All posts by NovaCadamatre

The Top Essential Tools of the Professional Winemaker – 2016 Update

I originally did this post back in 2010 and decided it would be fun to see if the same tools were needed.  I feel sometimes that I get caught up in working and doing my job that I forget there are rather interesting things that I absolutely can not make wine without (outside of the obvious grapes or barrels) that most of the non-winemaking public would scratch their head over.  Here is my updated 2016 version!

7) Frequent Flier Programs

Now that I am flying a TON more than I used to, I am pretty attached to my Mileage Plus account with United.  All the checked bag fees waived and time saved going through security is very helpful and helps me get on to my next destination be it China, California, or back home to New York.

6) Even More Calendars!

I know what you’re thinking.  In today’s era of technology why would anyone still need a paper calendar?  I used to have two, plus my Outlook calendar.  Now that I have direct reports, I have three.  Two full year calendars (one for me and one for the entire department including Kosher holidays!). Then there is the Monthly calendar showing holidays, major meetings, or short day trips.  I use my Outlook calendar for the daily stuff, meetings, tastings, etc.  Call my OCD but its how my life works.

5) Colored Highlighters

I have different 8 colored highlighters.  They are great when you have your list together and are coming up with a blending plan.  You can show similar colors going together.  You can highlight different analysis that may need attention.  You can make different colors show up on your abovementioned calendars to denote days out of office and why.  There are so many uses for colored highlighters in the winery!  This can also be transferred over to colored dry erase markers for a tank board to show wines going through ML, filtered wines, fermentations, and different vintages.  We’re very visual beings and being able to visually organize your life makes issues easier to spot and fix.

4) Clipboards

Clipboards are still important but have become far less important than in previous years.  I’m down to one on a regular basis but this one is rarely out of my hand and contains my daily to do list plus notes from meetings and things to follow up on.   They are great for carrying around the cellar to write on.

3) Whiteboards

How did I get along without whiteboards?  I have three and they are amazing.  I have two small ones to track things that need to be done and one large one to track things I have completed from the list on the two smaller ones plus all incoming bulk shipments into the winery.  Long story short, I love them and am not letting them go!

2) Excel Spreadsheets

I can safely say that I am completely hooked on spreadsheets.  My Christmas list is now in Excel format, not to mention all of my wine blends.  They are super convenient because you can plug in theoretical blends and analysis and get an idea of where your wine will end up analytically.  This doesn’t take the place of trial blends put together on a counter top but it sure does help when you’re trying to tweak the analysis numbers in a wine a bit.  You can also sort lot lists by just about anything that one may need to sort for which is so much faster than trying to make a new list by hand all the time.

1) Wineglass

Still number one! One cannot make wine without using a wineglass.  We carry them around in the cellar, in the lab, have them sitting on our desks.  You really can’t make any winemaking decision without a wineglass.  The wine MUST be looked at, smelled, tasted, and considered fully before any of the above tools can assist you going forward.  If you catch a winemaker out at dinner and their water glass is even close to the shape of a wine glass they will undoubtedly subconsciously swirl it and sniff at some point.  We’re just that used to having one around us at all times.

To my winemaking colleagues, did I miss anything?  Feel free to add to the list!

Bordeaux 2011: Vintage Review

This past week, at the culmination of the Master of Wine seminar, the Institute of the Masters of Wine held their annual Bordeaux tasting.  This year focused on the 2011 vintage.  After the spectacular back to back successes of 2009 and 2010, 2011 brought a challenging year but also a year where the individual communes could show their classic styles.

  
Weather Recap
The spring started off a bit on the early side and rapidly warmed up to the second warmest April on record.  May followed suit and also was quite dry causing an early flowering.  Drought conditions early in the year can cause difficulties later in the season if enough water is not available to the vine during the time just after flowering.  This period of the year is called the “cell division and expansion phase” and allows the vine to set the number of cells that will make up the grape later in the season.  If not enough water is available during this phase the berries can remain quite small which, if water becomes available later in the season can cause splitting and exacerbate rot.  Drought conditions during this phase can also affect shoot growth and leaf development which may result in the vine being out of balance.

