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Friday, November 12, 2010

Totally unprofessional olive mill repost

It is shameful to do this, but time is short. So, this is a repost. It is my repost but a repost all the same. We harvested a little over a ton of Tuscan blend olives today. The Arbequinas are about 2 weeks out. Did not get any cool pictures or glam shots. So, in the interest of olive season, we present "A trip to the olive mill, 2008":

The story of the olive goes back a few years, about 6,000. From Phoenicians to Athena to your favorite earth-toned Tuscan Villa (that actually bought theirs from Spain), the olive is a classic, kind of like Bottle Caps. Fast forward to the golden age of Kelseyville, Ca., and take a (very) brief trip through the processing of our 885 pounds of olives by Father Emilio Rafael.

Step 1. Dump picked olives into hopper, where a conveyor takes them through a brief fan-driven leaf remover and a very quick rinsing cycle. The water will centrifuge off, so that is not a problem. Then they enter:

The hammer mill that grinds them up, seeds and all, into an emulsified paste that will be worked for about 45 minutes, until the emulsion starts to break down and the water and oil start to separate, sort of like when your Bearnaise dehydrates or gets too cool or hot. This allows full oil release from the solids. It then will be pumped to the:

Horizontal centrifuge (notice the 2" hose full of olive paste coming in on the lower left of the picture). Spinning at 45,000 rpm this gives a rough separation of the solid matter, the oil, and the watery components that are pumped out through the screen in the middle of the picture. The partially processed oil is then moved to a final centrifuge

moving at 55,000 rpm that gives a final separation of oil from water and a final particulate removal down one micron! Here the beautifully green stuff trickles clean as a whistle into a receptacle that is far too large for the tiny crop. Actually, the oil still needs to settle for a couple of months. Like wine organic solids and components have just been altered, beaten, and traumatized. They they need to do their chemical dance of oxidation, precipitation, and general new life cycle type stuff. Out of the horizontal centrifuge burps the watery paste that remains after extraction, kind of an almondy smelling gross but kind of appealing gray sludge without a trace of olive oil essence.

Olives are slow work. In four days of picking we managed a lowly 885 pounds, yielding a grand 13.2 gallons of oil. Like Nick says, you can imagine in the old days that parents were always yelling at their children to turn off the damn oil lamps whenever they left the room. And a final picture of all three machines together, processing left to right.

Well, there youy have it. Of course yield should be three tons this year (we hope) which is hopefully in the 90-100 gallon range. The oil can actually vary quite a it depending on the growing conditions of the year, harvest time, potential insect damage (olive fly is always a concern) and other agricultural vagaries.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sagrantino, Montefalco, to Tracy Hills

     Sagrantino is one of the new "in" grapes like Vermentino and Gruner Veltliner. There is a lot of hubbub over this grape and only about twelve acres are planted in the California. Ridgely Evers has a little a bit planted in Dry Creek Valley that famed nut ball Alice Feiring made lots of videos of herself slipping and sliding around a bin filled with a couple of hundred pounds of fruit in an attempt to stomp out a "natural wine" masterpiece. The other bit we know of (where Jacuzzi gets theirs) is from Tracy Hills AVA.

     Sagrantino is native to Umbria and twenty years ago it had dwindled to a paltry 250 acres. It was used in either Montefalco Rosso which is mostly Sangiovese and up to 15% Sagrantino blended in (which has a remarkable structuring effect) or it was made into a very wonderful but very limited sweet passito wine. Sagrantino is very tannic (at least in Italy - it is the inverse of our Aglianico problem in which all California Aglianicos tend to be even more tannic than the Italian ones) and is famed as having the highest phenolic content of any grape - which may or may not translate directly into tannin. It likes clay soils, handles heat well, and is a lighter cropper unlike neighboring Sangiovese's excessiveness.

     Stylistically it is quite interesting and clearly belonging to the "noble" class. Despite its stature it, like Nebbiolo, generally does not make a really dark wine (though Colpetrone's is pretty roasty). It has an almost ruby Bordeauxish color but with great clarity. The stunning thing is that like the other noble Italian reds it is FLORAL at the same moment it is dense, earthy and jammy. Know how Nebbiolo is split into high tone floral beauty and dark tarry reductive stank? Sagrantino does that same schtick but on a warmer climate blackberry fruit core. The wines tend to ripen in the 13.5 - 14.5% range and there is a bit of sun-ripened jamminess. Acidity is moderate. Though big and burly it is also elegant and light toned like Nebbiolo over all that rich earth and mineral. It does not have the reductive character but it is capable of great mineral length and a similar clarity and concission of flavor and top to bottom depth.

    The leading producers are Caprai and Paolo Bea and these two are the benchmarks and pricey. Bea pulls out ridiculous 50-day macerations while Caprai is a little cleaner and more updated without being "New World." Antonelli is an effective bargain at around $35 (it is a good clean option with no new oak) and is available. If you pick up a bottle, go for age and decant. Our four barrels finished up fermentation a week ago and are now doing extended maceration in the traditional mold. It keeps changing a little bit the same way that Nebbiolo tastes different from day to day and hour to hour. In Umbria it can not be released for 30 months after harvest, and that amount of time is probably just about right, unfortunately.

     If Sagrantino sounds interesting to you Gary Vaynerchuk devoted a Wine Library TV episode to it HERE - the ending when he tastes the Paolo Bea is one of the funnier things I have seen...