Well…the long wait is over! If not for my fellow #Vinopanions, at least for my own incessant #wine cravings and the need to blast out my ramblings de vinos. WardKadel.com is finally live, as we are in the process of shutting down the long-running WineLog.net. With this relaunch, you will find more content combining my two passions of #triathlon & wine, as well as a newfound love of cooking and of course, the chronicles of our life in #Napa.
Indeed just last night, with the Lady (featured left in the vineyards of Domaine Chandon) in NYC for a fashion convention, I knocked out two very enjoyable recipes from Blue Apron, which has been a life-changer for me to finally learn and love to cook.
The 2011 Harvest is done. It has actually been done for the Northern California wine industry for a few weeks, but I needed those weeks to digest all that I have experienced (and re-acclimate to my previous life), before I was ready to write this final post for Man Falls in the Vines – #MFITV. Harvest is such a compressed, intense experience. It has proven to be hard for me to sum up in a somewhat, year-end post. Despite such difficulties, I was able to complete my harvest insider feature article for the January edition of Mutineer Magazine, as well as their brand new Mutineer Magazine Beverage Trade Edition, also debuting in January. All of this experience, hard work, and camaraderie demand applause and to be forever thanked for, however. And after the jump, you will see all of the new (and one old) vinopanions that I made during those six weeks in Stags Leap, Napa at Chimney Rock Winery(Twitter, Facebook, WineLog).
Harvest at the Rock was a tremendous learning experience. I feel as though I only knew a tiny bit about wine before embarking on my MFITV adventure. Indeed, I only knew (some) of the consumer side of the story, 50% of the vinoquation (though I’ve got the imbibing part covered). Once I began working in the winery and occasionally in the vineyards, I realized that I didn’t know hardly anything about the intricacies and craft needed to make a fine wine. Each day was, at times, overwhelming with the large and small winemaking concepts that I was learning. I eagerly accepted all of these new physical, mechanical, and intellectual learnings, with a giddiness that might have seemed a bit over the top I’d imagine, for my fellow talented cellarmates. I greatly enjoyed the physical labor aspects of the job, something that I rarely experience while researching cancer therapeutics in my day job. I dropped 9 pounds and took a healthy 46 point chunk out of my cholesterol level, and gained quite a bit of upper body strength and muscle. Yet the best part of this entire wine adventure, as it always is for wine and myself, were the people and the relationships that I made and strengthened.
All of my fellow winery workers are crazy talented, beautiful, and deeply cultured and passionate wine workers. I can’t thank them enough for willful sharing with me their knowledge, stories, passion, and most of patience, while I worked alongside them during the challenging and rewarding 2011 grape harvest. Listed below are their photos and below that I have put together a short slideshow of some of my favorite photos that were taken during crush. At the end of the video is a clip of the quiet winery, almost slumbering at the end of harvest. The quiet that evening was almost shocking in its silence. Thank you, Chimney Rock Winery.
Follow all of my adventures during that crazy sabbradical, by keeping up to date here at Vinopanion and by following the #MFITV hashtag on Twitter. You can find even more content by checking out my Facebook. The project also has it’s own photo albums on said Facebook, as well as on my Flickr. Lastly, all of the videos are being posted at my YouTube channel. Don’t be shy, I’ll add you to any profiles.
The heart of the Harvest season can be a surreal and crazy time. Yes, of course I guess, it’s crazy when you have a ton of things going on at once, including actual tons of ripe fruit to process and 15+ hour days dragging down your health. Indeed, I was sick twice during weeks 4 through 6 at the Rock for Man Falls in the Vines – #MFITV, with the entire Chimney Rock Winery(Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) crew coming down with something, at some point. Crush isn’t easy, that is known the industry over, but I was happy to see that I persevered along with everyone else (who are all harvest veterans) and learned quite a bit about what it was to work some of the most taxing parts of the harvest: digging out the fermentation tanks after barreling off our new free-run wine.
