Tag Archives: Winemaking

Small Bites: My Quick News Roundup!

There is so much to talk about from the past few weeks while my family and I have been relocating across the country!  I decided to break them down into small bites…

Bite 1: Arsenic Anyone?

I really don’t want to give this story any more time than it takes for me to acknowledge it however Alder Yarrow from Vinography.com did an amazing post telling you why exactly you shouldn’t be worried about this and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, please read his post here.

Bite 2: WE’RE HERE!!!!!

We arrived into the beautiful and chilly state of New York last weekend and are now settling into our new house.  Currently one entire room is devoted to unpacked, empty boxes but once those get hauled away tomorrow we should be in fairly good shape as far as moving in is concerned.
 

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I started my new job last week and while it is a dramatic change from Robert Mondavi, it should present a good challenge.  Back in January, we closed on 12 acres on the shores of Seneca lake and I went out that day to put “Posted” signs up.  Upon our return last weekend all but 1 of the 6 signs were torn down.  I’m hoping it is just a combination of wind and extreme cold but I can’t help but be worried that the former owner of a nice deer stand on our land may have had something to do with it.  Our goal is to clear much of the land this summer once the soil dries out some from all the snow this winter.  That way we can start to see where our future house and vineyards will go! We are very excited about this new phase of our lives.

Bite 3: Vintage 2015 Update

New York: It’s cold.  It has been VERY, VERY cold this winter.  I’m a little concerned that we may not have many grapes to make wine with from the western side of the state.  Even though we got another 3 inches of snow this morning, signs of spring are everywhere.  Those 3 inches were mostly melted away by mid afternoon.  Robins are showing up and Canadian Geese can be heard flying overhead, heading North.  Maybe we’ll be close to budbreak around the middle of May.

Napa:  Budbreak is everywhere and frost season is in full swing according to a friend of mine.  There has still been very little rain so the area is poised for a 3rd consecutive drought season.  Again, I wouldn’t want the be the grower that has to choose between protecting what crop they may have this year and saving water so that they can ripen that crop.

Those are the bites for the week!  Happy growing season everyone!

 

My Top Five Winemaking Nightmares

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I recently read this post from wine searcher entitled “Every Winemaker’s Nightmare comes true.”  The “Nightmare” mentioned was that someone slipped into the winery at night and opened the taps on 4 tanks which emptied them down the drain.  Honestly, this is pretty far down on my “nightmare” list.  So that got me thinking, what IS on a winemaker’s nightmare list?

Someone getting hurt

This is my top one.  As a winemaker you rely on your vineyard and cellar team everyday.  While we try to keep everyone as safe as possible there are significant risks in our industry.  My biggest fear is CO2.  We generate a ton of it during fermentations.  It is invisible, heavy, and you don’t see it coming until it hits you.  Anyone who has had the breath knocked out of them from CO2 has a healthy respect for it.  Every time I see a picture somewhere of some person standing over an open top fermentor on a board punching down I cringe.  I cringe just thinking about it.  It’s so stupid and dangerous! Likewise for vineyard and winery equipment.  Tractors and forklifts, occasionally mixed with dimly lit vineyards and parking lots during harvest when everyone is working all the time do not make for ideal conditions.  High Vis colors and vests are a must!  Seriously, this is top of mind for me at all times.  You have to keep your crew safe!

Microbes and Fruit Flies

Brett, Acetobacter, and film yeasts.  Malolactic bacteria in a crisp white.  That weird ropy stuff which is totally disgusting.  The Fruit flies which carry all the nasty things I listed above around the winery.  Now I am not a germ-phobe.  These things exist and that is ok.  My fear lies in not knowing where they are.  If you have contamination (and unless you have a completely new winery that has never seen a grape, you do), knowing where it is located is the first line of defense.  My fear is that there are places of contamination that I don’t know about so each new find is a small victory.  If you know where it is, you can take action to control it.

