|Monday, October 15, 2001|
I've taken a few days off in writing, but not in working. As usual too many things have happened. I do better when I can write down what happens by the hour as I did last Wednesday.
We did press our Aca Modot components Thursday and took lunch off on Friday. The new Hotel Healdsburg is opening on November 1st and the upscale "Dry Creek Kitchen" restaurant inside the hotel will open this Friday the 19th. Our lunch last Friday was at the new Healdsburg Bar and Grill and we had the honor of delivering several cases of wine to the new Dry Creek Kitchen that day. Pat and I are excited, because tomorrow night we are invited to attend a pre-opening practice for the restaurant employees to experiment on us. We are planning to share some of our older wines with the staff.
The high temperature reached 101 degrees on Saturday. Tomorrow we will press our Estate Cuvee cab and on Wednesday we harvest the rest of out carignan and hopefully all of our second crop zinfandel. First thing in the morning we will start with the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. I will meet with Caterino and show him what bunches I want picked. I have planned to pick all the raisins and some of the bunches that are at high sugar and then crush and cold soak them for several days. That way I am hopeful that the raisins will dehydrate enough so that we will be able to press them and extract the maximum sugar content. So far this has been a poor year for botrytis to form since we have had little rain. I am anxious to see what ultimate sugar we achieve. Since we do have vines that are stressed out from Pierces disease, we are fortunate to have raisins every year. Any of you interested in our 2001 Late harvest Sauv Blanc can e-mail us for futures at $13.50 per 375 ml bottle.
My last entry concerns my ongoing problem with Encore Glass and Vitro (the Mexican Firm that makes their wine bottles). Last July during bottling we had a problem with low fill levels with bottles acquired from Encore Glass supplied by Vitro of Mexico. These low fill levels, because of bottles that were too large required us to fill the bottles with more wine in order to raise the visual fill level up into the neck line of the bottle. I was told today that Encore and Vitro are charging me for the transportation and replacement of this defective glass. I am busy and tired of fighting, but I don't believe it is fair to charge for replacement of a defective product. In my opinion, Encore Glass is a very poor run company and anyone in the business should not deal with them.
Tuesday, October 16, 2001
I want you to know that it is always a good idea to reload this diary the next day, of course mostly if you are reading it late in the night or early the next day. The reason is because Brad our webdesigner clarifies some of my notes, especially the links into the past diary entries.
Pat and I had a fabulous dinner tonight. By far this was the most consistent quality of food and service we have had in Sonoma County. YES I am talking about the most important restaurant to open in the wine country in years--including Napa Valley. Yes "The Dry Creek Kitchen" will open officially this Friday. Tonight we were invited to a pre-opening comp dinner. If this restaurant can keep up the quality that we experienced tonight, this would qualify as possibly the best restaurant ever in Sonoma County. Pat and I chose the Tasting Menu consisting of 7 courses. Every course was exceptionally good. Some courses including the Sweet Tomato Sorbet, I would not have chosen unless they were included in the tasting menu. What I loved was that every course, including the sorbet, was consistently complex with layers of different flavors. Call 707.431.0330 for a sample menu.
Thursday, October 18, 2001
Brad and I did notice today that a few of our diary entries were missing. Maybe this happened when we switched to a new web sever. One important week for me that was missing was week 27 which included an entry on July 4th and July 7th 2001 regarding our first few days of bottling.
Today October 18, I need to document more completely what happened in July during bottling . This entry will be mostly for my records and memory of what happened with E Glass. Who knows, they could pursue other means in order to try to collect some additional money from me. This account will be to the best of my recollection.
On Monday July 9th I realized that we had in our possession bottles that would not work for our winery. There were three things that were unacceptable. Number one was that the bottles were not the same color that we have used before. We have ordered champagne green in the past and we have received champagne green in the past. This time we received bottles from E glass that was of a different color. This color had much more yellow in it, unlike a color that we usually get that is more lime green. I like yellow so I did not think about rejecting it at first until I compared it to our past glass.
