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350 Cases of wine bottled.  Thanks to Uzi, Caleb and our volunteers for all the hardwork!

racking before bottling

This Friday we bottle the 2009 Stomping Girl Pinot Noir.  So much preparation goes in to this one day (design and print labels, get federal approval for labels, order capsules and corks, find workers [thanks volunteers!], line up warehouse to store bottled wine, etc. etc, but the most important thing is always the wine.  We sample and blend wine, decide which barrels are ready to bottle, run lab test on the wine to determine alcohol level, ph, etc., and we rack the barreled wine off the lees.  To do this, all the barrels are moved to the floor of the winery, no small feat in a small space, and the wine is pushed through hoses into large stainless steel tanks using argon gas (see picture above.)  Then the wine is allowed to settle for a while before its big day.  It is our last opportunity to taste and make any adjustments before it goes into bottle. Or as someone (wise?) once said, this is last opportunity for the winemaker to screw up the wine.

bottles, capsules and cork samples

bottles, capsules and cork samples

Winemaking is not always about making wine.  There are always less glamorous tasks to be done, like packaging, which we are working on now. Later this summer we will bottle our 2009 vintage and we are lining up packaging details now. This means decisions have to be made on what size, color and nationality the bottle will be. We must choose what type of cork to use and if our logo will be branded on it. Then there is the capsule–what material, color, size do we want? Logo or no logo?  And last, but not least, we must update our label for the 3 different vineyards 2009.

Under my radar, downstairs, Uzi has been busy mixing and matching different colored capsules with various styles of bottles with our 2008 label slapped on to get a visual of what we want to end up with.

During his mix and match process, Uzi put a filled bottle with our 2008 Stomping Girl label, a red capsule and a Stomping Girl branded cork in it on our kitchen counter for me to see.  In an ironic twist of fate, later that same day a sommelier/wine director from a very well-known restaurant coincidentally paid me a surprise visit on an unrelated matter (we were working together on a project for our kids’ school.) He knows we make wine and spontaneously asked if he could try it.  I obliged, of course, after all there was the bottle of it right there in front of us on the counter. Had I followed rule #1 of pouring your wine to trade, I would have tasted it, and I would have known that it was not the 2008 Stomping Girl Lone Oak Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands that was clearly indicated on the label and that I portrayed it to be.

The gentleman gave it a sniff and a whirl.  His feedback was brief as he was in a hurry. He observed cranberries on the nose and the palette and then had to run to an appointment. Cranberries???  I should have known something was up at that point.  Our Lone Oak definitely does not invoke cranberries.  It has a much darker red fruit component.

That night I discovered the wine that had been on the counter, that I had poured for our new friend was not what I thought it was.  Aack!  I had been waiting weeks for the perfect opportunity to pour our wine for this man and I blew it!  How was I to know that a bottle labeled 2008 Stomping Girl Lone Oak Pinot Noir was in fact a bottle of our 2007 basement Pinot? Still a perfectly drinkable Pinot but not our Stomping Girl that retails for $38.

Luckily, we had a nice chuckle over it later and I promised to pour the real Stomping Girl for him next time.  Wonder if he’ll believe me?

Our maiden commercial vintage has been bottled.  I know the age of some our laborers looks a little young but I seriously could not pull them away.  I barely had a chance to get my own hands in there!  Look for this wine to be released in early November!

tasting and blending the Pinot clones

tasting and blending the Pinot clones

For the winemaker, this time of year is not only about preparing the winery for harvest but also about making blending and bottling decisions for the previous vintage.  Friday we had the pleasure of evaluating the progress of our 2008 Lone Oak and Split Rock Pinot Noir.  We compared the influences of the different barrels (new oak vs. neutral oak) and different clones that go into each.  We blended different ratios of new oak to neutral oak and different clonal combinations (more on clones) to bring out the aromas, flavors and complexity we are looking for.

We swirled, sniffed, tasted, gargled and spit our way through the morning.  Our consulting winemaker is extremely knowledgeable of the different Pinot Noir clones and helped guide us as we blended, tasted and tweaked glass after glass.  

In general, we strive for well-balanced, food-friendly wines that express the fruit and floral notes typical of the varietal and the vineyard from which it comes.  Combining different Pinot Noir clones from the same vineyard brings complexity and intrigue to the wine.  Certain clones help provide incredible aromatics, some lend a note of creaminess while others provide structure. When tasted side by side, it became evident to me that a single clone, in contrast to a blend, can appear one dimensional.  Creating the right blend, though hard work ;), was a great learning experience and critical to creating an exceptional wine.  

In addition, we also made some bottling decisions.  We will bottle the Lone Oak this month.  The Split Rock we will hold in barrel until after the 2009 harvest is complete and bottle in November.  Stay tuned for their release soon after that.

blending Pinot trials and tribulations

blending Pinot trials and tribulations

Tuesday we bottled our 2007 Pinot from the famous Carneros vineyard – Las Brisas.

This will be the fifth year we are producing Pinot from this vineyard and I can honestly say that we are getting better and better wine every year. My personal observations: dark ruby red, light vanilla nose with hints of spice aided by 13 months in a 1 year old French St. Martin barrel, medium toast (no toasted heads). There is just a touch of French oak so as not to overpower the Carneros footprint. The wine exhibits dark cherries and any other red berries you can think of; it’s great acid back-bone will make this wine last for at least the next five years.

In my opinion, 2007 is by far the best bottled Las Brisas and 2008, which is in the barrels,  is shaping up to be a fantastic year as well.

Wine stats: Brix at Harvest 24.75, final PH 3.43 TA .61 Alc. 13.8%

We bottled with the help of our friend Paul. We wanted to highlight the differences between bottling our ‘Estate’ wines in our own cellar vs. bottling at the winery we use for our commercial label.

When we bottle our 2008, it  will be our first commercial bottling, which will take place at the end of 2009. We will post pictures and describe the process here as well, so you can compare and contrast.

Here’s the process in a nut shell. We use new bottles so all we have to do is give them a quick rinse and place on the bottle tree to drain  We fill the bottles using our trusted Enolmatic Bottle filler under vacuum and Argon gas and we cork using our Italian floor corker. That’s it.  

Kathryn at the Eno and Uzi at the Corker

Kathryn at the Enolmatic and Uzi at the Corker

The Bottle filler hose connects to the Barrel and sucks wine out of the barrel to the bottle by creating a vacuum in the bottle that is being filled at the moment. The tip of the filler that goes into the bottle neck has two small openings, one sucks air out and the other lets wine in. The other nice thing about this bottle filler is that it has an automatic shutoff when the wine in bottle reaches the level you indicate. Overflow goes to the overflow reservoir, which we happily consumed with lunch!

Below you see Kathryn working the ‘Machine’.

Kathryn Working the Enolmatic

Kathryn Working the Enolmatic

Another hose from an Argon gas tank to the Barrel trickles Argon gas, which is heavier than air and therefore sinks and creates a protective layer over the wine. This minimizes air contact with the wine preventing oxidation. Air is the enemy at this point.

Next comes the corking, pretty simple, place cork in hole, place bottle underneath and lower the handle to squeeze and push cork into bottle. With a little adjustment in the beginning, you get a perfectly leveled cork every time!


We bottled a 150 bottles in a leisurely pace of 1.5 hours. Obviously a manageable quantity for 3 people. But will be real work if you have to do a couple thousand bottles, for that we will need to move on to the real bottling line. Stay Tuned.

The 'Crew' breaking for lunch

The "Crew" - Kathryn and Paul - breaking for Lunch