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