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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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday October 2 - Harvest Begins

We started to harvest this morning.  8 men from our venerable picking resource Servin Lopez vineyard management started before daybreak. Our goal today is to pick 5 tons of Merlot.  At 8 AM the grapes begin arriving from the field and we start the sorting operation.
As the grapes arrive they are sorted first in a general sort to remove leaves and bad clusters and then in a very detailed sort where we sort every single grape.  All of the grapes are picked in the little yellow bins you see above and below. Each bin is weighed and the weight recorded.  By the time the day is over we will pick 5.3 tons of grapes. 327 Boxes! 

36 Pounds 14 Ounces.  This one box will make 12 bottles of wine.

As we begin the "crush" we "christen" the first load of grapes with a bottle of our very first wine made from our own vineyard.  A bottle of 2006 Scherzo Cabernet Rosato.

Peter and Patricia celebrate the commencement of the Harvest.

The first step is to take the grapes of the stems. Destemming. The photo below shows how clean the stems are when the come out of the Destemmer.
Grape Stems in a bin as they fall from the destemmer.
As the grapes come out of the destemmer, they fall on to a "shaker table" where the sorting crew gets out every piece of stem and every bad berry.  What an amazing crew we had today.  They did a magnificent job. Thanks ladies!  See the Video below to see how they work.

Watch our amazing sorting crew.
Patricia Kitchak, who usually mans the last spot on the line was busy planning our upcoming harvest party so she was unable to participate.

The tank is cooled to freezing before the gapes are loaded in.  We are doing a "cold soak" where the grapes will sit quietly in their juice and soak for a few days before we warm the mixture up and start the fermentation.
 Ice Crystals on the wine tank.

The patterns in the ice crystals are always beautiful and serve as a harbinger of the entire artistic process of making the wine.

220 V Power for almost everything

If the number of plugs for the equipment we are using is any indication, this is going to be a "powerful wine."

The grapes are then gently elevated into the tank - no pumping.
So as they say, "The grapes are in the tank" but the day is not over.  We finished the sorting at about 5PM and we still have 4 hours of clean-up so we can start all over again in the next couple of days. Each piece of machinery, the destemmer, the sorting tables, the elevators and everything else will be spotless and sterilized before we hit the hay. A big day for us, but a real reward after a long season in the vineyard.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wine Making Begins at Kitchak Cellars

This morning, October 1, we tested these grapes. They are perfect and we are ahead of the rain that is forecast for this week.  BRIX (sugar content of the grapes is perfect at 25.2.  That should give us an alcohol level in this wine of about 14.8. pH of the grapes is 3.47 and the Titrateable Acidity is 6.2. Virtually perfect numbers.
The acid will go down as we ferment and the BRIX may go up just a bit because we can't really check the the amount of the sugar in the skins.

We will begin our pick tomorrow and will try to keep you up to date on what is happening and how. Hopefully we will be able to give you an update on the harvest and the development of the wine daily.

So, tune in tomorrow for the first day of the 2011 Harvest.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Getting Ready to Pick Sauvignon Blanc - We are getting close

A Foggy Morning in Napa - September 6 - Temp 54 degrees

This is an amazing part of the world.  At 6AM as the sun started to rise, it was clear. Now, at 7:05AM it is foggy and will probably stay that way for a couple of hours. Yesterday it was 85 degrees at the end of the day but the sun did not get completely "out" until 11AM.  That is one of the reasons the Napa Valley is so great for grapes.  Warm sunny days and very cool evenings, nights and early mornings. Everyday about 3PM the breeze from San Francisco Bay starts to blow, gently at first and then a bit stronger as we move toward evening.  It is the diurnal temperature variation that lets the flavors and sugars settle in the grapes and that gives us the great wines that only the Napa Valley can produce.

Picking up Sauvignon Blanc (SB) barrels today and testing the glycol in the chiller and tanks.

We will pick up the French Oak barrels (from Demptos) for the SB today and get them ready for use.
We will ferment the SB at cool temperatures (about 55 degrees) in the french oak barrels and following fermentation we will rack off the wine, clean the barrels and age the wine in those barrels for about 6 to 9 months.  Yesterday was spent adjusting and testing all of the tanks to make sure that we had the correct fittings, that the seals and valves worked and that they were clean.  Spotless.  We are getting close.

