It’s that time of year again. The winery seems to move into hibernation mode after harvest, with the 2012 wines aging in barrel and the vines dormant. And then the bottling line gets started up and the clanking of bottles begins. To be honest, bottling days don’t usually rank high as a favorite winemaking activity among winemakers and production staff. The stringent quality control guidelines, repetitive work, and endless bottling line repairs and adjustments just can’t compete with the fun of harvest days, fermentations, tastings, blend trials, and all that other good stuff we get to call work.
|Bottles before the labels||Bottles after the labels|
The bright side of bottling is that we are always excited to see our finished wines going into bottle. It is the point when the wines leave our hands to begin the bottle aging process and eventually be released to the public. Last week was an especially enjoyable bottling run because we got to see the delicious 2011 Single Vineyard Chardonnays get bottled! This week was equally as enjoyable as we bottled the 2011 Estate Pinot Noir which by all indications, will be a great bottle of wine.
We are also excited to announce that we have added a new Single Vineyard bottling to the already great lineup of Rosemary’s, Rincon, and Oliver’s Chardonnays. The 2011 Monte Sereno Chardonnay comes from our smallest vineyard, located just a couple miles west of the winery in the Arroyo Grande appellation. The 2011 bottling is a blend of the two blocks comprising both clone 548 and clone 4. The finished wine showcases beautiful tropical aromas and a rich, creamy texture on the palate. We only made two barrels of this delicious wine, so if you can get your hands on it you’ll be in for a treat!
Wow, it’s already October, which means we have been harvesting for over a month now! Almost daily picks of Pinot Noir kept us busy all September, with the sorting table and destemmer going nonstop. The winery has been at capacity, with fermentors of grape must in every open corner, and hand punchdowns happening nonstop. Now that many of the Pinot fermentations have been finishing up, we’ve been able to start pressing dry lots and racking them to barrel, where they can finish malo-lactic fermentation and give us a chance to start focusing on the Chardonnay.
With last weekend’s heat wave, many of our Rosemary’s and Oliver’s Chardonnay blocks got just the push they needed to finish ripening. As the seemingly endless bins of Chardonnay arrive we will send them straight to the presses to be whole cluster pressed and then put straight to barrel for fermentation.
During hot weather weeks like this, we really see what a difference it makes that our vineyard crews hand harvest at night. On big pick days the crews will start anywhere from 8 PM to midnight and continue until sunrise, delivering beautiful, cool fruit that’s ready to be processed at the winery. Big thanks to the vineyard crews for all their hard work and crazy hours to get us the best fruit possible!
This week we started grape sampling our Pinot Noir blocks in West Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyards. Now that we are at nearly 90% veraison (almost all the pinot berries have changed color from green to purple), it’s time to start watching the sugar and acid levels to determine when each block is ready to be harvested.
Our harvest intern, Patrick, spends the early mornings walking the vineyard rows of 10 to 20 different blocks to sample a mix of grape clusters that accurately represent the maturity of each block. Once the grapes arrive at the winery they go through a mini crusher and are strained into beakers to be tested in the lab. We measure sugar levels in degrees Brix using a digital densitometer and we measure acidity with a pH meter. Check out our video with our Assistant Vineyard Manger, Travis Monk.
Rosemary’s Vineyard is the furthest along, with a few blocks at 22 Brix and a pH of 3.05, putting us just a couple weeks away from harvest. Generally we pick our Pinot at around 25 Brix and a pH of 3.4, but our picking decisions are not made just by looking at the numbers. Flavor maturity, tannin development and visual cues in the vineyard are all key factors in the decision-making before every pick.
It feels like harvest is right around the corner. Although it will be over a month until the first grapes are picked, you can’t help but feel the buzz and anticipation start to build at the winery. After bottling the 2011 Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay and Pinot Noir last week, and now blending and aging the rest of the wines until next year, the work on the 2011 vintage is winding down and the preparations for the 2012 vintage have begun.
New oak barrels have started arriving from our favorite French cooperages, and soon enough we will be dusting off the de-stemmers, presses, and picking bins that have been in hibernation since last fall. The cleaning tasks are not glamorous and are never-ending, but there is nothing like having a sparkling crush pad and freshly power-washed barrel room to get you (or just me!) excited about bringing in those first grapes of the season.
I think most winemakers can agree that the weeks before harvest bring out all kinds of emotions, from hope to excitement to anxiety. With how the 2012 growing season is going so far, it looks like there should be nothing but excitement for the grape quality this year.