Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning Curves

Will anyone enjoy reading about the vicissitudes of starting a vineyard and making wine? (I promise not to use that word again.)

Nothing that I read prepared me for this journey of picking clones and fighting gophers and birds and deer, let alone understanding scale issues and the realities of handling gallons upon gallons of fermenting wine. I do not concede that this is only for rich people using consultants! But wow, this is not for the faint of heart. I did my first full-on malolactic testing yesterday on the syrah. Started at 10AM and saw the results at 7AM today. Still in malolactic "secondary" fermentation with a good two weeks or more to go. It is so tempting to think about planting a much bigger vineyard so that we can have commercial scale in five years. But that is so much work! Does the world really need more wine?

I tasted four carboys with what should be the same syrah in three and an un-oaked sample in the fourth. One tasted unpleasant, one was asleep at the wheel and inaccessible, the un-oaked one was fruity and frivolous, and one was purely magnificent. Last year I learned to expect variation across weeks. I had not expected variation across carboys!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Racking is nerve wracking!

Must get some help with racking. Man...too tough. I thought the new pump would be the saving grace, but I cannot seem to get it to work right. Racked 21 gallons in two fermentations of cab, with a nice head of malolactic fermentation already bubbling away. Will test to see if malolactic is complete on the syrah and then rack off these carboys before setting up for one more racking in 5 weeks and then the long push for aging. If the cab follows in a three week malo cycle, I should have everything pretty well settled ahead of Thanksgiving. Looks like a shy 20 cases ahead. I'll sneak some tastes of the syrah during the testing tomorrow.

The Little Vineyard will run at 40 cases when it is in full crush mode. Hopefully, I will have the cab and syrah pretty well understood ahead of the merlot and cab franc coming on. On Bank at a time...

Uriah, coming out of our neighbor, Spring Valley, has had some wonderful Right Bank results. A baby Cheval Blanc. But the rap that I hear is that these are not aging worth a damn. I'm opening some '99 and '00 this weekend to assess. Tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


It is so easy to see how amateur winemakers go pro. So tempting! Our scale is all wrong, selling the wine goes right back to the main hustler elements that I loathe in my current industry, 80% of which I truly enjoy day after day. But nurturing the vines and taking the fruit and turning it into something fine and pleasing to the compelling that has become! I just want to dance little jigs! We pressed the 09 cab today. My goodness, but this is wonderful. The boys came home, Liliana was here, too, and Sue and I were working the press together. My fingers are purple again and I am a happy man.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pretty pretty syrah.

What is it in me that makes me see wines along masculine and feminine lines? Drank a couple glasses of the new syrah last girlish and bright! Just put it onto oak for the first time, so things will change, that is for certain. Right now, red currants and earth are the predominate notes.

The cab is probably down to zero brix about now. I am leaving it to off-gas until tomorrow, then pressing. This is such a different grape from the syrah...all boy, and tough! "Dare me", it says. "I'll do anything!" This is Steve McQueen trying to jump his stolen motorbike across the fence into Switzerland. The flavors hit so takes concentration to get past the punch.

Man...I had better not screw these up. There is some serious wine coming on.

Had a bottle of the new cab 08 bottling. Very hard at first. More approachable after some air, but still dark and intense. Sue liked it better than I did. I ignored the remainder in a glass for three hours. That last drink was astonishing. Totally distinct from the prior tries, this one was all bright cherries and glycerine with something added in the mid-palate (cloves?). Must give this some time and another try...special prospects that I had not anticipated after such high acids and a difficult growing season. It takes a real wine afficianado to imagine that these can be grapes from the same vines year to year, what with the 09s so huge and completely different from these 08s.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Strawberries and Black Currants

Fermentation is underway. Using two yeasts on different fermenters; the "Brunello" tastes of black currants, the "rockpile" is pure bright strawberries. I'm feeling a lot better after a wretched bout of flu, but at least I was fit for the harvest and crush before it hit me hard. Johnnie and Val were great company, such fine friends to enjoy! They brought over beautiful shots from the weekend. Posting several right now.

Basic Training

We march down rows, cut and drop, push and lift, dump and run. Friday night, lit by headlights from a 4 X 4 long- the blood-orange sun had dropped behind distant hills. Coyotes were howling as we crushed the purple berries. Tearing them down and rebuilding them into something bold, firm. Melding, leaning away their sweetness, uncovering their backbone. This is masculine stuff, this cabernet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What to bring...besides smiles and good attitude.

