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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.