This glass (bottles) also came with only one pallet to stack the cases. The second pallet is always included in the middle of the stack of 112 cases. These cases when filled with wine weigh in at 35 pounds. Thus, when filled we stack them on one pallet, four high, 14 to layer, or 56 total and the pallet weighs about one ton. This is the industry standard. Since these stacks of wine bottles empty include 112 cases, we need two pallets in order to stack within the industry standard. Since we received only one pallet per stack, I was concerned that we may not have enough pallets to complete our bottling.
The third strike, against this company E glass, was that the bottles filled to a lower level than was acceptable for our winery. Consistently, and as a matter of fact, every time I filled a bottle with 750 ml of wine, the fill level came up to only the neck line. I must explain that if you look at one of our bottles, you will see a bottle that is 12 inches tall and has a straight part of the bottle at the top (the neck line-three inches) that holds about 20 milliliters of the total 750 ml of wine. Of course, a cork has to be inserted taking up about 10 ml, so the fill level in the neck line should be about 10 ml down from the top to be flush with the cork. We do need about 3 to 5 ml of air space between the cork and the wine so the normal fill level in a conforming wine bottle should be about 14 ml down from the top of the bottle or 2.5 inches.
The problem I had with these bottles, besides the color and shortage of pallets, was that when I filled these bottles with 750 ml of wine, the fill level would be too far down in the neckline. That would make our wine fill to a level at greater than 750 ml to be visually acceptable to us. I know, you are thinking that what is wrong with filling up too high and thus our customers would be getting more wine than usual? That would be fine with us if we had planned to have this extra wine. We sell almost all our wine before we bottle so we are sold out of many wines. We have to know exactly how much wine we need to fill the bottle to an acceptable level.
After buying a calibrating bottle for $250 and measuring 20 of these bottles, made by V out of Mexico and supplied by E Glass, I found that every bottle filled with 750 ml were visually low enough in the neckline to be unacceptable. We determined by sight that to be acceptable, we would have to fill the bottles with 5 ml more wine. We also tested glass that was made by Gallo of Modesto and supplied to us by E Glass in a separate shipment. These bottles all filled to an acceptable level, came with stacks that contained two pallets and were an acceptable champagne green color.
I rejected the Vitro glass. I only used 44 cases in our 2000 cabernet franc before we noticed the problem. If I had used this V glass for all of our 3700 cases bottled in July, 2001, we would have been short 25 cases of wine. That doesn't sound like much, but at $20 a bottle that would amount to $6000. That is not as important as the fact that we would have come up short on the wine we had already sold and thus would have had to notify some of our customers that we did not have wine for them.
Now I would like to account what transpired after I informed E Glass that these Vitro bottles would be unacceptable. I called Rick at E on Monday July 9 to inform him that the fill levels were too low. Also I informed him of the color and the lack of a second pallet. He said he had to justify to Vitro that the glass needed to be replaced. He informed me that in all the claims, regarding fill levels, not one had been acknowledged as being out of specs. He thought his best recourse was to convince them that the color was off. Remember this conversation occurred on the phone. (I have heard since from Rick, my salesman, that the color was within specs. I do not agree.) He said he would send a representative from E tomorrow, that Tuesday and also notify Vitro. As I said earlier I then bought an official calibrating bottle to confirm to myself that I was right about the fill level. Rick had told me that at least 10 bottles from many stacks would have to be tested. I stayed up till midnight and filled 20 bottles with water and all the bottles were too low. I also filled 10 bottles from the Gallo glass and all of them were visually acceptable.
On Tuesday July 10 Scott from E arrived in a suit. Obviously a real business man. We did not hit it off too well right from the beginning. He told me that he can guarantee me that this glass would come out within specs. I pointed to the 30 bottles I had on display and he looked away and ignored what I was saying. I huffed off to go back to work stacking newly filled wine. Yes, this was a very busy day. We were bottling and I could not deal with this guy. We obviously were using the Gallo glass and I was anticipating a delivery of replacement glass from Encore later that afternoon. Scott said that he had no idea that the delivery was eminent. I turned him over to Brendan.