June of 2011 in Bordeaux was equally problematic due to a severe heat spike which resulted in early sunburn on many vineyards.  Sunburn damages the cells of the grape skins and results in reduced color and flavor formation.  Late season sunburn can also result in cooked flavors however this was not the case since July rapidly cooled and the rains returned leading some estates to worry about rot.  Additional large rainstorms in September caused many estates to pick earlier than usual further exacerbating an already difficult year.  As always, those producers willing to make the rigorous cuts in fruit selection were able to make good wines.  Here are my impressions from the various regions.

Graves

Still quite a ripe style of wines over the producers I tasted.  Not as intense as 2009 or 2010 however some black fruit is evident, more so than most of the other communes.  The tannins were characteristically gravelly over all and the mid palate was missing some of the generosity of the previous two vintages.  Overall a classic representation of the area.

St. Emillion

St. Emillion was showing its very structured, slightly blocky tannins and quite a bit more cassis and dry herb notes than the past two years, clearly reflecting the cool season post veraison.  For my tastes, I definitely preferred its neighbor Pomerol for the 2011 vintage.

Pomerol

Pomerol still showed the lush mid-palate weight that it is known for relative to St. Emillion however 2011 was a more classic vintage for the region than the previous two.  The minerality of the old world is back and was something I had found missing in the uber ripe previous two vintages.  The texture of tannin was chunky and the Merlot dominant blends were clearly apparent when compared to the more fine grained tannins of the Left bank.

Haut Medoc

Granitic minerality with focused cassis and dry herb characters but only modest mid-palate weight and structure.

St. Estephe

Quite lean mid palate and high, fine grained tannins.  Lots of cassis but some black cherry and wet granite as well.  These definitely need time to soften.

  
St. Jullien

This commune was my favorite for the vintage.  The elegance of the styles complemented the classic beauty of this vintage and the wines showed very well integrated oak balanced with beautifully textured, fine grained tannins.  These wines stood out as having the most affinity for the cool end of the season and the lovely texture of the wines reflected winemaking that embraced the vintage rather than working against it.

 
Paulliac

The most surprising of the communes I tasted since there seemed to have been little regard for what 100% new oak would taste like over the natural flavors of such a classic and restrained vintage.  In many of the producers I tasted, the oak was dominant and overpowered the more delicate fruit.  Maybe with time, this will integrate further however I am not convinced it will resolve.

Margaux

A lovely showing for Margaux.  Although the perfume of the commune was not as apparent in this vintage, the tannins were powerful and refined with a velvety texture which complemented the highly concentrated mid-palate.  Of all the communes, Margaux seemed to have retained the most concentration on the palate and the ripest fruit profile showing blueberries and black cherries.  The elegant style and mineral notes still clearly said old world however, which is a welcome change from the riper styles of the previous two vintages.  These wines are evolving beautifully and should show classic complexity in the years to come.

Of course, much of the wines that were tasted are classed growths with the means to handle a challenging vintage and come out on the other side with a classically elegant wine.  This means that the widespread deliciousness of the 2009 and 2010 vintages will be restricted to those estates with the means to be very selective and I would choose from the non-classed wineries very selectively.  It’s a good year to know the history of the producers.  If they were able to make a good or great wine in 2007, it is likely that they would be able to repeat the performance from the 2011 vintage.

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Of What are MW Students Afraid? Or Why I’m Out of Reasons to be Afraid.

This week marks the beginning of my 7th MW seminar.  This blog will be 6 years old in March so I have managed to chronicle most of my triumphs and despairs on it.  When one come into the program as a “first year” (yes it’s very Hogwarts-esque) there are lots of feelings one has to deal with.  The excitement of being in the program and on my way to becoming an MW is what I remember most from my first year.  That first seminar was an eye opener.  It was so amazing to be in the same room with so many people as passionate about wine as I was.  I also remember getting half way through the seminar and finding one of my fellow First Years in the hallway, freaking out because he had not realized how much effort it was going to take to prep for the exam.  “I’m 40 years old,” he said. “I don’t have time to do all this.” Which brings me to fear #1.

How do I find time to do all of this?

Like Nike always says, JUST DO IT. You make time.  If it is important enough in your life, you make time for it.  I’ve been up until midnight working on assignments, I’ve read wine books on airplanes, and I’ve gotten up at 5 in the morning to work on notes. I’ve fallen asleep on my practical notebook and woken up with three ring binder imprints in my cheek.  No one said this is easy and no one is forcing anyone to do it.  Just make it a priority if it’s that important.  If it’s not that important, save your money and don’t put yourself through this.

