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?

passover dinnerYou may be familiar with our story and the inspiration for our name–Stomping Girl–and already know this:  Uzi’s Grandmother Esther grew grapes on their property, his sister Michal took off her shoes and stomped them and Esther turned the grapes into wine.  The wine was primarily for their Passover celebration each year.

Officially, kosher wine is served for Passover.  For a wine to be kosher, there are many rules that must be followed, such as:

  1. The vines on which the grapes are grown must be at least 4 years old and left unharvested every seventh year.
  2. Only kosher, non-animal ingredients may go into the wine (i.e., only certain yeasts may be used and egg white, a common fining ingredient, may not be used.)
  3. Only male, Sabbath-observant Jews are allowed to handle the wine through the entire winemaking process from the harvesting of the grapes, through fermentation, to bottling.
  4. One Percent of the wine must be discarded.
  5. Barrels must cleaned 3 times before use.

The Cohen family Passover wine enjoyed by them every year in Israel was not officially kosher, being that Esther and Michal handled the grapes and the wine.  But it was close enough for Grandmother Esther.

For us here in California, the # 1 rule for Passover wine is that it must taste great.  After all, you are supposed to drink four glass of it every night.  And, though not Sabbath observant, our chief winemaker is Jewish and from Israel…and that makes Stomping Girl Wine pretty close to being kosher.  Passover starts next week, and I bet you know what wine we’ll be serving.

Over the long weekend we met with Chris, our Sonoma Coast grower of Corona Creek Vineyards.  We compared barrel samples of 2009 Stomping Girl Pinot Noir Corona Creek Vineyard with barrel samples of Chris’ Corona Creek Vineyard.  They’re both still very young but coming along nicely.  We agreed our Corona Creek has great color, some black cherry notes along with a nice earthiness–like freshly turned up soil in the vineyards.  We then compared the ’09s to Chris’ bottled 2008 Corona Creek Pinot which had nice dark fruit flavors and aromas that continued to develop as we enjoyed the rest of the bottle with dinner that night.

We also visited Beresini vineyard in Carneros, anohter source of our 2009 Pinot, to check out the vines and discuss a new pruning technique with Steve, the owner.  We are extremely happy with our ’09 Beresini Vineyard Pinot Noir that’s in barrels right now and are keeping a close eye on our rows in his vineyard for the ’10 harvest.  His two dogs and our son romped while we talked in the vineyards.  Steve sent us home with a bottle of his own wine–aptly named “Black Dog.”

Beresini Vineyard

Beresini's black dog

Beresini vineyard

Uzi and Steve B.

Uzi had been been talking about this diner near Steve’s vineyard that has great biscuits–the Fremont Diner.  We were too late for breakfast but we stopped there for lunch.  It looks a little divey from the outside.  But the charm completely takes over as you notice the vineyards in the background, the lone chicken hanging with 2 friendly dogs outside  and the decor inside.  And the food is out of this world.  The food is down home cooking, all from scratch, fresh ingredients and definitely not for those on a diet.  I had the Whole Hog, a pulled pork sandwich with bbq sauce, coleslaw and these incredible beans.  I am already contemplating my next menu selection…

Whole Hog Sandwich

the Whole Hog

Fremont Diner

Fremont Diner

fremont diner chicken

Fremont Diner chicken

About a year ago, Uzi wrote about the “chore” of topping off.  Back then we only had 2 half barrels in our home cellar and 4 barrels at the winery to worry about.  This year we have 17 barrels at the winery to stir and top.  While we still don’t see it as a chore, it is a bit more work.  They are stacked two high in the back of the barrel room and special maneuvers are required to properly stir the lees and top off the barrel without overflowing.  But it is still a great opportunity to smell and taste the wine and to, for lack of a better word, touch base with the wine…even while it is resting snugly in the barrel.

So earlier this week at the winery, we sniffed, stirred, topped and tasted all 17 barrels of our 2009 Pinot Noir.  Pinot always seems to be evolving, from the moment of harvest all the way to the last drop in your glass.  But at this point in time, we found that our Carneros Pinot has an incredible nose, our Russian River Pinot already has a luscious mouthfeel and luscious flavors and our Sonoma Coast has nice fruit forward character.  Can’t wait to see what we discover next time…

barrel room

in the barrel room

Last Thursday we bottled the last of our 2008 wines.  “Last” sounds like we made many wines, we only made wine from two vineyards, but it does feel good to have our 2008 vintage safely in bottles. Now we wait for the delicate Pinot to recover.  As many of you know, wine goes thru a shock when it is bottled and needs some rest to recover before it is ready to drink.

Even though the bottling process is mostly automated, contrary to our home wine bottling in the last 7 years, we still make sure we touch every single bottle and leave our prints on  it. Such are the joys of winemaking.

Take a look at the steps in pictures:

First the bottles are emptied of oxygen, filled with wine and the wine level is adjusted.

Bottling  Machine

Bottling Machine

Corks are inserted and the red sleeves are put on and spun into place.

