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Sulfuring Wine

P1010796There is a lot of talk here in Sonoma County about “Natural Wine”. For most people that means allowing the grapes to ferment with “Native Yeast” (found naturally on the grape clusters), no filtering or fining and not adding yeast to preserve the wine.

I like the idea but it has risks. For yeast…the yeast strain will help determine the taste of the wine. I may do this eventually, but for now I would like this control and I don’t see anything wrong with controlling the yeast. It’s not like it is GMO or anything. I fully agree with not fining or filtering. You can get beautiful wine without these techniques, especially for red wine. Lastly, sulfur…this has the most risk and I think the lowest reward. Sulfur has been used for hundreds of years to prevent wine from spoiling and it also controls the fermentation process. If you do not use sulfur the wine can go bad quickly and taste/smell funky, although some wineries are successful without it, I don’t want to take that chance. FYI…US law requires wine with total sulfites over 10 ppm to have a warning CONTAINS SULFITES. US organic standards allow 100 ppm in wines. The maximum limit for wines in the US is 350, with most wines between 80 and 120 ppm.

Sulfur is added during fermentation to control spoilage. A lot of the sulfur gets removed with the skins at pressing. When the wine is put to a vessel for aging, you need to add sulfur so that it does not go bad. Not to get to technical, but with a low pH wine you need less sulfur than a high pH wine. If you read earlier in the blog, my wine had a pH of between 3.7 and 3.8. So…I need around 50 ppm of sulfur to ensure it does not go bad.

The picture above is a test kit that determines the sulfur level. With this color I determined I had around 18 ppm sulfur in the wine, so I had to add 30 ppm. In total I added 35 ppm at fermentation, 15 ppm one month after I started aging and another 30 ppm on December 7th. I will probably have to add around 9 ppm sulfur every month until bottling as the sulfur is used up during the aging process and will settle out on the bottom.

Lastly, tannin in wine will also act as a natural anti-oxidant. So, if you are going to purchase organic wine, I would suggest red instead of white and make sure it is not to old.

Making Vine Trunks and 2012 Canes for Fruit!

P1060637I know you probably can’t tell from the pictures….but this is a very exciting moment! Most of the vines are around 3.5’ tall……however some of them are 6’ tall. Since this is the second year, we are establishing a better root structure and also preparing the canes to bear fruit in 2012. So…..when the vine is around 4.5-5’ tall I’m cutting it back to 3’….as long as the trunk is #2 pencil thick. Yes, very technical. What this will do is shock the plant so that it will concentrate its growth to put out lateral growth. In addition it will grow a good root structure. Then in the fall I will do more pruning. Since our fruit wire is 36” tall, we will cut the trunk back to 30” to allow the canes room to grow to the fruit wire. We will also take off the leaves below the drip line…and then it will look like a grapevine. This will all take place in the winter while the plant is sleeping.

With this work……we should get around 0.5-1 ton of fruit next year….enough for 25-50 cases of Pinot noir. I’m sure all you readers are excited about drinking the fruit of my labor!!

Below are pictures before and after the pruning. You can see it started out around 5.5’ and ended at 3’ tall.

Single Vineyard Night

P1060378We enjoyed a wonderful evening at “Single Vineyard Night”, hosted by the Thomas George Winery. It was put on by the younger generation of winemakers/vineyard owners and the event was in their caves. If you have never been in a wine cave, it is a treat! We went to enjoy the wine and try and determine what to do with our grapes starting in 2012.

Well….we could just grow grapes and then sell them to a like minded winery to make wonderful wine. Sounds pretty easy…..but we are just starting out so we don’t have a reputation yet….except we are in the Russian River Valley. And of course…..we planted Pommard and 667 at the proper angle spaced densely to stress the vines and make intensely flavored wine….or that is the theory!

Or…..we could have someone help us make the wine and then sell it. If you are reading this…send a note and I can put you on the first allocation. The 2012 vintage will produce 25-50 cases. Enough for friends/family the first year but then it will peak at 250-300 cases for the 2015 vintage. Selling that much wine will take some effort…..good financially if it works out but a lot of work.

Maybe a combination of both? Who knows…..but with this evening and another event hosted by Justin Lattanzio that we are going to on June 11, 2011…..will have more information to give us a good direction to head. It would be nice to make that decision early….but with this economy, who knows.

