The immense awesomeness of giant bottles of Tom Eddy Cab

It’s January and it’s bottling time.  As we set out to bottle the 2007  Tom Eddy Cabernets (yes, there’s more than one),  an enormous number of decisions  need to be made.

Of course, we will bottle the Cabernet in the standard 750ml (@26oz.) wine bottle which everyone is used to buying at the store, opening at home and drinking the recommended 3 glasses per night…no more, no less.  Right?

But we will also be bottling these wines into much larger bottles or large formats.  One of these key decisions is how many Large Format bottles do we want to bottle?

A 3 Liter is equal to 4 bottles

Shawn of Iowa with a 3L Tom Eddy Cab.

Large Format bottles come in many different sizes:  Magnums (1.5Liters or 2 regular bottles); Double Magnums (3L); Imperial (6L),  Salmanazar (9L) and Balthazar (12L). You can do the math.

Plus, we will be bottling several different vineyards:  the 2007 Tom Eddy Cabernet; 2007 Spanos Single Vineyard Cabernet; and 2007 VSR (Very Special Red) Cabernet into one or several of these different sizes.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Self, is there any reason besides the awesomeness of having a giant bottle of Tom Eddy Wine, that Tom and Kerry would put their finest hand-crafted wines into these oversized bottles?”

The answer is, as you may have guessed, YES!, there is a reason.  Ok, it’s time to get technical so put on your wine geek hat and lets dive into some fun facts:

Wines that are built to age (like our Cabernets), have enormously complex chemical reactions constantly taking place with dynamic interactions between tannins, acid, protein and color compounds, just to name a few. Over time, while the wine is in the bottle, tannins are polymerizing (linking together) with each other which softens the mouth-feel, hence the reason why young red wines are generally more astringent than older, properly aged wines.

Oxygen plays a key role in this aging process. Put simply, a small amount of oxygen aids in the polymerization and softening process but too much oxygen ages the wine prematurely.

This is where a natural cork plays its key role by allowing only a small amount of oxygen to trickle over time through its slightly permeable body.

This is exactly why Large Format bottles generally can age for a longer period of time.  Since there is so much more volume of wine in these larger bottles and the amount of oxygen that gets into the wine via the cork’s tiny pores is relatively the same as a normal size bottle, the aging process occurs much more slowly.

In other words, a larger ratio of wine-to-oxygen intake allows for a slower, more methodical aging process and older, larger bottles of wine will generally remain fresher and more vibrant than their standard-size counterparts.

So, not only do big bottles of wine inspire one’s jaw to drop in awe, they also serve a great function in the wine’s course of aging.  And you just thought they were for big parties!

So the next time someone breaks out a giant bottle of wine at a party, you can bore them with words like “polymerization,” “tannins” and “complex chemical reactions.”…..you’re welcome!

Cheers!

-Jason

The Kings come for Cabernet.

Guest blogger Jessica with her Dad.

Crush is a busy time for us and every so often we get some crazies who want to try a hand at it.  But for Rob King, a long time Tom Eddy loyalist, making his way up here to Napa Valley each October is an annual pilgrimage.  And this year he also brought his lovely daughter, Jessica.  Here’s her take on the whole madness.

“Seven years ago, my dad harassed his way into the Tom Eddy Wines harvest. Much to the Tom Eddy staff’s surprise, he showed up ready and willing to work the long days of picking, sorting, and crushing the grapes and—even more surprisingly—was eager to return for the following year’s harvest. Six years later, I decided to join him and pick Kerry’s Vineyard.

Waiting for the grapes to dry before harvest.

Jessica checking the grapes in Kerry's Vineyard.

Unfortunately, the weather disregarded our plans and forced Tom to push the harvest of Kerry’s Vineyard to Tuesday. I was somewhat dismayed and wondered what there would be left for my dad and I to do. As it turns out, there was a lot to do.

Contrary to my belief that once the grapes are crushed the wine just sits in the barrel for a period of time, the wine has to be constantly tested and “fed”.  First, we went through all the tanks and tasted all the wine, which—being only a few days old—can hardly be called wine; it is more like fizzy grape juice. It is very sweet and contains no alcohol because the yeast has not yet consumed the sugar from the grapes and, according to Jason, “pooped” out alcohol.

Small special lots of Tom Eddy cab in macro bins.

