Well, like I said, its been a while.  I did everything.  I had fun.  I worked hard.  I learned SO MUCH.  And I am about to do it all over again.  I will hopefully figure out how to really post pictures well and post a mini-montage/recap of my first harvest before I move on to my second harvest which starts Feb 15! 

Today I “talked” to my new boss in Argentina.  1. I do not really speak Spanish all that well so I had some phrases written down.  For example:  “Hablo con Julia, por favor.”  and “Mi avion llega e 1030 el 11 de Febrero.”  and “Estuve nervioso llamar porque me espanol no es bueno.”  The great thing is that I sounded real enough that she tried responding to me in Spanish and she spoke a bit fast and I ended up having no idea what she was saying.  Then she tried English and told me that she would have someone pick me up at the airport.  Really.  Should not be that difficult, right?  I hope it gets easier.  We both laughed and agreed that Spanglish will be our language!  2.  First experience with Skype.  Very nervioso about that as well.  I shouldn’t be – it ended up being a very easy way to communicate.  And cheap!

Now, just time to figure out what in the world I’m bringing! (and I try not to bring EVERYTHING!)

I am going to visit some friends in Atlanta for a couple of days before I head down.  Then I arrive on the 11th of February and start work on the 15th.  I will be staying at a house on the winery property.  It is summer down there and I can’t wait for things like FRESH TOMATOES!!! oh, and SUNSHINE!!!  I’ll be there through the South American Autumn, and leave May 10th.  I then head to Chile for a week.  I figure, since I’m almost there already, why not?  I can explore for a week – who knows when I’ll be back down there?


Tuesday – after a wonderful long weekend we went and sampled grapes again. 

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We did it a bit differently this time.  We  split up and each did two sections in the Chardonnay.  This was both good and bad.  It was good because we got it done in half the time.  It was bad because I somehow screwed up the sample.  I did the sampling the same way that I always do – I zigzagged down the row taking the top middle and bottom grape from a bunch.  I took from the shade side and the sun side.  My boss did the same thing.  Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t do it quite right….but I think I did.  When I got back to the winery I was put in charge again of testing Brix and recording the readings.  I did this and guess what, on one of the samples I took it actually came back with lower Brix than it had the previous week.  This is not really possible.  Sugar goes up as the weeks go by, not down.  The only way that this would happen is through either faulty testing or through faulty sampling.  I tested many many many times and every time (except one) it was lower than it had been the previous week.  I told my boss about the results and asked what could have happened…He said “Sample Error.”  I was really really hoping that that wasn’t the case.  He said that it was ok because it wasn’t off by much – only a couple of  0.1 degrees.  It is also ok because those grapes are part of the vineyard and that lack of sugar was there too…  We’ll see, though.  We are going testing again tomorrow.  I really, in a terrible way, hope that the results back up what I did earlier in the week. 

I have been driving around bunches this week…Literally – Bunches of grapes.  On Wednesday I went and picked up two tons of grapes. 

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 These are those grapes from that vineyard that I talked about before – the one that had been destroyed by the deer. 

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I got to work a bit early on Wednesday and was corralled into going with to pick them up.  They were picked and delivered to a winery in Sonoma.  We were purchasing them from the Sonoma winery that had purchased them originally and we had to go pick them up.  I imagine that we must have been getting some incredible deal otherwise we would not have had to pick them up ourselves.  Luckily we were just taking two tons – or four bins.  But two tons is TWO TONS!!!  And two tons is a lot of grapes to move – not to mention that it is a 45 minute drive one way.  

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We loaded up two bins at a time and I came back for the second load by myself.  The truck rides like a boat! 

We hand sorted all of the Pinot – whatever the deer didn’t get to – and destemmed the rest!  It is sticky, hot work – but not too bad – kind of fun, actually.  Then the clean up – and lots of it!  Thursday, again more errand doing. 

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 I drove to the machine shop in town and picked up hose racks and we cleaned hoses and sorted them all afternoon. 

I have also been placed in the default position of being the office work person which is not something I terribly mind and is something I am actually ok at.  So office work for an hour or so both yesterday and today…

After the excitement of our first grapes we had another lull… 

On Thursday we went and sampled the Chardonnay and looked at another Pinot Noir vineyard.  The Chard is getting there – at about 20 or so Brix.  The Pinot vineyard that we looked at though, not so good.  It was a pretty steep hillside and the entire lower half of it was DESTROYED by deer.  It actually looked like it had been picked already, that is how thorough the deer were!  The top half grapes looked pretty good, however they were starting to shrivel a bit.  My boss asked the owner to turn up the irrigation a bit – plump up those grapes a bit before they die! 

