Winterizing the Vineyards

November 29, 2011



The weather is really starting to cool down, so we’re getting the vineyards ready for the first frost. Since the vines are quickly going through the process of going dormant, the biggest concern we have is getting the irrigation lines open so that the water inside doesn’t burst the pipes. The principle is similar to winterizing the pipes in a house, all of the water lines have to be left unsealed so that the expansion of any ice that forms doesn’t damage them.

To drain the lines, we first closed them off from the water supply tanks at the top of the hill. When we opened the valves down in the vineyards, gravity emptied most of the water out.

 Another interesting thing going on in our vineyards right now is that our cover crops are starting to sprout.


The little blades of grass are the Cayuse Oats, and the sprouts with the heart-shaped leaves are Mustard.All of the rain we've had over the last few weeks is really helping to kick the cover crops off. We're expecting them to be around knee-high by the end of December. It's important that we get a good start on our cover crop now so that it will be ready by the spring. Since we are organic grapegrowers we can't use any pesticides or herbicides, so we will need these plants in place to control weeds and pests when everything starts to wake up in the spring. The beans are larger than the other seeds, with a thicker seed coat, so they are taking a little longer to sprout. Still, you can find them starting to kick off if you look.


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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2011




We’re closing up shop for the long weekend, have a happy Thanksgiving and we’ll see you next Tuesday!

Picture taken from the Southeast corner of China Bowl.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


More racking

November 22, 2011



This week we’ve had a bit more wine work to do. We made about 700 gallons of Monte Rosso Zinfandel this year, which is too small an amount to store in any of our stainless steel tanks (the headspace would be too large and we would risk oxidizing the wine). So, a few weeks ago we put it down into barrels where we could let it settle without exposure to open air.

Now that the remaining lees have had time to settle, we have pulled the barrels back out and racked the wine back into a tank.

The lees are left behind after the clean wine is racked away, then the barrels are rotated upside-down and the lees are rinsed out.

 Once the wine was in tank, we quickly mixed it and checked it to make sure it was tasting fine, and then we turned it around and put it back down to barrels.

Even though we’re not racking between tanks in this operation, we still like to splash the wine through our copper screen before we put it back down to barrel. Back in the old days, wineries used to make heavy use of brass fittings. The copper in the brass served the same function as our copper screen. Nowadays everything is generally made of stainless steel, which is why we intentionally expose the wine to just a little bit of copper metal during its’ early stages.
This was the third racking for the Zinfandel, which means that the wine is fairly clean. We will taste it in about a month to see whether or not we want to rack it again before putting it down to barrel permanently.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Cleaning up

November 18, 2011

Sorry for the late post this week, faithful readers. On Wednesday we topped our barrels again.

Topping is fairly routine for our wines that have been in barrel for awhile, but for the newer wines it can be a little different. Brand new barrels that have never been filled before absorb wine a little more quickly than older barrels, because the wood is a little bit drier. As a result, the first few topping rounds can take a little more wine than the later ones will.
After that, we hit another brief lull in the wine work, so we began focusing on one big, final post-harvest clean-up.

Cleaning up after harvest means going through all of the crush equipment and making sure there are no grape skins left anywhere. It also means washing out the press and hoses with a concentrated solution of percarbonate (essentially hydrogen peroxide once it's dissolved). Then we power washed the floors and cleaned out the drain traps.

After cleaning them out, we stack the macro bins and wrap them in plastic. The plastic is to keep animals and pieces of detritus from getting into the bins while they’re being stored. It is surprising how quickly wildlife will move into the bins if they aren’t protected, this year while cleaning out the bins we found that a field mouse and a scorpion had already moved in.
Cleanliness is an important part of the winemaking process, so once major harvest operations are over it’s wise to make sure that any little details that may have been neglected during the busy times are dealt with before moving forward.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Exciting news…

November 15, 2011



This week we are proud to announce the release of our 2009 Cuvee Alis! As you may recall, Cuvee Alis is our Rhone blend of Syrah and Grenache. 2009 was the first year we produced it, as opposed to the varietal Syrah we produced in earlier vintages. The word went out to our ‘A-list’ members yesterday (if you wish, you can sign up for the A-list here), and we’ve already received a number of orders.

To ship wine out, we wrap the bottles in custom printed tissue paper and then re-pack them to fit the size of the individual orders. These bottles of 2009 Cuvee Alis were sent on their way to the East coast earlier today.
In addition to getting orders ready to ship, we’ve been busy dealing with the new 2011 wines. We went ahead and pressed out the Cabernet Sauvignon second crop at the end of last week. The wine turned out to still be slightly sweet, possibly because it is difficult to keep the fermentation temperature up in T-bins, so we attached the tank warmer to the porta-tank we crushed it into to help it finish out. Now it’s sitting at about 70 degrees F and it seems pretty happy.

The little rafts of bubbles that have formed on the surface let us know that the fermentation is still going in the tank.

