David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery Winemaker's Diary

arrow May 15 - June 4, 2011

Sunday May 29, 2011

Our prices on the 2011 Pre-Harvest Futures will go up around June First so to get the best prices please order in the next few days.

We are back from our vacation up to Seattle and actually had some good weather on the Oregon Coast and Washington. We did go to one high end restaurant on the coast.....at least they were trying to be high end. Over the last several years restaurants we have gone to on the Oregon coast have always been poor. At this restaurant the food was Ok but what was interesting was when I gave a taste of our 2008 Block 4 to the chef, he said it was fruity, as if a wine should not be fruity. Over the last several years I have had similar comments from customers and people in the wine industry. I do agree our wines generally have more fruit showing compared to most other wineries and sometimes I do get the impression people are not sure what to think. I am happy with our style of wine and I feel other wineries are more traditional and follow the old methods which produce drier wines. I believe our wines will age longer.

I have talked about this subject before, but not in such detail so it is time to go over again about how we produce wines with apparently more fruit. I don't profess to know what other wineries do in comparison to ours. I can only state what we do and what is commonly traditional in the wine industry. Some of what we do may contribute to the fruity character in our wines and cover up some tannins. We have tannins but I find I must swirl the wine in my mouth to find it.

1) We irrigate all the way to harvest. I do not believe in stressing vines. Many wineries either shut off irrigation several weeks before Harvest or don't irrigate at all. When I first worked this vineyard at 7485 Dry Creek Road in 1979, I tried to irrigate very little. I found out right away that the soil here has a lot of rock and is extremely well drained. The instruments I used in the first few years here showed that the soil would dry out all the way down to 4 feet in three days. We do not get rain in the summer. The grapes in the first few years dehydrated and my amateur wine had little fruit character. This vineyard is special and lies on a section of land that is somewhat higher than most vineyards around us. I have been to many vineyards above us on the bench-lands and I have been to many vineyards on the valley floor a little below us. I have even made wines from many of these vineyards. Some vineyard growers can dry farm and some vineyard growers can shut off the water for weeks before Harvest. Mainly they can get away with this treatment because their soil has less rock, more clay and is richer. Thus their soil will hold water better. I think our soil is special and by irrigating we can produce wines with slightly more fruit.

2) We harvest at high sugars. Many wineries are doing the same thing, but for some reason the grapes from this vineyard have higher acid, more than any wine I have made from vineyards around here so we do not have to add harsh tartaric acid to balance our wines.

3) We Harvest at high temperatures. All wineries I know of try to pick the grapes early in the morning and thus the fruit is brought in below 60 degrees. I don't mind having grapes come in over 80 degrees and sometimes up to 90. That way the fermentation starts quicker and thus preserves the fruit.

4) We do not crush are grapes at Harvest. I know some other wineries do the same thing. Our processor or destemmer as we call it, just takes the bunches and removes most of the stems and gently breaks the berries. This obviously creates less harshness and more fruit character.

5) We do not cold soak. I do not believe this helps to create more good flavor. I believe this method can produce off flavors. Why would anyone want to preserve the fruit? Isn't that what we do by refrigerating our food? I don't think any food, whether grapes or not can be improved by keeping it at a low temperature for any amount of time. Fermentation should start as soon as possible. We crush and add yeast the next morning after finding out the sugar reading. Sure marinating food in something strong can change the character, but I am not talking about that. Cold soaking is about keeping crushed grapes at 40 to 50 degrees for days. Pinot producers swear by this method. I think it is a waste of time and can create problems if not done right.

6) We ferment at very high temperatures. We intentionally try to create a spike up to 90-95 degrees. Most wineries try to control the temperature so it does not reach more than 85 degrees. I feel we get more intensity in our wines with this hot fermentation and maybe more fruit character. I compare it to cooking, all of us heat our food up to high temperatures to produce more flavor. I agree a fermentation over 90 degrees can kill off the yeast so we have to monitor the fermentation. That is another subject.

7) Our fermentation usually finishes in 7 days.

