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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tocai Friulano Pressing Documentary

So here is our de rigueur pressing documentary for the season. This is the Tocai Friulano mentioned a couple of weeks ago. We picked it up early in the morning and set up the equipment to go. Our equipment is not exactly streamlined, but it all makes sense. It is a little dry, but I will dive right in. The big, boxy grey thibg that looks like a Volvo is our crusher and destemmer. The crushed and destemmed grapes are moved by the blue pump directly in front into the basket press in the foreground. In the basket press the grapes are gently squeezed by a water filled bladder inside. This juice is then caught by the little stainless steel box which sieves out the large bits that might make it through the cloth inside the press. From there the juice is pumped by the small diaphragm pump to a tank. Pretty easy.This picture is from a reverse angle (we are using the picking tubs for shade, sorry for the ghetto aesthetic), and the half-ton bin is simple picked up by the forklift to the height of the hopper, and grapes are ever so gently laid into the hopper of the crusher to be destemmed.But wait, I want to press these grapes, but they look like crap! There are several rants waiting to post on this blog, so this one will be short. We asked the grower about sunburn when we walked the field. When we picked them up they were, well, not up to par. See all the brown, sunburned grapes in the bin? Shoddy, hack work. Poor picking.
People, we live in a three dimensional world. Growers, your trellisses and growing patterns should respect the fact that the earth revolves, the sun turns, and your static two-dimensional trellis is garbage. Vertical shoot positioning (VSP for short) was all the rage for a while, but it does not work if the entire vineyard is not properly laid out. Growers, do it right, we try to, you can too! Position those canes, shade the fruit!Oh yeah, look at this beauty. The trellis is North-South on a flat vertical plane, but the sun roles over the trellis from East to West, and the afternoon sun just toasts everything because it has no foliage protection. Rookie junk here.Anyway, after spending HOURS picking and shaving all of the sunburned berries, the press is loaded to the top, with some rice hulls to facilaitae pressing. The bladder is slowly filled to fourty pounds psi, dripped ry, and then remixed and repressed, three times in this case. Eventually, all one ton is compressed into the press, and called the "cake".The leftover grape skins are then takien out to the field and worked into the soil. The juice then settles for two days and is pumped into another tank and starts fermenting with a bit of yeast. These Sauvignon Blanc-type varietals produce a ton of nasty junk that produces off flavors. We had a good fifteen gallons of gross sludge at the bottom of the tank, a loss of about 10%!So, now, the Tocai is sitting inside the winery in front of the air conditioner, sitting at about 62F, fermenting away about one degree of sugar a day, right on track. I float two frozen milk jugs each morning and each evening in the tank. Right now, at eighteen brix, it tatses like iced tea - this is good but anxiety inducing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Port is on the way

We are in the midst of the the real exciting part of harvest, but we also have a massive bottling project under way as well. We gave our bottles a modest redesign for 2008. We bottled the Rosato several days ago and here the bossman is bottling our Dolcetto Dessert Wine (you can't call it Port! says the TTB) in our super cute 375ml screen print bottles, with real corks! (reference earlier post for the cork quandary). Modeled on a traditional vintage Port, meaning two years barrel aging and able to suck up massive amounts of bottle time, this guy is not some crappy Ruby. We didn't just take some dead and lifeless 30 Brix Zin that would never ferment dry and decide to make Port. No Sir, this is dedicated Dolcetto with about 18% Aglianico to add a rigid spice and cherry spine. It is high acid with very modest sugar that will continue to fade out while the bouquet comes forward. Hopefully it will be ready to release next summer. I the meantime the winery is full of cases of empty glass, waiting for several of the 2008s to fill them with goodness.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Managing to chill

One of the worst parts of making very small lots of wine with limited equipment is the constant cooling and heating management of tanks and drums with miniscule amounts of fermenting wine in them. The tank in the picture behind has barely 500 liters of Tocai Friulano in it, not enough to come up to the cooling jacket. It is cold settling and wants to be at 50 F, but is at 70 F, and we went through eighty pounds of ice on the floating lid to bring it down. Notice the two milk jugs in the photo. Those are frozen jugs that will go into the two drums of fermenting Refosco. Right now, at 11:15 at night, we are trying to cool the first ton of Dolcetto, which I need to go stir again, so at least things are starting to happen...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I know it looks boring, but...