Assistant winemaker, Jason, taking Cabernet samples.

After tasting the wine in large metal tanks, Jason and Tom informed us that in a few days the CO2 in the tank would be so strong that if a person was to fall into the tank, they would die in seconds because the CO2 would take up all of the oxygen not only in the air, but also from the person’s body.

Punching down the cap and must of Cabernet.

Rob & Jessica showing us how it's done.

Next, my dad and I were put to the task of standing on a wet plank above such a tank to punch down the grapes..luckily we did not fall in.  We then went to the task of inoculating one of the tanks, which is Jason’s area of expertise. Inoculating involves rehydrating freeze-dried yeast and gradually incorporating it into the grape mixture. Jason likes to think of the yeast as “his babies” and takes a great deal of care to make sure “the babies are happy”. The yeast is re-hydrated in 95-104 degree water, similar to bath water temp, and juice from the tanks is gradually added to this mixture as to lower the temperature in such a way that it kills as little of the yeast as possible.

Making Cabernet is more than benign neglect.

Jessica measuring ingredients.

After the inoculation process was complete, we mixed buckets of tartaric acid (which I had to taste after finding out that it’s what used to coat Sour Patch Kids), with DAP (diamonia phosphate: i.e.food for the babies), and a combination of dead yeast and vitamins called superfood. These three solutions are “fed” to the wine every few days in the first stages of fermentation.

Tom directing operations in the winery.

Tom and Rob checking tanks.

After this, the hard work was done for the day and the only remaining task was going to several other wineries to taste the wines of some other clients that Tom Eddy Wines oversees. At the end of the day, we retired to the office and relaxed with some bread, cheese, and a glass of Tom Eddy Wine, of course. I hope to return for harvest next year!” (Dear Jessica:  absolutely!  Especially if you continue to share your experiences with us. We love reading your take and think others will too . KE).

Jessica working on her next blog for Tom Eddy.

Guest blogger, Jessica King.

Mother Nature is always unpredictable and often persnickety this time of year:  the 2010 harvest is no exception.  As the weather worked us like an emotional yo-yo, we experienced the coolest season ever recorded accompanied by occasional heat spikes.  But these same conditions allowed for some of the best flavor and color development possible .

Looking for that silver lining

We all knew early on that we were at least 2-3 weeks behind schedule and we thought this was going to be a difficult year for flavors because of the delayed harvesting.  But it actually seems to have worked in reverse because we had such a long hang time.

Normally long hang time would increase sugars but in this case it resulted in concentrated flavors, solid acids and intense colors.  Every lot of red wine I’ve seen this year has more depth of color of than any year that I can recall in my 37 years of making wine, and that’s not just Cabernet.

Coupled with this color intensity, these longer-season grapes are wonderfully flavorful, with just the right amount of sugars:  not extremely high but perfect for classic, balanced, full flavored wines.  You’ll actually be able to have a glass of 2010 Cab and still mow the lawn.

Now we wish we would have crushed more Cab!                                TE

Kerry’s Vineyard Grape Pool

September 22, 2010

As Sherlock would say, the game is afoot.  In this case, pounds.

That’s right. If you can guess how many pounds of grapes we will harvest this year from our own Kerry’s Vineyard, you have a chance to win a certificate good for a 3Liter bottle OR 2 Magnums of the 2004 Tom Eddy Cabernet.

What are you waiting for?  Contest ends October 5th at midnight.

Go to kerrysvineyard.com to get all the skinny.

Good luck!

Around the beginning of September, I asked Jason Gerard, our associate winemaker who also happens to be a good writer, to write a blog about what was happening in the vineyard.  Just looking out the window, I could see the lush green of our Kerry’s Vineyard but what was going on under those canopied rows?  Here’s what he had to say:

A walk through the vineyard reveals grape clusters with a mosaic of green and purple berries. Just how many of these berries are purple gives us a good indication of how far away we are from harvesting the fruits of our labor. Of course every vineyard is at a different stage in its grape maturity as many factors play into when a grape will be ready to be picked. Location, varietal, rootstock are just to name a few of the variables that makes every vineyard block unique and therefore each will have a different optimal day for harvesting. For example, at the same vineyard location, on nearly identical soils, we have a block of Cabernet Sauvignon that is 100% through veraison (the word used to describe the coloring process of the grapes from green and immature to purple and mature) and another block right

Cab grapes in Kerry's Vineyard

Veraison in early September

next to it of Petit Verdot which is at 75% veraison. This tells us as winemakers that the Cab will be picked before the Petit Verdot. This of course helps us in our logistical planning for the harvest. Multiply this many-fold and you begin to understand the complexities of planning something that is as dynamic as the grape harvest.

