March 3, 2015
On Tuesday, February 24, 2015, we bottled over a thousand cases of the 2012 Elodian Cabernet Sauvignon. From the moment the grapes were picked in the fall of 2012, until the day of bottling, the wine was meticulously cared for while barrel aging for two and a half years. This makes the bottling process an intense but essential climax to the winemaking process; it is the moment when the winemaker cuts the umbilical cord to the baby, thereby releasing it to the waiting public. It’s like watching your child go off to college, hoping and praying you did everything in your power to make them the best they can be. A dramatic analogy, I know, but it demonstrates that everything must be perfectly aligned on bottling day in order for the consumer to enjoy the wine as the winemaker originally intended.
Cows bellow in the distance as the sun rises over the green rolling hills adjacent to the Eddy’s Calistoga ranch. Steam rises
from the concrete crush pad of the winery as the Signature Mobile Bottling truck finishes sanitizing the bottling line. Two tanks full of 2012 Elodian Cab (exactly 1003 cases) sit idle, waiting to fill the antique green, claret-style bottles. Bags of corks and boxes of capsules standby, ready to put the finishing touches and seal the wine until it is time to be consumed.
The 48 foot long bottling trailer is a marvel of modern engineering. Thousands of moving parts, made of stainless steel, rubber and plastic move seamlessly in unison to fill the bottles with wine, pushing the corks into the necks of the bottles, sealing the top with a capsule and slapping on a front and back label at a rate of 180 bottles per minute. Whew, that’s really cranking! A crew of workers hums around the truck, like honey bees, ensuring each bottle is ready to be filled. Each capsule is perfectly placed and each case is rapidly packaged and gently loaded on to empty pallets. This is a well-oiled machine of human labor and mechanical prowess working in near perfect coordination to ensure a clean and efficient day of bottling!
This was our first-ever bottling at the new Tom Eddy Winery. Thanks to our friends and Signature and Vinpack, it could not have gone any better. It takes a small army and many great vendors to get our precious wine into the bottle and to your door, and for that we are thankful.
Well, our baby is graduated and off to be consumed…we hope you enjoy drinking it as much as we enjoyed making it!
Cheers, Jason Gerard.
April 1, 2014
To filter or not to filter….
In honor of the recent bottling our 2012 Tom Eddy Manchester Ridge Unfiltered Chardonnay, I thought it would be fun to discuss the pros and cons of making a product like this and discuss exactly what unfiltered means.
Now some of you big Tom Eddy fans may not even know that we make a Chardonnay, and in fact we have only made two: one in
2008 from the Diamond Mt. area and the other is the 2012 Manchester Ridge. The Manchester Ridge grapes come from a coastal, cool climate region in Mendocino, 2000ft. above sea level but overlooking the ocean. Weather-wise, the area is more like Burgundy than Calistoga, and the vineyard is the same source for our more well-known Tom Eddy Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir.
Because we only made 6 barrels (@360 gallons) of Chardonnay from this ranch in 2012, we decided it would be fun and educational to do a bit of an experiment and create two distinct products from the same wine. How is this possible you ask? Well, since the grapes are all the same and the wine is uniform in nature, the difference was created using disparate winemaking techniques.
Is a barrel wand like a magic wand?
First the basics…
The wine was fermented in six French Oak Barrels, two if which were brand new. It is important to balance new oak vs. neutral oak as it is very easy to “over-oak” a wine where you are extracting so much oak flavor and tannin from the new barrels that you can overpower the Chardonnay character and make the wine one-dimensional. New oak is like the cherry on a sundae: it is such a small part of the overall flavor profile but it wouldn’t be the same without it.
We also chose to use a technique known as sur lie aging. As grapes are being converted into wine, lots of solid particles are integrated into the wine, especially early on in the process. These solids consist of many different things: yeast, bacteria, protein, tannin, color, polysaccharides….the list goes on. Some of these solids settle over time to the bottom of the barrel, some stay suspended depending on their density and solubility. With sur lie aging we use a barrel wand to stir the wine in barrel once a week to re-suspend any solids that have settled to the bottom. This allows for polysaccharides (as well as other components) to integrate into the wine at a higher rate, increasing mouth-feel, creaminess as well as protecting the wine from oxidation. The barrel wand truly is magical!