One of the things has also continually been of interest to me during this project has been the interesting mix of old and new technology at Chimney Rock. Like most wineries that have been around as long as the Rock, they have a mashup of equipment that has been bought over the last 20 some-odd years, some of it even brought in as others joined the team. A great example is the dichotomy between the equipment we use to measure the alcohol level of a finished wine and another set that we use to gas our tanks. An ebulliometer measures the alcohol content in a wine by using a simple boiling assay, to take the boiling point of a particular lot of wine, after first calibrating the machine by boiling distilled water. You then compare the lowered boiling point of a liquid mixture containing alcohol to get the final percent alcohol in the wine. Ours is French, like most, and looks like it was a few decades away from being new in the ’50’s, much less now. Very cool.
Most red wines undergo a process called maceration, following the completion of the primary, or alcoholic, fermentation. This means that the new wine sits in the tank with the skins and seeds and other physical matter left from the now spent grapes. This allows for further extraction of color, tannin, flavors and aromas in the finished wine. While this is happening over days or weeks, we need to make sure that no contamination takes place inside the tank, by bacterial growth or other contaminating microflora. To do this we gas the free headspace in the tank with an inert gas, one that will displace any oxygen found in the tank (during fermentation this happens naturally with the CO2 that is released by the happy yeast). It can be expensive to use rented argon or nitrogen tanks to do this, so Chimney Rock has made the wise investment in a permanent nitrogen generator. This is then hooked up to our gas piping system connected to each tank in the winery and it works much of the day, gassing any tanks open to the system. Our generator is state-of-the-art, and is actually something pretty new and novel to have in the wine business, and its newness contrasts interestingly with the old school ebulliometer.
Digging out tanks towards the end of harvest is a right of passage for any cellar worker. I had my own right of passage a few times this harvest, but with the sharing of the grape loads that goes around at the winery, I only had two large tank digging experiences. It’s extremely hard work and a doozy on your back. Basically, there are literally, tons of grapes that are loaded into a stainless steel tank to ferment and finish primary fermentation before being drained off and barreled down to age. The resulting grape must, a mixture of remaining wine, grape skins seeds and other matter, needs to be dug out of said tank to be sent to the press to be pressed off. My largest tank this year was also the winery’s largest lot of wine; 18.5 tons of grapes fermented in that tank. Taking a rough estimate of the percent remaining matter in the tank, as estimated by ETS one of the winery’s oenological lab test providers, about 40% of that original tonnage was still remaining. This means that I dug out between 6-7 tons of must over the course of 50 minutes! Whew. You can see my first tank experience in the video above, hilariously narrated by Jeff van de Pol, Assistant Winemaker for the Rock.
Follow all of my adventures during that crazy sabbradical, by keeping up to date here at Vinopanion and by following the #MFITV hashtag on Twitter. You can find even more content by checking out my Facebook. The project also has it’s own photo albums on said Facebook, as well as on my Flickr. Lastly, all of the videos are being posted at my YouTube channel. Don’t be shy, I’ll add you to any profiles. 😉
Weeks 2 and 3 of Man Falls in the Vines began super busy at the winery, but finished with the quietness of fermenting tanks. I have already talked of the craziness of Week 1 for #MFITV, when we brought in a good 150 tons of super premium Stags Leap District Bordeaux varieties. The last two weeks saw all of the rest of that fruit come in, all of it Cabernet Sauvignon, the heart blood of the Chimney Rock Winery (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) wines. Our days were definitely long, particularly the last two, where we had two more days of bringing in at least 70 tons of fruit. The last of the lots of Cabernet were completed on 10/27/11 with a healthy roar of relief by the vineyard and cellar crews, and capped off by a raucous bin dive by Jeff in the last ton of fruit. I was in the north barrel room doing my morning ferm monitoring, so I’m still bitter that I missed his swan dive. My bitterness was sweetened however, when Jeff discovered that grapes can really go everywhere and anywhere, when hit at high speed!
