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.


A very busy couple of days

October 18, 2011



We’ve had a very welcome run of warm weather, and harvest is starting to kick off in earnest. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve been doing this week;

The Belli Chardonnay has been racked off of its fermentation lees and blended to a single tank. We’re planning to barrel it down tomorrow, time permitting. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to have it spend a few more days in tank, but with grapes coming in it’s a good logistical move to put it down to barrel as soon as possible, so we can free up tank space for the incoming fruit.

On Monday we started in harvesting the China Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon again, this time from the lower laying, flatter areas that take a little longer to ripen. We got through almost all of what was left, but then decided to give the pickers a rest (it was pretty warm out) and finish the block out on Tuesday.

We ended up picking almost exactly eight tons of China Bowl Cab on Monday (perfect for one of our larger tanks), we inoculated it with K1 and it took off fermenting hard right away. The headspace was full of carbon dioxide, and there was a slight cap starting to form Tuesday morning, so we gave it two quick fifteen minute pumpovers.

We still don't have a way to show you the pumpover in action, it's too dark inside the tanks, but this is the pumpover tool. The wine is pumped down the stem and over the blades at the bottom, which spin like helicopter rotors and spray the fermenting juice over the cap.

Tuesday morning we had pickers out in the field finishing out China Bowl. We estimated that we wouldn’t have quite enough coming off the rest of that block to fill out a tank, so when they were finished there we had them move up to the Montana Vista block. There they picked out the few ripest areas (with the rockiest, thinnest soil), and we crashed it together with the remainder of the fruit from China Bowl. We picked just over four and a half tons on Tuesday, which fit nicely into one of our smaller stainless steel tanks. We inoculated it with K1 and will probably start pumping it over tomorrow.

The sugar was still not particularly high in China Bowl, but the grapes are showing strong signs of physiological maturity. For instance, if you look at the cluster above, you will see that the stem has completely lignified (turned brown). This is generally considered to be an indicator of ripeness, especially in California where the weather is usually too warm for this kind of maturation to occur.

We also started splash racking our first lot of China Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon on Tuesday.

We use the copper screen to bind foul smelling sulfides and disulfides. The China Bowl Cab smells pristine, but we still like to use the screen during splash-racking because sometimes these compounds are present at levels so low that you can’t directly detect them. Instead, they alter the perception of other aromas, sometimes exaggerating vegetal characters, or diminishing fruity characters.

Between all that’s been going on in the vineyard and cellar our little crew has been stretched pretty thin, but that’s pretty much harvest in a nutshell! Be sure to check back soon for more updates.

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



On Saturday we checked the smaller lot of Belli Chardonnay (Dijon clone from block 4) and found that it was completely done fermenting. This lot had a relatively warm, quick fermentation, which will likely result in an increase in texture and contribute to the creamy, nutty characters in the wine. By contrast, the larger lot (Rued and Dijon clone from blocks 3 and 5) had a cooler, slower fermentation, which characteristically leads to enhanced fruit characters and minerality. Since the smaller lot was finished up, we pumped it out of barrels and into one of our porta-tanks.

You can see the swirls of foam in the top of the tank, those are caused by escaping carbon dioxide left over from fermentation.

From there we switched on the refrigeration and left the wine to sit for a couple of days. This allows all of the yeast cells that have been produced during fermentation to sink to the bottom of the tank. The next step will be to rack the wine off of the yeast cells, also known as ‘fermentation lees’. We like to remove most of the yeast cells at this stage, because they may start to release off-odors as they degrade once the fermentation is over.

When we rack this wine, probably today or tomorrow, off of its’ fermentation lees we will also combine it with the other, larger lot of Belli Chardonnay that has been finishing out the last little stretch of its’ fermentation in tank. We’re excited to see how this blend turns out!

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

The first barrel lot of Belli Chardonnay, with grapes from blocks 3 and 5, was very close to being finished with its’ fermentation yesterday morning, so we decided to pump it out to a tank.

There are several reasons for doing this. For one, the yeast tend to become stressed towards the end of the fermentation. This happens because of the rising concentration of alcohol and decreasing concentration of sugar, and because the wine tends to cool down as the fermentation winds down, moving the temperature outside of the optimal range of the yeast. While we can’t do anything about the changes in the levels of alcohol and sugar, pumping the wine out to a tank gives us the opportunity to use our tank heater to keep the wine warm, coaxing the yeast through the end of the fermentation.

Another reason it’s a good idea to pump the wine out at this stage is that, if the fermentation is uneven (some barrels are not fermenting strongly), it allows us to combine the strongest fermenting barrels with the ones that are a little weaker, increasing the likelihood that the fermentation will go dry.

