Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Team Behind the Scenes

During my time spent at Hanzell Vineyards, I was able to learn from various members of the staff about what it takes to form a winery. Most of us know we need a winemaker, but there are many other positions that are very important for a successful, functioning winery.

Michael McNeill is the head Winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards. He has been there for only five years, but has already left his print on their wines. He started off his career being a chemist. He was later introduced to the art and science of winemaking and fell in love. This is definitely an industry that requires much chemistry, and I think everything fell into place for him after that. The duties of a winemaker don't only include that of winemaking, however, there is also a heavy public relations responsibility. McNeill is seen as the face of Hanzell. He does a lot of traveling, hosts many dinners at the winery, and is constantly being interviewed and photographed. So besides being a scientist and mathematician, one must also have great people skills for this position.

Lynda Hanson is the Associate Winemaker at Hanzell. She is McNeill's left hand woman. They function in a venn diagram format, where she has her duties, he has his, and they overlap each other when necessary. She takes care of day to day tasks like keeping track of when malolactic bacteria needs to be added, or when the barrels need to be topped off. She also manages the lab analysis. Lynda went to UC Davis and was the first woman to receive their internship to study wine in Burgundy. She has spent many years working in Bordeaux and Argentina. Lynda affectionately says that her favorite part of working harvest is the interns!

Jean Arnold-Sessions is the President of Hanzell Vineyards. She is married to Bob Sessions who was the winemaker there for over 30 years. She is a force to be reckoned with! She has a strong background in high end marketing and has been able to combine that with her work at Hanzell. I met with her last week to get some advice from such a strong, established female in the wine industry.

Jose Ramos is the Vineyard Manager at Hanzell. He has worked there for over 30 years, he lives on the property, and even has a vineyard planted in his honor. Jose has many different duties depending on which time of the year it is. In the beginning of the season, he is in charge of the pruning process. Pruning is one of the most important tasks because it determines how the vines will grow. He is also in charge of irrigation, manages the pickers during harvest, and overall maintenance of the vineyard.

Cesar Ramos is the son of Jose and is the Production Assistant. He works directly under Lynda and McNeill. They often joke that Cesar is their secret weapon, as he is always a step ahead of everyone else. Cesar grew up on the vineyard, or in a vine as we like to say. He oversees all aspects of winemaking, from vineyard sampling to harvest, from barrel to blending. He plays a large role at Hanzell and also assisted me greatly during my internship there.

Judy is the Director of Operations. Her role is a bit complex, because she sometimes has two jobs. When the owner of the estate, Aex DeBrye is in town from London, she acts as his liaison and personal property manager. While she is managing his personal estate, she is also managing Hanzell as a business. Her duties include human resources, property upkeep, overall maintenance, and hiring, as she reports directly to the President.

Jim is the Cellar Master at Hanzell Vineyards. He worked for Domain Chandon for 20 years and Domain Carneros for 10. He is a master of sparkling wine. He has also spent many years working harvest is Australia, where he recalls fondly his first and favorite harvest. Jim also lives on the property and finds himself wearing many different hats. He most often is maintaining the cellar and preparing wine for shipping. He plays a major role during harvest and lends a hand wherever it is needed.

Chris is the Director of Direct to Consumer Operations. Direct to Consumer is a huge part of our winery which encompasses tastings, club members, and online sales. Direct to Consumer relates to any sales in which there is no middle man or third party. Thus it is referring to the sales made from the winery straight to the consumer. Sales have changed drastically over the years, as long ago salespeople were hesitant to suggest a product for purchase whereas now we are openly trying to create new ways to make purchasing convenient for the buyer. Chris has experience in Restaurant and Hotel Management. Direct to Consumers is a booming part of wineries and requires experience in sales, business, and public relations.

As you can see, there is more to the function of a winery than solely winemaking. It requires many different team members to create a successful and authentic footprint in the industry. These positions represent the different roles in the estate, but there are also many other areas in the industry to consider in the three tier system such as distributing and retail. The world of wine is limitless and the beauty of it is that change is encouraged. There is much room for growth, and you can easily go from one area of the industry to another.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Week 9: All work and some play!

