So Ya' Wanna Be a Winemaker? The Continuing Saga Of A Year at David Coffaro

Brendan Eliason
Assistant Winemaker, David Coffaro Winery

Ah, what we do for love. Winemaking is often more of a passion than it is a job. The ultimate proof of this is Crush. Working in the wine industry, your life and livelihood come down to a three month stretch. This stretch, roughly from September to November, is when your grapes ripen, are picked and made into your wine for the year. If you do everything right and are lucky, then you end up with stellar-quality vino. If you screw up or the wine gods are angry then you're screwed until next year. This ultimatum fuels the intense, nervous, excited energy that causes people to spend 10-12 hours-a- day, 6-7 days-a-week (and more), living up to their armpits in grape juice and forgetting how to sleep.

SEPTEMBER to mid-NOVEMBER: Harvest & Crush

It all starts innocently enough. In spring the grapevines come out of dormancy and start growing green shoots. These shoots develop clusters of grapes that start out as green B- B's, then change colors (a process called verasion), and finally get to the point where they need to be picked. This point is the start of Crush.

The first real question of Crush is "When do we pick?" What makes a grape cluster ready to pick? There are two basic philosophies of when to pick that overlap each other to a great degree. Warning: Both of these philosophies delve deeply into wine-Geekdom. If techno-wine babble makes you queasy (as it does for many people) please skip ahead a couple of paragraphs. The first philosophy is the Scientific point of view that wants to look at numbers. The three most important numbers are degrees Brix, pH, and TA.  Degrees Brix is the direct measurement of % sugar by volume. Most Winemakers look for a reading of about 24 degrees Brix (or 24% sugar). Easy. The next two numbers are loosely intertwined. TA stands for titratable acidity. It is the direct measurement of grams of acid in 100 ml of solution (i.e. juice). An average reading would be around .7 g/100 ml. 1.0 would be rip-the-enamel-off-your-teeth acid and .5 or less would be so bland and boring that you would rather crochet slippers for your dog while watching people fish. PH is also a measurement of acid but it is not nearly a precise as TA. In general you want a pH that is between 3.3 and 3.7.

In general when TA goes up, pH goes down. How much varies greatly year-by-year, vineyard-by-vineyard, and variety-by-variety.

The opposite of this numbers game is much more traditional and much more simple. Look at the grapes and eat the grapes. This is not rocket science but there is a surprising degree of subtly involved. Almost anyone that has worked with grapes for any period of time has at least a general picture of "The Perfect Cluster" in their mind. This picture is different for every variety and often from person to person (lets not forget, winemaking is still more of an art than a science, not everyone agrees on art). As a an example I know what my perfect cluster of Zinfandel looks like. It is colored so dark purple that it is almost black, the skin of the grapes is just starting to get wrinkly and there are a small number of shriveled raisins in the bunch. If I could get every cluster to look like that I would make the worlds greatest red wine. [Unfortunately, this rarely happens because agriculture relies on nature and nature is inconsistent.]

In addition to sight, taste is invaluable. Once the grapes get into the general ballpark of ripeness, most Winemakers or vineyard managers will start snacking on the fruit to see how the flavors develop. The change in the taste can be amazing. Overnight grapes can go from tasting like normal, boring table grapes into complex, flavorful taste-bombs. When all these elements come together then it is time to pick.

There are two basic ways to pick. The first and most prevalent is to hire a crew of vineyard workers to cut the grapes off of the vine with curved picking knives and fill up gondolas which are then delivered to the wineries. A newer alternative to hand-picking grapes is to mechanically harvest the grapes. This is accomplished by using an enormous harvester that actually drives over the top of the rows in order to pick the grapes. As this harvester drives down the rows, the vines travel between the two legs of the harvester where a set of wands basically shake and beat the grapes off of the vine. There's not a lot of finesse involved but they are highly efficient. The two main drawbacks that they have are 1) They are expensive and not worth the money for most smaller vineyards and 2) Many Winemakers are concerned that mechanically harvesting fruit hurts the grapes and wine quality. Mechanical harvesters are very popular in countries such as Australia where they have a lot of sheep but not a lot of manual labor for agriculture.

