Spring is in the air and with new bedding in our hawk-houses they have been receiving attention. Rabbits are scurrying around the vineyard and the sun even shines every other day or so. Our vineyard crew has been hard at work in our vineyard for the new year. James has been on the tractor with the mechanical pre-pruner to cut the longest vines, but the vines still require hand pruning. The actual portion of the vines which produce the grapes are called 'canes', and these grow off the cordon as pictured on the older vines. We prune to two buds which gives us the best crop size for our vineyard and the choice and length of the pruning supports the size of the crop. In apples or other tree fruits, this type of management would be handled through thinning of blossoms later in the growing cycle. Once the grapes are producing we’ll also hand thin to make sure we have the best crop.
Once the red wine is put into tanks and fermentation begins all of the solids—grape skins, pulp rise to the surface. This mass of solid matter is called must; however we refer to the floating section as “The Cap.” In order to maximize the extraction of color, flavor and structure we use one of several processes of cap management. There are many factors to consider when deciding how often to mix the cap, including the grape type, the growing season, fermentation temperature and whether or not the wine will have extended maceration.
Punch down - is a gentle process of submerging the skins that forms over fermenting red wine in order to improve the extraction of color, flavor and tannin structure. Punch downs are initiated before the yeast is added during cold soaking and then performed 2 to 3 times daily until the end of fermentation and sometimes beyond if extended maceration post fermentation is necessary to improve the structure and color stability of the wine. Because punch downs are the gentlest form of cap management it is generally exclusive to our reserve tier wines. A lot of work goes in to punching down several small lot ferments two to three times each day and therefor this input is focused on our best wines.
Pumpovers – This cap management method can be performed in a variety of ways. The process is to pump the juice from the racking valve, near the bottom of the tank, over the top of the tank and over the risen skins or cap. You can fit an attachment to the top of the tank that can irrigate the cap mechanically, or you can pump it over manually by holding on to the hose and directing the flow of the wine to wet the entire surface of the cap. This wetting process is where you maximize your extraction of flavor, color and texture.
Submerged Screen – This method involves installing a screen in the fermentation vessel to keep the cap submerged under the wine surface to maximize extraction. This system is very gentle; however, it is important to note that the skins will be very compact under the screen and the extracts will be minimal. Another cap management system will need to be incorporated to improve the extraction. I have used this system along with 2 punch downs daily and am very happy with the effect.
After the destemmer the wine is pumped into tanks to begin fermentation. The process of fermentation in winemaking turns grape juice into an alcoholic beverage.
White wines are typically fermented without their skins and other solids, while red wines are fermented in contact with skins and other solids.
By putting grape juice into a container at the right temperature, adding yeast which turns the sugar in the juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide the grape juice will ferment.
During fermentation, yeasts transform sugars present in the juice into ethanol and carbon dioxide (as a by-product). The temperature and speed of fermentation are important considerations as well as the levels of oxygen present in the must at the start of the fermentation. The more sugars in the grapes the higher the potential alcohol level of the wine if the yeast is allowed to carry out fermentation to dryness. We will stop fermentation in some cases early in order to leave some residual sugars and sweetness in the wine for example our Riesling. This can be achieved by dropping fermentation temperatures to the point where the yeast are inactive and then sterile filtering the wine to remove the yeast.
Fermentation may be done in stainless steel tanks, in an open plastic vat or inside a wine barrel. All of our fermentation tanks are heated or cooled by a controlled glycol system that runs through jacketed tanks. Red wine fermentation requires temperatures to reach 78.8 - 86°F for the pigments to be extracted from the grape skins. It is common to warm the fermenting juice artificially to help this happen. This has to be done carefully, as yeast die quickly in the heat. White wine fermentation may require the fermenting juice to be cooled to 53.6 - 59°F to help preserve the delicate varietal characteristics. These flavor and aromatic compounds are destroyed in high temperatures.
On September 8th, 2 days after our Sauvignon Blanc was harvested, we harvested our Winemaker's Bloc Merlot. This fruit was crushed into 1 ton macro bins and allowed to settle for 24 hours. We will punch down the next day and add yeast to start the fermentation which will take about 10 days to complete to dryness which is the consumption of all of the sugar. We will then press the bins to a small vessel and then rack to barrels where the wine will undergo malic acid fermentation - the conversion of the harsh malic (apple) acid to smooth lactic (milk) acid. The wines will be racked 1-2 weeks post malolactic fermentation, eventually blended with other varietals and then aged for 1.5 to 2 years depending on flavor expression to make our signature 2017 Winemaker’s Bloc.
It is time now to talk about an important machine that we use to make wine. The destemmer plays a very important role in the whole process of making wine. This is how it works: The forklift feeds the hopper which feeds the destemmer which feeds the must pump which feeds the tank/bins.
We call it a destemmer (not destemmer/crusher) as we do not use the rollers that are used to crush the fruit. The destemming action is a gentle process. The destemming drum is designed such that it avoids maceration of the berries because we want to keep the berries whole. This is done with counter sunk holes that are rounded. The speed of the paddles are set to move relatively slow to create a gentle processing of the fruit to the must pump. The paddles turn in the opposite direction of the destemming
drum and move the material other than grapes (MOG) out to the waste bin and the holes within the drum allow the berries to fall freely down to the must pump. We want to have some whole berries in an effort to produce carbonic maceration within the grape berries which promotes greater fruit aroma and flavor. Some of the berries will be crushed under the weight of the fruit in the 1/2 ton harvesting bins. And some will be crushed in the must line which can run from 50-100 feet. We hope that through this
gentle process we retain at least 20% whole berries. The berries will break as the skins weaken in the fermenter from extraction.
