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Monday, April 23, 2012

Marking Time

Amazing-  in only 3 weeks
The Third Week since Bud Break

It is only three weeks since bud break at Kitchak Cellars and the vines are really growing rapidly. You can almost watch the vines grow.  It has been in the 80s the last week and we have seen tremendous growth.  Exactly what is expected.  Plenty of water still in the soil, lots of sun and nice warm temperatures.  It should be a great year. The vines are doing well and the frost season is about over. There is only one day in the next 2 weeks (this Thursday) where the temperature is forecast to be under 40 degrees and then only a low of 38 degrees that night.

European Grape Vine Moth - Under Control. We hope.  We received a report today that the European Grape Vine Moth seems under control in the Napa Valley.  Not a single one has been found so far this year in the hundreds of traps that the Commissioner of Agriculture has placed around the valley.  This is very good news about this very serious pest.

The Mallards also like the lake
Lake Cynthia (the small lake of about 15 surface acres on our property) remains full to the brim and we are expecting a bit more rain this week. It is an amazing wildlife sanctuary that serves the added benefit of improving our grapes. Since it is the low point on our property, it helps prevent grape vines and buds from freezing in the spring.  The cold air flows downhill to the lake and the lake warms up the cold air.  The part of any vineyard that is the most dangerous from a frost point of view is the lowest point; and our lowest point is essentially a heat sink.

We have even seen the large mouth bass in the lake building their nests and getting ready to spawn in the shallow water along the edges.

Lake Cynthia is formed by a small dam near the westerly edge of our property and it supports a great array of wild flowers at this time of the year. The photo of California Poppies was taken yesterday, Sunday April 22,

California Poppies
Stirring the Lees. Today is a day to "stir the lees" in our 2011 Vivace' Ermitage Blanc which will be a blend of about 46% Marsanne, 46% Roussanne and 8% Chardonnay. The lees are composed of no longer active yeast and the sediment from the bits of grape pulp that are left when the wine is put in the barrel. Instead of racking the white wine to clarify it (the way we rack red wines), we leave the sediment in the barrel and occasionally stir it up. In doing so, we enhance both the flavors and the mouthfeel of the wine.  Ultimately before bottling we will filter the wine to clarify it.  We always filter both the white wine and the rose style wines before bottling.  But we do not filter the reds. The Marsanne and Roussanne are already blended, 50/50 but we will wait a number of months before we will do the trial blends and decide the exact amount of Chardonnay to use with this blend.  Most likely it will be between 5% and 10% of the final blend.  But that is a way off.  In the meantime, the wine is aging gently in 2 "neutral barrels", barrels that have been used many times, and two new French Oak Barrels.

Back to work in the winery.  Until next time...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sex in the Vineyard

Kitchak Cellars is Fighting a significant problem.

We are doing everything we can to interrupt sexual activity in our vineyard.

Yes, that's right.  We have a problem and we are working to interrupt the sexual activity... of the European Grape Vine Moth.

Mating Disruption Twist Tie for European Grape Vine Moth
Placing Twist Ties.   200 per acre. This last week we have been placing special twist ties in the vineyard. They are simple plastic ties like those you would find tied around a cord in the box of your newly purchased IPhone.  Except these ties are red and impregnated with a chemical that smells identical to the pheromones of the female European Grape Vine Moth (EGVM).

This is Farming. Grape growing is a much more complicated process that I would have ever believed when I was collecting wine and before starting Kitchak Cellars.  This is farming.  A lot of weather problems, a lot of pests and many, many things that can go wrong.  The European Grape Vine Moth (EGVM) is just one a good example.

Background on EGVM. Five years ago, the EGVM didn't exist in the Napa Valley.  At least if it did, it did so in very small numbers and no one knew that it was there.  The moth is only about 1/4 of an inch long.  So small it is hard to see. And, all of a sudden it appeared by the hundreds of thousands.  It feeds on grape vines and lays its eggs on the leaves and in the fruit.  When it does, the skin of the fruit breaks, the juice runs out and the clusters get moldy. I produces three generations per year!