After lunch we went on a field trip.  We were buying some used barrels from another winery and went to pick them up.  In addition to going to pick them up we took a little tour of the facility.  The winery was beautiful – I had been there again, but going through with someone who worked in the wine making side of things there was a different experience entirely.  He was able of tell us all of the cool little reasons that they did things “just so.”  For example, the cellar is cooled from the floor AND the ceiling and is kept always at 62 degrees.  I mentioned though, that they wouldn’t really have to cool the floor if they hadn’t been in a location that is notorious for some hot ground!  The winery we were at was next door to a very famous winery that had planned a big underground cave only to find that there were springs not too far below the surface that heated up the ground.

Friday was fun.  Because there is really NOTHING to do right now, I had the day off.  My roommate’s brother and friend are making a bit of wine (and both work in wineries) and needed help picking.  We went and helped pick grapes.  I imagine that if I had to do this and make sure that I was going fast and getting the best stuff, I don’t think that I would like it so much.  Going and doing it just for a couple of hours for fun – just to help out with no real expectations of doing a particularly great job – was great!  I kind of got lost on my way there so I didn’t end up even doing as much as the rest of the people (because I was late.)  They picked some Gewurztraminer that was a bit riper than they would have liked, and some Chardonnay that was a little less ripe to compensate for acidity.  They are going to do a blend – I imagine it will be pretty aromatic and hopefully bright – probably in stainless. 

These are some action shots….

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Chardonnay with a bit of “sunburn”

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my roommate…

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Her brother.

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me again!

After a super hot weekend (kind of reminded me of the Midwest!) that was super humid, we have had a busy week so far.  I got to participate in “actual wine making” which entailed, you guessed it: cleaning. 

On Monday and Tuesday we “racked.” 

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 Racking typically is when you pump the wine in the barrels off of the lees and into a large tank, then you pump it back into the barrel.  We did this with two different wines.  Only instead of cleaning the lees out of the barrels, we pumped that in too!  Basically we just stirred it all up.  Since the barrels and barrel racks hadn’t been cleaned ever, I had the pleasure of power washing all of the racks on Monday while the guys did the racking and on Tuesday I got to rack while one of the guys did the power washing.  Not going to lie, I power washed more thoroughly….

Finally, on Wednesday WE GOT GRAPES!!!! 

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 The first of our four Russian River Pinot blocks were delivered in the morning. 

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We all made sure that the equipment was still nice and clean.  In fact, we even rinsed and sanitized it again.  Then we waited for dry ice to come because we process the grapes outside and it was pretty hot again.  Don’t worry, though, I definitely kept busy cleaning!  Finally around 3:00 or so dry ice came and we could get started!

One of the most interesting things that happened was that the owner of the winery got on the line and sorted with us!  I like that he is about as “hands on” or more so than many other winery owners.  The first thing, though, was a bottle of Champagne – or should I say “Sparkling Wine”….  A good tradition is always a bit of bubbly and a toast to the harvest with the first grapes.  The two tons of Pinot were hand sorted kind of by yours truely, the owner, the wine maker and the cellar master.  It got pretty sticky and went pretty quickly.  It was a pretty good first batch. 

Afterwards, of course we do a serious clean up. 

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At the end, we add more dry ice and let it rest.  LET THE FERMENTATION BEGIN!!!

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Man, what a difference a bit of sun makes!  August 09 002

The past couple of days have started out cool and turned into nice sunny hot days.  Still more power-washing of macro-bins.  They are nearly as tall as I am and quite heavy.  I suit up in all sorts of wet weather gear and hose them off.  Then I had the pleasure of washing down all of the black top!

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I also got to go with to test the Chardonnay in the Russian River.  Just like the Pinot, it was up by about 2 degrees Brix across the board.  It is still no where near being ready to harvest, though.  The highest is at around 18 Brix.   Luckily this weekend is supposed to be super hot – possibly it will kick start all of these grapes into harvest gear!

On another note, this is what I drove home to last night!

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We just don’t really have clouds like this here!  It was pretty incredible!


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The last couple of days have been cool and FOGGY!!! I almost feel as though we are not in the Napa Valley.  This seems more like what I would imagine Piemonte to be like.  The word for their most famous grape, Nebbiolo, comes from the Italian word for fog: Nebbia.  What this means for us is that we wait.  We wait until the sugars are high, the pH drops a bit and the phenolics “get there.” 

