David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery Winemaker's Diary

Week 39
September 27, 1998 to October 3, 1998 

Sunday, September 27 1998             (morning low of 47; 70 high) 

(by Pat Coffaro, keeper of the records) 

In response to the email message we sent out last week to all of you for whom we have addresses, we heard back from lots of people with positive comments about the diary (well, there was one guy who said our diary needed "more sex and less violence" - I won't name names - you know who you are!) and we appreciate the feedback. I'm going to hopefully mention everyone who e-mailed us this past week and if I left out anyone, be sure to let me know so I can get my records straight.

California Mike and Carol Whelan, Andre Roberts, Drew Watson, Michael Pendleton, Larry McFadden, Dennis Sienko, Nick and Susan Garvey, Susan Larson, Phil Adcock, Allan Bree and Sue Backman 
Illinois  Mark Horvatich, Steve Egan 
Ohio Robert Cohen 
Massachusetts Bill McKeon 
Colorado John Salamanski 
Florida Mike Hull, Tim Baker 
Texas Bob Brueck 
Washington, D.C. Michael Straus 
Virginia Linda Baldwin 
Michigan Michael and Deborah Brenton, Mark Overberg 
Connecticut Jeff Kiplinger and Jane Withka 
New York Ken Seibold 
North Carolina Jim Cowan 
(soon to be New 
Susan and Ken Dalluege
Canada Chris Bee 
Iowa Brian Kinsella 

As you can see, we have heard from a good cross section of the country and even from neighboring Canada. Isn't the Internet a wonderful resource, that is *when* it's working? We hope you will all keep in touch as the season progresses and continue to send us any questions you have as they provide us with ideas for material to include in the diary. 

Monday, September 28 1998         (50 morning low; 82 high) 

There was a scare yesterday in Sonoma County and it wasn't from my screams of joy when the Raiders won their game against the Cowboys! The cause of the scare to many growers and wineries was the light rain which materialized without warning. My opinion is that anything up to a half an inch of rain really does not hurt the grapes at this time of year. As a matter of fact, it can improve the situation because a light rain washes off the leaves and we need nice, clean, green leaves to ripen the fruit - as long as the rain is followed by warm, sunny weather. This rain was so light that I did not even get a measurement in my rain gauge. 

I received a call from Doug Nalle this morning (he had been out Sunday morning checking his remaining section of Zinfandel), and he wants to harvest this section on Wednesday. Julia at Lambert Bridge most likely wants to harvest their Sauvignon Blanc on Thursday. In the afternoon Steve, Brendan and I decided to visit Simpson's Syrah vineyard and Lane's Zinfandel vineyard. The Syrah looked very close to being ready and tasted wonderful. The sugar tests came in at 23.5 and if we have two warm days, it should rise to over 24 so we will mostly likely take that fruit off the vine Thursday afternoon. The Zinfandel grapes on the other hand tasted flat and lacking in flavor. The sugar tests we took on these grapes were still running low at around 19.5 to 20. Steve has decided to cut off some of the obvious red bunches. In a year like this it is not surprising that this vineyard which is only four years old, cannot effectively handle the amount of crop that it produced. With a little extra care and more time, it should come around though. 

Tuesday, September 29, 1998            (49 morning low, 71 high) 

Pat and I got married 25 years ago today. We obviously did not pick the right date. We were not expecting to have a winery. We did celebrate at a local restaurant tonight. We were greeted with cold, clear skies at 6:30 this morning, but by 7:30 the fog was rolling in. Brendan did sugar tests on the fermenting bins of Teldeschi Zinfandel and found readings of about 5% residual sugar at this time. We are looking to press at about 1% and by tomorrow afternoon it should be there, so we will most likely press then because we plan to be busy with harvest all day Thursday. It will take approximately 5-1/2 barrels to accommodate the pressed wine so Brendan is preparing six barrels, filling them with water to swell up the wood and check them for leaks. If we don't have enough wine to completely fill six barrels, we'll use only five and put the extra juice in 5 gallon jugs. After the sun comes out today, I'll send Brendan out into our vineyard to do numerous sugar tests. If the tests come in as anticipated, we hope to begin harvesting for ourselves early next week. 

9 AM: We just heard the weather forecast predicting a significant storm coming in on Saturday. There could be 1-1/2 to 2 inches of rain in our area followed by several days of cold weather. This could mean that most of the Zinfandel that does not get harvested this week will begin to rot, so we are changing our plans to try to get in as much of our Zinfandel crop as we can before Saturday.

10 A.M. I called Steve to see what his plans were: no one had requested harvesting until Friday. I booked him through Thursday. I instructed Brendan to prepare for HARVEST, instead of doing sugar tests. 

11 AM: Steve called back and said he might be able to get a few pickers in late today--Did I want to start today?? YES!!!!

12 Noon: I got a call from Julia at Lambert Bridge and even though we got sugars of 22 on the Sauv Blanc, she still wants to go Thurs. morning. She also said she would be willing to take Zin today. 

12:15 PM: I saw two cars drive into our vineyard. We were expecting some futures customers to come by for tasting, but were even happier to see some pickers. 

12:30 pm: 5 workers started picking Zinfandel for Lambert Bridge. 

4:30 pm: We finished harvesting 3.25 tons of Zin for Julia. 