Picking SB on September 9.

The Brix was 24 yesterday so we will wait out this week but probably pick on Friday.  Stay tuned. This is starting to get exciting as we move forward to harvest.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Getting Ready for Harvest -2

Preparation for Harvest in Full Swing at Kitchak Cellars.

We are back in Napa and getting ready for harvest. All of the grapes in our vineyards are now in their final color.

Testing BRIX.

Yesterday we check BRIX of the grapes for the first time.
BRIX is a type of measurement of of ripeness.  BRIX is actually a measurement of the amount of sugar in a grape, and it is the sugar that makes the alcohol.  Grapes will naturally produce at full maturity a BRIX of around 25 or 25.5.  That means that the grape is 25% sugar or 25.5 sugar.   At 25% BRIX, grapes will produce an alcohol level in the wine of 14.5%.l  We get there by multiplying the BRIX by .58.  That formula gets us very close and is very reliable.
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes almost ready to pick.  
Notice the translucent yellow color

Yesterday the BRIX Sauvignon Blanc was 23. We are getting very close.  The Merlot was 19 and the Cabernet was 18.  Both have more than a month to go.
 Great Color in the Cabernet Sauvignon on September 3, 2011.  
Another month to go.

Bottling the Red Wines September 15.

On September 15 we will be bottling many of our Red Wines. So we have to get ready for that.  We have already done all of the sampling and test blends so we will be getting tanks ready this week and getting the blend wines into the tanks for the blending and they will stay in the tanks until they go into the bottles on the 15th.That day we will bottle the 2009 Adagio, the 2009 Franc and the 2009 Piacere. You may not have heard about our FRANC or our PIACERE.

FRANC is a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc that we do a small amount of and sell in the tasting room. Cabernet Franc is regularly used as a blending wine in Bordeaux Blends and mixed with Merlot and/or Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is seldom used as a "stand alone" wine.  But we are making a small amount and it has been quite popular in the tasting room.  It is very interesting and sells for around $48. It is aged in oak and it gets the same high quality wine making and handling that our other best wines get.  Is not presently included in any of our wine club shipments, but you can order it direct from the winery.

Introducing PIACERE (pea-a-chair-ay).  

PIACERE is an Italian word meaning "to enjoy" or "to have pleasure." In music it is a phrase indicating that the piece may be played at a tempo in the discretion of the performer. Blended from estate grown varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, this wine has been made to enjoy now, or it will age for your discretion. It is designed to be more approachable early than its big sister ADAGIO. It sells for about $45.  Like the FRANC it is not presently included in any of our wine club shipments, but you can order it direct from the winery.

Tours and Tastings by Appointment.

We are open during the harvest season for Tours and Tastings; by appointment only.  They are always private, one group at a time. We do 3 tours per day, one at 10:30, one at 1PM and one at 3:00. If you are a wine club member or a follower of our blog, just mention it and the tastings are complimentary.  Call 707-225-2276 for an appointment or send an e-mail to

Bring a Picnic.

We have a beautiful picnic patio on the shores of Lake Cynthia in the middle of our vineyard. It has picnic tables and overlooks the lake. Come for a 10:30 tasting, bring your lunch, buy a bottle of Kitchak Cellars wine and enjoy a picnic in the vineyards overlooking the lake under the spreading branches of a 200 year old Oak Tree.  Or come for a picnic and follow it with a tasting at 1PM.  Either one works. But, you need an appointment. Call 707-225-2276 for an appointment or send an e-mail to

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting Ready for Harvest - In the Alps

Harvest is Coming
We are now getting ready for Harvest and plan to be much more regular about Blog entries from here on this fall. The grapes started turning color in early August and looked like this at the beginning of the first week.

By mid - August they had really started to turn color. 

Count ahead 60 days and they will be ready to pick. Probably around October 15. The grapes in these photos are Cabernet Sauvignon and this year they are quite a bit ahead of the Merlot.  We probably won't pick the Merlot until sometime near the end of October and we already have our fingers crossed, hoping that we can get them picked before it rains.

Training for Harvest in the Alps

The Kitchaks and the Bashioums (Ralph is our partner and Cellar Master you will recall) took a little time off to train for the all of the hard work Harvest is certain to bring.  We decided a hiking trip in the French and Swiss Alps would provide some needed exercise and some real food so, off we went.

