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.

Signature Mobile Bottling Truck

Signature Mobile Bottling Truck

Bottling Day

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.

Elodian Bottling Line

The Bottling Line

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!

Tom Eddy Bottling Crew

The Tom Eddy Bottling Crew

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.

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The Chardonnay Conundrum

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

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Unfiltered Tom Eddy Chardonnay 2012

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!

Mad scientists?!!?!?!?

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!

Cheers,

Jason Gerard

Assistant Winemaker

Tom Eddy Wines

(Sex) In The Vineyard

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?

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Flower cluster that looks like baby 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”.

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Maturing grape cluster

 

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!

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Blogger and Assistant Winemaker, Jason Gerard.

Jason

Our guest blogger

Rob & daughter Jessica at the winery.

Harvest had come around again, which meant it was time for the Kings to invade the Eddy Ranch and time for me to once again commandeer their Tom Eddy Wine Blog.

This year we were graced with sunshine for the weekend, which was much more pleasant than last year’s rain which seemed to indicate the coming of a second flood.

These grapes are cold!

Sorting Pinot Noir grapes from Manchester Ridge.

Friday morning we bundled up against the 37 degree weather and headed to Cuvaison Winery to start sorting the Pinot Noir grapes for Tom Eddy Wines. These had been picked at Manchester Ridge in Mendocino at 3 am under lights, and then trucked to the winery for sorting. I had not even considered how cold the grapes would be—having been picked at nearly freezing temperatures and trucked down before the sun came up—until Jason, Tom’s assistant winemaker, kindly pointed it out to me. He turned out to be right; after 5 minutes of sorting, we could no longer feel our fingers. Luckily there were only six bins and we managed to get through them with a few hand-dunks in warm water to return the feeling to our frozen fingers.

After sorting, we tasted the Saignée which had already been pumped into barrels. This is the free-run, pink juice that is quickly separated from the skins to create Tom Eddy’s rose of Cabernet, Mooton Rouge.  We then inoculated some of the “wine”, though it can hardly be called that since at the pre-inoculation stage it is basically grape juice.  Tom uses a specially selected yeast to help the juice ferment.

We also did pumpovers, which I had never seen before. Pumpovers consist of hooking up a large hose to the bottom of the tank and pumping the juice over the ‘cap’ of skins at the top of the tank.  This breaks up the cap and circulates the juice to create better contact with the skins and to extract color.  Without it the skins would float to the top, dry out and an insipid wine would result.

Doing pump-overs

Last year, we did a punchdown of the grapes and juice rather than doing pumpovers because it was Pinot Noir and too fragile to handle the rough pumpover process.

With pumpovers completed, we headed back to the office for some lunch. Then it was off to Tudal Winery, a client of Tom’s, to help out Ron, the winemaker, as he sent their freshly harvested grapes through the destemmer which separates the stems from berries.  We were put to work shoveling the discarded stems into a bin and stomping them.

Nice weather for some messy work.

Making room for more stems from the de-stemmer.

This turned out to be pretty messy work.

After stem-stomping was complete, a wine and cheese break back at the Tom Eddy offices was in order.  I put my dad to work helping me prepare dinner, complete with an apple crisp made from apples freshly picked from Kerry’s lovely garden.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed over to Cuvaison to sample the tanks again. Nothing like a little wine to wash down breakfast.

Tying down the bins so they don't fly off.

I learned that all kinds of chemistry magic happens while making good wines.  But chemistry is not my strong suit. Neither is math, which Jason enjoyed mocking me with while I tried to measure superfood. We then inoculated some of the barrels and Tom taught me how to tie a trucker’s knot so that I could secure the bins in the back of the truck.

Next, we headed back to Tudal to taste and inoculate the tanks there. Jason played tour-guide to some people visiting the winery, and then we got to work doing pumpovers.  I seriously underestimated how much that hose weighs.

After we finished at Tudal, we headed back to the Eddy house for a late lunch in the garden. Then, we harvested whatever veggies were left in the garden to incorporate into a poker-night dinner. After dinner, my dad, Tom, Jason, John, and Marty commenced their poker game. Once my dad started winning I made him cash out some of the winnings to put toward my Dean & Deluca cheese fund. Near the end of the game, I brought out cake pops that my mom and I had made in San Francisco for Halloween. They were quickly obliterated and the wrappers squeezed into an empty wine bottle.

That night concluded our adventure in Calistoga. The next morning, we packed our bags and headed back to San Francisco, cringing at the increasing number of  Walgreens we passed as we got closer to the city.    JK

Weather in the Vineyard

June 21, 2011

Is the weather wacky or is it just us?

 

Global warming?

