Receiving barrels

September 6, 2012

Today we received twenty-five brand new oak barrels from the cooperage Seguin Moreau!

Seguin Moreau barrels are very well suited to powerful reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, they impart a wealth of oak related characters, such as coffee and spice, without ever tasting directly of wood (a character that is sometimes known as ‘planky’).

Richard has worked with barrels from Seguin Moreau for many years, they are consistently well-made and deliver the characters that suit our wines, and so we rely almost entirely on them for ageing both our Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Twenty of the new barrels are made of French oak, and five are made of American oak. French oak generally delivers a more subtle flavor profile and tannin structure than American oak, and so it makes up the bulk of our barrel selection. The American oak is used as an accent, providing an intense note of toastiness and vanilla.

Walking through the estate vineyards and tasting the grapes in the last few days is revealing an excellent potential for the 2012 vintage, the flavors are extremely concentrated and the color is intense, even several weeks before they are ready to harvest. Be sure to check back with us here on the blog to see how it’s going!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


The first pick is scheduled!

September 5, 2012


Today we went out and sampled the Chardonnay at the Belli ranch again. Block 3 (Rued clone, which is a slightly Musque, or Muscat, selection of Chardonnay) is always the first block to come in, so it’s the one we took the closest look at today. We asked Joe to turn down the irrigation last week, to let the flavor of the berries gain in concentration.

Once we start getting closer to the moment of harvest, we switch over from berry sampling to cluster sampling. Cluster sampling uses a much larger volume of fruit, and is therefore generally more accurate than berry sampling. Since this kind of testing is more accurate, it allows us to more finely tune our choice of harvest date.

The decreased irrigation coupled with the gorgeous weather we’ve been having gave us the result we were hoping for, the berries are tasting just at the edge of being ripe, and so we will begin harvest 2012 this Friday!

Now that we have a firm start date, we are beginning the last few preparations that we need to make. Since we will need the press on the day we receive the Chardonnay, today we got it set up and cleaned it inside and out.

The outside of the press has some dust on it, even though it’s been covered since last year.

This is also our chance to make sure that the press is operating the way it’s supposed to. Once the grapes are here we will need to process them as quickly as possible, so if there’s anything wrong with the press we need to know about it ahead of time.

The inside of the press needs to be as clean as possible, so we rinse it thoroughly with a solution of sodium percarbonate, which kills any microorganisms which may have carried over from last year. To make sure the coverage is thorough, we let the solution collect in the juice tray and then pump it up into the press itself, repeating the process several times.

Everything is looking pretty good, the equipment is clean, it works, and some unbelievably delicious grapes are on the way. We’re really looking forward to this harvest, please follow it with us here on the blog!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


July 11, 2012



While most of our efforts are focused on the vineyard right now, there is still some work to be done inside the winery. This week, we are topping again.

Our barrels are stacked high enough that they cannot all be topped from the ground. To reach the barrels at the top, we use this rolling staircase. The alternative is to either use a ladder (dangerous) or to unstack the barrels (time consuming). The staircase is ideal in trms of safety and convenience.

Getting up to the level of the highest barrels is only part of the problem. Since these barrels are so much higher, it takes a lot more pressure to push the wine up to them. The person doing the topping has to constantly adjust the gas pressure being applied to the topping wine, making sure it is high enough to reach the upper barrels, but not so high that it sprays wine everywhere. 

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Barrel Maintenance and Media Praise

April 12, 2012




The weather here in Sonoma Valley has been slightly unpredictable for the last couple of days. We’ve been expecting rain, and we’ve been getting it, but mainly in fits and starts amidst a few sunny hours,  instead of a steady downpour. It’s still a little too muddy to get out into the vineyards to mow, so instead we’ve brought things back inside and started working on our monthly barrel maintenance.

The metal box on the cart in the lower right-hand corner of the picture is our ozone generator. It produces water that is saturated with ozone, which is a highly reactive molecule made of three oxygen atoms. Ozone is lethal to every known microbe, and it breaks back down into harmless oxygen molecules in a matter of hours. These qualities make it an ideal substance to use when cleaning the inside of empty barrels, which have a large surface area prone to harboring undesirable microorganisms.

Empty barrels are first rinsed with hot water, followed by ozonated water. Afterwards, we add a little sulfur dioxide gas by burning a sulfur wick inside the barrel. The moisture from the rinsing also keeps the wood from completely drying out, which means these barrels will be less likely to leak when we do eventually fill them again. It’s just another aspect of the cyclical nature of work in a winery!

In other news, we received a very nice review for our 2009 Cuvee Alis from Fredric Koeppel of the Bigger Than Your Head food and wine blog. As always, it is very nice to hear appreciation for our wines!

We make precious little of this amazing wine, be sure to check it out before it's gone!

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

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Barrel Maintenance

February 7, 2012




Sometimes it happens that you wind up with empty barrels that need to be stored. If a barrel is new and hasn’t ever been filled, this is not really a problem, you can just leave it inside the winery and wait for next year. However, if the barrel is older and has already been used to store wine, special maintenance is required to keep wine spoilage organisms from taking hold and rendering the barrel useless.