First stop was Chamonix in the French Alps.
Here we are, high in the Alps above Chamonix with Mt. Blanc in the background. L to R -Patricia, Peter, Lindsay Bashioum and Ralph Bashioum.

Kitchak Cellars was well represented and advertised as we traveled,
with both Patricia K and Lindsay Bashioum wearing their Kitchak Cellars hats everywhere. Surprisingly enough, a number of people noticed, we handed out business cards, added a number of people to our mailing list and had a few people tells us they would be sure to stop at the winery on their next trip to Napa.

During the trip, we, according to our normal practice when traveling, drank only local wines. While Swiss wines are probably not among the best in the world, they are interesting. The Swiss have actually been making wine since Roman times, long before anyone even thought of wine in the US. We drank a local Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and a Merlot/Cabernet blend. But even more interesting we drank a white wine from a grape called Heida (a clone of Sauvignon Blanc I think), and a red wine from  the Humagne Rouge Grape. According to the Swiss Wine association's web site, the Humagne Rouge is a late-harvest and robust grape variety, whose cultivated surface has largely increased during the last 20 years. Its distinguished wines are not very tannic, have wild berry aromas and are an ideal accompaniment for game dishes.

The Beer is Better in Switzerland

But we also drank the local beer. Feldschlösschen or Cardinal. And, a fair amount of it. Frankly, after a long hike the beer was a much better accompaniment at lunch than wine.  The photo below was taken at a mountain restaurant above Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the background.

This photo was taken about 2PM.  We started hiking that day around 9:30AM and finished just before 6PM. With a great one hour stop for lunch. A formidable day in the mountains.

So...we are now relaxed, in shape; waiting for harvest and ready for all of the hard work we will have to do over the next few weeks to get ready. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - What I learned in Bordeaux.

The Trip is Over.
Our research trip with the San Francisco Chapter of the Commanderie de Bordeaux is over. First and foremost we need to thank our organizers, Kent Baum and Chuck Horn. They did an exceptional job of organizing and Kent had the sometimes thankless task of keeping us on time.  It was an extraordinary trip. I was hesitant about whether it would be worth it before we went, but as I reflect on it some two weeks later it was truly one of the more interesting, rewarding and educational weeks that I can ever remember.

We also need to thank our numerous hosts. Some people who were particularly warm, helpful and patient with our questions stand out. Florence and Daniel Cathiard at Smith Haut Lafitte (Daniel, I would like to ski with you someday), The entire Bonnie family at Chateau Malartic LaGraviere, Emmanuel Cruse at Chateau D' Issan, Bernard de Laage de Meux at Chateau Palmer, Ailene Baly at Chateau Coutet, Jean-Pierre Meslier at Chateau Raymond Lafon, Count Alexandre de Lur-Saluces at Chateau de Fargues,  Paul Pontallier at Chateau Margaux, Alfred Tesseron at Chateau Pontet Canet (Alfred, I am going to help you find the right US Property), and Jean-Michel Caze at Lynch Bages.  I hope I get to see all of them again.  And, if any of you (mentioned above) read this. We hope you will visit our modest little winery in Napa, soon.

But, what did I learn?

It all starts in the vineyard. I have heard this over and over again, and heard it during my wine making studies at UC Davis. I believe it. And, I believed it before I went to Bordeaux. But no where is it as evident as it was in the great vineyards of Bordeaux. Each vine was carefully tended and it showed. Crops were beautifully balanced and there was seldom a shoot that was out of place. Hedging vines appears to be an art-form in Bordeaux and  the vineyard floor always seemed perfect whatever management technique was being used.

Everyone has the best Terroir.  I have always been intrigued about how each winery in the Napa Valley has a story about why their grapes are the best and why they have the best possible Terroir.  Bordeaux is no different. Each winery has a story about why they are successful on their land.  There is, however, a big difference between Bordeaux and Napa in that respect.  In Bordeaux, some group of politicians, lobbyists and winemakers got together way back in 1855 and decided who made great wines and who did not. If you were favored to be classified a first growth then, you still reap the benefits, and they are huge. Fortunately, or unfortunately, many things have changed since 1855 and some of the wineries that were not first growths then have soil, techniques and ultimately wine that is every bit as good as the first growths. Pontet Canet comes to mind as the most appropriate example.  Only classified as a fifth growth in 1855 it is now farming its vineyards and making wine equal to the best.  The bottom line and the lesson learned:  There are many, many great wines in Bordeaux. Forget the ones that cost $1,000 per bottle, forget Parker's ratings and forget about what you hear about prices in Hong Kong and China, and move on.  There are many, many wines that don't cost any more than a good bottle of Napa Cabernet that are on par with the $1,000 bottles. 