Once the grapes are picked and delivered to the winery the real fun begins. At this point the winemaking process depends on whether you are making a red or white wine. If a red wine is being made then the grapes are run through a destemmer/crusher so that only crushed grapes remain. Destemmer/crushers are fascinating machines that simply consist of a perforated tube that spins in circles. The perforations are large enough for the grapes to fit through but not the stems. You put whole clusters of grapes into the top and in a matter of seconds you get a pile of stems out of one side and chunky grape juice (now called Must) out of the other side. A small amount of stems is usually O.K. and most often unavoidable. The biggest problem with stems is that they can add a green/herbaceous flavor to the wine if there are too many of them during fermentation.

If the winery is making white wine then instead of running the fruit through the Destemmer/Crusher they put the grapes directly into the press. Red wine must be fermented with the skins because it is the skins that provide red wine with all of its color and most of its flavor. With white wine there is no need for the skins so they are removed through pressing. The juice from this pressing is pumped into either a stainless steel tank or into barrels and yeast is added.

The yeast for red wine is added when the Must is placed into a large container/tank. Many wineries are now letting natural yeasts do the fermenting but the general effect is the same. The yeast eats the sugar and creates heat, alcohol, and CO2. For red wine the heat and alcohol act together to break down the skins and add color and flavor to the wine. The CO2 on the other hand presents an impediment to the extraction of the skins. As the grapes ferment and CO2 is released, the CO2 bubbles catch in the grape skins and float them to the surface of the tank forming a thick layer of skins called the Cap. This becomes a problem because the skins are no longer in contact with the juice and so are not able to be broken down.

The obvious solution to this problem is to manually mix the juice and skins. There are two traditional ways of doing this. Some wineries (especially larger ones) simply pump the juice from the bottom of the tank over the top of the Cap. This is simple and efficient but many people feel it still doesn't mix the juice and skins well enough. The alternative to Pumping Over is to Punch Down. As you can tell, no creative geniuses were involved in the naming of these processes. Punching Down involves taking a long stick with a flat end (garden hoe, 2X4, custom made tool, etc...) and manually punch it through the cap until the skins are fully mixed with the juice below. This has the desired effect of mixing the skins and juice but, as you can imagine, is time consuming and a pain-in-the-ass.

Fermentation for both red and white wine takes anywhere from one to three weeks (primarily depending on temperature). When white wines are done fermenting they are basically done. They still need to be played with a little before they are filtered and bottled but they are relatively close to being ready to drink. This is not true for red wine. First of all, it's still chunky (skins, seeds, stem chunks, etc....). Secondly it probably needs to sit in the barrel for a little more time (barrel time greatly depends on winemaking style but most reds are barrel aged longer than white wine).

When red wine "goes dry" (i.e. the yeast has converted all of the sugar into alcohol) then it is time to press. There are many different types of presses but they all basically consist of two basic elements 1) Pressure and 2) Small holes.  A very common press type is a Bladder Press. This type of press consists of a hollow stainless steel tube with thousands of tiny slits cut into it. On the inside is an oversized innertube. After filling the tube from the doors connected to the center of the tube, the press is spun to evenly distribute the fermented grapes around the inside of the tube. The oversized innertube is then inflated and the grapes are pressed against the screen yielding red wine without the chunks. The wine is still cloudy with yeast particles but these will settle out as the wine ages.

From here the wine is pumped into barrels and is ready to age. Once all of your grapes have been picked, fermented, pressed, barreled and your equipment is cleaned up (more than half of winemaking is just cleaning stuff up) then you know that Crush has come to an end. When this happens then you get to try and catch up on the hundreds of hours of sleep that you have missed and try and remember your kids names again ("...wait, I don't have any kids.... Do !?!?!?..."). All of this makes Crush and exciting and intense experience. On the bad side 1) Your hands and cloths are stained black for the next three months, possibly forever 2) After working your 30 or 40th consecutive day and 76th hour of the week you look at your paycheck and think "Where did the rest of the numbers go?" 3) You are at the whim of Nature. No two days are ever even remotely similar or vaguely predictable. 4) Family? Friends? Never heard of 'em...

On the flip side, Crush is often considered the best and most exciting time of year.  After all 1) You're actually getting paid to make wine! How cool is that? 2) Your office consists of many acres of pristine vineyards (It's tough to beat that view) 3) Sure, nothing is predictable, but you are certainly never bored 4) Sleep is for wimps 5) You look good in purple and 6) YOU ARE ACTUALLY GETTING PAID TO MAKE WINE!!!!!!!  Not bad all in all.

Mid-NOVEMBER to DECEMBER: Barrels, Barrels, Barrels.