8) I despise extended maceration!! This is the method used over centuries in Europe and is used by most wineries here in California. It is traditional!! After a wine loses all it's sugar and thus is dry, a cover is put over the fermenter and the wine is left on the skins for days or even weeks. This method oxidizes the wine and makes it less fruity. I think most winemakers who use this method feel it makes the wine more drinkable at an earlier stage. I believe you lose character. Oxidation is a wines biggest enemy. Also it has been proven that by using this method some of the color is lost and the tannins are less because they are absorbed back into the skins.

9) We purposely press at one to 5 percent sugar and let the wine finish fermenting in the barrel.

10) We press hard and over a long time, much longer than anyone else I know. I feel this creates more character and actually may produce less fruit or I may argue it creates more fruit because we are extracting more out of the skins.

11) We top off our barrels every two weeks with last years Zp2c wine. We lose one quarter of a bottle every week from evaporation through the staves of our barrels. I believe most wineries top off less. Topping off more often preserves fruit.

12) We use only 25% new oak in the wine we bottle in July. Oak does supply the wine with more complexity, but does cover up fruit character. We have been experimenting with wine aged for 6 months longer in more oak. We bottle these wines in January and so far I am happy with the results.

13) We  do not filter!! I believe filtering strips a wine of character and fruit, but it is traditional and makes a fine more consistent from vintage to vintage.

14) We do not fine our red wines. Fining is traditional and will make a wine less harsh but again I believe it strips a wine of color, character, tannin and fruit. For red wines the most traditional method of fining is to froth up egg whites and add to the top of a barrel. The egg whites slowly sink to the bottom of the barrel over weeks and will clarify a wine. 

15) We seal with screwcaps which is the best method of closure. Screwcaps seal consistently and as tight as a perfect cork and preserves fruit. Cork has a flavor of wood that I can pick out in a blind tasting. It is traditional but I do not want to add that character to my wine. Just chew on a cork and tell me if you like the taste. Of course there are bad corks which is another subject. Also wine sealed with corks age at different rates, because no cork is the same. I have cases of 1970 Bordeauxs I purchased back in the 70's. The bottles in the same case have aged at different rates because the wine has evaporated through the cork. Screwcaps let a wine age gracefully at a consistent rate. 

I am sure I have forgotten some things so I may add to this later.

Monday May 30, 2011

I am not fan of pinot. I have a history. I tasted pinot and cabernet from BV on new years eve in 1969. I was with special friends.....I had not gone to a new years party before this and not been drinking only Booze. These Beaulieu wines were my first exposure to good wines. In those days pinot was made in a style like cabernet, dark and less refined as pinots are made this day. After that in 1970 I made a point of trying many California cabernets including BV private reserve. My favorite wine then was BV private reserve from 1964. Also around that time I purchased some 1958 private reserve. Then later that year I started trying some Bordeauxs. 1966 Bordeauxs were hard to find but 1967 a less quality year could be purchased in half bottles from John Walker & Company in the San Francisco financial district where I worked.

During the next few years several of my friends and I purchased many Bordeaux wines and also some French Burgundies. These friends seemed to like French Burgundies but I could not understand their fascination. The Pinot grape which is used exclusively in French Burgundies did not excite me. First of all they were more expensive than Bordeaux wines and they were lighter and less dark. In those years I remember tasting only one Burgundy that I thought was interesting, but not interesting enough to shell out the money.

Since then over the last 40 years I have tasted many Pinot based wines. I have never been impressed. I agree they can be complex if enough oak is used but they are way too light for me. Pat my wife likes Pinots and definitely prefers them to heavier wines and probably likes them as much as Zinfandel based wines.

After I started the winery in 1994 I made only Zinfandel and Cabernet and our blend called Estate Cuvee. In 1998 I had a chance to purchase some Pinot grapes from Russian River. At that time the interest in Pinot was rising and I figured that I needed to try my hand at making some. Everyone was saying Pinot was a hard wine to make. I did not believe it. Siduri was fast becoming a popular winery making high end Pinot wines. I had met Adam and Diana, the owners of Siduri back in the early 1990s before we both started our wineries in 1994. I called them up in 1998 and picked their brain and learned about how their pinot was made.