Back to the experiment at hand…
We decided to break the 2012 Chardonnay into two lots: 1) filtered, and bottled after 10 months and 2) Unfiltered, and bottled after 15 months. Filtration is a key tool in winemaking in order to guarantee a stable, clean product. But filtration has its price. There is nothing better than Chardonnay (or any wine for that matter) fresh out of the barrel. The richness of flavor and intensity are difficult to maintain all the way through bottling. A major reason for this is the “stripping” effect of filtration. The wine is essentially being pumped through a depth filter and a membrane filter to remove all bacteria and yeast (making it microbiologically stable) and remove any leftover sediment for a clear clean look. Filtration is necessary for a stable, consistent wine from bottle to bottle which is why all large commercial wineries filter their wine in order to create a consistent product. So we decided to bottle two thirds of the Chardonnay in this more commercially standard style, and we are very satisfied with the results. The filtered Chardonnay is clean and crisp and delicious, exactly what we want from this wine! However, we decided to take a risk with two of the barrels and bottle them, unfiltered, in order to capture that “fresh from the barrel” intensity of flavor and aroma. We also aged the unfiltered wine for 5 extra months allowing for extra sur lie stirring as well as extended concentration and oak extraction from the barrel aging process. The wine is creamier and richer than its filtered cousin, with a slight (and expected) visual haze due to fine amount of sediment in the bottle. We know you will have fun discovering the subtle and special nuances between these two wines!
Tom Eddy Wines
June 24, 2013
When is a cluster not yet a cluster?
As springtime weather permeates the Napa Valley with consistent warmth and blankets the vineyards in daily sunshine, the vines react and begin to reveal early clues about their future grape crop. The steady warm weather coaxes the vine into producing an abundance of leaves while at the same time exposing its most precious asset, the flower cluster. But how does a flower cluster transform into a grape cluster?
At this early stage in the life of the flower cluster, the rachis (or structural component of the cluster) is dotted with hundreds of tiny green bee bee-sized spheres. Over time, the cells within these bee bees begin to differentiate into unique and essential components of the grape flower, including male and female reproductive organs necessary for pollination. Six to eight weeks after leafing begins, the development of these flower parts is complete and the flowers are ready to bloom. The creation of a grape flower is a delicate process influenced by many factors including plant nutrition and weather. Cold temperatures in spring will delay development, and rainy or cold weather can hinder the process by not allowing for proper pollination, often referred to as “shatter”.
Once the grape flower has developed and its reproductive organs have been properly exposed (I apologize for the near x-rated description, but it’s just biology!), pollination can occur. Without pollination, grapes would never develop on the vine so the whole global wine industry relies on this fragile process that occurs over only a handful of days). It is unclear what method the grape flowers use to become pollinated but it is believed that self-pollination is the most common process followed by wind and insects each playing a minor role. If temperatures drop below 60º F, pollination will be greatly reduced and if temperatures rise above 104º F, pollination will also be inhibited. Clearly the environment must be in the right “mood” for grapes to be created, so hopefully this year Mother Nature has turned on her version of Tom Jones or Barry White in the vineyards and makes the magic happen!
March 11, 2013
Pruning decisions are perennial choices made by every vineyard manager across the globe. With a few years behind it now, Kerry’s Vineyard (www.kerrysvineyard.com) is graduating from vinifera adolescence and transitioning into adulthood. As the vineyard solidifies into a relatively permanent yearly routine, a very important decision needs to be made regarding the training system of the vine.
The inherent nature of a vine and its chaotic growth patterns allows it to be sculpted into an infinite variety of somatic plant structures. There is no one right way to train a vine, but through cultural influence, local trends, experimental research and historical practices, certain standards of training have emerged. In Napa Valley, there are three main styles of pruning in the vineyard: head-trained, cordon, and cane pruning.