On November 10 we did our final pressing of grapes at David Coffaro Winery and now we have about 135 oak barrels filled with wine and staring at us. What did I do to celebrate this monumental occasion. I went to sleep. A full 8 hours of sleep can be a beautiful thing. Now that I am able to scale back to a casual 40 hours per week I Am hoping to catch up on the 2-3 of deprivation that I have abused my body with and bask in the afterglow of a completed harvest. After much blood and a lot of sweat I can finally start to relax and reflect on the Crush as a whole and the wine we made. There is still a lot of work to do but we are in the final stretch and the hardest and most important parts are behind us.

Once the wine is in barrels one of our first priorities is to get the barrels stacked and organized. We store our barrels on steel racks that are "H" shaped and hold two barrels side-by-side. To clear up as much space as possible we stack these racks three high so that we have about 23 stacks of six barrels. We organize these stacks into double rows and put one double row along the walls on each side of the winery. This is no easy feat. Each barrel weighs about 100 lbs. when empty and about 6-700 lbs. when full. That makes each stack more than 1 1/2 tons of weight and although we can use a forklift to stack the barrels, we cannot use it to move the stacks around. To move the stacks we use a tool called a Pallet-Jack which basically consists of two arms with wheels on the bottom hooked up to a hydraulic car jack. We can use this Pallet-Jack to lift the stack a couple of inches off of the ground and then use the wheels to push the stacks into their proper place in the winery. This job truly sucks.

Stacking and moving these barrel stacks also always makes me nervous, they represent a lot of money. Just the cost of the barrels by themselves is expensive. A brand new oak barrel costs between about $200.00 on the low end for some American Oak Barrels and $700.00 on the upper end for some French oak barrels. For us that's more that $2,000 in oak per stack. The scary thing is that oak is the cheap part. Every barrel holds 60 gallons of wine. This roughly translates to about 25 cases of wine per barrel. At their most expensive our wines retail for about $240.00 per case. That translates to about $6,000 per barrel and $36,000 per stack of barrels. I've never dropped a full barrels myself but I know people that have and it's a very expensive mistake to make.

Once the barrels are stacked David and I go through and make a map of every barrel we have and what wine is in that barrel. We have an incredibly diverse amount of wine in our 135 barrels. Since we strive to keep all our varieties and vineyard blocks separate he have done more that 45 individual fermentation which we have then put in more than a dozen different types of oak barrels. This means that very few of our 135 barrels are the same.  This great diversity gives us much greater leeway in blending and we feel gives our wines greater complexity. This diversity also means we have to do a little extra work to keep track of all of the different wines we have.

While all of our stacking and mapping is going on the wines continue to go through Malo-Lactic Fermentation (or simply ML) inside to the barrels. This process usually takes 2-3 weeks from start to finish with the genetically engineered bacteria that we use. Once ML is complete I go from barrel to barrel and add 75 ml of a 6% solution of Sulfur to each barrel to protect the wine from oxidation and infection by unwanted bacteria. This job also REALLY sucks because the sulfur smells and I have to climb up the 23 stacks of barrels in order to reach each barrel.

Around this time I also have to go climbing through the stacks to refill each barrel, a process called topping off. Oak is a semipermeable material that allow a small amount of the wine to slowly evaporate away. In Cognac France they call this "The Angels Share" (although it sound cooler in French). In America it just means that I have to climb like a trained monkey through the stacks of barrels once or twice a month to refill every barrel to the top so that air isn't able to get in and oxidize the wine. On the average every barrel will loose about 2 bottles of wine per month. For our production that's roughly about 1 barrel per month lost in evaporation. Those angels drink well.

On the more interesting side of things, Dave and I now have the opportunity to taste the wine that we made. We are now able to go through the barrels and get a really good idea about what we have to work with and what kind of wines we are going to make this year.  We are now also able to give limited barrel tasting tour to our customers that stop by and say "Hi!". Normally wine tasting for the public is difficult for us because we sell all out of our wines before we have them bottled and therefore have nothing to pour in our tasting room. To compensate for this Dave gives a very fascinating barrel tour for our customers that allows them to taste the individual components of the wines we are making and they are able to get a much better feel for the general process of how we make the wines they have bought. Even though I have done this many times over I am still utterly fascinated by the process of blending these distinctly separate components into a cohesive product (i.e. Yummy wine).

JANUARY to FEBRUARY: Pruning, Racking & Blending

Making wine is like throwing a party. You spend Spring setting-up and getting everything in order. Fall is then the party itself with its' raging, nonstop, no sleeping nights which last until Winter when everyone leaves and you have to cleanup.  In the vineyard this cleanup consists of pruning.