Jeans, comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses, a nice shirt, I-Pod. Forget about fancy pants and heaps of clothes.
Bring a nice bathrobe. Bath enhancers are good.
Wonderful tidbits of luscious foods (many are readily available at Salumia, local farms, & Super 8 Grocery plus other spots in town). Wine, well duh.
Lovely books. Binoculars. Drawing pad. Camera. Great biking, so bring 'em if you have 'em.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Extremely cool people.

We haven't done much to promote rental stays at Grape Hill. Just posted on the one website, #155659. After about a year and a half, word of mouth has spread and sometimes we need to reserve and plan in advance to stay here ourselves. But it feels really good, all the same. We have had passionate wine afficionados, writers, artists, super nice people with family members who live in Walla Walla, and, more and more, visitors from across the US and other countries, too. I don't get to hear from every person, but those who do write us a note or comment on VRBO have loved the time at Grape Hill. Rainy days and baking summer sun hasn't seemed to matter a whole lot. (Watching storms across the fields really is magical.) We did have one couple who got exhuberant with their baby oil, but we didn't want an explanation as to how it got on the walls and on one ceiling. Seemed to clean up pretty easily. So far, the outside shower has been a joy, proving that I am not the only one who likes sudsing up with a view of the world.
Sue came up with the idea of only having original art in the house. We are looking forward to our first artistic entry from a local artist with a wide eye for beauty who is quite smitten by Grape Hill...simpatico with us!
More and more, it seems, Big Table is the venue for wonderful, conscious long meals and conversation. Funny how many folks do like we do and prefer to cook together and not go in for meals as much. Must say, it is really great to enjoy the setting and not have to think about drinking and driving at all. The attrition for our good stemware has been brutal, but c'est-la-vie. I sure hope that the farmers market is well attended and appreciated by Grape Hill alums!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More restaurant reviews-

Brasserie Four, right on Main Street just east of 2nd, is a great semi-casual spot. Pick your wine by the bottle with minimal mark-up and enjoy it at your table. A simple menu of very well executed bistro mainstays with a few local twists. Steak frites and moules frites are outstanding. I avoid fries because these usually seem like a mass-produced excuse for grease-loading. Not here. The frites are made daily; total celebration of a pedestrian food rarely made in noble fashion. Seats are not the greatest, but the local art displays and cheerful service more than make up for that. Joyful atmosphere and staff that really seeks to please.

TMaccarone's. On Colville Street just off Main Street. There is some hit and miss here, with lots of flavor mixing and juxtaposed textures on the plate. Some of the dishes seem a bit over-wrought and confused, but one dish alone is good enough to go back for more again and again. The duck offered as a main course is a flat out marvel. Perfectly cooked, with sizzling hot slices of breast meat served over leg confit, gnocchi, divine peaches, and peppery arugula, this dish rocks!

For a really casual, easy spot to enjoy, the Green Lantern tavern on Isaac St. just east of Whitman College has great pizza, good eats all-around, good beers on tap, pool tables, and games on the TVs. Locals and students here.

Unfortunately, one of the favorites seems to be losing steam. The Whoopemup Cafe in Waitsburg still has a great ambiance, outside dining especially so, yet the food has slipped. Precise flavors taste routine and perhaps even pre-made? The menu and the cooking staff need to shake things up and refresh. Call this tough love, as I truly want to enjoy the food as much as the staff and the ambiance, but it is time for some changes...

If you are reading this and planning your weekend or holiday trip to Walla Walla, think about calling ahead to make arrangements for tastings at some of the wineries that are not generally open to the public. Longshadows, Garrison Creek, and Abeja come to mind and there are plenty more...

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I'm 3/4 recovered from the brutal day on Tuesday, taking down the nets, harvesting, driving 4.5 hours, then crushing. Way too much for one person. So it goes. I would not trade it for anything, of course, but better planning means bringing along more friends to help out.
The 2008 cab has got to be bottled to make some room for the 2009 juice on its way. Bright and delicious notes with good fruit flavors. Nothing complex...low oak and an iffy harvest season left the berries a lot more approachable than 2009's serious fruit. We'll get only about 4 cases from the '08s. The '09s look to be bigger, bolder, and potential for 20 cases. So, the dishwasher is filled with cooling new bottles, the corker is set in place, and let the games begin!