My activities at the winery continue to expand, with new educational experiences seemingly every hour on some days. I got my turn cleaning out the press, fortunately on a warm afternoon in the valley. I’ve heard horror stories about this task, but if the weather is warm, it’s not too bad to crawl into that huge cylinder and shoot some water for 40 minutes to get it clean. Cold weather? Well, that would be a different story. We are continuing to press out lots of new, primary fermented wine however, so I’m sure that I will have a chance to freeze my ass off, soaking wet with water, wine and pomace. 🙂
A Brazilian TV show made another day at the Rock get filled with a little more chaos and interest. Planeta Brasil is a very popular Brazilian program that documents ex-pats that work abroad, outside of Brazil. Elizabeth is Brazilian and with the romance that comes with wine, it was a no brainer to feature her in one of their upcoming episodes. They spent a few days at the winery, filming much of her activities in the cellar and out in the vineyards. It was cute to see someone as modest and self-effacing as Elizabeth still try to please the producers and hosts with all of their interview and shot requests.
Despite the plethora of fantastic learning experiences here at the Rock, I only briefly mentioned one of my favorite winemaking tasks in my first #MFITV post. The primary fermentation that is needed to make wine is done by yeast, of course. It is one of the most important activities that need to be done correctly in order for a lot of grape must to be converted into wine. And it is not as easy as one might think to inoculate 18.27 tons (original grape tonnage) of must with the proper yeast. First of all, the must might come into the winery off of the crushpad in the morning at a cool 48F. Unfortunately, the nutrients that the yeast need to begin fermentation are only activated at 110F, while the yeast can only be combined with the nutrients and enzymes at between 100F – 104F. All of this requires water that needs to be at that 110F +/- 1 degree, using a dual hose water system in a winery that is constantly in flux. Whew. So you finally get the water to 110, pour in 22 gallons, add in the nutrients and wait 10min, following stirring. Then you check the temp, add some must from the tank to cool it down a bit, to that proper yeast range and add the yeast. Wait 15m. Now you need to get that nutrient/yeast/must combo to within about 13F from the temperature of the must sitting in the tank…at 48F. :-0 Basically, you step down about 13F by adding must to cool the yeast combo, leaving 10m incubation time before each cooling. Step down too much, well, the yeast die, you lose that must and you have to start all over. Ouch! Once you get the hang of it after a couple tries it can be soothing, but prior to that: STRESS. If I screw up a yeast inoculation, I could seriously compromise a whole entire lot of wine. Yet, I have found that there’s nothing like seeing the bubbling of happy yeast as they get down to temp, ready to turn must into wine. Indeed, I have put together a video that you can view below, chronicling the adventure of grapes hitting the crushpad, all the way through that happy inoculation.
It’s been very nice to see a ton of wine friends and associates while in the valley, and to have the chance to hit up many of the super-rad wine events that are hitting the calendar. One of these was particularly special and unique, the VinTank VIP Concert featuring The Parlotones at the Napa Valley Opera House. Co-sponsored with VinTank (Twitter, Facebook) partner WineTasting.com (Twitter, Facebook), this was a fantastic intersection between a highly talented group of musicians, the US launch of one of the bands’ new wine label and a beautiful mix of great people and a regal venue. While I missed the opening band, Johnny Hi-Fi (Twitter, Facebook), I was able to get from the Rock in time to catch the headliner, The Parlotones (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog). Incredibly popular in their native South Africa, selling out stadium tours, the band has yet to really hit the US shores. They are extremely tight musicians, creating very earnest, clean, and emotional rock in the vein of Keane or Coldplay. I hadn’t know about them prior to the show announcement, so following an earful of research on Spotify, I was pleased to be able to catch the show and a great show it was. The band is also a group of wine lovers and true to their creative spirit they decided to create a wine label to complement their music, a synergy to which I can attest. For The Parlotones Wine, they took finished wine from all over South Africa and spent a wonderfully harrowing 14 days tasting through them to create their first two blends: the white named after their hit track “Push Me to the Floor” and the red entitled “Giant Mistake,” another fine choon from their latest studio release, Stardust Galaxies. While I only had time for a brief taste of the the white, I received a sample bottle of the 2009 The Parlotones Coastal Region Giant Mistake Red Blend. The wine is an interesting mix of of a number of red varietals, including South Africa’s fl
agship, Pinotage. With toasty and slightly sweeter black fruit in the nose and the palate, this wine shows lighter tannins in the mouth and a black cherry and toasty finish. It’s a solid drinker for the roughly ~$12 that you’ll find it here in the US. It fit right in at my sister’s BBQ that attended one stormy night, a few days after the show and added another bit of fun to my Man Falls in the Vines – #MFITV 2011 harvest experience.