So in 1998 I decided to try an experiment and make four different pinots from the same grapes. It is long so I will only copy a small amount of the notes on the experiment. If interested you could go to my diary back in 1998 and read more. Here is some of what I wrote:

Sunday, October 4 1998   High 87, low 45 

I talked to Steve Ryan last night, and we have made a decision to harvest his Pinot Noir on Tuesday. As of this morning, this appears to be a good decision as there was no fog and clear blue skies promise warmer weather today. 

I plan on using three different methods to ferment the Pinot. 

The first will be the same method I use on all my fermentations that is - stem, then ferment hot with the fastest-acting yeast and punch down many times a day. After approximately five days, the wine should be ready to press. I will press it very hard to extract as much flavor as possible. From what I've heard from many winemakers, this is not the traditional way of making Pinot Noir. In other words, no one I know recommends this first method. But since this is the method I use for all my other wines, I would like to see for myself why it doesn't work for Pinot. 

The second method will be completely different. I plan to not stem the grapes at all. They will go into a half ton bin, just like the first fermentation, but the bunches will remain on the stems and be pretty much whole berry. Of course, just the activity of cutting the bunches off the vines and throwing them from the pickers' tubs into the harvesting bins will create cracks in the skins, and juice will naturally increase as the days go on. I will add no yeast and let this fermentation develop on its own. I am not sure what  temperature will be achieved, but I will not try to control the temperature in any way. Instead of vigorously punching down with our stainless steel punch-down tool, we will exert only slight pressure to create more juice. I am not sure when I will press this wine. There are different theories on when to press red wine. Wineries can press anywhere from 10 percent sugar to completely dry and even after extended maceration , we don't have the spell checker installed on this program!), which involves leaving the wine on the skins for several days after it ferments down to zero percent sugar. This is a method I do not like at all, but I'm planning to see what happens during my fermentation and then will make a decision to press somewhere between five and one percent. The pressing will be slow and easy. 

For the third method, I plan on stemming and then cold-soaking the skins and juice at 40 degrees for several days. At that time, a highly recommended Pinot Noir yeast will be added and fermentation will start slowly as the wine warms up. This should still create temperatures in the high 80's or 90's at full activity. I plan to punch down twice a day (figuratively speaking, that is--young, strong assistant winemakers make much better "punchers") and then press slowly, but to medium pressure. I'm told this is the method used by most who make high quality Pinot. 

These wines will be put into three separate - but exactly the same - new French oak barrels and then the fun will begin as the wine develops and we get to taste the experiments in progress.

Monday, October 5 1998       (54 low; 90!!! high - finally, a warming trend?) 

This was my day to pay my bills and savor another Raider win. I also had to create more debt by going to Costco. I talked to Shon today (the assistant at Limerick Lane from 93-95 and now at de Lorimier) and he gave me some hints on the Pinot. Now Shon is even MORE opinionated than I am. I take in everything he says. He has heard from all the great winemakers out there!! He suggests that I use DRY ICE for my second method of fermenting Pinot. I have heard of dry ice for most of my life. I have even seen it in action and I know it gives off a gas(Co2)!?, some of you know I flunked out of Cal in 1961--mainly because of an F in Chemistry). I did not know until I picked it up today that the gas is at 109 degrees below zero. I do not want to touch it. The box I picked up weighs 600+ pounds. The gas will make it dissolve in about three weeks. In the meantime, I should be able to slowly add pellets to keep the bin of uncrushed grapes at 60 to 70 degrees and protected from air while it ferments. I need to calculate how much money I have into this experiment. I have spent $9000 on a chiller to keep the third method of grapes at 40 degrees for 5 days. I will spend $3000 for the grapes. I have spent $275 for the dry ice. I will spend $2000 on the 3 barrels. I have not even started the processing and I have already spent $14,275. If I can make 90 cases, I would already have $14 per bottle into the wine.

