Random Ramblings of a Weary Winemaker: I Read The News This Week, Oh Boy

by Peter Wellington

A Week In The Life - Sat. May 24, 2008

Monday started early with sulfur dusting dawn patrol. Thursday through Saturday were too hot to dust (risk of burning the vines), and Sunday was too windy, even at 5 AM. I got to the vineyard at about 5:15 and was done by 6:35. After my shower I checked w00t and made a couple of comments. Monday’s payday, so I wrote ten paychecks. I tried a large national payroll “service” for six months last year, but it didn’t save me much work, especially when you count all the hassle and time needed to get their frequent mistakes corrected. We tasted our first trial blends for our 2007 Estate Zinfandel – I wasn’t much use, I think the sulfur made everything taste bitter. I then spent most of the rest of the day calculating cost of production and inventory valuation for our CPA.

Tuesday we tasted Zin again, a smaller variation of blends based on Monday’s conclusions. With the exception of the Zinfandels, we’ve finalized the blends and adjustments for all the rest of the wines we’ll bottle this year. We won’t bottle the Estate Zin until next February, but the “leftovers” will go into the Sonoma Valley Zin to be bottled in August, so we need to finalize this blend soon. We’re also at a bit of an impasse in the blending process for our other single vineyard Zin, Meeks Hilltop. High alcohol levels in a couple of the best lots are getting in the way of finding an ideal blend. I spent some time on the phone getting information on costs and logistics of having some wine “de-alced”, and the rest of the day with my inventory valuation.

Wednesday: After several trials and some calculations we have decided to send nine barrels out for alcohol removal, the first time we’ve done this since 1999. Aside from the expense (it’ll end up costing close to $3000 including the trucking), I don’t like processing or manipulating wine any more than absolutely necessary. We’ll do blending trials as soon as the treated wine comes back, with the option of “fine tuning” the alcohol level of both the Meeks Hilltop and the Sonoma Valley Zins anywhere between 14 and 15%. (The Meeks blend was going to be in the range of 15.5-15.8% otherwise). I finished inventory valuation and faxed a bunch of data to our CPA. Next was a packet of info for a prospective distributor (I don’t want to say which state until/if we finalize an arrangement). I also met with the gentleman who specializes in grapevine grafting to plan some work for next week or the week after. The week after is more likely with the very cool weather forecast for the next week or so. We’re going to graft some more Roussanne and Viognier and our first Malbec.

Thursday I did a quick w00t check-in and called a couple of distributors regarding overdue invoices and remaining wine allocations. Then it was off to San Francisco for a trade tasting in a fancy downtown hotel. I’m a reasonably aggressive and decisive driver, but, Ovaltina my goat, I felt like Gramps from Podunk in downtown SF, getting cut off, flipped off, honked at and almost run into a couple of times. My blood pressure was almost back to normal by the time the tasting started.

Friday I spent more time replying to posts on w00t (beginning to sound like a bad habit?). We almost finalized the Estate Zin blend (57% ancient vine and 43% young vine, with a small reduction of acid). We’ll look at a possible Petite Sirah addition of 2-5% next week. I had to go to Santa Rosa for a follow-up with my doctor to review lab tests. While there I did a few errands including picking up 1000 pounds of dusting sulfur. Santa Rosa is only 15 miles / 20 minutes away, but I still try to consolidate errands and only go once every few weeks because of time and gas. Speaking of gas, diesel at our local station jumped 50¢ a gallon Thursday, to $5.20. After a couple of restaurant wine deliveries I went home to rest up a bit before going to Sonoma Jazz+. What a show! Al Green followed by Herbie Hancock; talk about putting an indelible smile on your face. We had 11th row seats

Saturday: We got 0.5” of rain this morning, our first since 0.35” on April 23rd, the only rain that month. We only had 0.25” in March, making this one of the driest springs on record. We do have some Chardonnay and other varieties starting to bloom, but I don’t expect any serious damage from this morning’s rain. I’ll just put in a little time writing checks and doing some minor bookkeeping after I’m done writing this, then take the rest of the day off. Tonight Diana Krall’s playing at the Jazz+ festival; we saw her three years ago at the first Jazz+ and are looking forward to this a lot. Toby (our tasting room manager and so much more) has become the unofficial wine guy for the artists, and Wellington the unofficial wine of the stars. We give away wine (without having to pay for the privilege), they give us passes. For me, this is the epitomy of a win/win arrangement. Right now life is good. Oh yeah, tomorrow night is Al Jarreau and Bonnie Raitt, yahoo! Lynda and I will be pouring wine before the show and during the between acts dinner in the high rollers’ tent.

Murphy Was An Optimist - Sat. May 31, 2008

The tractor’s “charge” light came on Monday, and the forklift hour meter said it was time for service also. We can’t exactly drive either to the dealer, so service calls at $100+ an hour were needed. I had the tractor guy do some other deferred repairs and routine maintenance after he replaced the generator. The forklift guy says we need two new tires; they’re a hundred bucks apiece, but including installation and all the regulatory fees it’ll be $450 for the pair. Our air compressor broke a belt, so I showed Sam how to look up the part and how to put on the new belt. Between this and other recent repairs it’s made me realize that my combined education and work experience has given me a set of abilities that isn’t all that common.

We’ve had an ongoing problem of etching in our tasting room glasses. A couple of months ago we had an ion exchange column installed in our glass washer feed line and thought the problem was solved. The glasses have started to show signs of etching again, and Monday the dishwasher started smelling fishy when we opened the door. After I tried a couple of different things we got the water guy (who sold us the ion exchange column) out on Friday. He’d done some research and found out that the source of the foul odor was breakdown of the resin in the IE cartridge. We’ve ordered a small reverse osmosis unit, and he says he’ll credit us the cost of the IE unit, but it’s still a big expense. No, we won’t be able to use the RO unit to concentrate wine or remove alcohol. This morning when I came in the tasting room staff told me water was seeping under the wall into the bathroom. The fill valve for the water softener (also in line with the dishwasher) wasn’t closing completely and the overflow hose was obstructed, so I got to play plumber again. Right now I’m kinda wondering what’ll break next.