At Tom Eddy Wines, we bring in fruit to the winery from several different vineyards from all over Napa Valley. At this time of year we are constantly traveling to all these vineyards to assess the current status of grape maturity. There are several ways in which we do this both scientific and instinctual in nature. The most obvious way of determining berry ripeness is through the good old-fashioned taste test. However, we also like to take a more scientific approach by testing some basic berry chemistry in the Tom Eddy Laboratory or what some commonly refer to as the kitchen….

How this works is, Tom or I will randomly select approximately 100 berries from any given vineyard and bring them back to the kitchen, which, literally is a kitchen but with a few not so common kitchen upgrades that allow me to do some basic chemistry. The 100 berry sample is crushed and the juice that is produced is collected in a beaker. There are three different numerical values that are obtained from this juice sample that give us insight into the maturity level of the grape: brix, Total Acidity and pH.

Cabernet ripening in Kerry's Vineyard

Maturing grapes in Kerry's Vineyard

As a grape matures to ripeness, it accumulates sugar through photosynthesis. The amount of sugar accumulated is measured in Brix. Using a refractometer, a couple of drops of the crushed sample juice are placed on the lens of the device. Based on the density of the juice, the refractometer will display a brix value which is very similar to percent sugar but based on density. Once the brix value is around 25 (not exactly 25% but very close), we know the grapes have accumulated enough sugar to be considered ripe for the picking. However, two other factors are also evaluated as brix does not tell the whole story.

The Total Acidity and pH values are closely related and also give great insight into grape maturity. As a berry matures the total acidity level drops. If you ever get a chance to try an unripe grape, you will notice an intense sour quality. This is due to a high level of total acidity and makes the grapes at this stage, almost unbearably sour and inedible. However, as the acidity drops and the brix increases due to sugar levels increasing, these two ripening factors come into balance. The key to picking the fruit at the right time is all based on the right balance of sweetness (determined by brix) and sourness (determined by Total Acidity). This is why it is so critical to check the vineyards constantly at this time of year because the chemistry within the fruit is constantly changing and evolving towards ripeness and picking the grapes within the right window of time can mean the difference between amazing wine or unbalanced wine.

pH is the final test to determine the acid level and therefore the maturity level of the crushed grape juice. This test is based on the total number of Hydrogen ions in the juice which is an inverse logarithmic scale so as the Total Acidity drops, the pH value goes up. In general the pH range for ripe Cabernet is between 3.50 and 3.80. (As a frame of reference, Hydrochloric acid is very acidic at about pH 1.0 and our stomachs are also quite acidic at 2.0. Water is generally neutral at pH 7.0)

So as the floor and counters of the Tom Eddy kitchen laboratory get sticky with the analysis of grape juice, we know we are inching closer to that fateful first day of harvest. Are we ready for the logistical chaos that is harvest? Of course we are! This is what we live for!                                            Jason

The 2010 Harvest Compared to 1998
(this was written by Tom on August 4, 2010)

Some folks out there are comparing the 1998 harvest to this year.  How can this be?  Well, for starters, there are some similarities with the weather.  However, the similarities may not be that great.  The harvest season of 1998 was unique and really not like what we’ve seen so far in 2010.

During the 1998 season there was a wild heat spell early on in June that caused major damage to the berries, and there was late season rain.  Both occurrences blocked the vine’s ability to ripen fruit.  We have different challenges in 2010.  This year has been one of the coldest and wettest springs we’ve ever had.  The summer has also been cool on a relative scale.  We have had only 5 days above 90F thus far, and typically, we might have 50 plus days of 90F plus heat by this time.  So, the result will be that we’ll be three weeks late……………but, here’s the kicker.  The conditions for Cabernet quality is still perfect!

