Winemaker's Journal - May 2011

Day in the Life, pt 6: May-Jun

Part Six in a six-part series about "A Day in the Life of a Winemaker."

In this final segment of our series on the seasonal work of a winemaker, I cover the months of May and June. It’s a wonderful time to monitor the young growing season, maintain our ever-present cellar activities, and enjoy the company of our best customers.

Assuming our homework is complete, we've contracted with 20-plus grape growers in a handful of California’s best wine regions, ordered enough barrels and equipment to ferment and age the wines those vineyards will produce, and are now tracking vine growth during variable springtime weather conditions.

In the Vineyard

If budbreak occurred on time in early March, then the young shoots are 12–18 inches long in early May, and the expected warm, dry conditions between April 1 and June 1 are triggering a burst of vine maturation called the “Grand Period of Growth”. On the other hand, if March and April were cold and wet, then budbreak and/or shoot development may be two-to-three weeks behind. Nevertheless, it’s a long growing season with many “bends in the road”, so a subsequent period of warm weather can help us catch up quickly.

No matter what the conditions, Grower Relations Manager Alejandro Aldama and I visit every vineyard to inspect early vine growth. We pay close attention to the success of bloom and berry set in May because those milestones profoundly affect the quantity and quality of the crop. The visits also give us time to underline our farming philosophy with growers who are new to our program.

In the Cellar

During lulls in the growing season, we complete our springtime bottling program (see March-April story) and schedule other cellar activities such as topping barrels and cold stabilizing a few of our whites.

Topping is the process where we manually replace wine lost to evaporation in barrel with wine from the same lot. The goal is to reduce exposure to oxygen by minimizing the amount of headspace in every barrel. Most of the wines are red, but we also top Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay and Paso Robles Trebbiano.

Whites such as Mercury Rising Blanc are cold stabilized to prevent the harmless crystals that sometimes form when people place wine in a freezer for fast cooling. We chill the wine to approximately 28°F, and hold that temperature until insolubles such as potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) crystallize along the sides of the tank adjacent the cooling jackets. We then rack (i.e. drain) the remaining wine while it is still cold.

In the Marketplace

May and June is the best time of year to support our sales and marketing efforts with winemaker dinners in restaurants and featured wine tastings in bottle shops. In addition, the Tasting Room in Saratoga is bustling with special events that sometimes require the winemaker’s touch. All of these activities provide invaluable feedback from people who share our interest in the healthy consumption of food and wine.

View the six-part series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six