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.