Yesterday I washed a bunch of the big picking bins.  It was so cool in the morning when I was power washing them with hot water that I created my own fog!  It actually got hard to see and very damp where I was washing.  After a bit I was told that I was, of course, welcome to use the wet weather gear.  Of course.  I put it on when I was already good and damp and my red shoes had already stained both my socks and toes red.  The gear is a men’s size large jacket and a men’s size EXTRA large over-all.  Luckily I have found some rubber boots that fit pretty well, though.  I just suited up and tucked those XLs into my boots and off I went for round two. 

After lunch I was waiting for the guy who moves them and got started on another project of – you guessed it – scrubbing and sanitizing.  I have done so much detail work on gaskets and attachments and caps etc, that the wine maker told me I am an angel of sanitation.  I replied, “the sanit-angel?”   This has stuck at least for now – you may refer to me as the “Sanit-angel.”

Today I got to do more sampling of vineyards and more stenciling.  We went to our pinot blocks on Westside Rd. near Healdsburg and it was foggy until at least 10 am.  This is not really great right now.  In the vineyard last week we were seeing lots and lots of greenish grapes.  Today, far fewer.  Because we had been last week, my boss asked the vineyard owner to drop the unneeded/extra bunches.  If a vine is giving its energy to fewer bunches, it has more energy to give to each individual bunch.  This made a huge difference both in brix and phenolics.  Each of the four blocks definitely ripened visually, flavor wise, and in most cases, by at least two brix.  Still, we will be going block by block, with probably at least a week between each block. 

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This is kind of what doing brix testing looks like.  Right now we have a “mobile lab” (really a cart that I put all of our testing equipment on) while we are waiting for our real lab to get built.  We are having a great lab built from scratch, but for now we have a cart. August 09 016

 It is “my” lab.  I was just recently told that my job once we get juice will be to test it every morning.  I am not being sarcastic at all when I say that I am super excited that this is my job!  For now, and I think in the future as well, we are sending out the juice for testing as far as TA and pH goes.  Also part of my job is to get it to the real lab for testing.  I do get to do the sugar testing, though.  Apparently, last time I filled out these labels I circled pH and VA.  This is wrong!!! Volatile acidity is tested in WINE not JUICE!!! I should have circled TA which is tartriteable acidity (I think – but I will check to make sure what it really is).  The lab ended up calling and asking if we were sure we wanted to know what the VA was in our juice, like we were dumb or something.  “WE” weren’t dumb, we just had an intern who didn’t look carefully when circling!

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Anyway, no harm done!  Fun two days – – and a picture of the barrels that I stenciled.   Can you see the stencils? 

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Today we got to go home a bit early.  Almost like a little gift!  One of my co-workers had a final hurrah of the summer planned at Tahoe and needed to leave at noon.  My boss, suggested that we all take off at noon, and I was happy to go! 

Aside from my co-worker having plans, there is a kind of major reason that we were able to do this.  It is pretty cool.  Now I don’t mean cool as in awesome or neat.  I mean cool as in temps.  It did warm up today, but it isn’t warming up nearly enough.  This means that we are going to be waiting on grapes for some time.  Some would argue that a long, slow harvest is optimal for flavor/phenolic development.  The longer the grapes can hold on without the sugars shooting up, the better because they will have time to get color and flavor ripe. 

We are having unseasonably cool temps right now and they are expected to continue for a bit.  This is just fine with me, from a personal standpoint.  However, my boss did mention when he hired me about a month ago that his goal was to be done with everything for harvest by Thanksgiving.  Today he said that he wouldn’t be surprised if people were picking in DECEMBER!!!  I kind of think that he was just being dramatic.  If people were picking in December they would be picking raisins.  It is totally possible to make wine from raisins – think from “concentrate”.  All you do is add acid and water and lo and behold, you have a very densely flavored, rich, usually pretty high in alcohol, and sometimes residual sugary wine.  Some people like that sort of thing – personally, I do not.  I like a wine that is lighter, has more natural acidity and is lower in alcohol. 

Since it was a short day, we didn’t do too much.  Just some more new barrel stenciling and then some serious scrubbing.  I was scrubbing the floor for a good long time today.  With my hands.  Someone left some of a caustic chemical on the floor over night and it bubbled up and stained the floor.  It sounds much worse than it really was.  It is really just like oxyclean….but a little stronger.    Which in turn forced me to scrub quite a bit stronger.  