This year, in Kerry’s Vineyard, it is time to decide between either cordon or cane pruned training (if we wanted to go head trained, that decision must be made almost immediately after planting the vineyard, whereas the first few years of cordon or cane pruning are the same).
To put it simply, the arms of the vine that run parallel to the ground eventually produce many new shoots which will be the source of the individual grape clusters. In cordon training, the parallel arms are permanent structures on the vine and remain year after year whereas in cane pruning, the parallel arms are formed every year by leaving one-year old shoots leftover from the previous harvest.The main difference between the two styles is that cane pruning will yield slightly more fruit.
Because Cabernet Sauvignon is a lower yield variety and because Kerry’s Vineyard is on a hillside (as opposed to the valley floor), we have chosen to go with cane pruning for the Estate vineyard. As you drive up and down Hwy 29 and Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, you will see mostly cordon trained vineyards. Because these vineyards are planted on the valley floor, which is rich in nutrients and water, the vineyard managers are hoping to lower the yields of these vines by using the cordon training method. This will in turn help to balance the vine and produce better quality grapes. However, on a hillside vineyard, nutrients can be limited and water tends to drain very quickly, both factors that lead to lower yields on the vine. To compensate, the technique of cane pruning is utilized. Another benefit to cane pruning is it less harsh on the vine itself. With cordon pruning, each new shoot (usually 8 to a side for a total of 16) are pruned every year leaving the vine with many pruning scars. This leaves the vine much more susceptible to infections (such as Eutypa, described earlier). Because of this, excessive pruning can lessen the lifespan and efficiency of an individual vine.
So, as you can see, many key decisions are made when planting a vineyard and lots of work goes into maintaining a vineyard as well…..and we have barely even scratched the surface of the complexities that go into creating and maintaining a vineyard that will produce quality fruit year after year. It’s a good thing that we enjoy it so much!
November 17, 2012
Try as we might, the King duo cannot seem to get it together to be in Napa for the Kerry’s Vineyard harvest. There was still plenty do, however, when we met Jason at Cuvaison. The wine was already in the tanks, and there were nutrients to be added. We measured out DAP and Superfood, dissolved it in water, and added it to the tanks. It is safe to say both my chemistry and measuring skills remain questionable, but this may be because I left my tentative grasp of the metric system back in high school with my calculus skills. Jason, on the other hand, measures out DAP in kilos like he is the Pablo Escobar of nutrients. After nutrients were added, the Kerry’s Vineyard tank needed to be punched down. Affectionately referred to as the “punch down of death”, this process involves standing on a wood plank over the tank and mixing the grapes and juice with a metal instrument. You may remember from the Harvest 2010 post that falling off this plank into the tank would mean suffocation because of the carbon dioxide emitted by the fermenting yeast. After we survived the punch down, we went to their Malbec vineyard to take samples. We zig-zagged up and down every few rows of grapes and took one grape from each point, making sure to grab grapes from different parts of the cluster each time. This is to account for different parts of the vineyard being exposed to more sun and other factors. We took the samples back to the office, crushed up the grapes, and filtered the juice into beakers. Tom put a few drops of juice into this little scientific machine to measure the Brix. We ended the day the only acceptable way: with cheese and a glass Tom Eddy wine.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to head up to Stagecoach for that harvest. After a very long bumpy drive up to the top of the mountain across which Stagecoach sprawls, we arrived at the vineyard just in time to see bins full of grapes be trucked down the way we came. Luckily Jason was already at Cuvaison waiting for the delivery. We then headed back down the mountain and made a pit stop to check out the Syrah that was still on the vines. When we arrived at Cuvaison, there was sorting, sorting, sorting, and more sorting to be done. The fruit looked great and there were very few MOGs (Materials Other than Grapes) to be sorted out. There were a few black widows calling the clusters their home, and were it not for my preoccupation with finding and avoiding spiders, Jason may not have lived to tell the tale of the never-ending Stagecoach sort. Nine tons and what felt like days later, we finished sorting and cautiously stepped down from the platform next to the conveyor belt, unsure of whether it was the platform or the belt moving after staring at grapes marching by for so long. A barbeque at the Eddy ranch concluded the day’s work.
