David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery Winemaker's Diary

May, 2009 

Wednesday May 6, 2009

We have been busy!! Everything is growing well and Catarino and Salvador are working hard training our young vines.

The Condo deal in San Francisco has a few snags and it may not happen. This Condo has survived the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes but the lender wants to make sure the foundation is bolted to the house. That would require removing all the outside walls to inspect and then if necessary install bolts into a brick foundation which by the way may not help to protect in case of an earthquake. And now yesterday we found out the lender will not lend if there is tandem parking (One Car behind another). This building does have two small tandem parking spaces and the lender feels that makes the building unsafe because of the open space under a three story building. This makes no sense because the space is only 20% of the down stairs. We are trying to get them to remove these requirements.

Monday May 11, 2009

I had major problems trying to sulfur yesterday morning. I just obtained a new sulfur machine. The one we replaced lasted 15 years. From first observation this new one looked much better. It was bigger!! I wanted to sulfur right after the rain ended because I know from past experiences the wind can come up immediately the next day. A heavy wind will blow away the dust. Sometimes it can be calm the morning after the last night rain. In the past I have paid attention to the weather forecast and have timed my sulfur outings correctly during these times and only made a few mistakes (Sometimes it rains again right after I sulfur). Here is what it is all about:

As a grape grower we have to protect our fruit from Powdery Mildew. I am not going to go into too much detail about what it is. I have 100 shares of Google and I want the stock to go up so Google Powdery Mildew. We have to control it and I learned my first lesson in 1979 which I will explain later. At this time in May the new shoots are out in length from as little as one foot and as much as three feet. For some reason....I am sure many of you experts know why.....a dark crackled ugly substance (Powdery Mildew) can form on the grapes and either destroy the bunches or give a strong flavor if incorporated into our wine. Years ago Doug Nalle and I talked about leaving a little in at harvest because it gave an interesting peppery character if only a few bunches are infected. The best method is what I do!!!! You have to be organized and you have to get up early! The wind is the calmest just before day break. I will explain more later.

In 1979, my first year, I was not as organized and I did not sulfur at the right time and my Carignan vines were infected with powdery mildew. It took me three years to control it. You see, if it is not completely eradicated before winter the disease can carry over into the next season and be even harder to control. Sulfur dust only prevents mildew if applications are timed right. Back in those days there was only one way to destroy mildew and that was to use a form of wetable sulfur. Wetable sulfur is hard to apply because you have to have an expensive sprayer that is capable of applying high pressure water at the rate of 200 gallons an acre. I purchased one back then at $5,000 ( I borrowed on credit cards, teaser rates, about 6 to 7 percent and paid it off with another one until I had enough money to pay the whole thing off, I was poor....I was very organized and never missed a deadline). The best method I found was to walk in with a 100 foot hose and heavily spray each vine with this water solution. Dragging this heavy water filled, vibrating hose in and out of vines was very hard work. In the early 1980s I was in my late 30s and still strong. In 1981 I planted Cabernet in the bottom section down by the creek. Still today that is the cabernet that is used in our Estate Cuvee. In the first year the vines grew so fast in this rich soil that some shoots sprouted out as much as 16 feet in one season. Young vines usually do not need sulfur the first year because they grow so little and no grape bunches form. It took me 7 years to get rid of all traces of mildew. Since those newly planted vines were on 12 foot wide rows, unlike the 7 foot old vine rows in the Carignan, I did not have to drag a hose around. I could drive slowly down the row and dispense 200 gallons per acre of water on the vines. The problem was in both cases, Cabernet and Carignan are the most susceptible to mildew and the high pressure water solution has to get through the leaves and into the infected hardened wood shoots to explode the spores left over from the previous season. If a small section is missed the disease can spread in a few days during the Spring to other sections of the vine. 

As you can imagine this new suffer machine Will be better than the last one. It was delivered on Friday, one day after I was hoping for. Catarino and Salvador were happy because I have to sulfur on the weekend when they are not here. This routine worked fine last year when there was no rain around this time in May. The rain washes off all the sulfur. So dust needs to be applied as soon as possible after a rain. Sometimes that means during the work week.

I will explain now why we had to purchase a new machine. Since Thursday morning when I should have gone out it has been windy as I suspected. That morning I thought about sulfuring because the wind was calm for awhile and so I asked Catarino and Salvador to make sure the old duster was full of sulfur. Steve came back and looked distressed when he had to inform me of a problem!!! Catarino and Salvador were so upset and were afraid to inform me that our old duster was full of water. It was my fault. It was so old that it had a broken opening at the top of the lid. I should have insisted it be stored under cover. They tried to get the water out of the duster but I told them to stop. Since I have been planning to buy a new machine for a few years I was hoping this was the right time to order the new one. I should have purchased it last year.