What if I fail my first year assessment so badly that they kick me out?

Every successful MW student comes to the end of their first year with this fear. If one doesn’t have this fear then one is either are a freaking genius with nothing else going on or so egotistical that one doesn’t realize that they don’t know everything.  I’ve seen more of the latter than the former.  The vast majority fall into the camp somewhere in between that they have at least pondered this fear at one point or another.  The first year assessment is the last gas station on a long road through the desert and those that have done the prep are usually fine. On rare occasions, students will be asked to repeat the first year or move to the second year without sitting the exam at the end but most are just fine. You stop in, fill up, get supplies and then set off into the “Second Year.”

What if they figure out I don’t know everything?

At some point in the journey to the MW, you begin to feel like a little bit of a fraud. It seems so many people around you have it all figured out and you are just waiting for someone to point out that you really are dumb at something and shouldn’t be here.  I’ve heard this come out of the mouths of MW’s who have passed it all and are still wondering how it happened (I won’t mention names of course).  What you eventually come to realize is that it is impossible to know everything and each student has their strengths and weaknesses.  The key is to find students that have your weaknesses as strengths and hang out with them.  Pick their brains, don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, and learn all you can from them.  I have always found that my fellow students were some of the best resources for knowledge and the seminar gives you a week to befriend as many as possible to share knowledge with.  They are in the same boat so they understand the detail which you need to glean.  People who are not in the program are helpful but generally not as helpful as students who are walking in the same trench you are.

What if I fail the exam?

At the end of your second year it is time to sit the exam. Nowadays, students only have the option of putting this off a year if they don’t feel ready but must sit during their second “second year”.  Back in the day, when I started this trek, you could wait almost indefinitely to sit the exam which resulted in many students that didn’t feel ready, not sitting for years.  The second year is the doldrums.  It is truly the most depressing part of the program.  The more “second years” you go through the more depressing it is.  I’ve heard many a student say “But what if I fail? I’ve used up one of my three chances to pass!”  So what?  You’ve failed.  You have more chances and are the wiser for trying it.  The only way to become an MW is to pass the exam and the only way to pass the exam is to sit the exam.  If you fail, you have lost nothing and have probably gained valuable experience and knowledge along the way (if you have properly prepped for the exam, which if you haven’t please see my final sentence under fear #1).  Trust me, as someone who has failed the exam 5 times in some way, shape, or form at this point, failing the exam is not as bad as everyone assumes it is.  Take time to grieve, decide if you want to continue, then if so, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, make a plan, and go again.

What if I fail so often, they kick me out?

There are two points that this fear comes into play. The first is on your third attempt if you haven’t passed either the practical or the theory by then.  The second is on your fifth attempt if you have passed either by your third attempt. If a student is worried about this prior to either of these moments please re-read the paragraph above.  Again, so what?  It’s an opportunity to remember what life was like before the MW.  It’s time to reevaluate and decide if this is something that is truly worth it.  After my 5th fail, I had decided that I needed to hang it up.  I was ready to do that.  I found other things in my life that were just as important to start working on.  After about a month, I was already missing the camaraderie of the program and (strangely enough) I was missing having something to occupy every spare minute of every day.  There was a hole in my life that could only be filled by being involved with this organization, which brings me to the following fear…

What if people think I’m crazy? Heck, I think I’m crazy!

Honestly this doesn’t matter. All that matters is that my family is supportive and I have the passion and the drive to keep going regardless of the odds and regardless of the obstacles in my path.  At some point, probably soon, I’m going to run out of money to keep going at which case I’ll probably take some additional time off and then get back at it however. Having decided that at some point in my life I will be an MW, nothing is going to stop me because I’m not afraid anymore. Well, maybe I’m afraid of one thing.

What if I take the most times to pass the exam that ANYONE has ever taken?

Honestly, I probably won’t care because I’ll still have the initials and the camaraderie of the group and I’ll have looked at the exam forwards, backwards, and sideways to the point that I breathe it and what future MW student could ask for a better mentor than that?

So here we go, attempt number 6! Bring it!