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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Two things that don't go great together

Ah, the whole family picking olives, what a great way to spend quality time together. This has been a very odd year. Our grapes are slow, Sonoma and Napa were claiming super early. Guys a mile away have already picked their Cabernet and our undercropped Barbera still isn't ready. But, the olives are! About two weeks early too. The walnuts fell five days ago, and they usually follow our Aglianico after November first. Oh well, it is actually slotting in nicely.
On the wine front, we pressed the Dolcetto today: stats are about 9 1/2 barrels, sitting at 3.6 pH (they are low on malic acid so probably will stay just below 3.7 pH), dead on 13.9% alcohol, 15-day maceration (4 day soak)and pressed at about 3% residual sugar to finish up. It looks great, not super complex (it never is) but a very nice rich fruit blast with some chocolate and almonds, and good grippy tannins that make your mouth water and want more of that ragu. We are feeling pretty good about it. The Primitivo is also at about 3% sugar and again showing that it is way more delicate than a big burly Zin. The Primi is always the nail biter, tending to go wildly in many directions, making decisions like pressing very difficult. 2005 went Zin-style. 2007 has become a bit lighter in body but darker in flavor, almost Burgundian with dark back-palate and black cherry up front with real fine structure (this one should turn out real good folks). When we figure out where it wants to go, this time, we'll let you know. Oh yeah, Sangiovese is underway too. Weather forecast is good for another 10 days, and we are barely half through with our Barbera (some for rose), our Aglianico, and the big daddy Nebbiolo a mile down the road still hanging.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tools of the trade

Quick quiz: What is the bizarre looking implement to the left? A javelin? Irrigation pipe? Blow gun? No silly, it is an aeration rig. It is the Macgyverish nature of small vineyards and wineries to create interesting devices to get around practical problems. Usually involving PVC, zip ties, or hose clamps. In this case, we want to aerate our fermenting must for the sake of yeast health and also acetaldehyde bridging for tannin structure and color. The cool kids all use racking or pump-over carts for this, far too pricey for us. So instead we hook this rig up to the air compressor, the ball valve at the top keeps it at a low pressure, and the diffuser at the bottom has a bunch of very fine holes, hopefully adding oxygen to the must. Hand punch downs usually accomplish this my submerging the cap in small portions with air trapped in the floating skings, reintroducing it into the ferment. Nice, simple, and easy, though nowhere near as cool as the pump-over carts to remove seeds for delestage. This we are trying to approach now by pumping over out of the racking valve primarily to avoid pumping seeds and hastening seed coat breakdown in our more tannic wines, like the Dolcetto and Aglianico. The Primitivo has a disposition toward grainy astringency so we are being careful with it, though it seems a little too delicate to gobble up much oxygen. Our Primi is not big, jammy Zin style. The Nebbiolo will be hand punched only, just like grandpa used to do it. We are rustic, but smart enough to know how the real guys do it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fire up the wind machine... (again)...

The picture has nothing to do with this post. It is just a reminder that winery dogs are dumb and pedestrian. Winery cats (like squids here) eats everything from bugs to lizards to gophers, requires little attention (an occasional brushing), and doesn't ever smell like a wet dog. Anyway, things are getting a little tense here. Possible frost the next two nights, and we are still waiting on most of our crop. Flavors have almost hit a dead stop, and what was supposedly an early season is starting to look typically late. Tomorrow I will start selectively picking the Primitivo, a few days earlier than we would like based on flavors, but sugars are soaring, acid is dropping, and weather is iffy. Right now the berries are very hazelnut and delicate-floral heavy, no raspberry jam and black pepper Zinfandel flavors in sight, even if the clusters (pictured last post) look the same.
Next week we should have Sangiovese and the Primi fermenting away. Barbera, Aglianico, and Nebbiolo are two weeks away at least. We are low alcohol/low oak and don't want to pick over 25 brix as a general rule, and this causes some anxious nail biting as October wears on. Our frost damage was minor compared to some. But the bit of rain and near-freezing nights slow everything to a crawl. Not to mention that we can't heat our outdoor fermentation tanks, and the Dolcetto is still below 70 degrees; a whole other anxiety issue. It will all work out as it always does, but it won't be easy. In addition our light olive crop will be ready next week possible. Hopefully we can get a half-ton together, the minimum to make pressing worth it. The arbequinas we might just cure ourselves, hopefully to be eaten in a future, food serving tasting room on a charcuterie plate. Keep your fingers crossed.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Frustrating Crljenak Kaštelanski