I am looking forward to getting in shape and these muscles that everyone talks about! 

ps. also looking forward to actually being able to roll a barrel.  If I could do it like THIS guy, I would have it made!  Alas, I am very akward when I do it.

I am pretty excited that I have been doing some new things!  I got to go with the winemaker to the vineyards to sample grapes.  We went to the Russian River Valley to test both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  We tested four lots of each.  Both the Pinot and Chard come from vineyards with quite the pedigree – some pretty expensive neighbors. 

So the way to sample a vineyard, at least in this case, is to pick a grape from the top, center and bottom of a bunch, every five vines or so.  Then continue the length of the row on either side of the row.  Depending on how many rows  or how big the vineyard is you may have to do this a bunch of times.  Luckily, we just have a few rows in each of “our” blocks.  Collect the grapes in a very fancy Ziploc baggie – making sure to label the block and bring them back to the “lab”.

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Once back at the winery we do the very important task of mushing all of the grapes in their respective baggies – kind of the way you would bubble wrap.  Then strain the juice into little vials and get them labled, ready to bring to the real lab.  I get to test the brix or sugar content myself, but for pH and TA they have to “send it out”. 

The Chardonnay came in between 15.5 and 17.5 brix.  The Pinot, though, came in between 17.9 and 23.5!!!! That means that we will soon be receiving Pinot at the winery and will be ACTUALLY DOING THE WINE MAKING STUFF!!!

Today I cleaned.  Cleaned and cleaned.  Tomorrow I will clean also.  I cleaned three tanks.  First we use a caustic/base and scrub any tartrates/gunk off of the inside.  Then we rinse with water.  Second we wipe down with citric acid.  Then we rinse with water.

I wish that you could see how big these guys are!  I climbed inside of them to do this cleaning.  It would be more than big enough to have a small party in!  I did the indoor ones first and just one of the outdoor ones.  Tomorrow I will scrub some more. 

The other thing I did today was to fill up a pump over tank/bin with water a gallon at a time.  I did this to find out how many gallons it would hold as well as measured the distance from the top after each gallon was added.  Turns out that it holds 110 gallons finally when there is just one inch remaining from the top. 

I have heard about other wineries getting grapes last week and some getting grapes this week.  Not so sure when we are going to be getting ours.  My boss is going to drive out to a couple of vineyards in the Russian River area to check brix tomorrow – I heard that they were getting to be right around 20, so probably sometime soon!  Typically in Napa, people tend to start picking around 24.  Sparkling and some whites a bit lower, same with some pinots…. The higher the brix, the higher the alcohol – Welcome to Napa!

brix – the measure of sugar in the fruit and later the wine

tartrates – basically a salt of potassium that comes out of the fruit/wine.  It sticks to the inside of tanks and is a pain to scrub off.  You might also have seen it in bottles of wine if you’ve ever had a white wine with “wine diamonds” in it – it just has fallen out of solution due to being chilled.

ps. …..sore….

Exhausted.  But I think I held my own today!

The day started at 8:00 and went through 4:40 with a lunch break.  Now, this doesn’t sound like a particularly long day, but it sure was physical!  I have heard lots of cellar guys talk about how much weight they lose during harvest and I would have to say that after today, I believe them.  I am a bit sore – and not too excited to see how sore I’ll be in the morning.  One of the great things that happened today is that the guys I work with treated me pretty much the same as they treated each other.  The only concession they made to me being a girl was that one of them really was trying to watch his language.  I am certain that once he gets to know me, that will change.  As far as the physical stuff went, though, I did all sorts of things including climbing on top of tanks, scrubbing tanks and presses and scrubbing some more and then heavy lifting.  All in the sun.  And my face was pink!  It always is when I am hot or exercising and sometimes I forget – but my boss was a bit concerned about sunburn.  Kind of a weird thing to have to tell people, “No really, I am fine, I just get a pink face!”

This will be an interesting winery to learn at, though.  A couple of “celebrity winemakers” make their wines here – definitely some high priced wine!  Also, I was told by my boss, “Your job will be to be like a sponge.”  Just absorb as much knowledge as possible.  I couldn’t have asked for a better first crush experience.  Learn a lot, and from some of the best of the best!

The guys I work with are great so far – interesting tidbit – they were both language majors in college.  One studied romance languages (French, Spanish and Italian) and the other eastern languages (Japanese and Mandarin.) 

This is my first work pic: Where we lunch.

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