(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

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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

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