Ok…by now it is all a blur of processing grapes as they are picked, pressing the grapes that have turned into wine, and punch downs…ALWAYS punch downs. There are a couple things that distinguished this week from others at harvest…we got our new French oak barrels and we had rain…nothing stops harvest, not even rain in Sonoma County!
We have WINE! The first fruit, Pinot noir, to come into the winery has now evolved into wine! I noticed that the cap of grape skins was falling on a small fermenter yesterday morning. By the end of the day it was completely submerged and we had wine. It tastes very fresh, with tart cranberry and raspberry notes, deliciously refreshing! It will be pressed today and put into French oak barrels to rest for about 9 months before it is bottled.
We continued to receive and process Pinot noir fruit this week along with more Chardonnay and some Viognier. When the white grapes come into the winery they are immediately pressed and the juice is pumped into an enclosed tank where it settles over night. The next day the juice is racked off the settled solids and into either stainless steel barrels or French oak barrels for fermentation. The cellar sounds like it has multiple fish aquariums running with the consistent bubbling from the air locks on the barrels. The air locks allow the carbon dioxide created during fermentation to escape while keeping oxygen out.
My biggest accomplishment this week was doing ALL of the punch downs on ALL the fermenters for midday. I am developing some definite muscles along with some blisters too and we aren’t even half way through harvest yet! The reward is knowing that we will make a good wine and the views from the top of the fermenters.
A thrilling and exhausting week it was! I had some of my first 10 hour days and we saw the first obvious signs that fermentation has begun. Harvest is a big, messy chaos of receiving and processing fruit, managing fermenting fruit, cleaning incessantly, and still dealing with all the other daily tasks of a small winery such as bottling 100 cases of 2013 wine and cleaning 94 oak barrels.
The most exciting aspect of all this is the daily arrival of new grapes. We received and processed nearly 20 tons of grapes this week! As the black grapes come into the winery, the individual berries are removed from the stems and then they are placed into large vessels for fermentation. The grapes just hang out for a few days and then you begin to see obvious signs that fermentation is beginning. Bubbles develop and the fermenter begins to warm up…nice on our cool, foggy mornings! This is where things are with the estate fruit that was the very first to come in last week. We even had one tank with overflowing yeasty froth. The froth tastes like a spritzy sort of sweet, tart candy! We also started punch downs on the fermenters this week.
As the yeast begin to ferment the sugar in the juice, the grapes that are still whole rise to the top of the fermenting vessel pushed up by the yeast creating carbon dioxide. The skins on the top need to be kept moist to prevent microbial growth and to be sure to get all the color, flavors, and tannins desired from the grape skins. To perform a punch down you use a tool made of hollow stainless steel that has a dinner plate sized disc at the bottom of the handle. It also has two handles coming out the sides. You place the disc on the top of the skins and…push…until the disc breaks down to the looser, more juicy lower layers. This is hard work and sometimes you have to step on the middle handles to push it through the dense grapes. Then you pull it up, heavy with a layer of wet fruit from the lower part of the fermenter, and start over again, inch by inch, until the entire upper layer has been punched down and the top of the fermenter is all covered with wet grapes again. Initially this is done once a day and eventually it increases to four times a day. With all of our large fermenters now full, and many of our smaller ones too, punching down can take over an hour now. It can only be described as a labor of love!
As predicted, the beginning of harvest week for us started with bottling all the 2013 Chardonnay. As a small, family owned winery, most of the bottling is done in house and only very large lots require a bottling truck company. We finished up in two days bottling nearly 500 cases of wine and we were ready for vintage 2014 to begin!
When determining when grapes are ready for harvest there are three major factors involved. The first factor is the varietal. Chardonnay and Pinot noir have a shorter ripening time than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. The second factor that determines the time necessary for ripening is where the grapes are planted. Vines on slopes at higher elevations ripen more quickly than vines planted on flat valley floor or on slopes at lower elevations. The last, and most definitive sign of ripeness and the date of harvest, is the winemaker’s decision. Winemakers have many different parameters to consider in determining if a particular vineyard, or block of a vineyard, is ready to pick. This is influenced by the sugar level and the taste of the grapes, the signs of physiological ripeness, such as the color of the seeds, and also by the style of wine he or she is making. Sparkling wines are made from grapes that would be much too under ripe for making a bigger, bolder style of wine.
Harvest began for us on a foggy morning that turned into warm sunshine as it often does in these valleys. The first grapes to come in were the younger vines of Pinot noir from the estate vineyard. The next day it was Chardonnay from a neighboring vineyard. In the Russian River AVA, things are ripening a week or so earlier than usual, probably due to the consistent warm temperatures for most of the summer. Yields are quite high again as they were for 2013. There is some speculation that this may be due to the drought, but no one knows for sure. The Pinot was especially beautiful with perfect small, dense clusters. Harvest is a lot of work, but it is an exciting time too!
My life was good, maybe even perfect…but I got bit hard by the whole wine thing. I was a happy, successful medical professional and I just couldn’t be satisfied with the answers to my questions given to me in the tasting rooms….oh, no…I had to learn more…had to know more. Here I am, a middle aged woman, completing a degree in Wine Making doing an Internship at a Russian River winery…and this is how it goes…
Week 1 – What I learned:
- Preparations for harvest are as serious as the impending harvest.
