Part Air Traffic Controller, Part Pilot, and Part Baggage Handler
Wow, has it really been 26 months since my last blog post?
Those closest to me know that I'm so focused during harvest, that it is not a great time for me to start anything new or even turn my focus away from my wines. At the start of this vintage, we still had one wine still in the tank and needing bottling. We started that wine the first of August and bottled it in early October - right in the middle of harvest and starting the 2019 wines. That was a feat in itself. I will never start a wine that late again... at least not one that has to be done before the tank space is needed for harvest. Much too stressful.
Filing The Flight Plan:
Determining which grapes I'm going to buy, how I'm going to use them (blend, varietal wine), and which products I need to produce happened fairly early this year. Until we bottled this week, inventory was approximately 40 cases of still wine and approximately 150 cases of sparkling wine. I had estimated we would get down to 75 or so cases of still wine, but sales continued to be strong - especially on the red wines. We sold out of the last of the dry red wines many weeks ago. We have 4 replacements that need barrel aging before I can plan when to bottle them.
I had to figure out in the summer which suppliers could provide which grapes, get an idea of cost and quantity, and work with them to be where I needed to be to receive the grapes (or juice) at the right time. I needed to be sure that the vineyard and I were on the same page throughout the process. As it worked out, all of the estimates for grapes were low - so the prices were higher and more expensive than the plan. Yes, it means more wine, but also more challenge figuring out how to allocate tank space.
Because Sonrisa and Blue Eyes always seem to be sold out, we are making twice as much this year - around 200 cases of each for 2019. We have a second batch of Blue Eyes and a double batch of Sonrisa. I hope they are well received.
Over the summer and in late September, the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets ordered more of our wines and I had to load them into my truck and deliver them to Concord.
I drove to four New Hampshire vineyards to buy grapes this year. I delivered empty lugs to the vineyards beforehand. Along with the remote vineyard staff, I often loaded my truck with half a ton, a trailer with a ton of grapes, or both. I brought them home and unloaded them. Some of the vineyards I visited multiple times to get grapes that were harvested over 4-5 weeks.
We harvested the Derry vineyard by hand. Lots of volunteers, employees, and family were out there helping to get the grapes in. All of the red grapes went right into the RED ONE. The whites are divided between Blushing Bride and Brianna. We had a small harvest of Brianna this year, due to the rainy spring while they were flowering. Reminded me of a few years ago in California when they had a tiny olive crop for the same reason.
I made four separate trips to New York this year. First for Seyval (Sonrisa), then Niagara (Adult Juice Box), then Chambourcin (China Girl). These three I had crushed and pressed near the vineyard in Marlboro, NY where they were harvested. The press there makes very nice juice and more of it. So, it is worthwhile both from a cost and labor perspective bringing back just the juice. I drove the juice back each trip in an IBC tote in the bed of my truck. The fourth trip to NY was for more Chambourcin (The Muse).
We had a ton of expensive California Syrah delivered this year and 2000L of California white grape juice (Blue Eyes, Sonrisa, some to blend with the Syrah) in large 1000L+ IBC totes (and small buckets). We fermented the whites right in the totes to conserve tank space. Remember how I said all of the NH and NY grape estimates were low?
The Syrah was delivered right at the end of October, and we crushed it as soon as we could. A combination early cold weather and late grape arrival made it less stressful on the grapes this year. As of this writing, the Syrah is still in the fermenters. We're planning to press it this week.
With the help of my winemaking crew and some customers who wanted to help, we unloaded the truck or trailers, crushed, and pressed the whites. We unloaded and crushed the reds. We later pressed reds.
I also helped bottle the Red One 2019 both days this weekend... and worked Saturday afternoon in the tasting room.
There is a lot of manual labor in winemaking. Massive understatement.
Air Traffic Controller:
After all the grapes and juice were in the winery, I identified over 14 different times we will have to bottle wines from this harvest. Blending decisions, tank allocation, adjustments, racking, filtering, etc. each take mindshare and focus. 8 of those bottlings will be on the order of 80-110 cases.
Red One 2019 has already be fermented, blended, and landed. We bottled it this past weekend. We were within 7 bottles of selling out of the 2018. We're keeping those remaining RED ONE 2018 bottles for a vertical tasting.
All of these other wines are in flight now. It is my job to keep them flying until I can bring them in for a landing. I'm still routing some of these around choppy air.
I think of time when I sat on a snowy taxiway in Denver, plane waiting for a gate, sitting and watching planes line up for landing from the south. In the dry Colorado air you could see 10-12 planes lined up in two queues approaching the newly opened Denver Airport. Thats what we have here. Sonrisa, Blue Eyes, Adult Juice Box, and China Girl are all on final approach. Business reasons and where they are in their own process has determined their order. Other whites will be lined up to follow soon. The reds will likely not be ready until summer.
Along the way, I am making necessary adjustments to the wines. Many of the NH grapes arrived with really high acid. We had very nice pre-harvest and harvest weather this year. So, no watered down grapes (and no watered down acid). So, this high acidy in the grapes from the Northeast needs to be mitigated. Depending on the wine, we have different ways of flying through this choppy air. Some of them we need the malic acid to make them taste right. Others, not so much. Some will need several different adjustments. Some will adjust themselves, others need a push from me.
Yeast choice, Malolactic blend additions and timing, and acid adjustment choices and timing are all up to me. The staff helps me decide if the wine is ready or how it tastes in comparison to a previous vintage. Especially Anna- testing the wine in the lab to see how close the numbers are to my taste buds. Anna, Julia, and their mom also gave me feedback on Red One on one afternoon that delayed the release. I made a small adjustment, and we ended up with a much better wine.
The Sonrisa this year needs a little something and I plan on making an adjustment today. With half NY juice and half CA juice, the acid balance ended up too low. Yes, too low. California grapes often have too little acid and northeast grapes too much. This 50/50 blend this year has acidity just on the too low side. It is too low to be enjoyable. Just pulling that up a bit before putting the wine on a glide path to landing.
As you may be aware, the pilot of an aircraft leads a team. They give him feedback about what is happening and he makes adjustments if necessary. Sometimes, we just need to stay the course. Sometimes, we need to listen to Air Traffic Control and make a diversion from our plans. Sometimes, one of the crew needs help or has a great suggestion.
Did I mention that I really appreciate my team? Almost all do multiple jobs within the business:
Tasting room manger and lab chemist.
In store tastings and tasting room host.
Tasting room host and helping to bottle the wines.
Wine Critic and tasting room host.
Cellar rat and teaching others the winery processes.
Thank you all!
Anna - Katie - Ken - Win - Julia - Perla - Dave - Terri - Kristie - Krista - Tawnya
(and not to forget our summer student hires Emma - Gianna - Michaela - Parker - Sam - Aidan)
And to my wife, Faith:
Thank you my dear for putting up with my annual fog over these past few months. This one involved more travel than ever. Thank you for holding down the fort, feeding the dogs, and feeding me when you knew I was too tired to fix something. I love you!