Cabernet Sauvignon wants early morning fog, and warm days approaching 85-90F, but not hot!  Guess what, that’s what we’ve had!  Yes, we will be three weeks late but the slow maturity of Cabernet Sauvignon on into October should produce stellar wines of solid acid, bright fruit, and big, classically structured tannins!   The lone caveat is that growing grapes under cooler and wetter conditions (more similar to Bordeaux) requires greater attention to solid management practices, including thinning to smaller crops and leafing early for good air flow to avoid mildew and allow for good light penetration.

We all remember the media thrashing the 1998 vintage six months after it was in the barrel saying it was light and thin. Now, of course, critics are suggesting the vintage was a bit special and not so bad.  Come next spring for the 2010, we’ll see.                                                                           Tom

2007 Tom Eddy Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


Harvest Information:

Varietals:                 Cabernet Sauvignon(99%) , Petit Verdot (1%)

Appellation:                       Napa Valley

Vintage:                 2007

Harvest Dates:        September 10th – October 9th

Ranch Breakdown:

Bella Vista                       63%                Diamond Mt.

Stagecoach                      21%                Atlas Peak

Meteor                                       13%                     Mount George

Spanos/Berberian                      3%                     Napa Valley (Pritchard Hill)

Winemaking Information:

Fermentation: BRL97,NT112,MT yeast @ 78-82F

Malo-lactic:  Vinaflora strain ML bacteria

BBL age:  28 months 225 liter barrels

New oak:  70%

Primary Coopers: Vicard, Alain Fouquet, Sylvain

Barrel Type: 100% French oak

Finished Wine:

Alcohol:  14.5%

Acid:  7.0 g/L

PH:    3.61

Production: 1890 – 6 packs

Harvest Notes:

The winter of 2007 proved to be a relatively dry one. January 2007 was the driest January on record for Napa Valley.  Despite half the average rainfall during the winter of 2007, steady and mild temperatures in the first couple weeks of August, along with cool nights, created near-perfect ripening conditions. A heat spike in September expedited the ripening process though cool nights preserved acidity and color. Cooling fogs began rolling in late September and early October allowing for very slow ripening in the final stages of our Mountain Cabs. All these environmental factors during the growing season, came together perfectly to make 2007 a classic and powerful year.

Tasting Notes:

The 2007 Tom Eddy Cabernet is rich and elegant, just what you would expect from our flagship Cab. The great conditions throughout the year helped to produce grapes that were concentrated in flavor but with balanced acidity and tannin. The wine is luscious with dark fruit permeating its core; blackberry, cherry and currant are just a few of the rich fruit flavors that erupt on the palate but with underlying essence of anise, cedar and classic herbaceous qualities, the wine’s complexity will delightfully overwhelm the senses. Just the right amount of oak is infused into the wine to round out the finish and add a kiss of vanilla to indulge one’s hedonistic side. This wine can be enjoyed now but should age beautifully for another two decades.


The 'high-wire' act of trellising for new shoots.

Mid June the guys put up two sets of wires above the fast-growing new vines, to help guide the young shoots up into a secured, vertical position.  Each pair of wires helps to support the new shoots as they grow toward the sun and reach up to almost six feet above the ground.   Why do we support these shoots growing now at almost one inch every 24 hours?  There are several reasons.

Each of the new shoots supports one or two Cabernet flower clusters and we

A flower cluster that will become the trellised grape cluster.

need to protect our fruit!  Without support in the upward position, the shoots would collapse to the ground (their natural wild, vine-like growing state), and we would lose the fruit and break many of the tender, green shoots.

New shoots in upright position in Kerry's Vineyard

The plane of double wires also helps to hold the green plant and leaves into position to prevent wind damage and tends to open up the canopy so that sunlight can reach all the leaves and air can circulate easily through the maze of green matter to prevent mildew.  After the vine is fully mature and the growth slows down in the fall just before harvest, the trellis wires assume the role of supporting steel beams, supporting the walls of a green, vine multi-story building.

End of the row showing trellising wires.

Now our wall of fruit clusters are fully supported, easily found by the picking crew and easily harvested in late September or early October.   It reminds me of a sea of luminescent forest green waves, flooding over a brownish-gray organic plain.

It’s a cool sight and thanks to the trellis wires, we can have lift, separate, and pluck.

It is springtime, and love is in the air….