It is no secret that California boasts some of the greatest year round weather in the U.S. if not the world. Mild winters and beautiful, sunny summer coupled with lavish leaf-filled falls and flowery lush springs create a temporal utopia for both flora and fauna to flourish. So what happens when this paradigm of gorgeous weather fails us? What happens when the sky brings hail and CalTrans brings chain control in the month of June? Is it global warming? Climate change? La Nina or El Nino? The Rapture?…..is it some other buzzword induced catastrophe that has yet to be named?

The Rapture

In my mind it is all of these things and none of them (well maybe not the rapture). The global weather fluctuations are a complex and dynamic process, so much so that even experts struggle to understand the nuanced relationship between our atmosphere and our lives. It is human nature to over simplify such complexities:  give it a name and move on in an attempt to pretend like we know what’s really going on….when in fact, deep down, we do not. I believe we understand the multi-faceted complexity of weather to a degree but we cannot kid ourselves into believing we truly grasp the dynamics of global weather patterns.

Rain in June?

Despite our unceasing faith in predictable California weather, this spring has shaken our confidence.  So, what is the bottom line? For grape growers, gardeners and other farmers, the weather is the truth we live by. We can only wait and react to the multifarious world around us. Yes, rain and hail and wind in June is out of the ordinary but as grape growers and winemakers we don’t have the luxury of asking why? We ask, how will this effect our crop?…..Hail can (and did) damage leaves in the vineyards, this leads to decreased photosynthesis and susceptibility to bugs and disease. Rain can be a good thing bringing more life-giving water to the vines but too much this time of year can lead to mildew growing on the vines which can damage and kill the essential green growth and basically cripple the vine and its ability to produce fresh and beautiful grapes necessary for making great wines. Mildew can also grow on the grapes themselves rendering them completely useless for wine production. Too much water trapped in poorly drained soils can also lead to excessive green growth on the vines which can lead to over cropping and difficulties in ripening.

It also appears we may be heading into a second consecutive cool spring and summer time (not today, however;-) which, as we saw last year, can make it challenging to get all the grapes to the appropriate ripeness before the winter rains come back in October and November.

While I enjoy pondering and debating the deeper meanings and explanations of

Jason pondering the future.

the odd weather we are experiencing right now, when it comes to winemaking and grape growing, I remain concerned and observant, ready to adjust vineyard practices and winemaking techniques in order to maximize the quality of wine we are going to produce when fall comes back around. Despite the adversity brought about by unusual weather patterns over the last several growing seasons, we are still farmers and producers of crop based commodities, and like those who have come before us throughout human history, we will adapt as we always have.           Jason Gerard

Vintage 2010: Unusual, elegant and colorful.


Why all the negativity?

It is now common practice in the world of wine critiquing to declare an entire vintage as good or bad…..the quality of an entire vintage pronounced with such certainty as “Great!” or “Terrible, avoid at all costs”!   In the past (read, 1998 vintage here) the result was that wine buyers were instructed by their Corporate offices to forgo the vintage due to the reviews.  That meant wine sat in the winery, really good wine in some cases, unable to be sold without regard to the quality of the wine itself.  Now, from my perspective, applying these sweeping generalizations to an entire  vintage is a very narrow minded and somewhat arrogant way to go about reviewing wines.

Fast forward t0 2010.  There’s already been a lot of early buzz surrounding the 2010 vintage, some positive but mostly negative.  Pervasive adjectives have been thrown around by winemakers, bloggers, critics and pretty much anyone with any kind of connection to the industry. But for the most part, due to the unusual weather, 2010 is already being panned by critics.  Unfortunately, many consumers and connoisseurs are too readily going to believe what they read.  What’s not being taken into consideration is that there’s more to a vintage than just the weather.

Napa Valley in a word : Dynamic

Napa Valley is an extremely complex landscape with some of the most multifaceted soil series in the world.  The dynamic terrain that permeates the valley allows for vineyards to face North, South, East, West and everything in between.  The weather in Southern Napa Valley, is vastly different from the weather in Calistoga (Northern Napa Valley) and the continuum of climate that exists between these borders varies throughout. What it boils down to is this:  Napa Valley consists of an undetermined number of micro-environments with different soils, terrain and weather coupled with many different wine varietals planted and an infinite number of styles of winemaking used to create the amazing mosaic of wines that come from the region.  So how can a few critics really understand and know enough to pan or praise an entire vintage?

