Archive for September, 2008

Harvest starts Wednesday

It’s official: the Merlot’s clocking in between 25 and 27 brix (a measurement of sugar), so it’s time for us to tear off our nerdy glasses and spring into action.

If those are really numbers pulled from a refractometer (a hand-held gizmo that measures sugar by how much it bends light – space age!), they can tend to be a little high. I don’t have enough experience to say that’s a fact, but if that’s at all true, it’s because the average you get from an entire harvest (across rows and rows of plants) can’t be totally replicated with a few hand-picked samples. And at least when I’ve done it, it’s pretty hard not to veer moth-like toward those nice, riper looking clusters, try as you might to be objective.

Anyway, we’ll know soon enough. My ideal is a total brix somewhere in the 25 range, maybe 25.5, but we can totally work with 27 if we need to.

On to the valley of the Yakima!

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Improvement for a room

If all goes according to plan, we’ll be turning 5 different grapes into wine this year. And that’s not even counting the 2-3 seignées I want to make from those grapes, nor the “piquette” (a “second wine” that Garagiste George pioneered last year) I’d like to try from at least one of them. Are our eyes bigger than our gullets? To which I respond, are we not Garagistes? It’s going to be a busy year, and I for one can’t wait to wade out into it.

But because it’ll be just a dozen or so of us staring down this potential tsunami of wine, I’ve been trying to break my usual pattern of wasting the days leading up to harvest simply rubbing my hands together and licking my lips, and instead actually trying to get ready. So I’ve been re-arranging the deck chairs on our Titanic enterprise with even smoother sailing as my goal.

Um… all aboard?

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Fall Bottling

It was a bit of a slog, but 6 hours and hundreds of bottles later, the second expression of 2007 was safely under cork (the first being the tiny Rosé bottling back in the spring).

The afternoon and evening were particularly long in the tooth because we concocted the Peugeot blend and put it back in neutral barrels first. That meant measuring out the right percentage from each of the three constituent barrels (Cab, Merlot, Franc) into a holding tank, one after the other — and let me assure you, with precision down to the milliliter (which is about a gallon, ain’t it?). A quick stir, a dash of sulfite (about 25 ppm), and back it went into neutral barrels for 6 more months of solitary until final bottling in April 2009.

Now it was time to bottle the remainders. For the first time, we’d decided not to blend away all the Cabernet, reserving a bit to bottle by itself to see how it ages (especially since it turned out pretty nicely this year due in part to crop thinning). The lovely Franc (growing more lovely by the moment as the acid and sulfite we administered continue to integrate) and underappreciated Merlot (curse you, Miles!) were next.

Our crew is getting pretty deft with the bottling line, both in process and in technique. Man, those guys are fast — the blur you see in the image above isn’t just because of a slow shutter speed. But as usual, the kink in the hose was at the end, in labeling, a painfully manual process that now involves two labels, one on the body and one over the top. Because our workforce had dwindled by then, we put most of our firepower downstairs on the bottling line, so it was just two of us glue-stained wretches, watching the unlabeled cases pile up as we pasted labels down in what seemed like slow motion. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice had it easy, that lucky bastard.

So for April bottling, a few things to R&D:

  • Staggered workforce implementation. Bring in a small crew for blending and/or prep, when more than 4 or so people will just stand around, then ramp up (a surge!) as bottling begins.
  • Formal sign-up. Rather than the general “please show up” request, I’m thinking I’ll try getting (er, “relentlessly encouraging”) people to sign up.
  • Better and better-staffed labeling process. Garagiste Dave and I tried a few different strategies as we labeled away, and I think we went about as fast as two people could, but ultimately, it’s about person-power. I’m thinking three on the body labeler: one to send a label through the gluer and roughly position it on the bottle, two to adjust those labels and actually smack ’em down, permanent-like. Then, 2 on the top label (one gluing and roughly sticking on top of the bottle, the other positioning and adhering), and 1 to move cases and bottles around.

Any other or alternate ideas? Any improvements from the bottling line folks? Love to hear them. Log ’em here.

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Harvest update: about a week away

Just got off the phone with one of our growers in Horse Heaven, where the Merlot is coming on strong — in fact, it may be ready by the weekend or early next week.

As of the 18th, block samples ranged from 23.7 – 25.8 brix, .64-.53 TA (acidity), and 3.2 – 3.3 pH. Those are still out of balance, so he’s been putting a little water on the grapes to keep the sugars in check and buy some time while the acidity declines. Given the numbers we typically get with Eastern Washington fruit (much higher pHs than Willamette Valley fruit), I’d love to see us in the 3.6 pH ballpark, with sugars right around 24.5-25.

Sounds like the grower shares that objective, so things are looking good for a lovely Merlot to start harvest off just right. Better get the basement winery remodel done!

(btw, he estimates Syrah as still about 2-3 weeks out)

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Ladies and gentlemen: your 2007 Peugeot

Blending aftermath: no blend left untestedLast weekend, a bunch of us got together for BlendFest II — This Time, It’s Gonna be War, but in contrast to BlendFest I a month ago, we have a clear winner for the 2007 Peugeot blend:

  • 50% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 15% Merlot
  • 35% Cabernet Franc

A big part of the reason we couldn’t settle on a blend the first time around is because the Franc was still muddy from the CPR we’d given it a few weeks prior. We tasted that it was reviving, but it was also clear that what we were tasting was a stop a long the way, not the final destination.

I’m glad we waited. By last weekend, the Franc was much more lively and fragrant — maybe still a little thick, as if shaking off the last whisps of anesthesia, but much more like the wine we’ve come to love over the years.

We started with the blend we’d all grudgingly favored from the first round (45/15/40), but the newly revived Franc forced us to immediately recalibrate. Then, with surprising speed and unanimity, we zeroed in on the blend above. Garagistes’ notes include “best so far,” “better, consistent experience and good length,” “more Loire flavor, and lively acidity in the finish.” My notes say “Lovely nose, and amazing in the mouth. Nice and rich, but with great balance and a long, fresh finish.”

I think everyone walked away excited to drink this baby in about a year. Its journey will continue today, as we blend it off an seal it away for another 6 months of aging.

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Goodbye old friend

Marley, 1993-2008. Memories of your humor, nobility, and generosity are drowning me as I write. Thank you for every last one of them.


Harvest is suddenly in the air

Man, it’s suddenly pretty crisp in the evenings, prompting me to check in with our growers. They confirm what I’ve already heard — that everything’s behind schedule in the Northwest this year because of a cold, rainy spring and late flowering. Nevertheless, Eastern Washington appears to be making up some of that lost ground, though even so, we can’t expect any fruit before the last week of September at the earliest.

With Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Syrah on deck this year — to say nothing of a bit of tasty Westrey Oracle Vineyard Pinot and seignées of some of the above — October promises to be a blur of fermentation.

Life is good.

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