Winemaker Lynda Hanson draining Pinot tank
A big weight lifted from my shoulders as we drained our very last Pinot Noir tank and pressed its cap off the following morning. That was the last task on our winemaking agendas that needed to be completed in such a timely fashion. Some of the tanks went through a short maceration, where they spent a week or less in contact with their skins, and some went through a long maceration where they were with their skins for up to more than two weeks. The lenth of maceration depends on how each individual tank's contents are developing.

So as we are "wine"ding down at the winery, it is time to cross our t's and dot our i's on this 2012 vintage. There is still work to be done, of course... as the winery never sleeps. Currently we are topping off barrels, and will begin transferring Pinot to barrel soon. Topping off means adding more wine to each barrel, because since they are made of oak, wine evaporates through the wood and the level of wine decreases in each barrel, creating a gap between the wine and top of the barrel which would allow in oxygen- wine's worst enemy. Thus, we fill each barrel every so often to eliminate room for oxygen to enter.

With only a couple more weeks left for this experience, I suspect I will finally be having much more free time on my hands to enjoy the wonderful town of Sonoma. I have already managed to find a small amount of time to do some fun activities. One of the great things I got to do was drive around the coast and visit Anderson Valley with the cellar master at Hanzell. The view was beautiful and the roads were long and very windy. We also stopped at an apple orchard where I picked up some delicious apple balsamic, as well as some unique apple varieties.

At Cline Winery
Recently I met someone who worked in production at Cline. He invited me to spend a day touring their facilities, and I quickly followed up on the opportunity. Cline is very different from Hanzell, and I thought it was really interesting to compare and contrast to the two wineries. Cline has hundreds of tanks, whereas Hanzell as a total of 34. Cline produces a plethora of varietals, and Hanzell only produces two. Cline sources their grapes from different vineyards and different appellations in California, and everything at Hanzell is estate grown. There is a place for everyone in the market for wine, and both types of wineries are needed for the market to thrive. I was really pleased with my experience at Cline, and they even sent me home with a few bottles of their wine!

I also stopped in at Sebastiani Winery. I enjoyed a private tour and tasting, and also learned quite a bit about their winery. They were one of the only wineries in the country to have had a license to stay open during the Alcohol Prohibition. They were able to produce wine for medicinal and religious purposes. The Sebastiani family migrated from Italy, and has had three generations construct and add to their facilities. You can see the work from the original 1900's, and what has been changed and upgraded. They also produce much more wine than Hanzell, but the Sebastiani family is legendary in the history of Sonoma Valley wine.

One weekend, I even got to go visit my fellow intern Laura in her stomping grounds of UC Davis. Davis offers the best Viticulture and Enology Program in the entire country! It was amazing to see their facilities with buildings funded by big names like Mondavi and Busch. They also have their very own vineyard where they grow tons of different varietals. Walking through those rows was like being a kid in a candy store. Syrah? Pinot Grigio? Muscat? Sangiovese? They have it all! What an incredible outlet to learn about the winemaking process.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 7: Goodnight little grapes!

Alas, the grapes are all here! We were able to tuck each and everyone in and finally say goodnight, putting them to rest. Some were tucked into stainless steel tanks, some were tucked into barrels. The grueling three week harvest has come to an end.

Pumping wine from tank to barrels
All of the tanks have been inoculated and are pretty close to being a finished wine. The Pinot Noir tanks are already at -2 Brix, which means they are a completed dry wine, and the yeast has done its job of consuming the sugars. The Chardonnay still has some work to do, as those were the last grapes we picked so they have not yet completed fermentation. As each tank of Pinot was deemed finished, we put lids on them, sealing them up so the wine does not have contact with oxygen. Each morning we take a nitrogen machine and pump nitrogen into the tanks, pushing out any oxygen.