We opened our final day there with a breakfast at Café Sarafornia, which is always a staple during our trips: I am very much a fan of how many tea options they bring with your personal size teapot. My dad went with Tom to sample the Cabernet, and I went with Jason to the winery to inoculate the Stagecoach. Inoculation is definitely my favorite part of the winemaking process. Seeing the “yeast babies” come to life is a magical process, and Jason takes special care to make sure as many of them as possible survive the inoculation process. There were a lot of juice adds to be done, but I managed to get the juice out of the tank without spraying wine across the room. After the “yeast babies” were added to the Stagecoach tank, we added nutrients to the Kerry’s Vineyard tank again. We then went in to the cave to burp the bungs, as one had shot out of the barrel the day prior. Being the smallest of the group, it was mine to climb the barrel racks and remove the bungs from the barrels and let any remaining carbon dioxide gas escape. When this was done, it was time for us to head back to San Francisco, with a pit stop at Dean and Deluca. Covered in yeast, Superfood, and grape slime, we looked like legitimate members of the winemaking business decked out in our Tom Eddy gear. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought so, as a chef in Dean and Deluca stopped us to ask about Tom Eddy Wines. As another year’s harvest came to an end, we headed back to San Francisco anxiously awaiting a chance to return.
January 24, 2012
Yes, the 2008 vintage (affectionately now known as the “wildfire vintage”) took us by firestorm (I know, cheesy pun). No one winemaker in the North Coast was immune to some challenging maturity schedules with such a moderate spring, but an extraordinary summer dry period, culminating with a significant amount of heat in the months of August and September, ensured our salvation.
One of the blessings we have is that with a small program such as ours, and with talented growers working with us in the mountains with their small ranches, looking at the vineyard row by row, and even vine by vine, we were able to manage literally every plant (as impossible as it may seem). I would liken this care and attention to herding cats on a hot, sandy beach. You might ask how we could do such a thing…..Catskills! But honestly? Leaf canopy manipulation and very conscientious irrigation (to give those babies a drink at the correct time) was really the difference in our program in 2008. While some folks were lamenting about prunes turning to raisins, we were dancing lightly on our feet, and skipping around the vineyard coaxing in the upper-elevation breezes (cooling type that is).
The glorious 2008 vintage was one of the smallest in our long wine career. From top to bottom, start to finish, we knew that we were facing a small, but high quality crop. Early indications showed few fruitful buds and Mother Nature had her way with us……..I think in an effort to prevent greed from setting in. No worries. Not only was the crop smaller but the berries were smaller. Normally, for most farming endeavors, this would be a difficult pill to swallow, but for our hillside winemaking with a singular goal of making elegant, long-lived wine, this was literally a God-send. Our benefit (or your benefit) is a very highly-structured, powerful, long-lived monster. I use this term “monster” with a timid piety, as well as a jaundiced eye, because our monsters are more cuddly and complex than most (kind of like the Sesame Street cookie monster washing down his Oreos with Bordeaux……….).
That said, this may be the most robust and age-worthy wine we’ve made in a decade….almost similar to the 1992 vintage upon release. The flavors are evolving like “monsters”, so let’s go there and hold on the cookies for now. (this guy will age well for a long, long time).
The 2008 vintage is very condensed, both organoleptically and quantitatively…….only 700 six packs will be bottled (same a350, 750ml- cases).
“Oh no!” you might gasp. But for quality, we want to go for small volumes. The 2008 TE is unique in many ways, including the fact that we tickled the blend of Cabernet with 7% Petite Verdot from Pritchard Hill. With the immensely violet floral addition, the very masculine and robust beast has been tamed. For the most part the 2008 is a quintessential balance between Stagecoach (Atlas Peak), Spanos-Berberian (Pritchard Hill), and Meteor (Mt. St. George). The appropriate color and thick tannins from Stagecoach, with the background silkiness from Pritchard Hill and the classic ripe blackberry from Mt. St. George marries the 2008 into longevity and regal structure. TE