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Monthly Archives: October 2017

Failure to Launch? Oh No!

Day 2 in fermentation wine-making

Wouldn’t you know it?

After six years of successfully adding yeast into the crushed grapes with nary a problem, I walked into the barn this morning to see if the hard cap of grape skins and pulp that is supposed to have formed at the top of the vat of grape slurry is there.  Nope.  Only “caps” in two of the seven.

How can that be?

I used the same exact yeasts I’ve used in past years, which were nice and bubbly (like they were supposed to be) when I added them.  All vats were treated equally, so why the discrepancy in progress?

“Oh geez. I can’t even call my wine-maker mentor, because he has “life” happening right now,” which is what he says when life’s big events take over normal days. Technically, the manuals say to wait until Fermentation Day 3 of failure to launch in the yeast before worrying. However, in the past, the robust yeast I’ve used has taken off after the first 24 hours.

Here are are some pictures shooting down into the vats to show you what I’m talking about.

Robust Healthy Cap

Inert Nonexistant Cap

Undecided Half Cap

After a frantic call to More Winemaking’s helpline and an order for more yeast to be Fedexed tomorrow (just in case,) I wheeled the lackadaisical vats into the sun to warm the yeast and to stimulate some action.

Results tonight were all four of the Cab vats had formed caps. Yee ha!

Two of the three Merlot vats had formed very flimsy, weak caps, and one vat was a half cap, which I will take as a hopeful sign.  After all, tomorrow, Day 3 in the yeast game, is the cut off day for a successful start to the fermentation, turning grape juice into wine.

So many people put their hearts and sweat into this project that I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to pull it off with a “best effort” of success.

Plus, as a Celiac person, I need to make my own red wine in barrels guaranteed not to contain one molecule of wheat in the barrel making process, if I am to enjoy any at all.  So, I’m pretty motivated to make a go of this massive hobby.

Wish me luck, and pray for energetic yeast!

*Note to all you home winemaker wannabes–More Winemaking–is a great resource of supplies, how-to manuals, and a live help desk.  www.morewinemaking.com

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Harvest 2017

After the crush, we ended up with 100 gallons of Cab and 70 gallons of Merlot. Not bad for our 1/4 acre vineyard.

As you know from my last post, we struggled with the concept of continuing with the harvest in regard to the wildfires devastating the Napa area.

But, we carried on with an almost reverent tone in respect to and for our north bay neighbors. Each harvester seemed to cherish handling, cutting, and sending the grapes to my husband’s crushing machine…more deeply. Each seemed to enjoy the other harvesters more intensely.

No one hurried. Appreciating the fragility of the landscape lent a nearly Zen quality to this year’s harvest. (I know that sounds corny, but it was palpable.)

So…yes. It did feel healing for our little community of friends and family to come and to work together, and, of course, to raise a glass, or in most cases, several, for a job well done. 🍇🍇🍇

South Bay Watching North Bay Burn

The devastating North Bay Area fires feel and have felt personal. The evacuated and newly homeless people are our friends and relatives. The South Bay Area has been glued to KRON’s 24 hour coverage.

The Silverado Resort damaged? This is the place where my husband’s golf ball literally bounced off a goose’s back and landed on a green during one of the practice rounds in a pro am event. Memories!
We’ve seen beloved wineries on the Silverado trail, like Signorello, reduced to rubble. (Will we ever cherish the apron we got in their tasting room on one of our many anniversary weekends, now!)
Currently, the whole town of Calistoga has been evacuated and is at risk. What about the Lincoln Avenue Spa with those awesome steam tables where we have spent many a weekend sweating out the stresses of the 60-80 hour work weeks of Silicon Valley?
However cherished, our memories are insignificant in the face of the devastation and the complete life-altering changes the residents and businesses of the North Bay Area wine country have and are experiencing. The thing is…the fire continues day after day gobbling everything in sight in this cherished area. Unfathomable.

Our Harvest-
We are harvesting our backyard vineyard Saturday, which feels a bit odd in the face of the “real” wine country’s disaster. We will be wearing masks in the rows, because of the Napa/Sonoma fires’ smoke. Our grapes have begun to wither and show signs of stress from the big winds that have driven the North Bay fires and felt here.

Do we cancel the harvest in honor of the loss in the North Bay’s wine country or carry on to honor the grape-growing/wine-making traditions started there?

Our harvesters have called to tell me that they need to get in the field and work with the grapes, in order to lessen the horror they feel for our North Bay neighbors. With heavy hearts we will soldier on (bringing baby food, dog food, toiletries, etc to the harvester that will take these supplies on Sunday to the eight, now homeless, families she knows in the North Bay.) We will celebrate everything this California soil has to give to each of us no matter where we live: grapes, artichokes, strawberries—a fruit and veggie basket for the nation.

Please uncork a Napa or Sonoma wine this weekend to honor the men and women who have created and continue to care for our original wine country and for those amazing disaster fighters hard at work to end the burning of the North Bay area.

Ways to Help-#WineCountryStrong

SAHMmelier

cropped-798.jpg Photo taken from the hills behind Gundlach Bundschu

To write about wine while the wine country burns feels wrong to me.

And yet finding the words to do the tragedy justice seems impossible.

When I look at the devastation, see what has been taken, how can I respond? When I start to realize the enormity of the situation, all words seem trite.

Each photo elicits the same few words: devastating, heartbreaking, unbelievable.

Each new days brings more reports of loss and not enough containment and evacuations.

Each feed brings different reports of heartache and heroism, of loss and resilience.

It is a place that I’ve never called home, but every time I visit, it sure feels like one. It is home for many friends and for my father-in-law. It is the heart of our country’s wine industry, a place where people dream of living. A place where people have spent…

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