Sort the grapes by Hand. Virtually everyone there does it, probably because they can afford to, given the high prices that the wines command.  But there is no question that most everyone there seems to think that it makes a difference.  Larger Napa wineries could learn something here.  Those of us with small wineries do it, most big guys don't. It is unfortunate because it does make a difference.

Extended Maceration. For those of you who do not make wine, extended maceration is the period of time that the newly fermented wine is left in contact with the skins following the completion of the fermentation of the sugar in the grapes into alcohol.  As I have questioned Napa winemakers it is not a "standard practice." Many wineries do it, more do not.  While I was in school at Davis, my winery partner, Ralph Bashioum and I wrote a well researched paper on the topic that concluded that the benefits far outweighed the risks. That view was certainly confirmed in Bordeaux.  Everyone, EVERYONE, does it. For at least a couple of weeks and often more. And I don't think it is just tradition. They do it because it has worked for centuries.  Manage it carefully and it yields rewards.

Not many Stainless Tanks. The best Chateau are still using wooden vats.  The winemakers told us that they take a lot of maintenance and that they are hard to clean, but they all firmly believe that they get more consistent temperatures in the vats during fermentation and better wine as a result.  Concrete is also used regularly and there are many new vats built from concrete.  I asked one owner, if he was building an entirely new winery today what would he use and his response was a 50/50 mixture of oak vats and concrete vats. No stainless steel.

No Punchdowns. During fermentation, virtually everyone I asked indicated that they were pumping wine over the cap during fermentation. No manual punchdowns and no mechanical or hydraulic punchdowns.  And they do fewer pump overs than we do.  Maybe that is made up for during the extended maceration period.  This might be a  result of large operations, but there did not seem to be the same zealot like approach that some Napa wineries have about making everything gravity fed.  Insisting that everything be gravity fed is, most likely, almost as much hokus pokus as taking all of the recommended steps to be a perfect Bio-dynamic vineyard.

Shorter Barrel Time. Few Chateau were using 100% new oak and NO ONE was leaving wine in the barrel longer than about 20 months, except in Sauternes where the white wines might be left in the barrel for as long as 36 months. To me it seemed that even the great wines were not using more than about 80% new oak and 16-18 months in the barrel seemed to be the right amount of time for most of them.  We are very likely to shorten our time in the barrel as a result. Tune in later to see what we have decided. We will certainly look at the issue more carefully.

Drink Sauternes more often, with more food. The owners of numerous Chateau in Sauternes are all adamant that they do not make a dessert wine, they make a sweet wine. We had a couple of meals at which three different Sauternes were served with three different dishes. While it clearly works with Foie Gras and similar very rich food, we found that it also worked well with a salad course with a strong vinaigrette, perhaps Balsamic,  It also worked well with a light fish course. And, serving it as a foil for Roquefort cheese seemed quite normal. One of the Sauternes Chateau owners even went so far as to say, "Don't use it as a dessert wine,  it doesn't go that well with pears or with apple desserts. Drink it opposite Roquefort cheese, but don't drink it with apple strudel."   I intend to buy a bit more and drink it more often. Lesson learned.

Both the 2009s and 2010s are great.  "Each Vintage is better than the other."

And what is the Best Wine that we tasted during the trip? While it would be hard to beat the 1982 Margaux that we had with dinner at Chateau Margaux, my opinion, that it is absolutely foolish to engage in a discussion about what is the best wine when you are tasting many good ones, was reinforced. When asked which of our own wines  I like the best, my response has become standard. " Do you have children? If so, which one do you like the best?"
Forget the points and forget Robert Parker. He is only one guy and it is guaranteed that you have a palate that is different from his. That is why I have not commented, in relative terms, on most of the wines we tasted and drank. To compare them, one to the other, is to do many of the wines an injustice and to do injustice to our hosts.  All of the wines were good.  There wasn't a "dog" in the lot. When drinking wines side by side, always remember to ask you self, "How are they different?" not, "Which one is better?"