Check out our YouTube to view the process!
We began our 2017 harvest with our Sauvignon Blanc. We harvest most of our vineyards with our mechanical grape harvester. It is a tall machine that straddles the trellis and uses special plastic rods, called bows, to shake the grapes off the vine. Depending on varietal this shaking will remove only the grapes and some leaves, leaving behind the rachis, which is the structure that holds the berries in a cluster. The harvester has a bucket conveyer on each side of the vine that the grapes fall in, which then carries them to another tractor with bins. A harvester can either be self-propelled or towed by a tractor and ours is pulled by a tractor because our vineyards have some steep slopes. We do still hand harvest of some of our steepest rows. When it comes to picking grapes, harvesting by machine is the most efficient method of removing grapes from the vines. In our vineyards, we can do roughly an acre an hour, so between 2-4 tons of grapes. In most cases the grapes go from being on the vine, crushed and into a tank for fermentation in a limited amount of time often less than an hour. Grapes that are picked by hand take more time because the grapes sit in bins under the vines until the bins can be picked up and taken to the winery.
Another reason we find the machine harvester a success is that our winemaker, Joe, can “blend” from the vineyard by choosing which rows be wants picked on any given day.
An example of a rachis after mechanical harvesting. Even though the grapes are gone, the leaves around are still whole and undamaged.
In viticulture (grape-growing), veraison is the onset of ripening. Veraison (pronounced, veh-ray-zuhn) marks the stage in vine ripening when the grapes go from little, hard green berries to softer, colored grapes. The term is originally French (véraison), but has been adopted into English use. The official definition of veraison is "change of color of the grape berries".
This time of year is highly anticipated. We have been monitoring weather, searching and waiting for the first signs of color in the clusters. These two pictures were taken about one week apart in our vineyard.
When the little berries begin, the acid content is much higher than sugar. During veraison, the sugar content increases and acid decreases, making the berries softer and plumper, looking more like actual grapes. This is a pretty important stage in winegrowing. Veraison is a physiological stage in the vine life cycle that is marked by a change in the appearance and hardness of the grape berry. Till now, the grapes looked like little green peas. Veraison takes them from this stage to actual grape stage. For white varieties, this means that they become a softer, transparent yellow-green color. For red varieties, it’s more obvious, taking the grape from bright green to red or purple. Up until now, the berries are very firm. Once they get through veraison, the berries are pliable and this elasticity is one of the only ways to observe veraison in white wine grapes.
As a general rule, once grapes complete veraison, they will be ripe and ready to harvest in about six weeks. Veraison typically takes 5-7 days to complete. The interval from veraison to harvest is different for each varietal, and is largely dependent on heat accumulation and crop size. Merlot takes fewer heat units to ripen than Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
In the case of both white and red grapes used in winemaking, the onset of veraison marks the end of grape skin cell division. Once it is finished, the grape skin cell number is fixed. A smaller number of skin cells generally mean smaller berries. A small berry has a better skin to juice ratio that ensures a better concentration of flavor and structure, something that’s very important in quality winemaking.
From this point on, the berries just keep ripening to become the perfect grape for our future wine and the busy time begins!
We asked our Facebook friends “Do you know why we mow the weeds in our vineyard rows instead of having cleared the ground?
Here's our answer:
We keep row cover due to prevent wind erosion as well as habitat for beneficial insects and in the hopes cutworm stay in the weeds instead of crawling up the plants to eat grape buds in the spring. With no center row irrigation, we allow the natural weeds that survive to be the cover crop. Part of our LIVE sustainable certification we limit the amount of raw materials (inputs such as pesticides, fertilizer, water, chemicals, fuel, etc.) used in vineyard and winery production. We strive to develop proactive and preventative, sustainable agricultural practices. These include the use of integrated pest management, beneficial cover crops, and manual weed control.
One of my favorite things about bottling is sitting down at the computer with a glass of wine to write tasting notes. I have 3 bottles to review on this amazing Wednesday. When the tough days of the job come around I just have to remind myself of the good ones.
The winemaking crew and I used our very best techniques in making our 2013 Winemaker’s Bloc Red Blend. We selected the best vineyard blocks from within the larger high-end vineyard blocks and hand managed these winemaker blocks in a way to achieve the highest possible quality of fruit. The fermenting wine was protected from oxygen to protect the delicate fruit of each varietal. I selected French oak barrels of the highest quality and managed the maturation process with frequent topping of barrel lots to minimize any head space in the barrels. The resulting wine is I believe truly the best that we can make from our Estate White Bluffs Vineyards and maybe the best wine that I have ever tasted. This wine contains the attributes of a world class wine and will peak in quality with 10 to 20 years of additional aging. I am very excited and proud to release to the public this amazing Washington State White Bluffs vineyard wine of a paramount quality that is rarely found.