Before harvest started I, got the unique opportunity to go out to the vineyards with Joe Shirley our wine maker. My initial reaction was excitement and yet nervous as well. For one Joe was kind of mysterious to me. My roommate and I joke around saying he could be the real Indiana Jones. Except he would be Indiana Joe. He wears a duster jacket and his office is covered with airial maps. The only thing missing is the hat and whip. Many times he is out of the office only to return dusty and tired. Once after being gone for a few weeks he came back with his arm in a sling. He claimed he had shoulder surgery, but I am not so sure. I can just imagine him jumping from a jeep while he was hot on the trail for the holy grail or something. So for me this was not just a day to get out of the office so to speak. I was slightly worried about what adventures or snake pits I might fall into. As it turns out the vineyards are dusty and often down long dirt roads with no booby traps or rolling boulders. As the day went on we talked about the styles of the vineyards and the training systems they used. He would tell old stories of his past jobs, once as a tomato truck driver. Often times he was interrupted with phone calls. It did not take long to realize that his car was his mobile office. Once we got to the vineyards Joe would start marching down a row of vines snagging grape berries here and there from different bunches. Sometimes he would take notes and other times he would just make a face and think to him self. I started to think that a winemakers job is kind of lonely. Here we are in the middle of a vineyard. Its quite and still, nobody around. Maybe the adventures i had imagined were a little exaggerated. There were no ancient treasures or leaps of faith. Instead he was just a winemaker on the quest for something more then the holy grail. He is searching for the very liquid that filled the holy grail, and that process starts in the vineyard. (I was still worried about the snake pits.) The experience was beautiful and extremely educational to say the least. I hope you enjoy the short video as much as I enjoyed taking the pictures.
Living the dream~Jacob.
Its funny, when I talk about working in a winery with my friends and family they are mostly surprised by the fact we begin work at 5 am. Most people never see that hour. I admit sometimes I don’t know how I do it either. Crawling out of bed on a Friday its freezing out side its dark and usually wet at this time of year. The last thing I want to do is wake up and go outside. However, there are certain perks from waking up early. Some people prefer sunsets, others prefer the sunrise. I myself am a sunrise person. You really have to work to get to see a sunrise. Sunsets lots of people are awake and can catch the beautiful colors. But If I were to ask any of my friends and family “hey did you see that awesome sunrise this morning?” chances are they will say no. Therefor sometimes waking up before the sun is worth it.
Living the dream~jacob
Things are really starting to slow down. Grapes have stopped coming in. Tanks are finishing there fermentation’s and wine is going into barrels. There are still lots of wines going through secondary fermentation. Even about 15 tanks going through primary fermentation. However, the work load is noticeably less. Its no longer a frantic push to get things done. Instead is more like a steady jog.
I suppose now is a good time to describe secondary fermentation. We call it ML, This refers to a bacteria that converts Malic acid into lactic acid. Malic acid is a crisp sharp acid, like biting into an apple. Lactic acid is more of a soft rounded acid. Like cheese. (maybe that’s why Apples and cheese go so well together.) We want our wines to be balanced and well rounded. Not a sharp tongue tickling lemon drop. So we add bacteria that eats malic acid and converts it into a softer lactic acid. This bacteria works best in a warm environment and so we have a heated room just for this purpose. Twice a week samples are taken into the lab to test the amount of malic and lactic acids in the wine. I get to take those samples. so twice a week I pull about 100 samples from the different barrel lots and take them in the lab for analysis. It will take anywhere from 2 weeks to about 2 months for the the bacteria to work its magic.
Here is me pulling samples using a high tech turkey baster.
Living the dream~jacob
Pulling samples for ML
Some people pay lots of money to indulge in the soothing, exciting, rich, sometimes exotic flavor aspects of wine. Others get paid to do just that. I feel like its the hardest job for the wine maker. Imagine you come to work and laid out before you are 30 glasses of wine all one varietal. Each glass represents a wine that is from a different vineyard and all of them are at different stages in the wine making process. Now imagine your job is to decipher the different, delicate, hidden, notes in each glass. You have to understand the potential for each wine, but also be aware of the signs that spell disaster for a wine. Most of us when we go wine tasting we are tasting a finished product. However this is not a vacation or a jolly good time tasting, this work. This is picking apart every aspect of wine using the senses so that if necessary, corrections can be made and one day the consumer will taste this wine at a tasting room and say yeah this is good stuff. Frankly I don’t know how Joe Shirley keeps his taste buds from getting tired. For me after about the third glass they all taste the same.
Living the dream~Jacob.
Another day at the office.
I dont know who this guy is... But I like his style.
This post is inspired by a comment question from Cathy. The question is.
Jacob- how do you keep track of what barrels are at what stage and what needs to be done? Are they bar coded? Tracked on a computer? It sounds like they move around a lot how is it tracked?
