David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery Winemaker's Diary

Week 37
September 13, 1998 to September 19, 1998 

Sunday, September 13, 1998   (morning low 52; high 102 ) 

It's football season and Sundays are officially my days off.  I took my oldest daughter Kate down to Oakland to see the Raiders-Giants' game today.  Believe it or not, she is a more avid Raiders' fan than even me, so now at least I have someone to commiserate with when necessary.  But today we celebrated as the Raiders beat the Giants 20-17!  Maybe there's still hope that the Raiders will go all the way this year, and that money I bet on them in Reno earlier this year wasn't as bad as losing it to those one arm bandits. 

We're continuing to get more feedback from some of you out there and we appreciate your interest and best wishes.  The latest to email us are Steve Adelman from the San Francisco south bay area  (who would like to come up and work the Zin crush for a day if the Brix readings coincide with his schedule), Scott Bailey from New Hampshire (he's hoping to make a trip out west next month and if so may get a chance to see a little action here), Paul Eccles from the San Diego area (he's interested in our Syrah program, though it's doubtful we'll do it as a varietal, and is looking for some of that elusive late harvest sauvignon blanc), and Robin Garr (he's got his own web page "www.wine-lovers-page.com/forum/general" where lots of wine lovers hang out). 

10 pm   I just went out to look at the high/low temps today. As you can see the range was 50 points. As most of you know almost every area in the States will have a much smaller range between the high temp and low temp. For instance Hawaii will usually have a range of 10 degrees (high 85 ; low 75), while San Francisco would be more like 65 high 55 low in the summer. The Modesto area in California's Central Valley produces highs of 90 and lows in the 60's. Russian River and Bordeaux would be more like 80 high 50 low. The Dry Creek area, especially where we are out towards Lake Sonoma 7-1/2 miles from Healdsburg, will usually range from 90 high to 50 low. But it is not unusual to have as much as 60 point ranges in June or September of say 45 and 105. These extremes within wine growing areas attribute to the great quality of wines produced. The jammy flavors achieved in wines from Dry Creek are from the higher temperatures and extremes. The vines need a rest during the day! 

I have found that my best vintages have been in high production hot seasons such as 1997. No year has been the same!! No year has been normal!! 1991 was cold and had a big yield. It produced wines with great flavor, but no color. Hang time?? I have found that the shortest hang times and HOT years have been my best vintages. Where does that leave 1998? Was it cold? YES!!! Was it hot? YES!! Hang time? Late start, late finish. Is it high quality - ?????? 

Monday, September 14 1998         (52 morning low; 91 high) 

I talked about the extremes of temperatures yesterday. Today, we woke up to a summer day pattern that occurs at least twenty times during the season. At 7:00 a.m., we had fog rolling up the valley, and by 8:30 it was gone, retreating back down Dry Creek Valley. The fog influence from the ocean in northern California contributes to our low overnight temperatures of around 50 degrees. The fog in Sonoma County that reaches us comes in from the ocean through the Russian River Valley.  The Russian River Valley ends at Healdsburg, and from Healdsburg north, is the Dry Creek Valley where we are located. We are essentially as near to the coast as most of the Russian River wine growing area, but there are mountains to the west of us. We do get the influence of the cold fog from over the hills occasionally, but it usually must first come up the Russian River Valley, through Healdsburg, before reaching us way out here in the valley. Therefore, we have less fog than a lot of the surrounding areas and thus higher overall temperatures. For instance, today Healdsburg had heavy fog for several hours, while out here in the valley, we were only slightly influenced for about an hour. As you can see, the high temperature today reached 91 degrees, which was pretty much an average day in Dry Creek Valley for this time of year. 

Brendan was kept busy today taking new sugar readings from our estate vineyard.  The Cabernet on the "Aca Modot" knoll was around 21 Brix. The first crop on our Barbera was around 23 Brix with still extremely high acid. I plan on using Barbera because of its high acid as a balance for some of my wines which can be lower in acid because of our high temperatures. Malbec, my first crop, is at about 21 Brix. The Cabernet from the sandy loam (used mostly for my Estate Cuvee) was at 19 Brix, while the Petite Sirah was at 20 and my few vines of Merlot tested at 22. Steve Ryan and I spent several hours today deciding about our first day of harvest. Ferrari-Carano would like to harvest Sauvignon Blanc tomorrow.  They achieved a 23.2 reading today on the sample they took from their block of our vineyard. Steve and I need until Wednesday to get ready for the first day of harvest. Ferrari-Carano agreed to go with harvest on Wednesday morning starting at 6:30 a.m. Steve and I now are spending most of our time deciding what type of bins to harvest into and the logistics and organization of the picking for the first day. Brendan and I will go down to San Francisco tomorrow to pour samples for our distributor Estate Wines. The pouring will be held at Fort Mason to show many wines that they will carry. Some of the retailers and restaurants that may want to carry our wines will be there. Brendan and I will be checking out some of the restaurant wine buyers. We are hoping to have dinner at one of these great restaurants tomorrow night. 