I said earlier I feel my method of preventing mildew is the best, dust. Even though it is the old method it works. About 20 years or so ago a new chemical was introduced to destroy and then control Powdery Mildew. It had to be applied with a high pressure spray rig but would work with less water. It also can be applied when the wind is a little more active. And some farmers think they can skip an application and eradicate the mildew later. Years later I have found as a winemaker this chemical can depart an off flavor to the wine. There is some question about that. Some farmers and even winemakers believe if the chemical is not applied after July the residue left will not cause a problem. I do not agree. Dust is the best.

As I said earlier dust should be applied as soon as possible after a rain. It also should be applied after every 8 inches of growth. After yesterday I have already sulfured three times. Residue from Sulfur Dust can interfere with the quality of wine also but not as much as spraying. I stop sulfuring after the first signs of color in the grapes, usually after the first week in July. I have never had a problem with off flavors with the wine produced from my vineyard. 

Saturday morning was too windy but I knew I had to apply sulfur on Sunday because Catarino and Salvador would be here today and suffer dust can bother their eyes for a day or so. It was still windy but the wind came and went in spurts. When I started I was proud of myself when I looked at my clock and saw 6:25Am. I started down one row and heard a thump! The dispenser on the back of the duster goes out on both sides and is connected at 4 places with clamps. The dispenser is made of a heavy steel and as I observed later the clamps are too small for the weight of the steel. The steel container had broken off at one of the sides. After a half an hour, I had tightened all 4 of the clamps and went out again. I was happy that at no time did the wind come up too much to sulfur. It was too much wind to my liking but a little wind can actually help to blow out the sulfur through the vines. 

My second trip out was no more successful and either was the third one. The dispenser broke off at two more points and the fourth time it came off at the same point as the first time. The clamps were not broken. I finally realized I had to get bigger clamps or put screws into the clamps to hold the sulfur arms on. Neither one of these options were a possibility if I was going to finish sulfuring on Sunday. I then noticed there was a bar down below the steel structure containing the dispensing arms so I raised it up to rest right under the steel to support it. That worked for now. This week, I still plan on strapping or putting screws through the clamps to reinforce the arms. In all I was finished at 9Am almost two hours later than usual.

I now have to plan on when to do the next run out in the vineyard to dust. Since it was somewhat windy yesterday I can't know how well the sulfur dust stuck to the vine's leaves and soon to be blooming grape bunches and I of course should have sulfured last Thursday or Friday. I have to hope like in the past mildew does not form well in windy situations. Also because the new green shoots are growing at a fast pace I may want to suffer again in less than the two week normal time. I leave for vacation on June 2nd for twelve days and I could let Catarino apply the suffer during the days I am away. I would rather do it myself since I know exactly where and how to apply. I have three weeks and thus I may go back out again this weekend and then on the 30th of May. That is the plan so far but anything can change. If I see the fog move in I may just jump on my tractor that morning. A wet fog on the leaves helps the sulfur stick and such mornings are usually very calm.

The wind is dying down right now!! Hopefully I will see the fog later this week.

Wednesday May 13, 2009

I am feeling good. It looks like we will purchase a place in San Francisco. We can't believe this yet until the LOAN COMMITMENT!!!!! Banks are way too strict. It has taken us two weeks to convince the lender to OK our loan. They are the only bank to do Stated Income loans these days. That means I show little profit but have plenty of money to put down and also can show we have cash left over to pay the mortgage for 6 months. We have been at their beckoned Call. We have been pleading. I won't go into more detail now but I hope to post a diary later with more detail. 

Friday May 15, 2009

The wind has not died down all week and the fog has not come in. Now the forecast is for temperatures over 100 degrees for the next two days. Anyone who has put sulfur on their vines in the last two days could see burning of leaves on the vines. It is especially critical not to put on the specialty sprays for powdery mildew I mentioned Monday. By mid-week I should be able to sulfur again. I just realized I should turn on our drip irrigation to neutralize the heat to follow.

Tuesday May 19, 2009

Well the fog came in finally this morning after several days close to 100 degrees. The wind was up a little but I got out to sulfur again. In the last 10 days the shoots on the vines have doubled to more than 2 feet in length. In 11 or 12 days (Saturday or Sunday) I will be out again to protect my vines from powdery mildew. I will be fun!!