Pruning is technically defined as the removal of living branches to effect seasonal yield. More to the point, it means we cut off the stuff we don't need. At the end of every season we must go back in the vineyard with a pair of pruning shears and cut away 95% of everything that grew during the previous season. We must be careful however. The crop we get (or if we mess-up, don't get) next year is directly dependent on which 95% we cut off and what 5% we keep. This decision is made difficult by the fact that the amount of pruning necessary is slightly different from one block of grapes to another. Deciding what to cut off depends on the age of the vine, the fertility of the soil, the variety of the grapes, the average temperature of the growing season, the type of rootstock used, the style of wine you want to make and many other cultural practices.

The key to pruning is keeping the vine in balance. Leaving more buds means more fruit but, at a certain point, less quality. Leaving fewer buds means less fruit but, in general, higher quality. Successful pruning puts the vine in balance, so that, year after year, you get the largest amount of the highest quality grapes possible. 

In The Winery...

In the winery there are two post-party cleanup chores to get done; Racking and Blending. When wine is pressed and put into barrels during Crush it is mixed up and slightly cloudy. As the wine has a chance to sit, undisturbed, it calms down and starts to clear up. Racking is the separation of the calm wine on top from the layer of dead yeast and proteins that settle at the bottom of the wine barrels (This layer is called the "Lees").  Racking is the party equivalent of throwing out the drunk, obnoxious guy that nobody remembers inviting. The general method for racking is to unstack all of your barrels and carefully pump out the top 58 gallons of wine while leaving the bottom 2 gallons of crap. The barrels are then cleaned and the wine is added back. Even for a small winery this is a large undertaking with about 130 barrels to unstack, pump, clean, fill and restack. It is also a surprisingly large volume of Lees. At about 2 gallons per barrel, we end up cleaning out about between 260-300 gallons of dead yeast and protein which end up looking like thick, blueberry yogurt.

The final chore we have, and possibly one of the most important things we do, is blending. When I think of blending I can't help but paraphrase the Six Million Dollar Man with Lee Majors, "We have the technology... we can build a better wine!" I honestly don't understand the preoccupation of American winemakers with making 100% varietal wines, especially if all of that one variety are from only one vineyard.  What you gain in purity you loose in complexity and flavor and I just don't think that's a very good trade-off. Off of the top of my head I can only think of maybe 5 wines in all of California that are 100% of one variety from one vineyard that are so perfect, they wouldn't benefit for ANY other wine being blended with them. Other than these few exceptions I think blending provides the winemaker with a invaluable tool to make wines that are both more consistent and more complex.

At David Coffaro Winery we are big believers in blending. All of our red wines are heavily blended. Nothing we make is more that 76% of any 1 variety (In order to label a wine as a single variety, i.e. Zinfandel, you must have at least 75% of that varietal in the blend). Proper blending can be tricky however. Blending wine is like trying to setup friends for a blind date. You know them both individually, and they seem like they should get along great, but you never completely know until you put them together. When it works, you've done something magical. When it goes badly just hope that either one of them will ever speak to you again. In this way Dave is a uniquely talented Matchmaker.

Given 130 unique barrel selections, Dave assembles 7 different wines (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Neighbors Cuvee, Estate Cuvee, Aca Modot (Cabernet Blend) and, for the first time, a dry Sauvignon Blanc). The Sauvignon Blanc is easy. We only made 4 barrels of Sauvignon Blanc this year and it's the only white wine we make. That leaves around 126 barrels and 6 red wines to make. Blending with Dave is an awe inspiring experience. Dave and I sample every barrel on a consistent basis over a 1 -2 month time period. Dave then starts building the wine in his mind... "This Zinfandel barrel has good fruit and a good beginning but no nose and no finish..... This Petite Sirah barrel has a great nose and a great finish but no structure...... This Cabernet Sauvignon barrel has great structure but no fruit......" Individually, they are good but not exceptional. Together, they make a perfect wine; Great smell, great beginning, great middle, long finish, solid structure, yummy fruit. The best of all the components you have available.

With the end of blending comes a sense of completion. You can finally taste any of your wines and say "This is why I spent the last 4-5 months up to my armpits in grape juice and surrounded by a small forests' worth of displaced oak." Now our wine is happily sitting in barrels, our vines are pruned and ready for spring and we can start planning for next years seasonal "party".