Discovery and the Fight. In 2008 the crop in entire vineyards were lost while the Napa Valley Grape Growers and the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner were trying to figure out what the pest was and what to do about it. By 2009, with help from people in vineyards around the world, the moth had been identified and a protocol developed to fight the very invasive pest. Test traps gathered huge numbers in 2009 when the treatment started.  In 2010 the numbers had dropped substantially and by 2011 a very small number were caught in Ag Commission traps placed throughout the county.

A Key Element in the Battle. One of the key elements in the fight has been the twist ties.  Because they contain the synthetic pheromones of the females EGVM, the males are confused and cannot find a partner.  The entire reproductive cycle is broken and the moth now seems under control.  But, we continue to place the ties to insure that the problem does not come back.

Other activities this past week. We have now finished all of the pruning.  Also, every year we lose a few vines to gophers, and we are replanting those vines this next week. We have had some great guests in our tasting room and we continue to get more spring rain.  Our reservoirs and now full and we are ready for the rain to stop, but more is forecast for next week. WE won't expect more than a drop or two from May 1 until October 15. I also attended a seminar this week on stabilizing wine against both heat and cold and we will talk about that next week.
Bud Break + 2 weeks . Vines are growing fast
 Cheers, and remember.  Life is too short to drink bad wine.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bud Break in Napa

Bud Break + 1 day.
Bud Break - April 2

Bud Break is always an important event in the Napa Valley, but this year it is particularly important since it is the time that I committed to re-start this blog and keep it up to date during the entire wine-making season.

Do you want to know about growing grapes and making wine?  And what is happening in the vineyard and the winery? Follow us throughout the year and we will keep you up to date on the events, the successes and the non-successes and the issues that we face during the season.  We will also comment from time to time on what is going on in the Napa Valley and our thoughts about it.   

Bud break on April 2 was right on schedule.  While much of the country has been enjoying (or worrying about) substantially above average temperatures and a very early spring, the Napa Valley weather has been very typical.  February was a warm month and everyone was worried, but March was very typical.  As we conduct tours at our winery we tell people that bud-break will happen about April 1, plus or minus only a few days.  And with an "official" bud break in our own vineyard on April 2 we were not disappointed.

Generally the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes bud first, then Cabernet Franc and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are generally last.  And once the buds burst open they grow rapidly.

Five Days after bud-break and growing fast.
Frost is now the big danger.  For the few weeks after bud break frost is our biggest concern.  If the buds freeze, the shoot dies and we will get a smaller crop. We will not be "out of the woods until something close to May 1.

This past week, we had three days in which the temperature got below freezing.  Fortunately it never got below 31 and it only got there for a couple of early morning hours. 28 degrees is the real danger point.

Frost Fans. Many of the vineyard is the valley have frost fans -large propellers, mounted atop large steel poles to circulate the air mix warm upper air with the colder air near the ground. The are propellers like you would see on a large old airplane, powered by and old V-8 car engine running on propane from tanks located in the middle of vineyards.

So on a number of nights this past week we were awakened around 4AM with frost fans all over the valley sounding like an entire squadron of large helicopters circling the valley. Just part of the risk of farming and the Napa Valley life style.

Lake Cynthia a heat-sink. We don't have any frost fans on our property because Lake Cynthia, which sits in the middle of our vineyard has about 15 surface acres.  It warms up during the day and at night as the surrounding cold air sinks to the lake surface it is warmed and circulated substantially reducing our risk of frost damage.  It seems like we made it through the last week just fine and we will keep our fingers crossed for the next couple of weeks.

Dry Winter followed by a wet cool March. We did have a very dry winter and a warm February that had everyone worried, but March was cool and wet.  We received about 8 inches of rain during the month and another inch and a half are scheduled this week. This is the ideal time of the year to get the rain so everything seems to be on track and we are smiling.