Friday May 22, 2009

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is in June we will stop charging extra permit fees for out of state shipments. We have permits for several states for the right to direct ship and plan to sign up for more permits in other states. Those fees can amount to as much as 10%. Some states call it a sales tax or excise tax but most states call it a permit fee. We feel it has been unfair to charge some of you and not charge those customers in states we have not applied for a permit. There are now 39 states that allow direct shipping and most of them do charge fees. We will pay the fees as an expense of the winery. Unfortunately we will have to continue to charge a 9% sales tax for wines purchased here at the winery or shipped to a destination in California. 

The bad news is a reminder that our prices will go up soon. We are aiming for June First but Brad is away and he may not be able to change the prices on the website until he gets back sometime in the first week of June. Most bottles of wine whether it be "Futures" or bottled wine, available to ship now, will be raised by $2. Effectively if you take into consideration our larger discounts on cases and of course our Vintage Circle and Dave's Club discounts our prices in the last 10 years have not gone up. All Dry Creek Valley wineries I have checked have raised their prices over those years. With discounts we are offering Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel for as low as $12 a bottle for our 2009 Pre-Harvest Futures. Even if you are not a member of our Vintage Circle or Dave's Wine Club and only want to purchase one case of wine from us, most of our wines are offered for the first time at this time of year on our pre-harvest futures order form for $15 a bottle. I don't know of any other winery in Dry Creek Valley who offers Zinfandel at those prices. I just purchased a mixed case from Rafanelli and I had to pay full price like all other customers. They are now charging more than twice as much for Zinfandel and Cabernet than we do on "Futures". 

Our expenses have gone up dramatically over the last 10 years. We now offer Medical insurance to our 4 employees and their salaries have gone up by a third. I have purchased or up graded our winery, vineyard and buildings on our property by more than $100,000 a year. Over the years wine barrels have gone up by over 50% but our biggest cost is for the bottles we use for our wine. We have chosen to use the lightest and as far as I am concerned the best bottle for our wine but the cost for the bottles we use has gone up to over $8 a case. That means if we produce 5,000 cases the price for the bottles amounts to over $40,000. Another factor contributing to my decision to raise prices is that I feel we get little respect. Since we charge so little for our wine many people whether in the industry or even our customers think our wine is inferior because we don't charge enough. In fact our sales have gone down in the last three years since other wineries have raised their prices. Since 2000, our sales have gone up by 25% which has kept us a float, thank you. 

Reluctantly because I know our sales will go down for awhile, we will raise our prices by $2 a bottle for most wines and that will be also for next years Pre-Harvest Futures. Next year our Pre-Harvest prices will start at $14 for Dave's Club members, $15 for Vintage Circle members and $17 for those who prefer to order only a case. The bottled wines priced at $28 will remain the same, but the wines priced at $26 will go up to $28. Even at $28 for Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, with the discount our Vintage Circle members will pay $19.60 and our Dave's club members will pay $16.80. That will still be lower than any other Dry Creek winery that I have checked. Do I think this will help our reputation, I think not, but at least it will help us to become more profitable. Pay attention because we will continue to offer wines on sale. 

Saturday May 24, 2009

It has now been 5 weeks since Pat and I have put an offer on a condo in San Francisco and that the offer was accepted. We finally have a tentative approval on the loan, but no commitment. They now want me to put down 45% and it looks like we can do it by selling our bonds and turning in an IRA. It will be a good investment for Pat and I over time but in this market it could take 5 years or more before we can justify selling it for a profit. Paying the debt service will be no problem because we will rent it out to my daughter Kate and a roommate. Pat loves The City so she will have a place downstairs to stay since this place is over 2,000 square feet. I may even show up a few times because I am getting reacquainted with The City I grew up in. It sure has changed and I think for the better. There are so many great places to eat and some of you know that is what I enjoy to do along with sipping a glass of wine of course. 

Kate is now soon to be 24 years old and I am proud to say she has just finished her Masters at the University of California and has accepted a job at a structural engineering firm in Oakland. I am also proud and happy for Susie who is now 21 years old. She is about to graduate from the University of Washington. Kate will pay rent and live in the condo in San Francisco that Pat and I own and Susie may stay there when she gets back from Kenya. Kenya will be her last requirement to graduate. She is excited to help some of the needy people in Africa. I am happy I will pay no more tuition fees, but the condo in San Francisco could use an upgrade in the kitchen and maybe some structural work so I will have to scrape up money to pay for that in the next year or two. I love spending money!!


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