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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Slow in the Winery - Fast in the Vineyard

Things are quite slow at the moment.  We continue to ship wines and do private tastings, but the actual winery work is quite slow.  During the last week, we topped all of the barrels. Because wooden barrels are porous, a portion of the wine evaporates from the barrel.  If the humidity in the winery is below 70% more water than alcohol evaporates from the barrel and the alcohol level in the barrel will go up over time.  When the humidity is above 70% in the winery, more alcohol will evaporate and the overall level of alcohol in the wine will go down.

Many wineries like to keep the barrel rooms at around 80% humidity so they will lose less wine, however, if you want to keep the wine in perfect balance you keep the winery at 70% humidity.

As the wine evaporates, barrels must be kept topped up to prevent any oxygen in the barrel and to prevent spoilage. So once every two weeks we go through the entire barrel room (The "Chai" in French) and fill the barrels to the brim with the same wine.  We get the wine from stainless tanks in which we placed some of the wine initially so that it would be available as "topping wine."  Occasionally we must empty a barrel into a stainless tank when we run out of "topping wine" so we will continue to be able to top other barrels.  This week we did so with a barrel of cabernet sauvignon.

We also have to "gas" any empty barrels monthly to prevent spoilage within those barrels until we use them again. In the past we would use sulfur dioxide gas which can kill about anything, but which is very tough on our own respiratory systems. When using it, we use a face mask (much like old gas masks) with a special filter to prevent inhaling the sulfur. The good news is that we now have an ozone generator in the winery that we use for sterilizing almost everything we use.  Plug it in and it generates ozone which is a very, very effective sanitizer and no where near as caustic and much more environmentally friendly than sulfur dioxide. We put a small hose in the barrel, pump the ozone into the barrel for a couple of minutes and then stopper the barrel with a plastic bung. It keeps the barrel fresh and sweet until its next use.


It is a busy time in the vineyard.  We have just mowed all of the grass between the rows and used a disk to turn the mustard under for fertilizer. By mowing the grass we also preserve water in the vineyard and delay the need for irrigation.  The shoots are now about 6 inches long and the grape flowers are clearly visible.  So, it is also time to spray for powdery mildew and to spray for the first generation of the European Grape Vine Moth.

We are also removing suckers and laterals from the vines.  Suckers are leaves on the trunk of the vine which use up more energy than they will generate and laterals are much the same.  We want all of the new canes growing straight up so all of their leaves will get a good amount of direct sunlight.  There is an old adage that  great wine is made in the vineyard and not in the winery and we are now at the point where taking great care with the vines will pay huge dividends later.

There is still plenty of water in the ground so we will not need to irrigate for another month or so.  We will talk more in a few weeks about how we determine when we need to start watering and how we determine how much water to use.