Wanna see something cool, something almost none ever sees? Think you know grapes do you? Ever see The Matrix (sorry for pedestrian and banal reference)? This is the Dionysian real world, from whence it all really came. This is the Nova Vine growing ground in Yolo County. This is where your rootstocks are grown, and this is where your budwood is grown. Then it is shipped to Sonoma county where it is grafted together per order. Sounds, eh, moderately o.k. But wait, if you like grapes, this is an ampelographical crash course, a chance to see clonal variation up close and personal, and to taste the sweet result. I only took a few pictures, but look:
This is one of two rootstock fields, this is what they actually look like in their true ungrafted form. Like Ivy they are opportunistic climbers, spreading in all directions until a tree gives them a trellis to climb. These could be St. George (though they usually have a touch of red at the edges), 110R, 101, 5C imagine all the possibilities! But the cool part is the two hundred rows of clones from which the budwood is taken to be grafted onto the rootstock.
Almost each of these rows has something different growing. Right now I think they have six different clones of Sangiovese. That means you could personally observe (and taste!) the differences between Brunello, Lamole, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, two clones of Romagnolo, and another one I can't remember. Of course the terroir here affects the grapes, sandy soil, hot climate, lots of irrigation (these are for wood remember, not necessarily wine) leads to intense aromatics, but little body or color. Nova has a good hold on the Italian market (we have most of our vines through them), and they are producing whatever disease free clones Foundation Plant Services approves, so I will be keeping my eye on their Ribolla Gialla, Negro Amaro, etc... All those cool new things.
This is a row of Nebbiolo, clone FPS 11. (Dropped fruit allows for more shoot growth and budwood). FPS 11 is the new shizzle, supposedly the real Lampia clone that 01 pretended to be. It is about a month from ripeness, the tannins where enamel stripping, but notice the growing habit, its spindly canefulness must be cane pruned, not cordon because of its low basal bud fertility (Wikipedia that one). Nebbiolo is a bizarre world unto itself, and even a month from ripeness, there where clear differences between the three clones in flavor.
This is the Negro Amaro row. We have 500 on order for next year, and they will come from this row, so I thought a picture would be informative. It is similar to the Nebbiolo in its cane growth, but a very different cropper. Notice how different the foliage is. Worlds apart flavor wise, and geographically in Italy. I could have taken 100 more pictures and bored you with the new Cab Franc clone I found and tasted, or how heat resistant the Fiano was, or how they have Teroldego now, or how, I'll just say it, "charming" the Grignolino was. Imagine a world-wide wine tasting - this was a grape tasting. Carmenere, different Grenache clones, the saline Rousanne and the bassy Montepulciano. I think it is just awesome. While we were there we scavenged our meager barrel and a half of Refosco with a touch of Lagrein while our vines grow. Our first red crush of the year, so finally some action is beginning.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Excited about Tocai Friulano

Tocai Friulano - another confusing grape with a juicy Italian name and an nefarious French connection. Tocai seems to be related to Sauvignon Blanc, and by extension possibly identical to Sauvignon Vert, which is the supposedly shameful clone that has caused Chile to reexamine all of its Sauv Blanc. Others believe that it is related to Hungary's Furmint, hence that confusing conflation of Hungarian Tokaji and Tokai names, and the TTB issuing new labeling guidelines in that vein. If it is considered a "lesser" form of Sauvignon Blanc, the Italian Tocai provides a nice white, relatively low in acid but with some of Sauvignon green melon and passion fruit flavors minus the cat pee and asparagus. I also find a bit of Pinot Blanc-ish light-in-the-loafersness plus some honeyedness depending on how it is fermented that I go crazy for (in the right hands). It can take a touch of oak in fermentation. Sounds like a winner right? I thought so too as I sampled random grapes from Lowell Stone's vineyard in Napa. The decision maker was a bottle of Larkmead's Tocai from their own plot of 100-year-old vines, a nicely balanced, elegant Napa take on Ital/French white that I just can't argue with. Long story short, we get a ton on Friday!
Incidentally, there are three VCR clones now, meaning that if it is just Sauvignon Vert, the Italians are taking it awfully seriously. It is the white complement to Refosco in Friuli, insert shameless plug for a varietal we make when we can, and by the way, our 200 newly planted Refosco vines are doing quite well, don't think we lost a single one. An ironic twist is that generally the red Refosco is higher in acid than than the white Tocai, supporting the notion that understanding Italian wine is for those with too much time on their hands.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What does it look like to you?

The moon on a foggy night? That totally awesome Iron Maiden show a decade ago? How about a tank of Chardonnay so low that it can't reach the cooling jacket and I am dumping dry ice in, living out my air guitar fantasies at the same time. Harvest has started, and I swear to be a better blogger...