MARCH to APRIL: Planting, Vineyard Costs, Sales & Futures

Just as the Annie promised "The sun did come out tomorrow". After the continual rain of winter the sun is finally shining and the grapevines are finally out of hibernation and growing (even if they are more than a month behind normal). It is now officially the start of a new season and a new year of winemaking.

In The Vineyard

Spring is as close as I get to parenthood. [Collective Societal Cringe of Terror]. No, I am not immediately planning on having children, this is the season when we plant (or replant) our vineyards [Collective Societal Sigh of Relief]. Last year after harvest we at David Coffaro Vineyard & Winery ripped out 1 1/2 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and are replanting with a selection of new red varieties. (Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Mourvedre).

There are two basic times when a winery plants new vines. Either they have new land that has never been planted before or they are removing existing vines and are replanting.  There are many reasons to replant an existing vineyard. One of the primary reasons over the last 10-20 years has been to replant vines that were dying after being infested with Phylloxera.

Phylloxera is a root louse and a nasty little bugger. Take the most irate L.A. driver on a bad day, multiply by 10, give him an assault rifle and you’re getting close. Although originally from the mid-west of the United States (around Missouri), Phylloxera has spread to most wine producing regions of the world with devastating results. In France during the late 19th century about 6.2 million acres of grapes were destroyed in about 30 years. For perspective, in California right now there are only about 350,000 acres grown for wine all together. 10 X California's' total acreage in 30 years. Like I said, a nasty little bugger.

Phylloxera has also smacked around California and infected around 90% of our vineyards. It kills by chewing grapevine roots, specifically Vitis Vinifera (the species of grapes that make wine). The only way to combat phylloxera is to replant your vineyard with grafted rootstock. This consists of a wild species of grapes that phylloxera doesn’t like for the roots and grafting a Vitis Vinifera variety (such as Zinfandel) on top to make wine out of. Almost every vineyard in California (and most of the world) is planted like this.

The silver lining of Phylloxera is that it gave winemakers a chance to use the knowledge they’d gained from farming their vineyards to fine-tune their grape growing. The end result has been a greater diversity of varieties planted, a better matching of varieties with specific regions/climates, an abundance of new technology, better farming practices and, in the long run, better wine.

When Dave decided to rip out the Sauvignon Blanc the process was pretty straight forward. As soon as harvest was over and we had gotten all of the grapes of the vines, we used a bulldozer to tear the vines out and put them all in a pile away from the field. We then disked the field and got it ready to plant by loosening the dirt and making the field as level as possible. After the field was prepped we had some decisions to make. Dave had to decide what varieties to plant, what rootstock to use, what trellis system to use, how wide to make the space between the rows, how wide to make the space between the vines and a multitude of other smaller questions. Although not overly complex it is very important to make the correct decisions because, since grapes are a perennial crop, if you make a mistake you might not be able to fix it unless you tear out the vineyard again.

After the technical decisions are made it is a simple matter of a lot of physical labor and we are lucky enough to have a great crew of vineyard workers to do most of the work. Markers (in our case drinking straws) are used to show where the vines will be planted and the vineyard rows are laid with metal posts that are placed every 5 vines to hold up what will eventually be the trellis system. The crew then stretches wire down every row and attaches it about 5 feet above the ground. Along this wire is attached our drip irrigation tubing that will be used immediately to soften the ground and later to water the young vines.

We have all of our grafting done by a local grapevine nursery (Sonoma Grapevine) and they send us what they call Green Benchgrafts. These consist of wild grapevines roots, grafted to the variety of our choice and already growing with 6 - 12 inches of new shoots and leaves. These baby vines are then meticulously planted as straight as possible down the rows. As a matter of professional pride any planting crew, vineyard manager or vineyard owner that has crooked vine rows will be ribbed and teased by everyone in the area who they know and sometimes by complete strangers.

As a final step, peach-colored Growtubes are placed over each newly planted baby vine. Growtubes are basically like little individual houses for the new vines and will help protect them from deer and other animals. With that done it is just a matter of watering them occasionally and checking up on them every week or so. No diapers to change, no waking up at 3 a.m. every night, no puking on your shoulder. Maybe I’ll just stick to grapevines for a while...

In The Winery

Meanwhile, just as the process of making wine is just starting with our new plantings in the vineyard, it is just ending with the bottling of our 1998 wines in the winery. Many wineries believe in aging their red wines for many years in oak barrels before bottling but Dave prefers to bottle our reds about 6-9 months after harvest. There are many reasons for this. The primary reason is that is when our wine tastes the best. This gives us the balance we are looking for between complex, forward fruit along with the finesse and smoothness of barrel aging.