Treat each wine you drink as an experience to be  savored, to be thought about, and appreciated. Enjoy It, Don't Compare It.  It is Magic

The Best Quote:  Said one Chateau Owner, " I look to create Emotion in the Glass."

May you seek and find Emotion in every glass of wine you drink  from now on.
Merci Beaucoup, Au Revoir, Bon Voyage. We had a wonderful time.  Thanks again Kent and Chuck for organizing.

And thanks to each reader for following.

Now back to Blogging about the winemaker's issues, problems and solutions.

You can also visit our web site at
or take a virtual tour of our winery at
 Or send me an e-mail at

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - Chateau Lynch Bages - Saturday AM

Chateau Lynch Bages. Saturday morning and our week is already over. We spent the morning at Lynch Bages and the afternoon in the City of Bordeaux, truly a hustling bustling metropolis. 
Our group with Jean-Michel Caze. David, Kent, Elizabeth, Jean-Michael, Chuck, Peter, Patricia and Jeff
Chateau Lynch  (pronounced "Linch" not "Launch" as I had become accustomed to calling it) Bages is located but a stones throw from the City of Pauillac. Thomas Lynch, whose father John emigrated in 1691 from Ireland to Bordeaux, inherited an estate in the village of Bages through his wife, Elizabeth, in 1749. The estate was purchased by the Caze family in 1938. After Jean-Charles Cazes' death, aged 95, in 1972, the estate has been largely managed by his grandson, Jean-Michel Cazes.  Caze is, according to many people, one of the real movers and shakers in Bordeaux, who has had a huge impact on it and the Bordeaux wine business. The estate includes about 220 acres of land and produces about 25,000 cases of wine per year, mostly red although it does make a white wine, Chateau Lynch Bages Blanc.
Peter with Jean-Michel Caze.
 During our tasting we tasted barrel samples of the 2010 Echo (their 2nd wine) and their 2010 Lynch Bages. Both were interesting and very attractive wines.  The 2011 Lynch Bages will be a blend of 75% Cabernet, 15% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

The wine making process at Lynch Bages is a bit different that most other Chateau in the Medoc. They sort their grapes on portable sorting tables in the fields before they are delivered to the winery. We obviously did not see this process, but I imagine that it is not as detailed and specific as happens with many people on a sorting table in the winery,  The grapes are then delivered to the winery and dumped into a large hopper with a screw conveyor in the bottom.  They are then destemmed, crushed and pumped into the tanks.  I must say I was a bit disappointed in the winery operation. This is, and always has been, one of my favorite wines.  It continues to be.  But, their equipment and winery shows its age and is in dire need of an update to keep pace. To me they seemed decades behind the other wineries that we saw. Galvanized steel catwalks above the tanks, that were probably constructed 50 years ago should be replaced by stainless. Screw conveyors are in need of conversation to gravity handling and crushing probably needs to be replaced with whole berry fermentation.  Jean - Michel Cazes did say that his son was now running the operation and had significant plans for upgrading it. 
I was also a bit disappointed in what seems to be their general approach.  When I asked Jean-Michael Caze where his son, who was now running the winery got his wine training, he said that he had a business degree, not a wine making degree. "We can hire enologists and viticulturists easily," he said. "Today it is more important to know how to run the business."  Oops.. I think that is the kind of thinking that got Mondavi in trouble and it is also the reason that I don't think public corporations can make great wine.  The focus is on the wrong thing.  Sorry to get on the soap box, but in my view, the minute a winery starts to think that maximum profit is more important than making great wine, they are bound to be on the wrong side of the equation.

There was one very interesting feature in the winery.  A stainless tank for white wine with a cooling coil in the center of it to keep the temperatures consistent. I had not seen one before, but it sure makes a lot of sense.
Photo taken inside the tank showing the stainless steel cooling coil inside.

That all being said, they have a wonderful museum area with historic winery equipment.  See the photos below.
 Peter in front of an old oak tank.  
All were different so they had precise volume measurements on the front

The platform vat into which grapes were dumped to be stomped.

On the second floor. Grapes where hoisted with the bucket and dumped into the tanks. 
Pumps were not around yet.