- You have to get organized. We spent all day, ALL DAY reorganizing the cellar. We moved stacks of barrel racks, each carrying 6 full barrels of wine holding 60 gallons, outside. We rearranged them, and then moved them all back inside. This put all the empty barrels in one place, all the wine still aging in barrels at the back, and all the wine to be bottled soon, up front. At the end of the day no one but us would have been able to tell the difference. I thought it was gorgeous!
- Pressure washing is loads of fun! There is a sort of POWER derived from pressure washing. I pressure washed all day…I washed the destemmer, the filter, multiple fermenters of various sizes, holding tanks, and last but not least LOTS of FYB’s (fu#%ing yellow bins). There is a reason they bear this name.
- Don’t put off what you can do today. In the shadow of harvest it is not uncommon to bottle what you can bottle, as you won’t be able to do much of anything to older vintages once harvest begins. The toddlers will be on their own for a few months. To that end, we racked Chardonnay into tank, let it settle, lightly filtered it into another tank where it will wait for bottling next week.
- Harvest truly is right around the corner. I was asked to pull a grape berry sample from the estate vineyard. This involves walking down the vine rows and doing your very best to pull a random sample of about 100 grapes. You want to pick berries from the top, middle, and bottom of different clusters as you walk down the row. You can’t just pick the ones you would like to eat! Once picked they are crushed all together and a sugar reading is taken. It was close to being right where our winemaker wants it. What does this mean? We may be processing grapes right alongside all that bottling!
An hour’s drive north from San Francisco, surrounded by miles of vineyards lies Geyserville, the perfect getaway escape. It’s the gateway to the Alexander Valley, a California American Viticultural area, home to 26+ outstanding wineries. The town is rustic, the vibe casual…but don’t let that fool you. Serious wine and food happens here.
Start Time: 11:00 a.m.
Available: Thurs- Sun. by reservation only
Price Includes: All food, drink and tasting fees!
Duration: 2.5 hours.
Tour ends approx. at 1:30 p.m. however we have been known to have so much fun we might end a little later.
Starting Location: Geyserville Visitor’s Plaza Park at 10:45 a.m.
Group Size: 2 – 8 guests
We gladly accommodate larger parties. Please call us or send us an email.
Have Questions? Call us 707-758-4725
Tasting at 3 locations may include:
Locals Tasting Room
Catelli’s – California Inspired Italian
Diavola – Pizzeria & Salumeria
With a population of ~2,100 people and located in the beautiful wine country, Geyserville is quite the treasure! Also known as the “wine capital of Sonoma County”, Geyserville offers great quality food, exquisite wines, and of course, friendly locals! On Geyserville Avenue, you will find everything you need from lodging, tasting rooms, to family-owned restaurants. For more information see below! If you want a nice getaway, relaxing, and stress-free weekend, make sure to visit the beautiful Geyserville, CA.
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria
If you are craving a delicious pizza made in a classic wood-burning oven or some nice house cured sausage and salami, Diavola’s is a must! Dino’s philosophy follows the Cucina Povera tradition, in which he tries to use as many local ingredients as available!
Catellis is yet another great family-owned restaurant! Catellis recently re-opened from what was previously known as “The Rex”. The sister and brother dynamic duo, now run Catelli’s, whom continue to provide 3 generations of Catelli-family Italian recipes. In addition, they recently opened an extraordinary back patio, just in time for those long relaxing summer nights!
Owned by two generations of Christensen family, this small country inn provides great quality service and is conveniently located down the street from our very own Locals Tasting Room!
Geyserville Inn is also reopening what was previously called, the Hoffman House. The new name has not yet been released, so stay tuned! It will be opening in these next few weeks! The new restaurant will be offering wine country cuisine, and will be open for breakfast and lunch.
As described from Isis Oasis website, “The Magical Oasis Retreat Center is nestled in the Heart of the Alexander Valley Wine Country where you can relax in our pool spa, tour exotic animals, lodge in uniquely constructed rooms, learn about ancient Egyptian traditions, and unwind from City living. A perfect location for weddings, reunions, parties, team building and organizational retreats”.
Isis Oasis is quite the sanctuary and has been opened since 1978!
Bosworth and Son General Merchandise
Bosworth’s has now been opened for over 100 years! An old fashioned store with authenticity, Bosworth continues the tradition of selling western attire from hats, boots, to animal feed, and hardware. If you want to take a step back in time, make sure to stop by and see them!
Also located on the Geyserville Avenue strip…
Ramazzotti Tasting Room
Mercury Tasting Room
Route 128 winery
Geyserville is quite the charm! Like the saying goes, “Great things come in small packages”. With many more great wineries in the surrounding areas and beautiful scenery, we shall see you soon!
Pruning has started, what does this mean, well it means that the ball has started to roll and we will be very busy till harvest. The biggest question right now however is there is no water. We are taking certain steps on ranches without wells to leave less fruiting positions, in case we don’t get the water we need we can hopefully maintain the vine until harvest. It will be a very interesting year. This is the second year in a row of a possible drought, please get out there and start doing the rain dance.I will start writing my blog again, it is time. I have had my son with me for the last ten days and it has been so awesome, they rare growing so quick. My beautiful daughter made it to Varsity basketball as a Sophomore. It is hard for her to be here with practice and games in Reno during the Winter break, the next couple of months I will stay in Reno so we can have some time together.
The Free Bookmobile promotes literacy and love of reading by giving away high quality books to people throughout Sonoma County, CA. On a mission of outreach, we especially seek to serve children and seniors living in rural and low-income areas.
Look for the Free Bookmobile on Geyserville Ave, Tuesday December 17th , 5-6:30 p.m.