Well Cathy I am so glad you asked. A short answer would be that we track the barrels by bar codes and computers. Now for the long answer. Let me start from the beginning. Lets say a wine has moved from tank to barrel. First the wine maker chooses what barrels he wants the wine to go into. He might say something like, 25, 2012 barrels from such and such cooperage. 25, 2011 barrels from that cooperage, and 50 2010 barrels from a mix of these cooperage. The assistant wine maker then draws up a work order that gives the instructions and any special requests from the wine maker. The Assistant wine maker also assigns a “lot” number to the wine. He hands that to the cellar master who hands out the work order to a worker. The work order has a tracking number attached to it. If we type the work order number into the computer all the information we need comes up. What barrels were used, what wine went into the barrels on what day, etc. Once the barrels are filled, the forklift driver puts them away in a marked row. This is really up to the forklift driver since he has the best idea of where the barrels will fit. Since we are talking about a 100 barrel “lot” It may end up in two rows. But for now lets say it fits into one row. The forklift driver marks on the work order how many barrels went into what rows. He marks who filled the barrels and he also writes down any special notes or complications that may have come up during the fill. The work order is handed back to the assistant wine maker. Next the barrels are scanned with a scanner. The scanner tells the computer that these barrels are filled with this wine, and they are in this row. Since things are moving around so much right now it is impossible to scan everything each time it moves. This is when the “Lot” number is really important. Lets say we filled the barrels with Merlot. Well, we get Merlot from lots of different vineyards plus we may keep a certain vineyard section separate from another section of the same vineyard. For example Napa Caller Merlot from Carpenter Vineyards Block C, will be called B1203B Merlot from Bayview vineyards will be called B1207B. The next time we get a work order for one of these lots we know which Merlot the wine maker is referring too. We can check the computer to know, what analysis has been done or what work has been done to the wine. We can also check the computer and know what barrels are in the lots, and so forth. That is how we keep track of what has been done to the wine. I hope this answers your question and I know that its seems like a complicated process but really after working with it you begin to crack the code so to speak.Here are some pictures from around the barrel room. You can see barrels ready to be filled. also notice the lot numbers written on the barrels at the end of the row. This makes it easier for us when we are walking around the barrel room looking for a certain lot.
Examples of Barrel rows.
Barrels waiting to be filled
More barrels waiting to be filled.
Entering the labyrinth.
Living the dream~jacob
I finally got a chance to make a recipe that I had been wanting to try for weeks. My sister lives in Chicago and told me she had recently tried some appetizers that were based on a P,B and J sandwich but also included stinky French cheese and it was also served hot. This may sound unappealing at best but that’s why I wanted to try it. Plus… another excuse to drink Napa Cellars wine.
Sour Dough Bread
Assembly: Pretty straight forward, just put cashew butter on both pieces of bread, it sticks together better.
Butter both sides and Panini press it. Or you can toast it like a grilled cheese in a frying pan
Raclette cheese and Sauvignon Blanc are a good pair so that’s what I went with… ’ not an expert wine/food pair-er but it tasted great to me. You have to try this one, inexpensive and super easy to make, but lots of complex flavors.
Today I awoke to the sound of rain. Now my waterproof boots are soaked through. My pant legs are so wet my cell phone maybe broken. My sweatshirt has gained ten pounds. The pit with all of our crusher equipment has become a pond. There are puddles of water everywhere. All the over head pipes and cat walks have become waterfalls. I cant keep my notepad dry enough to write down the brix. No matter what you do you cant stay dry. Its now 5:30 am on a Monday morning. Days like these make me wish I was home next to a fire with a hot bowl of soup. Rain can be devastating to the grapes still on the vine. Its now time for some tough decisions for the wine makers. Back to the cold shower for me.
Living the dream~Jacob
Six days out of the week. I wake up in my sleep. Before the sun rises rubb my blurry eyes. Gettin ready in a sleepy slumber, just a job I tell myself but its a bummer. I jump into my car, I really dont have that far. Driving down the road I barely see a soul. I drink my coffee from my cup, just to keep myself awake thats how much I need a break. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they always go so slow. Thursday blows my mind, half way left to go. Friday is easy its just beyond my grasp. Saturday is the new friday I thought I would never last. Reality has a hold on me and it wont let go. I work all day and I try to save still there is nothing to show. What I wouldnt do to be unemployed rich and free. Someday I will wait and see not a thing to worry me. No more out late and night, I am waking up before the light. Is that really right? Or is my future painted bright?
I look at the dial against my will. Time seems to stand still. Mean while my mind is drifting far a way to a place where work is missing. I dream of a simple life without a care, I click three times but I am not thereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Living the dream~ Jacob.
Tank shoveling can be dirty business. Perhaps it is the most physical job in the winery. It requires crawling inside a dark, humid, wet, stinky tank and shoveling the contents out. No doubt shoveling wet berries, stems, and seeds is hard. However, being inside the tank you are standing in about 3-4 feet of fermented grape skins. The tank is wet and slippery its almost impossible to get solid footing. Once again the only way to get the contents out is through a small gate in the front of the tank. If this is not bad enough the fermented must is full of carbon dioxide, making the tank an oxygen deficient environment. Great precautions are taken when entering a tank of fermenting must. The tank is ventilated with a fan, the air is tested with air quality sensors, and a harness with oxygen sensors are worn by the person entering the tank. Another person known as the “attendant” waits outside with a large “hook” in case a person passes out inside the tank. The lack of oxygen causes a person to fatigue much quicker then usual when shoveling.Thankfully I survived to shovel another day. Here is a look inside a tank and a few shots of before and after. Special thanks to Rocha for the pleasant interview before risking my life.
Living the dream~ Jacob