I am not exactly sure how they used this gadget. Perhaps to rack the wine from the barrel, leaving the sediment behind.

Ok wine making buffs, what is this gadget?
Just a big suitcase on wheels with a top that lifted up and inlet and outlet ports.   It is a filter!  They would fill it with Diatomaceous earth (DE) and run the wine through it.  Incidentally, DE is still used today as a filtration material. DE consists of a fine white powder that is the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae.

Lynch Bages does have a beautiful (aren't they all?) barrel room (Chai) shown here.

Now, you have read the story, go buy some of their wines.  That is why the entertain us, so we will be ambassadors for the wines.  This wine is always one of the great ones and it is very favorably priced (in relative terms) compared to many of the first growths which are not particularly better.  Try it, you'll like it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - Friday PM - Cordeillan Bages Dinner

Restaurant Cordeillan Bages on the Lynch Bages estate is a Michelin 2 Star restaurant. Previously run by the renowned Thierry Marx, it has since been taken over by Jean-Luc Rocha (a Meilleur Ouvrier de France award winner) who was the second in command prior to Marx's departure.  The building is a wonderful 18th century Mansion that is both a restaurant and a hotel. The Hotel is part of the Relais and Chateau group.  The dinner was, in my humble opinion, the best and most inventive of the of the trip.
Le Menu

The course including the soft boiled egg was truly extraordinary.

Patricia with Jean-Luc Rocha

Following dinner we all got a tour of the restaurant's wine cellar.  Many familiar names were present. But, not surprisingly, no Napa wines.  We will have to talk to them about that.

The wines served were a Chateau Villa Bel Air 2010 Bordeaux Blanc, a Chateau Ormes de Pez 2003 from an estate owned by the Cazes family in Saint Estephe and a 1996 Chateau Lynch Bages.  All were very nice and paired well with the meal. 

This was a wonderful experience and a stop everyone taking a trip to Bordeaux should make.  Easily qualifies as a Michelin 2 Star experience.

Off to bed.  We visit Lynch Bages and the City of Bordeaux tomorrow.

Tour de Bordeaux - Friday Noon Lunch - Pontet Canet

Our tour and lunch at Pontet Canet was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. And our host and owner Albert Tesseron was one of the truly delightful people that we met.

Pontet Canet is a Grand Cru 5th Growth Château in Pauillac. Pontet Canet sits across the road from Château Mouton Rothschild and "just down the road" from Château Lafitte Rothschild. It has approximately 200 acres of vines and as such, it is one of the largest producing Château in the Medoc, making about 20,000 cases of their first wine Pontet Canet and 20,000 cases of their second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet. The vineyards include 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Although "only" a fifth growth, this is a wine you want to buy and own if you are willing to afford any current Bordeaux wines.  It was certainly one of the best that we tasted on the entire trip. The winery is run by Alfred Tesseron who's family made their money in the Cognac business. They have owned the Château since 1975 and also own Château Lafon-Rochet.

We arrived at the Chateau to note an American Flag flying over the estate. 
I asked why.  "To honor today's guests," said Albert Tesseron; a very good start to our afternoon.

Tesseron took us straight to the vineyard when we arrived.  "This is where it all happens" he said. "Grapes make wine, wine makers don't."  And, he clearly believes that he has one of the best vineyards and Terroir in the world. I would not argue.
Peter listens intently to owner Albert Tesseron 
Tesseron explained that Pontet Canet is the only certified Organic and Bio dynamic vineyard in the Medoc. They have even purchased draft horses and are using horses more and more often in the vineyard. He explained that they have no "carbon footprint"  and the don't pack down the soil like a tractor does since they step in a different place each time. We didn't talk about their methane output. It is interesting, however, that when pressed,  all Bordeaux owners reluctantly admit the regular use of sulfur and I notice everywhere little plastic dispensers hanging in the vineyards, spaced every few plants, that contained a chemical that was an artificial pheromone to disrupt the mating of the European Grape Vine moth. Is that a pesticide?  It isn't sprayed, so maybe not, but the bottom line is that they do what they have to in order to control pests, albeit with organic products.

Tesseron has an amazing long term view of the vineyard and, indeed, the winery. "What is important,"  he said, "is Pontet Canet.  Not me. And not my children. We are just passing by, and it is our responsibility to care for this estate not for ourselves, but for future generations."  It is an important concept and it had a significant impact on my thoughts about our own vineyard.