Corks inserted and bottle sleeves put on.

Next, the labeler applies our lovely label to the bottles.

Labeling Machine

Labels applied to Stomping Girl Pinot Noir

Then the bottles come off the line and are boxed by hand.

Kathryn boxing Split Rock

Kathryn boxing Stomping Girl Pinot

1991 Calera Mt Harlan Chardonnay

1991 Calera Mt Harlan Chardonnay

We recently had our good friends over for dinner and were looking forward to opening a special bottle from the cellar.  It was a 1991 Calera Mt. Harlan Chardonnay we had picked up on a visit to the Calera winery last year.  Calera has an incredible and inspiring story and their wines are really quite unique for California Pinots and Chardonnays.

Look closely at the picture above and you will see the large (some may say disturbing) amount of tartrates. Tartrates had solidified and ended up on the bottom of this old bottle of Calera.  Looks bad but it is not a fault.  It was a 1991 for god’s sake.  And, in fact it is a testimony to the quality of the wine and the natural winemaking methods used.  Read more about tartrates here.  The Calera was fantastic and was a perfect match for rich halibut we served.

By the way, for those of you looking for Thanksgiving wines, an old Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan would make an excellent addition to your turkey dinner…so would a Pinot Noir.

How many girls does it take to stomp 4+ tons grapes?  Watch us as we stomp away at our handcrafted and foot stomped Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir!

Overrun by fermenting grapes

Overrun by fermenting grapes

OK, this time of year I expect to find multiple vessels containing fermenting grapes at the winery and even downstairs in our home wine cellar.  But I did not expect to find this in my kitchen this morning.  It is a small sample of our Sonoma Coast, Corona Creek Vineyard, Pinot fermenting naturally with native yeast…naturally in the mixing bowl of my Kitchen Aid.  I’m afraid to check the bath tub.

Chromotagraphy test fro malo conversion

chromotography test

This weekend we performed the chromotagraphy tests on our Las Brisas Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir rose. I am happy to report that the Malo-lactic, or ‘Malo’ conversion is complete–right on schedule.  Just like in the previous five years, by the time the first week of November rolls around, the little bugs have done their job. Basically wine contains a few different kinds of acids, Tartaric is one and Malic another.  There are others but not in high enough quantities to be noticed.  During malo conversion (also referred to as Secondary Fermentation) Malolactic bacteria eat away at the Malic acid and covert it to Lactic acid and Carbon Dioxide.  Being about half as strong as Malic acid, Lactic acid is softer on the pallet. The total effect is reduction in total acidity and a rounder softer, mouth feel. For a real technical description see here.  In my opinion it has been overdone in many California Chardonnays and I do not like it in that varietal.  However, many red wines benefit and are enhanced by it, so we pursue it with our Pinot.  In addition to the reduction of acid, it stabilizes wine and should be done before bottling. If you bottle before Malo conversion is complete, it might be triggered spontaneously when the weather warms up.  This will put the bugs in motion, only this time while they are enclosed in a bottle. You will end up with ugly deposits, aromas and fizz that could potentially push out corks. 

Which gets me back to Chromatography, how do you know when ‘malo’ is done? At the winery we take a sample and send to the lab.  A day later we get an email that tells us the Malic acid content in grams per liter.  If it is under a certain number, i.e. .09 grams per liter, it is done! Easy.

At home, we get to play Mad Scientist and do our own fun, chromotography test.  Ben and I just did one this weekend and the image you see here shows the results.  

We dot a special paper with wine samples and reference acids (Tartaric and Malic in this case.)  Then we put the paper in a special ‘developer’ liquid for 8 hours and watch the liquid travel up the paper. As it travels up it carries with it the different acids to different levels.

Tartaric is at the bottom third, Malic is in the middle and Lactic is at the top. The acids from the wine sample travels up the paper as well.  The test is to observe and see if the wine sample has a spot at the same level as the Malic spot. If it does, Malic conversion did not take place; if the spot is faint, it is only part way done. If there is no spot, Malo is done!  

Chromotagraphy test fro malo conversion

ooh, pretty

Look at the image again.  There are six columns.  The spot in the far left column is the Tartaric reference; the second is the Malic reference; the third, fourth and fifth columns are the Pinot Noir samples from three different vessels; the last is our Pinot Noir rose. This means that Malo is done for the three Pinot reds–note there are no yellow spots at the same level as the Malic reference dot (mid way thru the paper hights). The Rose however, did not go thru Malo.  This is a good thing because we like Rose more acidic, that’s what makes it more refreshing served chilled on a hot afternoon.

If there are winemaker scientists out there wondering what the light dot above the Tartaric and the light dot below the Malic references are, well, my guess is that it is a bit of contamination from the reference solutions while I was preparing the tests. Unless someone else has a different explanation.  I did not see these in previous years.  In any case, whether malo conversion took place or not, it makes a nice piece of psychedelic, abstract art to hang on the cellar walls.