As harvest winds down, the pace here at Amapola Creek is starting to become less frenzied. As a result, the amount of news we have to share about the day-today happenings here will start to decrease. So, in order to keep our posts interesting and relevant, we are going to scale down the rate of posting here on the blog. Instead of posting once or twice a day, we are going to start posting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is still a lot that’s going to happen, crush was only the first stage of the process, so do remember to check back and follow the wines you watched us crush here in 2011 all the way through to the bottle!

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.



October 28, 2011



Now that we’re done receiving grapes, we are also turning our attention towards dealing with the vineyards. During this brief period between the end of harvest and the beginning of the winter rainy season, we like to get our cover crops planted for next spring.

A cover crop is what you call the plants that are grown in the rows between the vines (the space where people walk or tractors run). In non-organic farming, the row is frequently denuded of plants entirely by the application of chemical herbicides. This is done to prevent the growth of weeds that might damage the vines or make vineyard work more difficult.

Since we farm organically, we take a different approach. Placing cover crops in the rows is an excellent way to do several beneficial things. For one, you can generally control weeds in the vineyard by planting cover crops that will compete with the weeds for space, water and light without damaging the grapevines or impeding vineyard work.

For another, you can control grapevine pests by planting cover crops that will attract insects which prey on the pests and keep their populations in check.

The third major reason we plant cover crops is to maintain soil quality. Remember that, as practitioners of organic farming, we are not allowed to apply synthetic fertilizer to our vineyards. Every year nutrients are removed from the soil by the vines in order to produce the grapes, so by seeding cover crops that replenish those nutrients, we maintain our soil quality year after year without needing fertilizer.

The first step in planting a cover crop is to till, or ‘disc’, the soil in the rows so that the seeds can be worked in. This is the part of the process that we started today.

This process is called discing because of the large, disc-shaped blades that are attached to the rear of the tractor. This process leaves the soil very loose and a little difficult to walk on, so we like to get it done as early as we can so that the soil will compact back down a little by the time we need to prune the vines in the winter.

In a few days we’ll be done with discing, and we can start sowing our cover crop seeds. Be sure to check back next week to find out what we are using and why!

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


Pressing out the small lots

October 27, 2011



For the last couple of days, we have been focusing on pressing out our smaller lots of grapes, including the Syrah, the Cuvee Alis (a blend of Syrah and Grenache), and the Petite Sirah.

When we are pressing out a larger tank, we normally drain out as much of the wine as possible and then press the skins. Small lots are slightly different because the T-bins they are fermented in do not have valves through which to drain the wine. Instead of draining them, we first shovel as many of the skins out as possible and place them into macro bins.

We try to get as much of the cap out as we can at this stage, but the wine left behind in the T-bin after shoveling will still have a significant amount of grape skins in it.

Then we pump the mixture of skins and wine that is left behind out of the T-bin and into the press.

The upright metallic piece inside the press is called a ‘screen’. This is basically a large sieve that allows wine to pass through will trapping the skins and seeds in the press.

Then we take the skins that we shoveled into the macro bin and load them into the press as well. Once the fermentor is emptied and the press is filled, we can start the press cycle.

Each of these lots has to be processed separately, even though each of them is much smaller than the capacity of our press. It’s made for a fair number of pressloads over the last two days for a relatively small amount of wine, but that’s just how you have to play it.

The Syrah and the Cuvee Alis were pressed out on Wednesday, and we found that they were both completely finished with their fermentation. The Petite Sirah was pressed out today, and we found that it will need just a few more days to be completely done, so we’ve hooked the tank warmer up to it to help it along.

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.







Harvest is over! At least as far as receiving fruit goes. Yesterday our last lot of grapes came in from the Foxtrot block. Foxtrot is our oldest block of vines, planted ten years ago to Cabernet Sauvignon just after the Arrowoods bought the property. It was originally known as the Photovoltaic block, because of a large solar array that sits adjacent to it that powers Richards’ house.

This block is directly across the road from the Bobcat Run Syrah and Grenache.
This block is planted to clone 337 (one of the same clones we have planted down in the China Bowl), which has tiny berries and very open clusters. We were grateful for those open clusters this year because it meant we actually had very little botrytis to deal with in this block. Foxtrot was especially worrisome for us because, as our oldest block, it takes the longest to ripen and was likely to face the longest exposure to the cool, wet weather.
Fortunately, it really didn’t have too much rot in it, probably due to the clear, warm weather we’ve had over the last few days. What little rot there was had not reached an advanced stage, so we were able to use the old-school vine shaking technique to sort out the bad fruit. We got in just under six tons of Cab from this block (more than we expected, which was nice), all of which tasted great. We crushed it all to a single tank and inoculated it with K1, and today it is already fermenting happily away. Overall, this year we brought in just under forty six tons of grapes. To put that in perspective, a large winery in Northern California might crush something like three thousand.
So now it’s down to pressing and racking for the 2011 vintage, there’s still a lot of work to do so be sure to check back!
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Poor us

October 25, 2011



Today we took a quick break from harvest to see how the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is coming along. Part of making wine commercially is checking up on your upcoming vintages that are already in bottle to get an idea of how close they are to being ready to go to market. We usually check in every three months or so.