Someone asked him if he worried when it gets close to harvest and he had another sage-like statement. "I can't worry too much about the grapes, for things I cannot control; when they are not ripe, I go to the cellar, take a bottle of wine, and wait."  I have to remember to do that.

The wine tanks at Pontet Canet.  Oak above and Concrete below.

The tanks at Pontet Canet are all either oak or concrete.  No Stainless. According to Tesseron, the temperature during fermentation is much more consistent with either concrete or oak.  In fact, he said that he took all of the thermometer gauges off the tanks to prevent the cellar workers from tinkering too much with the  temperature of the wine during fermentation. He also refuses to use an optical sorter for sorting grapes prior to fermentation. "It can't work as well as people on the sorting table," he said. 
Albert Tesseron explains the sorting process to David & Liz Berka-White, Peter and Chuck Horn 

We did a tasting in the sorting room; barrel samples of both the 2009 and 2010.  Both are elegant, even as barrel samples, and once again one could argue that "Each vintage is better than the other."
Albert pours the new wines, Patricia looks on

Lunch was spectacular.  Starting with a '99 Tattinger Comptes Champagne en Magnum and appetizers, we then had a Langoustine course,  Veal in a cream sauce, a plate of cheese and desert.
Le Menu

Wines served were all Pontet Canet, 2003, 2000 and 1996.  All great vintages and all great wines.

David lines up a billiard shot
Following lunch we "retired" to the drawing room and had a small glass of exquisite Tesseron Cognac.  It even caused me to change my mind about Cognac.  It was spectacular although probably beyond our budget. David Berka-White then actually shot a few billiard shots with Alfred, the consummate host. We arrived before noon and it was 3PM by the time we left.  What an exceptional time.  Below are photos of what remained of our group (The Erdman's had to leave early) as we left Pontet Canet.  I can only hope that we have an opportunity to return the hospitality. Amazing.
Au revoir,  Merci beaucoup

Tour de Bordeaux - Friday Morning at Chateau du Tertre

 Friday morning and we are nearing the end of the week.  We are now staying at Cordeillan Bages in Pauillac which is owned by the Jean Michel Cazes.  It seems that there is little rest here.  I know, who will believe it is hard work tasting all of these wines and eating all of this good food, but there is, in reality, very little down time. So we are off to Chateau du Tertre again right after a light breakfast at Maison K which is the building in which our entire group is staying.  If you are ever going to Bordeaux with a group, this is an ideal spot. Built, ostensibly as a home for Sylvie Cazes, Jean-Michels daughter, when she is in Bordeaux, it has a large kitchen, media room and 7 bedrooms.  Perfect for a large group. It is right on the edge of the little town of Village Bages and within walking distance of Pauillac.
The town the Jean Michael Cazes built...or rebuilt.  Here the butcher shop.
Chateau du Tertre is a truly beautiful 80 hectare (198 acres) estate at the highest point of the Margaux Appellation. It has 52 hectares (128 acres) of vines. It was classified as a fifth growth in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.  The estate has been owned since 1997 by a Dutch businessman Eric Jelgersma. There is also a strong relationship with Chateau Giscours (partial ownership I think?).  The winemaking team from du Tetre makes all of the wine as Giscours. Prior to his purchase, it had fallen into disrepair and disrepute but he has since made major investments and turned it into an absolutely stunning place, making good wines and very worth a visit.
Chateau du Tertre

It is a stunning place that even includes 5 guest rooms. Staying there would be fabulous.
The winery is an interesting combination between traditional techniques and modern approaches as indicated in the photo below of traditional oak tanks and a single concrete egg shaped wine fermenter.
New meets old.  An egg fermenter stands between old oak tanks.