In the plant world, especially the world of Angiosperms (flowering plants), this “love’ manifests itself in the form of flower bloom. Now, most people may not realize that a grapevine does, in fact, produce flowers.  However, the flowers are so small that they may go unnoticed to the casual observer. Each grape that a vine produces started as a tiny, inconspicuous flower, and like all flowers, pollination is an essential part of fruit production. There is some debate as to the nature of grape flower pollination but it is believed that most pollination is accomplished asexually, which translates to self- pollination. You might be thinking, what’s the fun in that?  Well, when it comes to grape vines, for the most part, they are all business.

Caps are bursting with flowers

During bloom, cross-pollination between different vines is possible and some countries, like Spain, do quite a bit of this intentionally. This can lead to more diversity as in the case of Cabernet Sauvignon. Most people don’t know that the origins of this very important variety happened from a chance crossing between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc….that’s right, one of the ancestral parents of Cabernet Sauvignon is a white grape variety. Kind of mind-boggling when you really think about it but Cabernet Sauvignon did not exist as a grape variety before this random chance encounter.  You might say it took the “love” of two different varieties to create the most important grape in Napa Valley and arguably the world. Ok, it’s not exactly West Side Story but it is sort of nature’s version of Romeo and Juliet, where a chance encounter changed everything.

And now that I have injected a little cheesy romanticism into the creation of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is time to get back to business.

Close-up of grape flowers

Bloom is a very delicate time in the life cycle of the vine. Many factors can contribute to poor set. Set is the term used to describe the relative success of pollination. If set is poor, fewer flowers are properly pollinated leading to less fruit produced. Some of the factors influencing this are wind, rain, temperature and nutrients. If any of these variables is out of balance,  fewer grapes are produced and quality can be affected. We as winemakers are virtually powerless in this battle for good set but what little we can accomplish is usually done at the soil nutrient level. Usually we just cross our fingers and pray to Dionysus that proper set will be realized.

It is important to keep in mind that all this pollination and plant-life intercourse is meant to help the vine propagate. The flower is pollinated, the grape is produced, the grape is eaten and the seeds within the grape are scattered to produce more vines. This is the basic life cycle of a grapevine. Despite what many winemakers (and wine consumers) believe, the vine is not producing grapes in order to help us make wine.  That is strictly a side benefit of this miraculous plant that humans have learned to harness for their own selfish desires: to drink wine and be happy. As important as bloom and set are for making great wines, in the “mind” of the vine these are just essentials for survival. So despite the seemingly fragile nature of bloom and set, vines (and angiosperms) in general, have been making “plant love” for longer than humans have roamed the Earth and that is a truly humbling thought. In the end, it is a strictly symbiotic relationship between vine and humans that is essential for making great wine.  And for that, Mother Nature, we thank you!

Two immature flower clusters with only one in bloom.

A leafy sucker with flower cluster.

It’s May and the grape vines in our vineyard are bursting with new growth from all the rain we’ve had.  These new, vibrant green shoots with their fresh leaves and tiny flower clusters that look like baby capers on a stick are delicate and easily broken off.  Which is good because it’s time to SUCKER!

Suckering is basically breaking off the unwanted shoots (suckers) that grow on the grapevine.   Suckers end up taking energy away from the plant and affecting grape quality.  But since all shoots are delicate at this stage, breaking off only the unwanted shoots is our goal.  You can almost run your hand up the base and off the suckers drop.  We have about a week and a half window before the young volunteer shoots become lignified (hardened) and not as easy to deal with.

One of the two grapevine "arms"

Suckering the ‘arms’ (two per trunk) of the vine is a little more involved.  There is growth coming from each node/bud position and the key is to keep only 6 such ‘spur’ positions per arm.  From these nodes will grow the grapes for Kerry’s Vineyard Cabernet.

First mowing the 3-foot high cover crop before suckering keeps us from trampling down the weeds, which would have made them harder to mow.  Mowing also makes it easier to work back and forth between rows.  You also get a better view in case there’s a snake lounging in the sun but it’s still a little early for snakes, thank goodness.

Tom 'suckering' in Kerry's Vineyard

The work can be backbreaking with lots of bending so it’s important to stand up from time to time.  I like taking two rows at a time and working back and forth.  This reduces the amount of bending time and adds a little standup time in between as we move across the row.

A special thanks to Larry and Brandon, friends who helped us sucker Kerry’s Vineyard this year.  I wonder if they’ll want to ever do THAT again? Ha!