This is a terrible burden to bear.
The 08 Cabernet Sauvignon is not quite ready for release yet, the tannins are a little too aggressive at the front of the palate, but that will change with a little more time in the bottle. This wine is showing a very deep nose, full of cassis and blackberry, with just a hint of red cherry and baking spices on the tongue. We’re definitely looking forward to releasing this wine!
There was a lot else going on at the winery today, so much so in fact that there wasn’t really time to do it all justice in a blog post. Be sure to check back tomorrow for an update on what we’re doing.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Pressing out Cab

October 25, 2011



As we mentioned yesterday, many of our fermentations are starting to draw to a close. This means that we’re starting to transition our operation over from receiving fruit to draining and pressing the finished tanks.

Yesterday we drained and pressed the eight tons of China Bowl Cab that we picked back on the 17’th. Our press is pretty small, so it took two pressloads to get it done.

After we had all of the skins out of the tank, we rinsed it out and then transferred the freshly pressed wine back into it. Since it was the same tank we had just come out of, only now the skins and seeds had been removed, this left a lot of empty space in the tank. One of the goals during this period is to keep all of the tanks as close to full as possible to reduce the amount of air the wine is exposed to during storage, too much air in the tank can result in spoilage organisms taking hold and forming a film on the surface of the wine. To keep this tank of wine topped up, we are adding to it today by pressing out the four and a half tons of Cabernet Sauvignon from China Bowl and Montana Vista that we harvested on the 18’th.

Now that we’re pressing out a lot of tanks, we’re starting to produce a lot of press wine (the slightly more extracted wine that’s removed under high pressure that doesn’t make it into our final blend). We were just keeping this wine in kegs, but soon there will be far too much, so we’ve switched over to this food-grade plastic tote instead. We protect it from air exposure in this case by putting a scoop of dry ice into it every day.

This is a fairly dynamic time of year in the winery, one definitely has to think a week or so in advance to make sure that there will be space to keep certain lots separate (the Zinfandel, for instance) but still in relatively full vessels. The problem has been compounded this year because the actual picking season was relatively short; most of the fruit came in at around the same time, so most of it will need to be pressed at around the same time, racked at around the same time, etc. In fact, we are about to press out many of our small lots, like the Petite Sirah and Cuvee Alis, so things are going to get even tighter.

If it was easy, they wouldn’t need winemakers!

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


We have been busy indeed here at Amapola Creek! Harvest is almost done, there is only one more block of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon left to pick (more on this block tomorrow), and then all of the grapes will be in for the year.

Last Saturday, we picked what was left of the Cabernet Sauvignon in the Montana Vista block. Since there has been a lot of dew in the mornings, we had our fruit scheduled to pick in the afternoon, so that the fruit would have a chance to dry off a little. This threatened to be a very difficult pick, because the botrytis rot had really gotten worse in the previous few days, and we knew the picking crew was going to have a rough time sorting out the good fruit.

The picking crew in Montana Vista.

Very fortunately, the botrytis had only advanced to the point where it appears like a thin, gray fuzz on the outside of the grapes. When it is in this early stage of growth, it is possible for the pickers to use an old trick from the vineyards of St. Emilion; they grasp each vine and shake it vigorously, and all of the rotten grapes pop off and fall to the ground!

Botrytis infection significantly weakens the connection of the berry to the stem. When the fruit is still dry (the botrytis has not broken it open yet), vigorous shaking will detach infected berries and let them fall to the ground.

This allowed us to greatly speed up the process of picking, we got just under five tons of clean fruit from this vineyard on Saturday, which happily was a better yield than we had expected.

After Montana Vista was done, we moved down the hill to the Petite Verdot in Bobcat Run. This block actually had very little rot in it, and so the pickers were able to move through it very quickly. We got just under three tons of Petite Verdot.

Petite Verdot is a Bordeaux variety that is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. As you can see, it has slightly smaller, tighter clusters than most of our Cabernet Sauvignon clones. This variety typically adds a deep, fresh fruit character to Cabernet Sauvignon, its' aroma by itself is sometimes described as 'berry pie'.

Since we’re close to the end of the season, we are getting a little bit tight on tank space. So, we took all of the fruit we picked on Saturday and crushed it into a single tank and inoculated it with K1. Today this lot is fermenting very strongly, and the berry pie character of the Petite Verdot is quite evident in the top of the tank.

Many of our fermentations are drawing to a close, be sure to check back and see what comes next!

 To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


October 21, 2011



When we have larger lots of grapes fermenting in a stainless steel tank, we manage the cap with a pumpover. When we have small lots fermenting in T-bins or porta-tanks, it is not really practical (or possible) to hook a pump up to the fermentor, so instead of pumpovers we perform punchdowns.