Laura and I with our tanquette of rose
During the Pinot Noir harvest, a large amount of juice was being released from the grapes onto the sorting table, which was caught into buckets. With the permission from the winery, Laura (the other intern who studies viticulture and enology at UC Davis) and I were able to create our very own wine, a rosé! A rosé can be the juice collected from red wine grapes such as Pinot Noir. The reason the wine made from Pinot Noir is so dark is because of the time is spends in contact with its skins. Since this juice was collected at the sorting table, it had a limited maceration, thus making it the perfect candidate for a rosé! Rosé wines are light in body, have a beautiful pink hue, and are often sweet. We chose the yeast, inoculated the juice, and have been keeping a close eye on it throughout fermentation. It is being kept in a small, 60 gallon stainless steel "tanquette". The rosé will not be for sale, but we will have about 30 cases of it after it is bottled for our own consumption and sharing! A rosé made from Hanzell Pinot Noir... not too shabby for an intern!

To celebrate the end of Harvest, we had a huge dinner with everyone from the production staff and vineyard office. It was so great to look back on the hundreds of hours of hard work and say "we did it"! The winemaker gave Laura and I a very nice toast, and made us feel really appreciated. Now that the hardest part is over, I will still be here for one more month to continue the winemaking process.

If the grapes are in, what's next, one may ask. Well, there is still a lot to do. This wine isn't going to make itself, after all. The next step is transferring wine from tank to barrel. For the Pinot Noir, once it has gone dry, (hit -2 Brix), we drain the juice from the tanks and press off the pummus. Remember that Pinot Noir goes through maceration, so all of it's skins are inside those tanks. We put the cap of skins inside the same press which we use for Chardonnay. This wine is considered "press wine" and has a bit of a gritty texture and is more tannic in taste but will eventually be racked off and used in the final blending.

Speaking of final blending... Although I was not technically a part of the Hanzell 2011 Harvest, I am sort of a part of the final blend. Now that the wine has been in barrel for a year, the winemakers are  analyzing the different barrels to determine which ones will be in their Ambassador's Blend. The Ambassador's Blend is a wine produced from a single vineyard, and at Hanzell we have five, so this makes the choice difficult. But once the winemakers choose which vineyard they want to use, next they have to go through each barrel, determining which nose and taste they prefer so they can decide which percent of each they want in the blend. I was very pleased to be a part of the tasting panel. This is a really interesting experience, which I sometimes have mixed emotions about. I am very excited and grateful to be a part of the process, but it also is a bit stressful and mentally and sensory exhausting. It is amazing to examine the differences in the wine that each barrel cooper makes. One would smell of tropical fruits and pina colladas, while the next would smell of butterscotch and kettle corn. During these tastings, not only do we discuss the sensory effects like aroma and taste but also more specifically how the samples feel across your palate: entry, mid palate, texture, structure, body and finish. Tasting six wines usually takes about two hours, so one can imagine how detailed these tastings can become.

I also got to add a new assignment to my lab work; measuring the level of alcohol in our wines. I thought this was really interesting because I have always been curious as a consumer about the mysterious "14%" or "13.5%" on my wine bottles. At Hanzell, which has the second oldest lab still in use in the entire country, we use an ebulliometer.

Here is the process for measuring the level of alcohol:
First I ignite a wick at the bottom of the contraption and place my sample in and cover it with a thermometer, filling the small chamber with cold distilled water. I let the sample heat until I have its boiling point. The first sample I run is with water, because I need the boiling point of H2O in order to calculate and converge the boiling point of wine into the percentage of alcohol.  This must be done several times in between wine samples because the boiling point of water is constantly changing due to atmospheric changes. This has soon become my favorite lab work, earning me the title of "Alcohol Queen"!

Winemaking is truly a juggling act. When one difficult task such as harvesting grapes is complete, there are 10 more things that need to be added to your plate. It is a job that encompasses chemistry, mathematics, people skills, physical labor, agriculture, sensory analysis and so much more. Take a moment and let your mind wonder what hard work went into your next glass of wine. Cheers!

Tasting through 24 tanks of fermenting Pinot Noir

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Week 5: Tales from the 100hr work week

One thing is for sure, my professors were not joking when they insisted that harvest was tough work! I feel kind of like a doctor: always working and always on call. One may refer to me as a wine-doctor, if you will. Collecting grapes as patients- setting them up into tanks rather than medical beds, using a winery instead of a hospital, giving them nutrients, diagnosing them with analysis, keeping track of their sugar level, even writing prescriptions for what they need to make them better...

