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.

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.



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.

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.


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.

Last Saturday we began the process of splash-racking the Monte Rosso Zinfandel. Once a red wine has been pressed off of the skins, we let it sit in tank for around a week. During this time the yeast cells and grape solids left behind by fermentation and pressing sink to the bottom of the tank, and when the week is up we rack the clarified wine off the solids.

During racking of reds, we like to use an aerative process known as ‘splash-racking’. To splash-rack, we draw the wine out of the racking valve and let it pour into a sump.

If you look closely at this picture, you can see that there is a thin copper screen in the sump that the wine is passing through as it splashes. The reason for this is that copper binds up certain classes of off-aromas (sulfides and disulfides, that can smell like rotten eggs or onions, or even skunk) that tend to form in small quantities towards the end of the fermentation as the yeast become more stressed. Aeration serves the same purpose, as it is also possible to remove these compounds by oxidation.

From the sump the clean, slightly aerated wine is pumped to a receiving tank. This is a good opportunity to smell the wine and see how it is developing, as the splashing lets a good whiff of aromatics up into the air. Right now, the Zin is smelling intensely of black raspberry, with just the barest hint of coffee and chocolate.

The solids left in the bottom of the tank are collected and set aside for later disposal. We will repeat this process four or five more times over the next few months, after which it will be time to put the wine down to barrel.

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