Viticulture Classes

In order to grow grapes and make wine, you need to know a little about the business. I have not done this for many years but I’m going back to school (if I get signed up in the next few days). Santa Rosa Junior College has a Viticulture Program that is excellent. Many of the classes are out in the field so that you learn the trade here in wine country, what could be better than that! It will take me at least 3 years is my guess, but by then our grapes will be big enough to make wine….so it should be good timing. We are going to by certified organic, so all of this is good to know.

Requirements: Agricultural Computer Applications, Soil and Plant Nutrition, Integrated Pest Management, World Viticulture and Wine Styles, Viticulture: Fall Practices and Spring Practices, Basic Wine Grape Viticulture and Vineyard Management.

Electives: I have to take 2 classes of the 20 electives listed. I think one of them is wine tasting!

Garden Update

Anyone who has visited has seen that we have been taking out shrubs and putting in edible landscape. Almost no ones knows this, but I have a pumpkin fetish. Many years ago I grew small ones up a chain link fence. As you can see from the picture above we have a large pumpkin patch…both for eating fresh pumpkin pies and also for Halloween pumpkins for Allura, Maribella and Grace. Enough about pumpkins.

We also have tomato’s, zucchini, 4 kinds of squash, 2 kinds of beans, 200 heads of garlic, raspberries, blueberries, and apples. In addition, we just planted a fig tree and a fuyu persimmon. Based on Vaughn and Karina’s wonderful raised garden in Portland, we are about ready to rip out the grass behind the pool and put in raised beds and a patio to overlook the vineyard. We should have that done by early to mid September, just in time to get our winter veggies in the ground.

Vineyard Costs

Many folks ask what does it cost to put in a small vineyard and make a good bottle of wine. It is a very difficult question as the biggest item in the equation in California is the land cost. You can have land come with your house as we did or you can buy raw land for about $75-100K/acre. The other big item we found is consultation and coordination of the activities. Consultants will either quote you a flat fee or around $100-150/hr. This ends up being a big portion of the small vineyard cost….I’m not going to list this as we are not done yet, but figure 15-20% of the total project.

I think the easiest way to talk about small vineyards is cost per vine. This will give you an idea if you want to pursue this dream/lifestyle.

Items Cost/vine
Dormant Vines $3.50
Amendments $1.25
Tilling $0.50
Posts/Wire $3.50
Irrigation Materials $1.65
Labor to Install $2.00
Gopher control $1.40

Sub Total $13.80
Consultant (17.5%) $ 2.42

Total $16.22

Yearly maintenance will run between $2-3/vine depending on if you are organic or conventionally farmed and the row spacing. Narrow row spacing, ie. below 6’, will cost more. If you do most of the work yourself, like the folks at Emtu, you can reduce this substantially. However, you will need to buy a tractor and a few more tools.

What you get….

For Pinot you get about 3.5 lbs/plant, or enough for a bottle of wine when the plants are mature in about 6 years. Chardonnay is about twice as much. If you sell the grapes, you can get about $2500-$4000/ton for Pinot.

Not a great financial return……will probably take about 10-12 years to make back your investment, but you are living a dream.

Gophers and Bees

They should name the county animal the gopher. They are everywhere in Sonoma County. They love to eat tender roots, especially grapes that have just been planted. At least 3 times we have heard of people planting a vineyard and in the first year they lose 1/4 to 1/3 of the vines to gophers. Very expensive. We are going to try and stop them early by putting in a gopher cage around our entire vineyard and garden area. Yes, 1.5 acres. You may think this is crazy but we are hoping it will give us peace of mind and make it easier to control them in the future. Basically we will dig down 3 feet, bury 1/2” square gopher wire that is 4’ tall and attach the top to the fence. After the vines are established, the gophers are not much of a problem.

Bees…….most of the time we love bees. They do all sorts of good things for the land and we try and leave them alone. Yellow jackets are not my favorite, but Karina tells me that they also do very good things. However, when the yellow jackets make their nest in the ground near the house they are a problem. Back a few weeks ago when I rented the John Deere 310 to take out the fence posts and stumps, I hit a yellow jacket’s nest that was near the house. Joey said it was funny, but I jumped off the tractor and ran around for about a minute to get rid of them as they were chasing me. I got stung about 10 times. Linda told me the best remedy is to put a paste of baking soda on the bite and the sting and itch will go away.
Oh,,,,,I asked Dane how to get rid of them and he said he had heard of water. After an hour on the web, I saw that people poured boiling water on the nests. I can tell you that this is the easiest and best remedy. It kills them on contact so when you pour it on them you don’t have to run and it doesn’t cost any money or pollute the environment. Took me about 6 trips to the kitchen over two days, but it seems like they are gone now. We will see in a few days when they till the land.