In the past we have used a mobile bottling line to bottle our wines. These mobile lines are truck and trailer setups that have a full bottling line installed in the trailer and drive from winery to winery like hired guns of the old west. They are popular with many smaller wineries because bottling equipment is expensive and it is often easier to simply hire someone else to do it for you. Unfortunately, in the past we have had some quality problems with the mobile lines that we have used and therefore bought our own bottling equipment this year.

Aside from purchasing the new line, our most interesting decision making has been about what kind of cork to use. Our possibilities were to go with natural cork, a synthetic/natural cork, or a full synthetic. Natural cork has always been associated with good wines and at one point in history this association was warranted since cork was the best means available for sealing wine bottles long term. Today this is really no longer the case. Recent (and some not so recent) advances in materials and packaging technology have given us newer and technically better ways to seal wine bottles. It will be many years however before any of the newer sealing methods are used by a majority of the wine industry we are among a quickly expanding group of wineries that are looking into better ways to seal our bottles.

Natural cork has many great attributes including resiliency, durability and aesthetic appeal. It also unfortunately, has many problems including sterility, uniformity and sealing strength. Out of these problems sterility is by far the worst problem. Currently about 3 - 5% of all wine bottles that use natural cork go bad because of contamination in the natural cork. In proper terminology this contamination is called being "corked" (To me it tastes like licking a wet horse) . This is not counting wines that go bad because of leaks or other natural cork problems. If you do the math it can get scary. A small winery like ourselves (3,200 case production) will loose about 125 cases of wine every year due to contaminated natural cork. At our retail pricing that’s about $30,000 that we loose in contaminated wine just because we chose to use natural cork. That sucks.

Lucky for us and wine drinkers everywhere, there have been great moves made in the  development of synthetic corks. Currently there are three major synthetic corks on the market. The first of these is by a company called SupremeCorq and it is 100% synthetic. SupremeCorqs come in a wide range of colors and look like a chunky piece of plastic (actually they are made from the same polymer that artificial heart valves are made from). SupremeCorqs are 100% sterile and seal tighter so that they leak less. The only down side is that they are somewhat difficult to remove with some wine openers.

The second synthetic cork available is by a company named Altec. Their corks are molded with a blend of high quality natural cork and a synthetic polymer. They guarantee zero cork taint and they seal about twice as tightly as normal cork almost completely preventing leakage. They also have the advantage of looking more like real cork. These are the corks that we switched to last year. Unfortunately, we’ve found that although we like them in general the fact that they really do seal twice as tight as a normal cork has been more of a problem than a benefit.

For next year we are seriously looking at a new type of synthetic cork that has just come out on the market. It is from a company called NeoCorq and it looks like a foam-filled tube. It sound sort-of weird but so far we’ve liked the results we got from our limited testing. We will bottle a small batch of our wine with the NeoCorq and if we still like the results next year we will switch completely over. As consumers start to recognize the benefits of alternative methods of sealing wine bottles expect to see a lot more synthetics used for premium wine production.

Once we’ve fully decided on the cork, bottles, labels, foil etc., the rest of bottling is pretty simple. Right now all of our wines have been blended into 1 of the 7 wines we make and are sitting in barrels. The small differences in each barrel cause even two wines from the same blend to taste slightly different so we first pump out the barrels from each blend and put the wine into large separate tanks so that the differences in the barrels are eliminated. Next, we attach a hose from the tank onto the new bottling equipment.

The basic bottling equipment consists of a sparger (to push oxygen out of the bottles), a filler (to fill the bottles), and a corker. We also have an additional labeler that spins on our foil capsules and applies our labels. It’s actually a very cool process to watch. We plug a large tank of wine into one side and in a matter of about 10- 20 feet we get fully corked, labeled and boxed bottles of wine that are ready to be shipped, in a couple of months, to our customers.

We always wait a couple of months before we ship our wine because to a phenomenon called "bottle shock". In many ways you can think of wine as a complex, living entity.  Now just think how happy you would be if one day you were sucked out of your home, tossed in a large tank, shoved in a small bottle and stuck in a dark box. You’d be pretty pissed and so is the wine. It takes between 3 weeks to a couple of months after bottling for the wine to adjust to its’ new environment and start tasting like it did before you bottled it. Once this happens the we are ready to send it off to restaurants, stores and our individual customers. Another vintage gone. They grow up so fast.



May/June (Bottling)

July /August

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