On top of that, this week we’ve racked the Cabernet Sauvignon from the Foxtrot block and the blend of Petit Verdot and Montana Vista Cabernet off of their lees. Splash racking is a great opportunity to get a sense of how the wines are shaping up, you can stick your head down in the sump and get a nosefull of aromatics. Both of these lots are smelling great, lots of cassis and black cherry, with just a hint of anise and baking spices.
Even though harvest itself is done, there’s still a fair amount of work to do on the 2011 vintage, be sure to check back and see what we’re up to!
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Racking Small Lots

November 10, 2011



Today we racked a few of our small lots off of their fermentation lees. As you may remember, we like to splash our wine through a copper screen at this stage to remove any foul-smelling sulfide compounds. With the small lots, this is problematic because the tanks they are stored in all have their valves very close to the ground, meaning that we can’t use gravity to flow the wine down over the screen. The solution was to rack each lot into one of our larger stainless steel tanks, and then let the wine gravity flow down over the screen.

While it’s not harmful to put a small amount of wine into a large tank for a very brief period, storing it in a tank with too much air for more than a few hours can result in oxidation, and the growth of spoilage organisms. We scheduled our workload today so that we would be able to turn the wine around immediately and put it into a more appropriately sized vessel.
The two lots we racked today were the Cuvee Alis and the Monte Rosso Petite Sirah, both of which were stored in our stainless steel porta-tanks. We started with the Cuvee Alis, which wound up having an almost perfect volume to fit into one of our food grade plastic totes.
This wine will probably get put down to barrel sometime early next week.
After that, we racked the Petite Sirah into the Porta-tank that the Cuvee Alis had just been moved out of. This also served the purpose of opening up a Porta-tank for us to press the second crop into tomorrow. Scheduling work in the cellar this time of year is slightly reminiscent of solving a rubix cube, every movement has to be made in consideration of the next several moves that will follow.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

T-bin Temperature Management

November 8, 2011



As you may remember, last week we brought in a few bins of Cabernet Sauvignon second crop. We wound up with just a little more than two tons of second crop, which is too small an amount to place in any of our stainless steel fermentors. So, we broke the grapes out into three T-bins (one ton food grade plastic bins) to ferment.

One of the problems we’ve faced with fermenting the second crop is the ambient temperature. It has been very cold outside lately, especially at night. Small fermentations do not produce a lot of heat, and when it is very cold outside they can actually chill down enough to start stressing the yeast and slowing down the fermentation. To combat this, we set them in the sun during the day and then bring them inside at night.

T-bins are double walled, and so they have some insulation against the cold, but right now it is still necessary to take extra steps to keep them warm.
This is a pretty good example of how much hands-on attention winemaking really takes, even grapes that are unlikely to make it into our blends have to be treated carefully.
Soon we will press these grapes out, and the first phase of harvest 2011 will truly be over. Next we will continue to prep our vineyards for the winter, and we will begin processing our young wines towards finished products.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


November 3, 2011



As you may recall, we spent some time over the last few days discing our rows in preparation for seeding our cover crops. It looks like it will probably start raining here again in the next day or two, so we’re pushing to get as much of the seeding done as we can before the rain makes the rows difficult to get the tractor down.

We seed our cover crops by hand, workers walk down the rows with buckets of the seeds we want plant and toss them onto the ground.

Pictured here are some of the seeds we use for our cover crops. On the left is a Bell Bean, which will form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil that will help to fix nitrogen out of the air, enriching the soil. Additionally, this plant will draw beneficial insects like ladybugs. Bell beans are not particularly good at suppressing weeds, so we plant Cayuse Oats (pictured on the right) along with them. Cayuse Oats help with weed suppression, and they produce a relatively high amount of biomass, so they will contribute plenty of decomposing green matter to the soil once they eventually get tilled under. Cover crops that get tilled into the soil are known as ‘green manure’.
Once the seeds are sown, we send a tractor down the row with an attachment that drags the soil flat, burying the seeds an inch or two below the surface so they can germinate.
Leveling out the soil in the Foxtrot block.

 It’s a fair amount of labor to get it done, but the quality of the organically farmed grapes we produce is worth it. Be sure to check back next week to see what we’re up to!

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

Second crop

November 1, 2011



It turns out we have one more little push to get through before harvest is finally, completely done. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we have been picking our ‘second crop’. Second crop is composed of clusters that set later in the season, usually outside of the fruiting zone. They tend to be very small, and ripen much later than the first crop.

This is a typical second crop cluster. The flavor from these grapes will usually not quite be on par with the rest of the fruit that came off the vine. The wine made from these grapes will most likely be added into the press fraction, which will be sold to another brand somewhere down the line.
The second crop is spread out very thinly over all of our Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, so it takes a couple of days to get it all picked even though it will probably come out to less than two tons of fruit. The China Bowl block had the most second crop in it, while Montana Vista and Foxtrot seem to have comparatively little.
Even though the likelihood of this fruit making it into the final blend is low, it’s still worthwhile to harvest it. The little bit of wine that we make out of it will still make us a small profit when we sell it off. Waste not want not!
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.