Last week we began harvest by picking certain blocks of Chardonnay. This week, we continued to pick Chardonnay, but also introduced Pinot Noir to the party. I felt a bit differently picking Pinot Noir, perhaps it is because of my distinct affection for red wine. I felt a certain obligation to inspect each cluster that passed over the sorting table, keeping a close eye for botrytis (rot), raisining grapes, and debris.

Cluster in later stages of botrytis
The process for Pinot Noir production differs from that of Chardonnay. In the case for a red wine grape such as Pinot, rather than crushing the grape, one must separate the grapes and their stems in what is referred to as a destemmer. The grapes fall into a 1-ton tank, and are guarded with dry ice (carbon dioxide) which helps prevent the juice from oxidizing and also keeps it cool. The grapes then remain in their tanks for six months to one year until the winemaker deems they should be transferred to barrel. For fermentation, we inoculate the juice with yeast nutrient and the selected yeasts. Right now we have 24 tanks of Pinot Noir (16 of which hold 1 ton and 8 which hold 2.5 tons). This is the most Pinot Noir Hanzell Vineyards has ever received, totalling at 35 tons.

There are five vineyards at Hanzell, and within those five vineyards, the rows are separated into blocks, or sections. They are separated because there are distinguishable differences in ripening tendencies, flavor profile, rootstock, or year they were planted. They differ drastically even from one row to the next. Each row is also picked separately and tanked separately. This is where the winemaker really shines, as he is able to show his personality when he creates the final blending of all of the blocks and vineyards.

In my last post I discussed the production of Chardonnay. To recap, Chardonnay is crushed, and then pressed with a bladder filled with air which pushes the grapes onto the sides of the machine, releasing it's juices and discarding the pumace (stems and skins). For red wine, we leave the grapes intact because they must go through maceration, or the period of time which grape juice spends in contact with its skins. The Pinot Noir goes through its fermentation in the tanks with its skins, and the Chardonnay is inoculated and moved to barrel, although some of the blocks stay in stainless steel. This depends on whether the grapes are going to Hanzell's main estate label (has longevity and meant for aging) or "Sebella," their second label, which features a wine that is more fruit forward and meant for younger drinking.

At this point, we have inoculated the Chardonnay that we have in tanks with yeasts and the process of fermentation has begun for them. During this period, I must take the Brix (level of sugar) several times a day on each tank. I also need to run tests on their pH levels and TA (titratable acidity). It is very common that the grapes release their natural tartaric acid during the crushing process, thus we need to run these analysis to determine the quantity of acid that needs to be added back into the juice. During fermentation, the level of sugars drop drastically and quickly. This is because throughout this process, the yeasts are consuming the sugars and creating ethanol, or alcohol, and carbon dioxide.

I have really had my work cut out for me with these Pinot Noir grapes. They require "punch downs," which refers to the use of a long, stainless steel paddle that pushes through the grapes to get them all equally mixed. Thus all of the juice is in equal contact with the skins and also the liquid has an equal climate since the stainless steel jackets surrounding each tank are what controls the temperature. This is not officially considered a punch down until the juice is inoculated with yeast. Depending on which point of fermentation we are at, this will need to be done numerous times a day. Simultaneously, it is a great work out for my arms.

We have just completed our second week of harvest, but we aren't done yet. We still have a few more blocks of Chardonnay that need to be picked, which will be completed within the next few days. But just because the grapes are in, does not mean the hard work stops... It has just begun! I have been working seven days a week, 15 hours a day. Being a wine-doctor is no joke (although it is tons of fun!). Everyday I learn something (many things, actually). As this experience progresses, so do the steps in winemaking. Wine is a living, breathing, talking thing (literally, you should hear the sounds it makes while fermenting).


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week 4: Happy Harvesting!

This week I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning tearing open my gifts with wide eyes and a happy grin... but only instead of Christmas it was harvest, and instead of presents I got grapes!

Now the fun (and by fun I mean work!) has really started. The moment we have all been waiting for: harvest! The weeks leading up until now have been all about preparing the winery for this time.

