Petite Sirah!

October 16, 2012

We know we’re almost done with grapes for the year when the Petite Sirah shows up from Monte Rosso Vineyards!

Every year we pick just a couple of bins of Petite Sirah to make a small amount of wine for our club members. This block from Monte Rosso makes a lovely, dense wine, rich with fruit characters and exhibiting a strong backbone of tannins.

Petite Sirah clusters have a very distinctive look.

While Cabernet tends to have loose clusters with lots of space between the berries, Petite Sirah is very tight, with almost no space between the grapes.

This tight formation can make Petite Sirah vulnerable to Fall rains, if water gets inside the cluster it can promote the growth of rot. This threat is compounded by the fact that Petite Sirah is relatively late-ripening, meaning that we have to chance leaving it out in the vineyard longer. Fortunately the weather has held back and allowed us to bring this fruit in in pristine condition.

We picked first thing in the morning, so the fruit was ice-cold when we processed it. As a result,  it took a few days for the yeast to take hold and start fermenting, but now we are finally seeing a solid cap form in the fermentors. The fruit tasted fantastic, and the fermentations smell divine. All of our wines this year are turning out delicious, but we have especially high hopes for this one.

Be sure to check back soon to see what we’re up to!

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



March 19, 2012




Today is the big day, we’re bottling our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (made from our Estate grown organic fruit), our 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel, and our 2010 Monte Rosso Petite Sirah (this is actually the first varietal Petite Sirah we’ve ever made here). The mobile line rolled in and set up on Friday morning to be ready to start first thing today.

It was still raining pretty steadily on Friday, and we were worried it would still be raining during bottling. Since the cases have to be moved from inside the winery out to the truck, this could have presented a problem (cardboard does not like water). Fortunately the weather dried up for just in time for us and we were able to get our bottling done without a snag.

Getting ready for bottling also involved our staging all of the dry goods. Dry goods include everything that goes into the package that isn’t the wine itself; in our case that would be bottles, labels, corks, and capsules. A lot of our dry goods are used in more than one product (for instance, the 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel and Petite Sirah both use the same corks), and a lot of them are unique to individual products (like labels, obviously you couldn’t put a Zinfandel label on a Petite Sirah bottle, even though the corks are the same). Even for a small, artisanal winery like us, things can get confusing. It is therefore crucial to keep the dry goods extremely well organized.

These pallets are separated out by product, if a box of corks or labels is destined for one particular wine, it is marked and then set on the pallet that will be set outside when that wine is bottled. Getting the dry goods mixed up would be a very costly mistake.

Once everything was in place, we went ahead and set the bottling line running.

Bottling is hard work. The wine is slowly pumped into the filler inside the truck from the bottling tank. Empty glass is loaded in the back of the truck, and a conveyor carries it to the filler, which in turn fills it with wine. The bottles then pass through the corker, the capsuler, and the labeler before being brought back to the rear of the truck where they are repacked into cases which are then loaded onto pallets by hand.

It’s a lot of work getting ready to bottle, but once you get started it’s generally over in a pretty big hurry. Bottling is a potentially risky activity because once the wine is in the bottle you can’t really correct any mistakes you make. Fortunately everything went fine today. It’s a relief to have these fantastic wines safely in the bottle!

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




Today we released our 2009 Monte Rosso Zinfandel to the general public! The 2008 was fantastic, and we’re a little sad to see our stockpile of it whittled down to a handful of cases, but the 2009 Zin is an absolutely gorgeous wine, and we’re excited to be able to start sharing it with our customers. This Zin is blended with about 8.8% Petite Sirah, also sourced from Monte Rosso, which lends this wine an extra edge of depth and fruit character.

Zinfandel (especially old-vine Zinfandel) tends to ripen unevenly, with berries at many different stages of maturity to be found on every cluster. This is what gives Zinfandel its' huge range and depth of flavors, a characteristic which is evident in the 2009 vintage.

The 2009 Zinfandel is not a wine to miss, we hope you all enjoy it!

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.


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.


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.