“Welcome to the craziest crush ever!“ Elizabeth greeted with this smiling statement on my first day (10/17/11), at 6am. Alongside fellow winery workers Cindy Cosco (Twitter, Winemaker, Passaggio Wines), Leo Almanza, Jorge Leon, Doris Garrido, and Rafa Alfaro, we crushed the annual tiny lot of Fiano, under the watchful eyes of Jeff, Elizabeth and Vineyard Manager Flavio Rodgriquez and Cellarmaster Eddie Lona.
Fiano is an ancient Italian white grape from Campania in the South, and makes a fairly powerful flavored wine, with drier grapey fruit flavors and interesting nutty and floral aromatics. The winery team gets together to crush this small lot each year, helping to merge our efforts into one small, interesting lot of wine. We used a small basket press to press out the little crush.
Rounding out our vino bonding session was Doug Fletcher, Vice President of Winemaking for Terlato Wine Group. Doug has been in the biz a long time and is an outstanding source for winemaking/growing knowledge, with fascinating stories from his many years as a winemaker at Martin Ray Winery, Steltzner Vineyards and Chimney Rock. Good stuff.
My job at the Rock has been and will be a bit of a wildcard, partly due to my experience in my day job at the lab bench. As such, this first week has been an extremely lucky and wonderfully fulfilling amalgam of vineyard work (sampling pH, TA and grams of acid; fruit integrity, ripeness and health), enology lab work (fermentation monitoring, berry and cluster weight), cellar work (tank and barrel inoculations, pumpovers, and punchdowns) and bringing in fruit on the crushpad (crusher/destemmer work and pumping juice into the tanks) and cleaning, cleaning, CLEANING. All of this…just in the first week!
Elizabeth’s opening comment quite aptly described the 2011 grape harvest. We had late, big rains in June, regretfully well timed to cause some shatter and/or poor set (or pollination), on some of the grape clusters. This means that the 2011 NorCal grape clusters look as though they are missing grapes, a result of these late rains. Then we had a lot of cool weather, just like last year, making the harvest much later than the average, up to 5 weeks in some parts of the state. Yet, we finally got some stable warm (not hot) weather later in the summer, which allowed for cool, even ripening and no hint of sunburn, dehydration, nor mold, as long as you cut back a lot of foliage to allow for this slow even ripening. Further rains and cool weather in early October enhanced the fears for mold. Fortunately, Elizabeth foresaw these possible weather outcomes early in the season and ordered the proper amount of defoliation, with great execution by Flavio and Rios Vineyard Management. Now we’re bringing in excellent Estate fruit, despite the somewhat ominous misty and cool weather that we had much of last week. All that said, the day I arrived, crush finally took off and I dived headfirst into a very compressed harvest. Indeed, we brought in 150 tons of premium Estate fruit Thursday and Friday of last week, alone!
Below you will find a list of Chimney Rock wines on WineLog. I have reviewed some of these before my #Harvest2011 antics began, but I cannot, of course, review any while I am working for the Rock. Cheers!