So, today we’ve got the wine out of the barrels and warmed up to about 70 degrees F, and the surface of the wine is bubbling away with the last bit of the fermentation. This is actually a precarious time from a winemaking perspective, because if something goes wrong in the fermentation now (such as the production of hydrogen sulfide or other off-odors), there isn’t much time to fix it before the fermentation ends. Fortunately, since we’ve managed this juice well since the start, this fermentation smells just fine.

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

Today we barreled down the last of the Belli Chardonnay juice to ferment. You may recall that on Tuesday we had a picture of the crust that formed in the top of the tank that signalled the onset of fermentation. Today we saw that the fermentation was moving fast enough to break the crust, telling us that it was time to go to barrel.

This technique for deciding when to fill barrels is not universal, at some facilities the volume of juice being processed is so large that juice is sent down to barrels cold right after racking off lees to make tank space for the next grapes getting pressed. Here though, our production is small enough that we can take the time to perform this extra step to ensure an even, well controlled fermention.
This lot of juice filled six French oak barrels, of which four were new and two had been used in previous vintages.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Yesterday we racked the second lot of Belli Chardonnay off its’ juice lees. We usually wait to inoculate with yeast until the juice warms up to around 50 degrees F. Oftentimes it is pretty warm out during harvest, and we can just allow ambient heat do the warming for us, but since it was so cool out we decided to speed things up with our tank warmer.

Our tank warmer is a really handy piece of equipment. All of our tanks have fittings on them so we can warm the tanks up when necessary (e.g. towards the end of the fermentation when the yeast may become weaker). The heating jacket on the portable tanks is the dimpled metal surface in the picture above, the dimples cause the warm water passing through to become slightly turbulent, increasing the efficiency with which heat is exchanged. In this picture you can see the hoses that lead from the tank warmer hooked up to the jacket. Without this setup, it would probably have taken a full day or more to get the juice up to the temperature we wanted, with it we only had to wait a couple of hours before we were able to inoculate with Prisse de Mousse.

The first Belli Chardonnay fermentation was started off in one of our 1360 gallon tanks. There isn’t really much light that penetrates into the permanent stainless steel tanks, so we weren’t able to get a picture of the Chardonnay as it started to ferment. Since this second lot is starting off in one of our portable tanks, we got a pretty good shot of what happens when the fermentation is just beginning.

The first sign that the fermentation is taking off is a thin crust forming on the surface. This crust is composed of yeast cells and the very small amount of grape solids that remain, buoyed up by the carbon dioxide the yeast are starting to produce. When the fermentation is strong enough to break this crust, we will know that it is time to put the juice down to barrel to finish fermenting.

Soon it will be time to chill this juice back down and put it to barrel. Be sure to check back tomorrow to see what’s been going on with our Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon!

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


Today we racked the second and final lot of 2011 Belli Chardonnay off of its’ juice lees. We’ve been letting it cold settle in one of our 360 gallon portable tanks since we crushed it last Wednesday. As you may remember, these grapes came from block 4 of the Belli ranch, which is planted to the Dijon clone.

These are our two portable tanks, Porta 1 and Porta 2. To rack out the juice, we used the same wand we use for filling barrels, lowering it in through the circular lid in the top of the tank and pumping out the juice, leaving the grape solids behind. These little tanks are perfect for small volumes of juice and fermenting grapes, we will probably crush some of our smaller lots of reds into them later in the season.

There were only a couple of gallons of juice lees in the bottom of the tank. Since it had so many days to cold settle, this tells us we did a good job of pressing out clean juice last week.

The lees from Chardonnay juice look a little bit like mud. Leaving them in during fermentation can stimulate the yeast to become 'reductive', meaning that they could start to produce foul-smelling compounds like hydrogen sulfide (this is the smell of rotten eggs).

In other Chardonnay news, the first lot of Belli Chardonnay (the mix of Rued and Dijon clone from blocks 3 and 5), is about halfway through its’ fermentation. It is smelling wonderful, and the sound the fermentation bungs make is strangely soothing. One of the little things to appreciate about harvest is how nice it is to walk into the winery first thing in the morning and hear the ‘blip-blip–blip’ of active barrel fermentations.

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



Our preffered practice with Chardonnay is to start the fermentation in a tank before putting the juice down to barrels, this is a way of promoting an even fermentation across the lot (having one or two lagging barrels in a lot is a hassle). We inoculated the first lot of Belli Chardonnay (the one from blocks 3 and 5) with Prisse de Mousse yeast back on Monday. Yesterday, we found that the fermentation had started, although it was going very slowly because we were holding the juice at a modest 55 degrees F.