Tuesday, September 15 1998  (54 morning low; 83 high) 
(By Brendan) 

With Crush being as late as it is this year Dave and I have been able to go to a couple of wine events that we aren't usually able to make. Today we spent most of the day in San Francisco. We started out at Tower Records where Dave stocked up on some DVDs (Digital Video Discs) for the winery theater and then spent the rest of the afternoon at a retailer/ restaurant tasting for our distributor (Estate Wines). We were pouring our '97 Zin, '97 Estate Cuvee and our '97 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc all of which got very favorable reviews. The tasting was exciting for both Dave and I because we got to meet and talk with owners/chefs/sommoliers from many of the best restaurants in San Francisco. From this huge selection of great places to eat Dave and I narrowed our choices down to a restaurant on Geary called Socca (I believe our very scientific selection process might have involved something resembling Einey-Meenie-Miney-Moe). [As a side note I finally managed to introduce two of my favorite people in the wine industry: Dave and John Alban (Central Coast Rhone Wine making legend).] 

Socca was incredible  Dave and I split the breaded sweetbread appetizer, a bowl of corn chowder and a Caesar salad for starters and had a bottle of Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc (one of my long-standing favorites from the Central Coast). For our main courses we split a marinated beef skirt steak, a perfectly cooked pork chop dish and a layered vegetable dish that was topped with a grilled Portabella mushroom. We shared a bottle of our 1996 Petite Sirah with the manager and our server and also sampled a great Spanish wine whose name escapes me. We finished off the evening with a melt-in-your mouth warm chocolate cake (paired with a 1990 LBV port), a gelatin dessert and some Germain-Robin XO brandy (which Dave had never had the good fortune to try before). Boy, this winemaking thing can get tough some times! 

Wednesday, September 16 1998  (54 morning low; 87 high)                The Harvest Begins!
(By Brendan) 

Today we had some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that I had to wake up at 6:00 a.m. to get to work (never a good thing). The good news was we officially started Crush with our first batch of Sauvignon Blanc for Ferrari-Carano.  Picking got started about 7:15, after a little prep work, and went until about 1:00. In that time our crew of 8 people picked 8.3 tons of grapes and managed to get done right when it started to really warm up for the day. A sample by the winery from one of the bins read 24.5 degrees brix. Tomorrow we will finish the second half of Ferrari-Carano's Sauvignon Blanc. 

We were also visited by Doug Nalle who sampled his blocks and decided to harvest this Saturday. I think Doug said that he got around 21.5 for his Zin today but it is tough to tell because he has a very detailed process for determining his harvest sugar levels. I believe what he actually said was that he got 21.2 on his refractometer and his partner got 21.7. This measurement is guaranteed to be lower in the field than it will be when he measures with his Hydrometer from the tanks when he harvests (due to the fact that Zin sugar goes up 24 hours after harvest. Read Dave's entry for Sept. 8th). This only worries Doug about the North block however, because of the great number of raisins, and not so much about the South block (which seems visibly behind). Therefore I think that if he got 21.5 today that means that it will probably be about 22.5 in the field with the refractometer on Saturday afternoon, which means that it will be about 23.5 with his hydrometer in the tank on Sunday morning, which is where Doug wants it.  I think that is right but I'm sure that Doug would disagree about the details. (Don't worry, I'm confused too.) 

As a final bit of good news we got three interesting deliveries today. The coolest delivery was a new propane forklift with a three-stage lift and sliding forks (Arrgh! Arrgh! Arrgh!) (I'm going to miss the Diesel exhaust from our old forklift, it made me feel happy!) We also got in 7 new French Oak barrels from World Cooperage and I got a new custom-made, stainless steel Stick-like-Thing for doing Punch-Downs. [When red grapes ferment the skins float to the top and form a solid layer called the "Cap". To get the best results possible you must break up the Cap and mix it up with the rest of the fermenting juice.  This is normally done 2-4 times/day]. 

Thursday, September 17 1998      (43 morning low; 88 high)
(By Brendan) 

It's all about love!  I really LOVE Crush.  This is such an exciting time of the year.  Everything we do in the next 2-3 months dictates almost everything about how our wines will turn out and what happens for the rest of the year.  The hours are long, the work can be physically exhausting, you're a slave to the whims of nature and it can be mentally draining but ultimately, if you love what you do it doesn't matter. 