That morning I also got a call from a V representative and he was on the way. Brendan and Scott went out into the storage building to select some new samples of bottles. They were gone about one hour. I was told there are many lots or molds and Scott wanted to find bottles from every mold. Scott came back with 10 bottles that he felt were representative of the different molds. He then requested my balance scale and preceded to weigh 750 grams of water that was poured carefully into his ten sample bottles. All these bottles visually came up short of what we thought was acceptable. According to Scott, the industry standard requires a fill level to be 2.5 inches from the top of the bottle. On average he came up with the same results as I did: 5 ml short. I was feeling pretty good until I was informed that this level was within the industry standard of one percent. But he failed to inform me that the industry standard requires as many overfills as underfills. All these bottles were under.
Scott left after taking up 3 hours of our time. I found out later that he called the Vitro representative and told him that he did not have to come out to our winery, because I had agreed that the bottles were within specs. You can imagine that I was real upset by this time. I called Rick and informed him that I thought there was a conspiracy to hide the fact that V was out of specs. He said I was acting bizarre and that he had never been treated this way in his life. He denied any conspiracy and told me that the industry standard was one percent and that V was within specs. I told him I wanted V out of business. He hung up on me. Yes, I acted poorly and yes I did not handle it correctly, but I was right about the fill levels and Rick would not admit it.
Later that day I did receive the replacement glass supplied by E mostly from another manufacturer from Mexico. It was strange that this glass came from Adler Fells Winery. I assume it was glass that they did not need at this time. Also it was strange that 2 of the 12 stacks of 112 cases were exactly the same as the ones I was rejecting. They were delivered with one pallet and were from Vitro. Since we had ordered 400 extra cases for the ZP2C bottling in August, I was not too concerned about this unusable glass.
We did experience another problem that took a great deal of our time. Apparently one of the pallets that was at the bottom of one of the new Mexican stacks was broken. When the delivery guy pushed the tall stack over to the edge of the truck, it toppled over on to the ground causing a big mess. Many cases of bottles were broken requiring all helpers on the bottling line to come and help clean-up. This meant we were out another stack, but again we only needed 8 of the 12 stacks.
You might be asking why I have been using E Glass to supply my wine bottles. The answer is that they charge less than the major U.S. manufacturer. That manufacturer is Owens Corning. The difference in cost for 4000 cases would be about $3000. Obviously that is enough money so that some wineries are happy with E. BUT if they have to use more wine to fill the bottles to the right level, they don't understand that they could be losing much more money with the loss in cases.
I can guess at the politics of this whole thing. First of all V is E's biggest supplier. E can not afford for V to have to re-tool. First of all this would cost V a lot of money and might require them to raise prices. Also if V had to cut production while re-tooling, E would have to find another supplier. The bottom line is that they can't let a small producer, such as I, to shut down V.
You might be wondering also what the Bureau of Alcohol, tobacco and firearms has to say about this. Well their regulations require only a 2% tolerance. That would mean a bottle could still comply and only be filled to 735 ml. BUT they do require as many overfills as underfills. I could not get anyone to return my calls and thus no one thought this was anything important to pursue. Also the California State Weights and Measures said they have nothing in there regulations to prevent a winery from giving a customer more for their money.
Ultimately at this date, I am still fighting with E. They are billing me $221 for transportation for picking up the 1300 cases of non conforming glass even though it was the wrong color, had only one pallet and filled to below the 2.5 inch level in the bottle.
11:00 AM: I just recived a call from Rick informing me that they will
write off the $221. Yesterday I offered him a case of wine in trade. I
told him I couldn't justify paying the transportation fee, but would be
will to trade the case of wine. He is willing to accept my offer. Hopefully,
this will end this matter. As a side point, I was told that the color of
glass could be either one if I continnued to buy glass from E. I'll give
you one guess on whether I will buy from E again.
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