We are starting to see egg fermenters all over the world now and they are beginning to make an appearance in Napa. In fact, a company called Sonoma Cast Stone, known for its fountains and countertops is now entering the business and, in talking to one of their reps, he told me they consider it a very strong and a real possibility for a growing market. The attraction of the concrete is that the fermentation temperature is arguably more stable and less subject to variation. The egg shape causes the cap, the collection of floating skins at the top of the wine, to be more submerged because the egg gets narrower at the top.
Our Hostess, Alaure Bastard (some name huh?) stands beside a concrete fermenter

One of things that I found interesting a du Tetrtre, and in fact all over Bordeaux, was that although they talked about systems that handled grapes gently and while many are using gravity rather than pumps to move the grapes and wine, all of the Chateau that  we visited were doing pump-overs instead of punch downs.  Both terms relate to the process by which the skins of the wine which float to the top of the tank during fermentation creating a firm "cap" of the must, are mixed with the wine in order to extract color and flavor from the skins.  Many winemakers think it is advantageous to punch the cap down into the wine using a hand held tool or a hydraulic puncher on a track others pump the juice over the cap to wet it . Well, in Bordeaux no one seems to worry about punch downs and pump-overs are absolutely routine. One other interesting note about du Tertre's wine making and perhaps one of the reasons they are not right at the top of the quality heap is that they use only about 50% new oak at Giscours and 40% new oak at du Tertre.

The tasting after our tour included both a 2010 du Tetre (70% CS, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot) and a 2010 Giscours (71% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Merlot) . Both wines have a long way to go. I continue to remain to be surprised that everyone in Bordeaux sells these wines to the négociants so early and that the négociants are willing to buy the wine before they really get to see how it will age.  We also tasted a 2004 du Tertre which I thought was respectable but not great.  It had a bit of a thin, although somewhat long finish. It was made from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cab Franc.

The Celler at du Tertre

A final note... Chateau du Tertre uses an underground cellar, shown above, which is very rare in the Medoc area of Bordeaux.It is unique because it is underground, most of the barrel storage areas are in Chai's, which again, are above ground storage areas.  Again, if you are going it is worth seeing.  The wines are good, the property extremely beautiful and the staff accommodating.

Off to Chateau Pontet-Canet for lunch.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tour de Bordeaux - Thursday Lunch at Chateau Palmer

I would like to start today's blog with a line from the Chateau Palmer Brochure: "Wine tasting is a meeting of two living bodies as they surrender to each other, the human being and the wine. Tasters always have expectations from the wine they choose: good wines meet them; Chateau Palmer exceeds item, in a mingling of sensations and emotions."
Chateau Palmer

Chateau Palmer makes two wines. A wine called Alter Ego and another, their main wine, called Chateau Palmer.  They emphasize that the Alter Ego is NOT a second wine, but rather wine made differently from the same grapes. Alter Ego is designed to be drunk earlier.  It is fermented at cooler temperatures and although it spends about the same amount of time in the barrel, they use only 25% to 40% new barrels for the wine. As a result it is fruitier and less tannic. Their wines are generally about 50% Cabernet and 50% Merlot which changes a bit with each vintage.

The host for our visit was Bernard de Laage de Meux, the commercial director for Chateau Palmer.  We started our tasting with barrel samples of the 2010 vintage. The best that I can tell is that they are quite right when they say it will be a great vintage.  The 2010 Alter Ego is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Merlot.  The 2010 Palmer is 54% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot.
 Bernard de Laage de Meux pours  - Patricia and Kent Baum look on with anticipation.

Following the tasting we adjourned to a spectacular lunch, with some amazing dishes.  The first course was accompanied by a 2008 Chateau Palmer Blanc, a very different wine made up of 55% Muscadelle, 35% Sauvignon Gris, 5% Merlot Blanc and 5% Loset. An amazing combination.
A spectacular lunch for our group of 12

The second course was a gratine of green asparagus with Parmesan and and egg coulant raviole, served with the 2004 Alter Ego, a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Bernard passes out personalized hard cover books with the menu and a list of the wines served 
Elizabeth Berka-White is on his right (L in the photo)

The third course was a wonderful veal dish (Quasi de veau en cuisson longue) and a gratin of apples with crisp Parmesan. Also on the plate was a truly outstanding morel mushroom stuffed with veal. The course was served with two outstanding Chateau Palmer wines.  First came the 1994 which was a blend of 50% Cabernet, 47% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Second was a 1985 Palmer that was 57% Cabernet, 33% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot.
The Third Course

Chuck and Mealnie Horn in the middle of dessert celebrating Melanie's Birthday (note the candle).
Even the dessert was a work of art with an ice cream with mint and ginger.
Le Menu

 Satiated, our group departs Chateau Palmer

Tonight, I am looking forward to a quite less complicated dinner at Village Bages.