People Who Don’t Know How to Open Sparkling Wine Bottles Safely

This loosely ties into the safety section above but when you add more than 6 atmospheres of pressure held together by glass and a potential projectile plus a cavalier attitude, things can go south quickly.  Maybe it is because in my days of sparkling winemaking, I had so many bottles blow out their corks rapidly once you loosened the cage.  Maybe it is because when you are bottling sparkling wine from a Charmat tank you occasional find a weak bottle and it explodes sending everyone into a “hit the deck” type reaction.  Magnums were particularly loud and tended to take out the bottles next to them as well leading to explosions in rapid succession.  Safety glasses are a must in that situation. Anyway, back to random people opening sparkling wine bottles.  Most of the time people assume you need to remove the cage from the bottle to open it.  Not so.  As soon as you loosen the cage, you just took the safety off and it should be treated with respect and care.  Always properly chill the wine before opening.  Gently unscrew the wire and loosen the cage with your other hand and preferably a napkin holding the top of the cage.  At that point, you begin to slowly twist the bottom of the bottle while holding the cork AND the cage together at the top.  The cork should slowly push out from the pressure behind it with a quiet “Piffffff” not a loud POP!  Please do not wave around an uncaged bottle with a cork and, for goodness sakes, do not point it at other people or breakable objects!

Cellar Mistakes

Your dream starts like this.  You’ve just completed a masterpiece blend.  You and your colleagues taste it and all agree that it is the best wine that you all have ever been involved in.  The excitement is palpable.  Maybe it’s received one of those super high pre-bottling range scores from a well known critic (95-98 anyone?).  Maybe it’s going to shoot sales into the stratosphere? Maybe it will sell out in 1 week all to your wine club?

Mabye….? Oh wait, your cellar comes to say they actually just blended a key component of your amazing, earth shattering blend, into another variety from a completely different blend, maybe even from a completely different appellation rendering both components next to useless.

Maybe you’ve gotten the blend together successfully but someone in your cellar has been storing the transfer hoses next to a cooling tower that has Bromine in it for sanitation and your entire blend gets contaminated by TBA (similar smell to TCA “cork” taint) on it’s way to the bottling line.

And you wake up and breathe a sigh of relief that it was only a nightmare.

Natural Disasters

Earthquake anyone? This is a double worry with people getting hurt and your winery falling apart all at the same time.  Losing wine? Lowest priority at that point.

Polar Vortex? If you are in New York, as I am now, the winter lows are dropping dangerously close to the bud kill point for your varieties.  This can lead to reduced crops at best and dead vines at worst some of which may not show up until the following summer due to damaged vascular systems which are no longer able to pull enough water to sustain healthy growth.

Hurricanes during harvest? Nothing is guaranteed to turn healthy grapes to mush faster than driving wind and 12 inches of rain over a 48 hour period. Trust me.

Not fun…

Vandalism

Oh yeah that. Occasionally ( and I do mean occasionally) once or twice a year the thought of vandalism crosses my mind but not until after all of the above things have been mentally chewed over multiple times.  Honestly, it’s just wine.  It can be replaced. That’s why you have insurance.  Of all of them, this is probably the easiest to deal with because it is the least likely to happen particularly if you take precautions such as proper security measures.  This is really not very high on my list at all and if I was writing this without the inspiration from the post linked above, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to include it.  Just goes to show how a great headline can grab your attention.

 

 

 

Unified Recap 2015

Another Unified has come and gone.  This year’s talks were excellent and I found myself torn on several occasions trying to decide which to attend.  The Keynote speaker luncheon was extremely interesting from Kendall-Jackson Family President, Rick Tigner, who gave us all insight into how that company views it’s place in the wine world; “A Real Estate company who has wineries and makes wine to buy more real estate.”  His talk was a nice review of my past few years studying for the MW exam.  It was good to know that my observations were shared in the industry.

I ended up going to the Alcohol in Balance seminar although I also really wanted to go to the Marketing talk on “Content is King” at the same time.  As a winemaker, I felt I should attend at least one winemaking talk, right?  This talk covered the reasons behind the push towards lower alcohol wines including social responsibility, lower calories, and lower alcohol in general for serving size purposes. While certain critics who have given high marks to high alcohol wines were mentioned (no names being named of course), I found it interesting that the panelists avoided talking about the critics who praise the wineries that lean towards lower alcohol.  Some of the panelists were driven by market demand and others by philosophy to produce wines of more restraint and “freshness” as Steve Matthiasson, a Napa grower and winemaker, put it.  There was quite a discussion around vineyard yields and how they are not directly correlated to quality.  There also seemed to be a very vocal segment of the panel and audience that believe that Napa is currently undercropped as a whole, leading to vine imbalance, leading to needing increased sugars year after year to reach “ripe” flavors.

