple and I'm covered in a sticky mess. Being one of two women currently working in a group nearing thirty is not all it's cracked up to be. When passing by the laboratory, where all are female, I gaze longingly. Soothing music plays overhead with intelligent conversation, and I think, 'What am I doing out here?'. So to bring a bit of balance to my life, when I finished in the cellar today I went to the lab, where they were looking particularly overwhelmed. Fruit samples piled high on every surface, they wasted no time showing me some basic procedures to lighten the load. Testing for brix (sugar levels) and running pH analysis with the machine pictured above were my first lessons, and I was thrilled to finally see all their cool gadgets. Seriously, the lab has the best gadgets. A few hours later I felt human again, reassured that I could battle my way through another day of machismo. Oh, and one of the perks to not being cooped in the lab is a better view.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Venture a Venturi

Another technique to expose fermenting wine to oxygen is with the above process and device. A Venturi tube, in a wine cellar, serves the purpose of suctioning air into a line to expose the traveling wine to oxygen. After draining a tank of its juice, this Venturi tube is connected to a hose at the bottom. The juice is then fed back to the top where a sprinkler distributes it over the fruit. A very interesting relationship wine has with oxygen. Dependent on it for its young life, but in bottle or barrel it needs very little. Then at the time of consumption, it relies on the exchange again.

Enough about technique. This is hard work! My biceps are growing by the minute, and I'm constantly amazed at how much there is to do in what's considered a medium-sized facility. Even on a slow day we can put in nine hours, and the evening crew still needs to repeat every action from the day.
I'm ready to do some tasting.

Wine Play

Pinot noir is finicky, and while waiting for fermentation it likes lots of air. Lucky for this pinot, I was there with a fire hose to give it what it wants. The juice is drained from the bottom of the tank and pumped up through a hose over the cap.
The art of a pump-over.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mis Botas

My boots. Don't be jealous.

Fermentation fog

The tanks are fast filling with fruit, and at $4,000-6,000 per ton, a large tank can easily hold $100,000. Now at various stages of fermentation, the cellar has a strong odor, and the CO2 from opening the lid of a tank hits your lungs with a burning sensation. Careful not to inhale, one could lose consciousness and become wine soup. The barrels were just fitted with new stave inserts to add oak tones without the expense of buying new barrels. They're waiting to be filled with the newly arriving chardonnay. The tourists standing on the rooftop deck are charmed; cellar workers are sleepy and nervous.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In the hose

Harvest has kicked into gear in Carneros with 50-100 tons of fruit arriving daily. The cellar crew is working in two shifts covering 5 a.m.- 2 a.m. Punch downs, pump overs, inoculations and nutrient additions take most of our attention. This is my first harvest, and as the only female on a crew of 20+, I have my challenges set out for me. Learning quickly, working fast, and averting efforts to turn me into an extra-curricular activity take most of my attention. Four-inch hoses like the one above will send the freshly arriving fruit from selection table to tank.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ahh, the romance

Any fluffy ideas about wine making I've had in the past quickly vanished after a brief introduction to the production process. Don't get me wrong, the bubble may have burst, but I do not regret moving cross-country in the interest of learning how to make wine. I'm still as intrigued and interested in studying everything from tank punch-downs to the challenges of vine diseases, dry as it may seem. However, a wine cellar (not the part visible to tourists) is generally a concrete structure of little architectural interest and the wine is made by people who, in many cases, don't even care for the taste of it. A very different picture than I had imagined even three weeks ago. Prior to starting a job in production, I spent a few years buying and selling wine. Much of that time I spent with my nose in either a wine reference book or a glass. Somehow I thought that making wine would attract people with a passion for the product, but in this way it's no different than any other industry. Perhaps a naive idea, as though postal workers are passionate about mail. Still, a little shocked from this realization, I passed this port-a-john on the way to the winery this morning and it all became a little clearer. The romance of humans.


This boat was on the side of the road on my way to work yesterday. Interesting. I'm not familiar with that technique.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Fruit

Our first fruit of the season arrived today from one of our custom crush client vineyards. Luckily ours will be another week. It's a relatively early harvest, which generally does not bode well for a high quality vintage, but only time can tell. (The longer the fruit can stay on the vine, the better chance it has to develop more complex characteristics.)
The winemakers toasted the newly arriving grapes with vintage Champagne, and I made my way to the sorting table to take a closer look. Four hours later, after having tasted, squished, held, and thrown the fruit, I left, covered in a sticky mess of their sugars, with a smile on my face. My introduction to harvest was complete, and true to the region and reputation, Pinot Noir ruled the day.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tank lid

View from the top of an 8,000 gallon fermenter tank overlooking lovely Carneros.

Napa Harvest 2008

Vineyard in the Carneros region of Napa from which these tales of harvest labor will come.