The first step is to set all of the older, empty barrels out and stage them with their bungs facing down. Next you spray their insides with very hot water, followed by ozonated water, which together knock any microbial populations down to negligible levels. The eight barrels that are separated out to the right in this picture are getting sold to another winery.

Once the barrels have been rinsed, we allow them to drain for a few minutes to make sure that most of the water has dripped out. Next, we flip them right-side up and lower a burning a sulfur wick into each of them.

A sulfur wick is a piece of paper that is impregnated with elemental sulfur. When you burn it inside a barrel it releases sulfur dioxide gas, which dissolves into the water clinging to the inside of the barrel and forms sulfurous acid, which has strong antimicrobial effects. This will help keep any microbes from starting to grow in the barrel during storage.

The final step is to insert a paper cup into the bung to keep the sulfur gas from drifting out (it’s pretty irritating to the lungs if you breathe it in). To keep the cups in, we put a strap of packing tape over the bung.

Once the cup is in we flip the barrel back upside down, in case there is any more water to drip out. The cups frequently fall out when the barrels are stored in this position, so we like to use the tape to keep the floors free of litter and to make sure that the inside of the barrel is not exposed to open air.

We repeat this process approximately every month, it’s a lot of work, but that’s what it takes to do it right!

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

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Pumping out the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

January 3, 2012




We are just about finished with splash-racking our 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Once the rackings are done, it will be time to put the wine down to barrel to age. As we’ve mentioned before, we like to use a mixture of new and seasoned barrels in our wines. We received the new barrels for the 2011 Cab a couple of weeks ago. In order to get the seasoned barrels, we are going to pump out our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is going to be bottled in March. The 2009 Cab fits almost perfectly into two of our 1600 gallon stainless steel tanks (second and third from the left in the picture below)

Pumping out the 2009 Cab Sauv will produce far more seasoned barrels than we need for our 2011 Cab Sauv. The oldest barrels will be sold off to other wineries, and the newest ones will be stored and used next year.

Once we have the barrels  pumped out, we have to clean them. We do this by flipping them upside-down, and then inserting a cleaning tool into the bung.

We give our barrels two separate rinses when cleaning. The first, seen above, is a high speed hot water rinse. This mechanically cleans the barrel by blasting lees and wine residue free from the wood. The second is an ozonated water rinse, which has the effect of killing any microbes that might be living in the barrel.

If you are planning to store empty barrels, it is imperative that they be thoroughly cleaned and then allowed to drain, otherwise all manner of spoilage microbes may be able to start growing in them and the barrels might be spoiled. Barrels are very expensive, so it’s important to maximize their useful lifespan.

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

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This week in the cellar

December 22, 2011

This week we had several major operations in the cellar. First, we had to top our barrels. This month was slightly different from other recent months because we needed to ‘break’ a barrel of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Breaking a barrel means that we transfer its’ contents into smaller containers, generally stainless steel kegs.

We use a siphon to break barrels. In this picture, you can see the siphon hose draining the wine out to a vessel waiting below.

We broke this barrel because we needed more wine to use for topping the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, as all of the kegs we had on hand had already been emptied. It is possible to top directly out of a barrel, but when you do that you can end up with a very large amount of headspace over the wine, which can lead to spoilage.
After topping, we needed to rack some of our small 2011 lots off of their lees. All of our small lots (the Cuvee Alis, the Zinfandel, and the Petite Sirah) were put down to barrels a few weeks ago because we do not have stainless steel containers of the right size for them. To rack off the lees, we pump each lot to a tank, taste it, and then put it back down to barrel.

Once a barrel has been emptied, we rotate it upside down to drain out the lees. These wines are all fairly settled already, so we got less than two gallons total of lees out of all the barrels in the picture above.


 These wines are already smelling extremely clean, so with this racking we didn’t bother using the copper screen.

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

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Stirring the Chardonnay

December 1, 2011



We put the Belli Chardonnay down to barrel just about six weeks ago. Once the wine is in barrel, the last little bit of solids (almost entirely dead and dying yeast cells) have time to settle out. This makes the wine nice and clear, but in fact at this stage we actually want the wine to get a little bit of contact with the remaining yeast cells. This improves the mouthfeel of the wine, and tends to add subtle warm, nutty characters to the mid-palate. As the yeast cells break down (a process known as autolysis that usually starts around six months after the fermentation is over) they also tend to generate a rich, creamy character that is highly desirable in our style of Chardonnay.

To keep the yeast suspended in the wine, we stir the barrels, a process also known as batonage.

This is the baton that gives batonage its’ name. Colloquially, it is known as a stirring wand. The wand is inserted into each barrel, and then it is drawn vigorously from side to side so that the hinged plate at the end drags along the bottom, stirring the yeast up into the wine.
With our Chardonnay, we like to stir the barrels once every week, so that the yeast never completely settle out and we have plenty of contact between them and the wine.
This wine was fairly clear before we stirred it earlier today, but notice how much the yeast have been stirred up off of the bottom of the barrel. This is how we would like the wine to spend most of it’s time looking during this stage of the process.
To visit the Amapola Creek winery main site, please click here.
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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.
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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.
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