Concerto Release Completed.  This last week we also completed the release of our 2008 Concerto Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. A spectacular wine that we will talk more about later. It is only available direct from the winery so if you are not a wine club member and didn't get any, contact the winery.

Visits, Tours and Tastings are by appointment only.  Schedule an appointment by calling 707-225-2276 or by e-mail at You can visit our winery website here.  And you can take a virtual tour of our vineyards and winery here.  


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday October 6 - Do you know about T Bins

Tuesday provided more rain than we had hoped for. 1.25 inches, measured at the rain gauge in our vineyard. More than was reported at the official Napa Valley Ag weather stations in the Carneros and in Oakville. But we did get some sun today and things dried out a bit.

We moved some of our 2009 wine around to free up some small tank space and we kept watch on the Merlot which has already been picked.

The Merlot continues its cold soak, both in one of our large tanks and in a couple of T-Bins.

T-Bins with Temperature Control Apparatus attached.
T bins hold about 225 gallons and we can process about 8/10ths of a ton of grapes in each. I was surprised when I came to the Napa Valley how much wine is actually fermented in such tanks. Almost all of the small wineries use them to some degree or another. Some custom crush facilities have hundreds of them. We have only 8. They work well for small lots when we are only doing a single block or a small batch that we want to ferment by itself that might only be a ton or so of grapes.
We have cooled all of the Merlot down to 45 degrees and we are in the middle of that cold soak.  Tomorrow, we will turn off the cooling, let the tank warm up and add yeast and the race will be on. Billions of yeast cells working furiously to convert sugar into alcohol. I think we actually have more yeast cells in one of our large tanks, the their are dollars in the federal deficit.  Think about that for a moment.

It has been very interesting to watch the progression of color of the juice samples that we take during the cold soak.  Initially it was almost clear. After a day, a lite pink. 2 days and it was a darker pink and by today, the third full day, we are starting to see real color.  One more day and we will be ready to start the fermentation.

We also had another very interesting couple in our tasting room this afternoon, from Seattle. And, how the got to us is even more interesting.  I managed to get some e-mail addresses from a wine shop in New Jersey that thought they might have some customers who would like our wine... which they couldn't get.  One of their customers  who lives in New Jersey, and a former owner of the shop, who we have never met, e-mailed an order.  He liked the wines enough to join our wine club, which was, by itself, very satisfying because this guy seems to really know his wines.  Yesterday's visitor visited as a result of that club member's recommendation and after a nice time in the tasting room, they too joined the wine club.  Huzzah!

We continue to work on the Harvest Party for our wine club members this Saturday and we hope the weather will cooperate.  More rain is forecast for Thursday morning, but it shouldn't be much. I have my fingers crossed.

I am getting excited.  We officially release our 2008 Adagio on Saturday and it is a superb wine.  Wine club shipments will occur around the end of the month and we really have to get going on putting those orders together right after the Harvest Party.  No rest for the Farrmers.

Finally, while I don't usually comment on such things, I was saddened today by the death of Steve Jobs. He was truly the Thomas Edison of our time.  And, isn't it completely refreshing to think about someone that was truly brilliant, who did his job, and who didn't have any agenda or political ax to grind.  He just proved to be an extraordinary visionary.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could find a politician, just one, on either side of the isle who we could say the same thing about. Someone who was brilliant, who did their job, who was just interested in producing great results for all of us to use and enjoy and as to whom we could feel like we got a fair deal in doing so.

Cheers and Take Care.
More real work tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday October 4th - Its Raining in the Napa Valley - But no worries - yet.

Rain Rain go away.

I saw something on the national news that suggested that due to the rain, the Sonoma (and presumably with it Napa's) grape crop was in serious jeopardy. We got .33 inches of rain overnight and it hardly wet the soil.  When we do our irrigation calculations to determine how much to water to use on the vines, we literally ignore the first .25 inches of rain because it gets used up immediately and absorbed by the dust on top of the soil. However, the real issue will be what happens over the next couple of days. We really do not expect it to be a problem.

Today we received the following special weather alert.