As soon as we saw the juice bubbling in the tank, we turned the thermostat on the tank down to 40 degrees F. We did this so that we could put the Chardonnay juice down to barrel without excessive foaming; the harder the juice is fermenting when you put it to barrel, the more foam it will produce and the harder it will be to tell when the barrel is filled to the level you want.

This is about what the juice in a barrel should look like when the barrel has just been filled. A wine barrel holds about 60 gallons when it is completely full. To ferment juice, we fill them to between 50 and 53 gallons. This leaves plenty of room for the foam that the fermentation will produce, preventing the barrel from overflowing.

The process of filling the barrels with fermenting juice is very simple. We connect a pump to the tank, and from there run a hose to a tool called a ‘wand’. The juice runs through the wand into the barrel, while whomever is doing the filling watches the juice level through the bung with a flashlight.

This wand has a 'sight-glass' on it, that allows you to visually inspect the material as it passes through. The black item sitting next to the wand is the speed control for the pump, it is very useful because it allows you to slow down when the barrel is almost full to the level you want, letting you dial in the fill exactly.

 The eight hundred gallons of Chardonnay ended up going down to fifteen french oak barrels, nine of which were new, and six of which had been used in previous vintages. Later this week, we’ll cover our barrel selections for the Chardonnay in more detail.

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




Today we brought in the final load of the Belli Chardonnay. It looked pretty clean and tasted great. We got just under two tons, meaning that for the year we got just about exactly seven tons of Chardonnay total.

Block 4 is on the right hand side of this picture, straight across from block 5, which we picked one week ago today.

Block 4 is planted to Dijon clone, which as you may recall has a sort of classic Chardonnay profile, with good minerality and strong fruit components. Another characteristic of this clone is its’ tightly packed clusters, which had us worried since it rained a few days ago. Tight clusters can get water trapped inside, which can lead to botrytis rot. In this case we didn’t really develop much of a problem, and at any rate we have access to a very reliable picking crew that can sort the fruit and remove any rot as the clusters come off the vine, so the grapes reached us in fine condition.

This is what a botrytis infected cluster looks like. Even with the field sorting, it’s normal to have a couple of clusters like this in a load of Chardonnay, but we were able to pull most of them out by hand as we loaded the press. While large amounts of botrytis can cause all kinds of problems in the wine, very small amounts are actually known to produce a delicate apricot aroma in the finished product.
Sugars were a little lower than we’d expected on this lot, but the flavor we were looking for was still there. Based on what we’re tasting in it now, we’re expecting this component to give a nice mineral backbone with plenty of apple and pear flavors to the final Chardonnay blend.
Be sure to come back Thursday to check out how we do our barrel work!
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main website, please click here.



After whole-cluster pressing the Belli Chardonnay last week, we put the juice in a tank and chilled it down to about 40 degrees F in a process known as ‘cold settling’. This allows whatever grape solids (pulp) that made it out of the press with the juice to sink to the bottom of the tank. Once they’ve had a few days to collect in the tank bottom, we pump the clean juice off of the solids into another tank in a process known as ‘racking’. The solids are then disposed of.

Then we turned the thermostat up on the tank to let the juice come up to about 55 degrees F, and that brings us to today; now that the juice has come up to temperature, we are ready to inoculate it with yeast and start the fermentation.

For Chardonnay, we like to use Lallemands’ EC 1118, also known as Prisse de Mousse.

Some wineries use what are called 'native fermentations' instead of inoculating with prepared yeast cultures. This is a perfectly valid technique, but it can sometimes be unreliable, giving a fermentation with off aromas, or sometimes refusing to finish out. Since we are so small, we have to get it right the first time, so we manage our risk in the cellar by using yeast cultures to inoculate. This particular yeast, Prisse de Mousse, lends a pleasant fruity aroma to the wine, and it is a strong fermentor that reliably consumes all of the sugar in the juice.

Inoculation is a simple but fun process. To inoculate, we take a couple of gallons of juice from the tank, and add just enough hot water to bring the juice up to around 100 degrees F. Then we dump in the freeze dried yeast into the heated juice and mix it. The yeast activates almost immediately. After about ten minutes, the carbon dioxide they are producing as they ferment will have formed a kind of dome in the bucket.

Funnily enough, the rising cap of the dome of yeast looks a little like rising bread dough.

Once the yeast are good and active, we pour them out into the waiting tank of juice. It will take a few days for the yeast to really kick off the fermentation in the tank, until then we’ll just hold it steady at 55 degrees F and wait.

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