So here is how harvest works:
We arrive at the winery around 5 or 6am to see the crew in the selected vineyards picking the grapes. There is a lot of traffic- with cars, fork lifts, and tractors all dancing around each other to get the grapes from the field up to the winery. Bin by bin, the luscious Chardonnay grapes get poured onto a "sorting table". On the sorting table a few of us touch every single grape, picking out anything that does not look "good enough to eat," as the winemaker says. I enjoy the conversation that takes place during the many hours we spend here. We take out leaves, branches, pruning grapes, rotting grapes, etc. This truly is hand selected fruit, which not every winery does. From there, the grapes that make the cut go into the "crusher" and come running down a slide until they fall into a small tank, or tanquito as we call them.

Grapes being poured into press
The fork lift then lifts the small tank and dumps all of its contents into the "press". The press has a bladder on the inside which fills with air, pressing the grapes onto its sides, squeezing out all of that delicious juice. There are huge hoses attached to the press, so the juice instantly is sent over to a large stainless steel fermentation tank. But before the juice is sent to the tank, it must pass through a
screen which catches any seeds or skins from going into the tank. We have been processing anywhere from 9 to 15 tons per day!

McNeil, the winemaker, says "winemaking is all about making messes and then cleaning them up"! And boy, was he right! It takes longer to clean and sanitize after the picking of the grapes than this whole process. They like the winery to be very clean, and there cannot be a single grape left on the ground. After 15 tons, that's a difficult task!

With Bob Sessions, legendary
 winemaker for over 30 years
In addition to our new set of responsibilities with harvesting the grapes, I still need to do my other daily responsibilities, like vineyard sampling. I need to continue to sample grapes from other areas of the different vineyards on the estate so the winemakers can determine what is ready to be picked next. This greatly depends on the climate. The weather has been fluctuating a bit, going from very cool to a few days of pretty high heat. This is important to consider because higher heat climates mean that the sugars will rise in the grapes. And when the sugars rise to where the winemaker wants them, around 22 Brix (measurement of sugar in grapes), the grapes are ready to be picked. But when it cools down, the grapes return to their natural stages of ripening. I never knew I would ever be so interested in the weather!

Picture of juice coming out of press
before going into tanks
So the length of harvest varies depending on which parts of the vineyards are ready to be picked and when. Not all of the grapes will be ready at the same time, or even the same week. And we encourage them to take their time. No need to rush to the party, we want them to get ready and maybe even put some lipstick on. Typically we pick Chardonnay first and then Pinot Noir, because we want slightly higher sugars in the Pinot Noir grapes.

Everyday is really a surprise. The winemakers determine the picking schedule literally the day before, so I just need to be ready to be there at all times. This week I worked 6 days and 60 hours! And loved every minute of it (except the part where I have to clean drains).

                                                               Happy Harvesting everyone!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Week 2: To pick or not to pick... that is the Winemaker's question!

A very sensitive issue for each winemaker- when to pick the grapes. There are so many important areas to consider! "Picking the grapes" is also known as harvest. Harvest is one of the most crucial steps in winemaking.

These factors differ depending on one's winery and which style of wine one is producing. But with those specifications in mind, the winemaker must also take into consideration the level of sugar in the grapes (Brix), the level of acidity (titratable acidity), and tannin level. Right now we are playing the waiting game. Everyday we do the lab analysis, and the winemaker checks the results, determining when we will begin picking.

We have primarily focused on sanitation, which prepares the winery and all of the equipment for harvest. If the whole wine thing doesn't work out, I may have a future in pressure cleaning.
Hanzell Vineyards truly puts safety and sanitation first.

Have you ever heard of a wine that is "corked"? Well, Hanzell goes the extra mile to ensure that this does not happen to any of their wines. What is meant by a corked wine? This is just a simple way of saying that the wine has TCA (Tricloroanisole). 3-5% of wines are ruined by corks, and Hanzell will not be one of them. Thus, we have to conduct many experiments and take many measures to ensure this. (This is a major reason why we should not discriminate against screw tops, as they are only here to help eliminate this problem).