Vineyard Practices and Winemaking decisions

2010 is a great example of how a few good or bad choices in the vineyard and/or the winery can make a huge impact on quality.  Let me give an illustration of how vineyard practices alone can affect the quality of a wine from this vintage:   In 2010, many winemakers and vineyard managers overreacted to the unusually cold growing season by pulling a lot of leaves from the vine foliage to expose the grapes to sunlight to help breakdown pyrazines which cause “green” flavors to occur in cooler years.  A heat spike came along late in the growing season and essentially torched the grapes that were now overly exposed to the sunlight without proper canopy to protect the grapes.  This inevitably led to light and watery finished wines for these growers.  Unfortunately, this was a common practice all over the valley leading to poor quality wines being made.  How can we blame the vintage for this erroneous decision making?  Sure, the abnormal weather led to these decisions, but proper and balanced canopy management during this unusual growing season could have led to better wines being produced.

Napa also has a reputation for overly ripe, alcoholic wines.  This type of winemaking requires warm to hot weather during the growing season to achieve high brix and concentrated sugars.  The weather in 2010, for the most part, was not conducive to this style of winemaking and unless the winemakers and vineyard managers adjusted their style to a cooler weather year, their wines would never meet up to their desired expectations.  In essence, precedence and stubborness had handcuffed their winemaking so a stylistic adjustment to the vintage was virtually impossible.  They tried to force the grapes and vineyards to adhere to their own unbending rules instead of adjusting to make wines of a different style.  When the world handed them lemons, they tried to make orange juice.  Because of this, these winemakers let the fruit hang on the vine well into the Fall to try and obtain riper fruit…but the rains came and ended any chance of making great wines from those grapes.

Tom Eddy Wines 2010

2010 for Tom Eddy was actually a very solid vintage.  Our style, in general, is a more elegant, less ripe style in the mold of the Old World Bordeaux Reds.  We also source from mountain vineyards, some of which are south facing (meaning they get a lot of sunlight) and above the fog line.  These grapes ripened perfectly to our standards and the wines we have made from them are truly excellent.  The cold nights throughout the growing season helped to preserve acid (which we love) and color (who doesn’t love a beautiful red wine?).

The lesson here is to be wary of wine critics over-generalizing on an entire vintage, whether good or bad. I feel it is more important to buy from wineries and labels that you trust and if you can, get as much information about the wines and wineries that you spend your hard earned money on to ensure that you will be getting the great wines you know you deserve!

-Jason

Winemaking is a test of endurance.
The sweat drips from our brows…
Calluses form on our once soft hands…
A new found energy flows through our adrenaline drenched veins…
…and the Cab is rolling in hot and heavy…

It has been a long and patient growing season and from what we have seen and tasted so far, this is going to be an outstanding vintage. Why is this year so special you ask? Why is Cabernet Sauvignon the King of Grapes in Napa Valley? Many factors contribute to Napa Valley being a world renowned, premier area for growing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the world, but the short answer as to why is simply weather.

The weather in Napa Valley is very consistent from year to year. During the growing season (April to October), the days are warm and the nights are cool. This is a simplistic look at the complex issue of weather, but in a nutshell, this is why in Napa, Cab is King. The warm days ensure that the grapes will ripen to their full potential, and cool nights not only preserve color and acid, but they help to make the growing season long, allowing for all the complex chemical reactions to take place in the berries which in turn adds to the complexity and diversity of the wine that is made from them.

The 2009 vintage has been the epitome of this grape growing paradigm. Warm, but not too hot, summer days allowed for perfect ripening. Cool nights, leading to foggy mornings consistently throughout the spring, summer and early fall, were, even for Napa, almost too perfect. Even if we were growing cabernet grapes in a temperature and weather controlled dome, we couldn’t have improved on what mother nature provided for us this year…..in other words, the weather has been perfect, leading to perfect grapes, and hopefully leading to perfect wine.

Now that the grapes are coming into the winery, it is our job to make sure that we optimize their potential for becoming phenomenal wine. Pick dates, cluster sorting, fermentation kinetics, yeast and nutrient choices, premium French Oak barrels, all contribute to this maximizing of potential. A lot of key decisions are made by Tom and myself within the next couple of months that will ultimately affect the outcome of these wines. This is what makes harvest so exciting and slightly nerve racking.

Walking down the street, it is easy to spot fellow winemakers this time of year. All you have to do is look into their eyes and spot the frayed, stressed, primal, weary and undoubtedly exhilarated appearance of their bared souls…..a little dramatic you might say? Working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, there is nothing in your life but winemaking and sleeping, winemaking and sleeping, rinse repeat. You know you are in the heart of harvest when your dreams revolve around grape bins, pumpovers and tank management…. sounds pretty square for an REM sequence eh? I guess what I am getting at is this is when the true passion for winemaking comes out, when every fiber of your being is dedicated to one thing for 2 months straight and you start making wine before you even get out of bed…..it’s pretty awesome, but by the end all you want to do is sleep for a month….(and get back to your normal, hopefully more exciting dreams). That said, now back to work! Jason