Tuesday, October 6 1998      (46 low; 86 high) 

The weather gods were apparently on our side again today as we were greeted with another morning of clear skies. Today, Brendan and I were joined by Tom, a futures customer, who traveled from the Bay Area to help us with our wine making efforts. Since there were a lot of impromptu decisions to be made today, and Brendan and I were slower than usual because of our respective lack of sleep (Brendan was partying and I was worrying), I'm afraid Tom went away quite bored. I think he expected a lot more action, but as I explained to him, this is pretty much a two-man job, with a lot of down time (thinking, planning, organizing and then reorganizing). 

One of the biggest surprises today was that we found several unpicked vines of Sauvignon Blanc, which after harvesting, yielded a half a ton - this will make a barrel, or 25 cases, of our first dry white wine. Since Brendan and I have never made a commercial white wine, it required much thought and planning to decide on exactly how to handle this fruit. We eventually decided to press it, without crushing first, and then moved it to a tank and added some dry ice to chill it down overnight. Further decisions will be made tomorrow morning. 

Steve Ryan and his crew picked the Pinot Noir the first thing this morning, and when the crew and grapes arrived here at 9:30, we sent the crew out to our vineyard to pick the Sauvignon Blanc we had just "found," as well as Merlot, Barbera and some additional Zinfandel (these particular vines were interplanted many years ago in the same block with some Petite Sirah vines). Thus, we had to flag the Zinfandel vines to make sure only those would be picked and not the Petite Sirah, which probably still needs another week to sugar up. Then Brendan, Tom and I began to set up for work in the winery - now not only did we have the Pinot to work on, but also Merlot, Barbera, Zinfandel and even Sauvignon Blanc! Later, when we crushed and tested the individual lots, all four reds registered at between 25 and 25.2 brix. 

My lack of sleep last night was mostly due to my concern over the Pinot Noir and how to ferment it. As I have discussed in the last two days, we had decided on three distinct fermentations. The first fermentation was the traditional method I use described yesterday. The second fermentation, a carbonic maceration, which was modified by crushing half the clusters and adding those on top of whole berry clusters in the fermentation bin. We will use the dry ice to preserve them until fermentation starts naturally in the next several days. We decided to crush some of the grapes, rather than to leave them all whole, because the clusters were very small and did not juice up naturally. The third fermentation involved a cold chill down to 40 degrees after crushing and we'll keep them there for probably a week..

Tuesday May 31, 2011

I had a nice gentleman here today to interview me for a magazine. He was very nice and asked the right questions. He had not seen this diary so I directed him to it for future reference. Some of the questions he asked could have been found in my entries in the last few days. He asked for some wine at the end and I did supply him with 7 bottles to take away to his tasting group. He asked for a taste of wine after the interview and I poured him several wines. I did not get an impression of what he liked, he seemed reserved but he did give me a comment that was interesting. Earlier I told him in the interview "some people think the fruit in my wine is strong and they may not taste the tannin, but the tannin is there, just covered up". I gave him a taste of my 2008 Petite Sirah. I opened a fresh bottle but I had tasted the 2008 Petite in my kitchen over the last two nights so I knew what I thought. I think he said he thought it was a nice wine but one, or maybe he said, a few tasting buddies, would not think it was to their liking, too soft. I asked him what he meant. I said "This wine is not soft, it has 15.1 alcohol". He responded with something like this: "They are looking for a more traditional Petite Sirah, like more pepper and tannin". I suggested that they were looking for something more dried out, he seemed to agree. I know I will never get the so called experts to recognize wine does not need to be, traditional or dried out to be good. I do not want to make wines similar to others. 

Wednesday June 1, 2011

Thank you for all the orders in the last two months. Most of the orders were for our new 2011 Pre-Harvest Futures. Some of the prices on our order form have gone up today, but we will honor the lower prices for orders which are made in the next few days. Save up your money though, by the end of the month we will be selling a 2011 Grenache.


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