This week I did my first "green drop". If you think a green drop is when you take bundles of green cash and throw it on the ground, you're incorrect. A green drop is when you go down rows of red wine grapes, in Hanzell's case it would be Pinot Noir, and cut off any grapes which have not undergone veraison. Veraison is the process in which the grape transitions into the ripening stage of its development. Not all of the grapes in the cluster will develop at the same time. All grapes begin their development the same color- green. However, red wine grapes like Pinot Noir will begin to change color as they ripen and mature.

Pinot Noir undergoing perfect ripening
Pinot Noir that did not complete veraison

 It is important to cut off, or "green drop" those grapes which are not developing at the same rate so we get a balanced wine made with equally ripe and mature fruit and not with half underdeveloped grapes. Although I must admit, it was very painful for me at first to chop away at so many clusters of big, beautiful grapes just because a few little guys were underdeveloped. ..Sorry grapes, maybe you'll make the vintage next year! Also it is important that you note not all wineries do this. This is truly what you would consider hand selected grapes! Most wineries are concerned with quantity, thus they keep all of their fruit so they can make more wine, but Hanzell is all about quality.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Week 1: Welcome to Sonoma!

Who would have known that each drop of this succulent substance known as wine takes so much work to make! It's only been one week and I have already learned a wealth of knowledge. I have taken my hobby of wine-drinking and gotten back to the basics of wine-making.

Hanzell Estate comprises 200 acres, 12 of which are planted to Pinot Noir and 32 to Chardonnay. There are five different Vineyards on the property; Zellerbach, Day, Ramos, deBrye, and Sessions. If you are ever popping open a bottle of Hanzell, take a moment and wonder which vineyards your Chardonnay is coming from. They have two labels, the Hanzell and Sebella. Hanzell Vineyards paved the way in wine making with many "firsts"... first to insert gas at bottling to prevent oxidation, first to use exclusively French oak barrels for aging wines, first to use temperature-controlled, stainless steel fermentation tanks. But enough bragging, let me share with you what my first week was like!

I received a very warm welcome by Lynda, who is the Associate Winemaker and her family (husband and two young children). I am staying at a guesthouse on her property, which has a beautiful garden smothered with basil and fresh herbs and vegetables and a chicken coop with about 20 chickens (which means eggs for breakfast everyday!). I have officially traded the sound of annoying Miami traffic and horns in for clucking chickens. I am so pleased to see how important the sourcing of ingredients is here. Lynda and her family only eat meat from animals they raise themselves on their farm, and grow all of their own vegetables, fruits, and herbs. I know I came here to learn how to make wine but I may pick up a few other useful tools in the gardening department.

I am staying about 10 minutes away from the vineyard. Sounds close, but I am walking and it actually takes me an hour to get there since I have to go up a long, windy, very steep hill. So in case you thought I was sitting around eating eggs and drinking wine all day, fear not, as I am getting plenty of exercise! In addition to my walk, I have to do what is called "vineyard sampling". The winemaker says which vineyard (one of the 5 I mentioned earlier) and which rows, and I take a pair of shears and walk up and down the rows taking clusters of grapes off each vine.

 Next I take the clusters and destem and crush them, making them into juice. Once that is done I am able to do lab work on them, testing things like Brix (level of sugar), pH (level of acidity), VA (Volatile Acidity) etc. So I have become quite the little chemist, although I don't get to wear a lab coat!

One of the really amazing things I had the opportunity to do was pull the 2010 Pinot Noir and the 2011 Chardonnay from their barrels (they are still aging) and do a blind tasting with the winemakers as they mumbled words like "gummy, veggie, shy and herbal". Talk about pressure! But it was nice to know they valued my opinion. And it was interesting to taste how different the wines were from each part of the vineyards... aww yes, the wonders of terrior!

I am very lucky to lives so close to what happens to be the best bar in Sonoma, "The Olde Sonoma Pub". They serve beer and wine only, and are very well known for their beer selection. Micro brews, IPAs, double IPAs, cider made with Champagne yeast... I know I came to learn about wine but I think I may pick up a few things on beer.