Primitivo, the descendant of Crljenak Kaštelanski along with Zinfandel, shares the same maddening nature. Notice the green shot berries (hens and chicks), a couple poorly colored berries, a few perfectly ripe berries, raisins (which we hate), and maybe even a touch of black rot. This is what Zinfandel sometimes looks like, and what some of our Primitivo always looks like. Alegedly introduced into Apulia in the 1700's, Primitivo is brother or sister to Zinfandel, and if you Zinfandel aficionados have any question, they look the same (though we believe our Primitivo has a different structure). I removed a lot of shoulders on clusters this summer, and now realize that trimming the wings seems to have balanced out the uneven growth, just like those high-priced, classy guys in Sonoma County do. Part of the charm is that the variable ripeness (supposedly) gives some depth to the wine, with tart acid underripe grapes alongside overripe jam bombs. This is a varietal that you will lose sleep over, unlike Dolcetto and Barbera, but somehow it ends up working like magic in the end. The skins are very thin this year, so structure is questionable, and flavors seem thin - floral and nice, but thin. Carlyle Zinfandel this will not be. Our Primitivo is actually split amongst three blocks though, all with different growth patterns, and right now they are all about a week apart. I am very worried, but the magic in the fermentor can still come together, especially with a long maceration. All I know for sure is that the birds prefer it to all other grapes in our vineyard. They have ruined probably half a ton. We'll take it as a complement.

Dolcetto is cookin'

The Dolcetto looks good. The 2007 was on the more traditional side, a touch tart with a light body in the Piemonte Alba-type style. The 2008 looks to be more like the 2005 - fuller bodied, fully dry chalky tannins, with a round mid-palate (we hope). The Dolcetto likes to be a mid-cropper, and we were at about 3 1/2 tons for the acre - right on target. The berries juiced readily but the flesh was in good shape. It was a touch over 25 brix, just under 14% potential alcohol, right on target. The acid, well, this is Lake County,"high" elevation, very dry, lots of heat, almost no irrigation. We are starting of with native yeasts (the Dolcetto block is right in front of the winery and gets a lot of pommace recycled into it) and then will innoculate half way through with BM 4x4, a newer version of the BM45 Brunello yeats we frequently use. Color is fantastic after two days. The flavors are a bit simple, but hopefully we can help it to open up. My personal dream is to built a Sagrantino di Montefalco style out of it. The Dolcetto can't match the aromatic complexity of that particular Umbrian varietal, and we can't get the haunting blackberry Bordeaux-like element, but the tannins and backbone line up well, and the Dolcetto can make up for it with a firm cherry blast. Next up will be the Primitivo, and it is all over the board, probably to be picked in three installments. So much for a simple harvest. It looks to be much more challenging than the Dolcetto this year.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Progress report 10/1

This is where I start to get excited. Nick gets that stressed-out, headache look, but I love harvest. It only comes once a year (for grape growers anyway) and you had better not screw it up. The Dolcetto will start us off as it normally does on Friday, and what we thought was a nice, spread-out harvest is compressing into one big free-for-all. Water stress means we will start pulling select Primitivo vines on Saturday as some vines are starting to defoliate (most look good though). Trying to dry-farm is tough. It all looks good and then a heat spike throws it all away. Three days over 100 a few weeks ago made for serious fragility.
Crazy thing is: the olives are virtually ready. The crop is incredibly light, almost too little to pick. We are thinking of curing them this year, maybe. The picture shows the tale. This was the most dense selection I could find.
The first picture is our Dolcetto about 12 days ago - cropped o.k., happy and healthy. It looks good this year - possibly really good. The second picture is Barbera - a very heavy cropper normally. Look how light the crop is with no thinning at all. The Barbera on the west side of our property had heavy frost damage. It looks to be at around two tons to the acre (this picture). Our back block of younger vines has been thinned and is probably around four to five! They are only 400 feet apart, but the younger vines are closer to the wind machine! The heavy crop will go for Rose this year, and our older vines will produce the mega-Barbera. I will try to post a little map as each block has a specific place-ness (don't use the t-word!) to its growth patterns and soil issues (except for the gophers, which are everywhere). In a few years, with some increased vine age, dry farming should work.This year, everything got one shot of drip irrigation in August, at veraison. Right now though, it is a delicate balance. It has been a very dry, hot year. The vines sort of stalled out a week ago, but now flavor is picking up noticeably everyday. I have my fingers crossed that our Nebbiolo one mile down the road looks as good.