With a punchdown, you physically push the grapes down into the fermenting juice with a paddle.

This is a picture of the T-bin of Syrah getting a punchdown. In this picture you can get a good idea what the cap on a fermentation looks like.

Since this method is usually a little gentler on the skins, it is often used on very delicate skinned grapes like Pinot Noir that can easily over-extract (release an unpleasant bitterness into the wine). The varieties we are making do not over-extract quite as easily as Pinot Noir, so we can punch them down pretty vigorously, generally three times a day until the fermentation is over.

The base for the Cuvee Alis (the Syrah and Grenache that are fermenting together in the porta-tank), is fermenting very quickly. In a large fermentation, the yeast produce a lot of heat. The temperature can get so high that it may actually kill the yeast, or at least slow them down. This is why we use refrigeration on the larger stainless steel tanks, otherwise they would get too hot and possibly fail to complete fermenting. Since the Cuvee Alis is a small lot in a thin-walled stainless steel tank, it is basically losing heat through the walls of the fermentor as quickly as the yeast can produce it. This means that the yeast cannot overheat the fermentation, and so they move through it at a very high speed without becoming inhibited by heat stress. Right now this fermentation smells like black cherries and baking spices, with just a little bit of the smoky character the fruit from this block is known for.

The Syrah that may eventually become a part of the Cuvee Alis is also fermenting, though not quite as quickly. The Petite Sirah, which as you may recall has been split into two T-bins, is just barely starting to ferment. This fruit came in very early in the morning, and so was very cold when we crushed and inoculated it. However, we’re confident the fermentation will take hold and warm it up soon.

In other news, the two large Cabernet Sauvignon fermentations that we started at the beginning of this week are still going strong, they both smell nice and should be ready to press early next week. It also looks like we’re going to be bringing in the remainder of our fruit for this year early next week, so be sure to check back then to see what we’re up to!

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


Meet Bobcat Run!

October 20, 2011



Yesterday we picked the Syrah and Grenache from Bobcat Run. This vineyard gets its’ name from a bobcat that lives in the adjacent grove of trees. Because of the surrounding forest, this is a relatively cool site, which is ideal for producing Rhone reds with strong camphor and charcuterie characters.

It was very cool and foggy this morning, so it’s good that we picked this block yesterday before the botrytis took our yield down even further. The Grenache is on the right in this picture, and the Syrah is on the left.

Only about half of this vineyard is planted to Rhone reds. If you walk straight back along the rows in the picture above, you will come to a second block that is planted to Petite Verdot, which is destined to become a component in our Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

This area is a little more exposed and therefore a little warmer than the area that is planted to Syrah and Grenache, which makes it suitable for this Bordeaux variety. If you were to walk through the trees on the right, you would head up a steep hill that would eventually take you to the Montana Vista block.

Be sure to check back tomorrow to find out more about how we are processing all of the tiny lots of grapes we’ve just brought in!

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


Lots of lots

October 19, 2011



Today was another busy day here at Amapola Creek.

We managed to get the Belli Chardonnay down to barrels and moved inside in the morning.

Then we started receiving grapes. We started off by receiving just over a ton of Petite Sirah from Monte Rosso. This pick was particularly difficult because there was a significant amount of rot in the field by the time we decided to harvest, and the crew had to go very, very slowly to make sure none of it was making it into bins.

After that we started getting in our Estate Syrah and Grenache.

Syrah berries have a characteristic elongated shape, kind of like a babys’ toe.

These two varieties come from our Bobcat Run vineyard, which is halfway up the property, about a quarter mile from the winery (we’ll write in a little bit more detail about this block tomorrow). We used to make a varietal Syrah, but starting in 2009 we started making a Rhone style red blend of Syrah and Grenache that we call Cuvee Alis (named after Richards’ wife).

This was a relatively short year for the Cuvee Alis, early rains in spring damaged the Grenache during flowering, so we only got a few hundred pounds of it. More recent rains caused some rot in the Syrah, so we didn’t get as much of that as usual either. Altogether, we brought in less than two tons of these two varieties, which put us in a difficult spot logistically.

Two tons is not enough to put in any of our larger stainless steel tanks, but it’s a little too much to put into our porta-tanks (we could have split it out into the two of them, but we need to leave one open for pressing into). So, we ended up putting the Grenache and about half of the Syrah into a porta-tank, and the rest of the Syrah into a T-bin, or one-ton plastic bin. The mixture of the Syrah and Grenache will be the base of the Cuvee Alis, with the T-bin getting blended in if it is of a high enough quality. We also split the Petite Sirah into two T-bins.

T-bins can’t be hooked up to the refrigeration system, but fermentations this small generally don’t create enough heat to cause a problem.
Having this many small lots can be a bit of a challenge to keep track of, but it’s just an aspect of being a very small winery with a number of different programs.

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.