Sauvignon Blanc II: The Continuing Adventure.  It started out cold today.  As of 7:00 a.m. it was in the mid-40's and really foggy.  We had a great example of how transitory the weather can be in Dry Creek.  At  9:00 I remarked to one of our harvest crew that I was amazed that it was still so foggy and then watched over then next 10 minutes (literally) as ALL of the fog burned away and was replaced by open blue skies and the sun. It was absolutely fascinating to watch.  Our crew ended up harvesting another 7.75 tons of grapes today and most of the sugar samples came in around 22.5. 

I sampled the second major block of Sauvignon Blanc on our property that goes to Lambert Bridge Winery.  It provided an interesting example about the great degree of diversity that exists, even on our tiny property.  While the sugar levels on the Ferrari-Carano Sauvignon Blanc will probably end up at around 23.0, the Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc (which is less than 200 yds. away) is only at about 19.8 and we probably won't even think about picking it for another week or so. 

Friday, September 18, 1998     (48 low; 88 high) 

First thing this morning, Brendan and I delivered 45 cases of 1997 Zinfandel and Estate Cuvee to Root & Eastwood Wine Shop in Healdsburg (707-433-8311 or 800-546-7311). This is the only retailer I sell to directly, so I also have to make the delivery. It's actually kind of amusing to drive up to their store with a pick-up loaded down with cases of wine. Sort of like the farmer driving his hay wagon into town to sell his crops. 

Brendan spent the rest of the day doing sugar tests and obtaining PH (acid) readings. Most of the Zinfandel tests from our vineyard read between 22 and 23 brix. Teldeschi's Zinfandel next door was measured at over 23 brix. We will probably harvest one area of our Zinfandel and also Teldeschi's on Tuesday. The Lane Zinfandel (from across the valley) only moved from 16.7 to 18.1 in one week. This is still somewhat concerning. We may have to cut off some of the fruit in order to speed up the ripening process. The Pinot Noir I'm getting from Ryan's vineyard in the Russian River area is 22.6, and we will probably harvest that within ten days. And, as planned, tomorrow we'll start harvesting our first Zinfandel for Doug Nalle. I'm sure he'll be here bright and early (he always supervises picking himself), so I'd better go try to get some sleep. 

Saturday, September 19, 1998    (50 morning low; 90 high) 

Hi, it's me, Pat, I'm back for the weekend's notes. First, I want to mention all who have e-mailed us this past week with your "diary feedback."  Bob Cohen a Compuserve Wine "forumite" from New York, Duane Zitzner from the South Bay Area (Duane and his wife Kay also visited us a couple of Saturdays ago when we had a big crowd and we appreciated Kay's talented pouring services behind the bar for a bit), Everett Bandman from the Sacramento area (also quite often a  valued volunteer here for pouring, labeling, or whatever), Dave Sit from the nation's capitol where things are in a bit of a turmoil these days, Doug Powers from the Sacramento area (he, too, always a willing volunteer who faithfully checks our diary to be sure we haven't fallen behind <g>), Richard Ensor, a faithful long-time supporter from San Francisco, Ty Danco who calls himself our "Vermont fan," Dri and Brad Brown from the Pasadena area (Brad's the guy behind the scenes who designed this web site for us and, in addition to that, both he and Dri even like the wine), and Toby Holden who stopped by the winery today to pick up some '97 futures and said he has been visiting our site, too. It is reassuring to hear from so many of you, and we look forward to hearing more. Also, if you have any questions, please email us so that we can try to answer them. 

Getting back to today's activities, here are Dave's notes: The day started out pretty much as anticipated. Doug Nalle, his wife Lee, and their assistant (a volunteer I believe) were here at 6:45 a.m. But, believe it or not, they weren't the first to arrive.  One of the harvest crew showed up before 6:00 a.m.! This is not unusual during the harvest season, as many seasonal workers don't have transportation of their own and often depend upon friends to drop them off at their destinations. More often than not, the friends are working in an entirely different area of the county, so it's anybody guess as to what time some workers will show up and just "camp out" waiting for work to begin. Well, anyway, the rest of the crew arrived just before 7:00 a.m. and they were actually out in the field picking grapes soon after. The picking was sparse, but this area of Zinfandel, including other mixed varietals, has the lowest yield of the entire vineyard. We ended up with 3.6 tons (on 1-1/4 acres). Steve drove the grapes to Nalle's winery and what happens to them now rests entirely with Doug. He'll call and give me his final sugar/acid readings when he gets the numbers himself and then I'll have a better idea about the remaining Zinfandel in the vineyard. 

The picking ended about 11:00 a.m., then Steve Ryan and I spent a couple of hours talking about plans for harvesting next week. Steve's crew harvests for other vineyards, too, so we have to work around his other obligations.  Later, Julia, the winemaker for Lambert Bridge, came out to discuss her plans for harvesting their block of Zinfandel and also the Sauvignon Blanc they are taking. It appears that we will be picking for at least two days next week, one day for our wines and possibly another day for Lambert Bridge. 


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