But...only .1 inch of rain is forecast during the next 24 hours (as of 6PM Tuesday).

Not too much to be worried about.

Today some more barrels arrived and we only have about a half dozen left to get. We received a few Ermitage Barrels from France today and only one Canton Barrel of American Oak, made by the same company that makes Tarransaud barrels in France.  Speaking of which, our Tarransaud barrels will be the last to arrive, but they should be here in plenty of time. I have probably mentioned before that almost all of the barrels we use are French Oak which costs 2.5 to 3 times the cost of American oak, but they simply make a more refined wine. We use a few American Oak barrels much they way you would use a spice in cooking; just a little bit to add some complexity to flavor.

We also received a dozen plastic barrels today from our friend Steve Zellar at Parley Lake Winery in Minnesota. Steve buys grapes from us to use in some of his wine-making. It is actually in interesting process. We pick the grapes and crush them in our winery, then we put the crushed grapes (called "Must") in the plastic barrels, add a little sulfur to protect them along the way, and by early afternoon the barrels are in a cold storage warehouse in Sacramento.  The barrels are quickly cooled down to 35 degrees and then shipped nontop to Minnesota.  In effect, Steve does his "cold soak" in a refrigerated truck. Once they get to Minnesota he warms up the must, adds the yeast and he is on virtually the same footing as we are when we start fermentation.  The great thing about crushing the grapes before they ship is that we remove the risk of premature fermentation and spoilage of the grapes along the way.  We will pick Steve's grapes within the next week or 10 days.

We also did a bit more organizing today. Our plan is to pick the grapes for our 2011 Scherzo Cabernet Rosato on Friday when we have a number of friends coming to help with the pick and crush. We are hoping to have those grapes "In the Tank" by the end of the day on Friday.

Our friends Ralph and Lindsay Bashioum also arrived.  They are partners of ours in this wine adventure and are here to help with our harvest party on Saturday. We have a great harvest party for our wine club members each fall. If you are not coming this year, Join the wine club and come next year.  Ralph is a cosmetic surgeon from Wayzata Minnesota and he has a very interesting and creative web site, check it out.

So long for now, more tomorrow.  Another day of organizing and getting ready for the big harvest yet to come.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kitchak Cellars Harvest Monday October 3

This is a quiet day in the winery.  We do our first pump over to circulate the juice to insure that it is all being cooled evenly. We use a special pump that is big enough and slow enough so it will pump both the juice and the grapes without breaking the skins or crushing the seeds.
We finished up the cleaning that didn't quite get done on Sunday evening and take samples of juice out of our tanks for analysis and some new barrels arrive.The samples will get sent to ETS Laboratories and we will have the results by tomorrow evening.  At  this point we are primarily interested in the amount of yeast nutrients there are in the wine.  Once we add the yeast, it needs amino compounds to be adequately nourished during the fermentation and if it does not have enough we will have a risk that the fermentation will "stick" before it is completed. So, once we have the results tomorrow evening we will report on that.  Chances are we will add some "Superfood" and some Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) to make sure the yeast can complete its work.

New and full barrels sit side by side in the winery.
We still have quite a few barrels to get. By the time we get them all we will have around 30 new barrels, all but three of which will be French Oak.

I actually had time for a tasting today and we have 4 great people from Atlanta, Tripp and Jan Kay and Chris and Debbie Pike, in the tasting room in the later afternoon. They arrived around 3 and didn't leave until 6. A good time was had by all. And, Kitchak Cellars has two new wine club members. We have added 25 new members in just the last month.

The only downside of the last couple of days is that I have managed to wreck my shoulder doing something. It hurts like hell and will be a problem with tomorrow's activities, but all in all things are going well.

Except:  It is starting to rain today.  We are not overly concerned but will report back on the situation tomorrow. Contrary to common belief we would still be adding a bit of irrigation to the vineyard with 2 weeks to go for the Cabernet, so the rain may, provided it is not too heavy, save us the electricity we need to pump the water from our well for that irrigation.

So long for now.