The State of the Industry was enlightening as always.  There was lots of speculation as to what the strengthening dollar will do to the industry as this makes American wines more expensive to purchase in other countries.  Mike Veseth pointed out the interesting correlation of “Gold, Black Gold, and Bordeaux” explaining that the Gold, Oil, and Bordeaux markets are very similar to each other and all three seem to be up or down together.  Being “Green” is still something to strive for and is becoming more important according to Veseth. The global wine market was discussed including the implosion of the UK “Monopsony” due to the rise in UK import duties on wines.  In the US, if your wine is above $12.00/ 750mL you are probably doing ok but below that times are tough.  It is the market of volume and small margins which is not doing very well and slowly losing market share to the upper tier wines.  Prosecco and Portugal have had good years in the US both showing excellent growth.

Jeff Bitter gave us an overview of the California grape supply which echoed what Veseth had highlighted with the price points.  If you are selling to wineries who sell above $12/750 you are probably ok, unless you are growing Merlot which is still having a tough time.  If you are selling to wineries making wines below $12 you are probably hurting, potentially thinking about pulling your vineyard, and eyeing alternative crops unless you are selling to Gallo’s Barefoot. Bitter highlighted this by saying nearly 2/3 of all vineyards pulled in California’s central valley are wine grapes and over the past 4 months over 22,000 acres have been pulled.  It is a trend he does not see slowing down anytime soon.  On vineyards being planted, the nurseries report that nearly 1/3 of all vineyards going in the ground are Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet glut in the making anyone??  Pinot Gris is also making a run with projected increases in acres of up to 23% over the next three years.

Jon Fredrikson then came up to cover the US wine market.  He also preached the “tale of two markets” however his split was at $9.00; above is ok, below is hurting.  He also stated that 75% of wine by volume is in the “below $9″ range in the US market.  He said everyday wines are getting stiff competition from non-wine products and are suffering from changing demographics in the marketplace.  Craft beers sales surpassed sales of sub-$10 wines in 2012 and do not show any signs of slowing down according to Fredrikson.  The rise of “Craft” beers and spirits in addition to the lower domestic wine production due to the short 2010 and 2011 vintages have caused the sales of wines to flatten out in 2012 and 2013.  More and more restaurant beverage lists branch out to include beer pairings and specialty cocktails put together by “rockstar mixologists” and Cider is also skyrocketing, both of which are eating into the wine marketshare.  This talk finished with the announcement of DFV Wines being named Winery of the Year.  Congrats to them!

One of the more off the radar talks I attended was one covering Regulatory issues facing wineries from DTC, Social Media, and 3rd party sales channels.  I know, I know, not the most exciting stuff but the talk proved very enlightening.  The panel, made up of lawyers John Trinidad and Kristen Techel, TTB representative Theresa McCarthy, and Jeff Carroll of Ship Compliant, covered a wide range of legal issues, most of which I had never really contemplated.  The largest warning I can give from the information in this talk is to those of us personally involved in the wine industry.  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A LEGAL DISCLAIMER ON ALL SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR BLOGS DIFERINTIATING YOUR PERSONAL SITES FROM YOUR COMPANY.  Did I type that loud enough?? Mine is located on my “About Me” site if you need an example.  If you don’t have this protecting you and your company affiliation is listed or talked about in your profile, the TTB could treat your personal site as a company site which means it would fall under the TTB regulations for industry advertisements, tied house laws, and other issues.  Yes, its a stretch, and yes, likely small producers and obscure employees of even large wineries would be ok but do you really want to take that chance? I don’t!  There was tons of good info in this talk and I highly recommend trying to get a recording of it if you didn’t attend.  It was definitely the least attended of all the talks I went to however, it was eye-opening.

This year was fantastic and I can’t wait for next year!