9 PM: Back from a nice meal. Brendan and I threw out many bunches of red fruit and also rot amounting to several hundred pounds. {We harvest into bins which only hold 1000 pounds and are only 4 feet off the ground. We can usually sort most of the fruit depending on how fast the pickers are.} Even though we have had only a sprinkle of rain in the last two weeks, the mornings have been moist from the fog and the days have been cool, creating many problems including rot. THIS COULD BE THE HARVEST FROM HELL. Brendan and I feel that by sorting the fruit we harvest in the next two days that will give us enough quality to produce superior wine---BUT we will have to discard as much as 25% of the fruit. We will sort all bunches. From the bins, we turn our grapes out onto a stainless board and taste and look at all bunches. We throw out what we do not want. Plans are to pick Zinfandel for Doug Nalle tomorrow morning, Julia right after that, and for us late in the day. Thursday we will harvest Sauv Blanc for Julia in the morning, followed by Syrah from Simpson and Zin for us. 

The latest forecast is for rain coming in Friday and not 1 inch, but as much as 3 inches. We hope to get all our Zin in by Thursday. 

Wednesday, September 30 1998          (morning low 52; high 77) 

Our first full day of harvesting started at 7:00 a.m. with Zinfandel for Doug Nalle, followed by Zinfandel for Lambert Bridge Winery. By 10:30 our workers were finished with those two lots, and they started harvesting for our winery. A total of 16 tons of Zinfandel were harvested from our vineyard today. Many scattered grape bunches were left on the vines and at least 15% of the fruit picked was thrown out by Brendan and I. Overall, harvest at this point was down 20% from normal. 

Brendan and I pressed the Teldeschi Zin (at between 1 to 2% residual sugar) into six barrels, which is a yield of around 175 gallons per ton, somewhat up from "normal." The remainder of the fermentation, down to less than 0.1% sugar will occur slowly in the barrels over a period of the next month. We must be careful to monitor the fermentation because when it does stop giving off gases, the wine will no longer be protected from air contamination (which is the most likely way to spoil wine) so we have to be sure the barrels stay completely full with no air space. At around noon time, we started crushing the 10.3 tons of Zinfandel harvested for the winery. At 5:30, after numerous interruptions, we stopped with only three tons completed. The sugar readings were encouraging, averaging around 23 brix. With swell-up over the next 24 hours, we expect sugar readings of over 24%, converting to alcohol levels of from 14 to 14.5%. The flavors were very good, promising another fine vintage. We still have over seven tons to crush tomorrow and plan on starting at 7:00 a.m. and hopefully finishing by 6:00 p.m. Also tomorrow, we must harvest about 8 tons of Sauvignon Blanc for Lambert Bridge and we also expect to receive 3 to 4 tons of Syrah from the Simpson vineyard in the afternoon. We will most likely do the crushing of the Simpson Syrah and all the clean-up on Friday, as the hand sorting and crushing of the Zinfandel will be very time consuming and will undoubtedly take all day tomorrow.

The weather forecast for at least the past week has been for warm temperatures into the 90's and then rain. As you can see from our daily temperature readings, the 80's or 90's never materialized and the rain is still in the forecast but hopefully not as heavy as predicted in the last couple of days. The weather in northern California at this time of year is impossible to predict even 24 hours in advance, but every possibility must be taken into consideration and we feel comfortable in making the decision to take the Zinfandel off the vines before the weekend, whether or not the rain materializes. We still have plenty of grape varietals left out in the vineyard to worry about in the next few weeks. 

Thursday, October 1 1998          (morning low 58; high 65) 
(By Brendan) 

I finally really feel like it's Crush. I've been feeling sort of guilty that I've only been putting in 40-50 hours per week.  This week however we've moved into some respectable Crush hours. I started today at 7:00 a.m. and as of now (8:00 p.m.) I am still working. That's more like it! Anything less than 12 hours and I feel cheated. I should make 60 hours by Saturday and then I'll know I've earned my paycheck. 

Mother nature has not been kind. Just a few weeks ago we were having almost a 50 degree difference between our high temperature and our low temperature. Today there was only a 7 degree difference. This is not good. Dave grew up in San Francisco and knows that it is tough to grow even lettuce in San Francisco weather. The weather we've been having for the last week is typical San Francisco weather and we don't like it!  The Sonoma County Grape Growers Harvest Report says that there will be be .4 to .6 inches of rain on Friday and "...more showers, gusty winds and light rains" on Saturday morning. On a scale of 1 to 10 ("1" being complete atomic destruction and "10" being trapped on a bus in the snow with 20 lonely, red-headed cheerleaders who need to huddle together for warmth) this ranks about a "4." 

Today was a difficult day. We started destemming and crushing the 10.3 tons of Zinfandel at 7:00 a.m. and at about 9:00 a.m. we developed a serious problem. Our Destemmer/Crusher suddenly stopped working and ended up filling up with crushed grapes instead of pumping them out to the tank. After removing about 20 - 30 gallons of crushed grapes (a.k.a. Must), we managed to figure out that the problem was a stripped screw that attached the bottom feed-screw to the rest of the Destemmer. Unfortunately, the machine we use is Italian which means that when it runs it's great, but when it breaks, you're really screwed. In order to fix this one stripped screw, we had to dismantle the entire Destemmer which took us at least 1-1/2 hours and severely tested our engineering skills. Our vineyard manager, Steve, was an invaluable help, as was our good friend and sometime volunteer, Michall ("Mitch"). Among the four of us, we had the Destemmer up and running again in no time (actually, about 5 hours from start to finish). 

The musical theme of the day was Mahler (the Austrian composer). We started with his 2nd symphony, moved to his 3rd symphony, then transitioned to his 8th symphony ("the symphony of the thousand"), moved back to his 6th symphony (twice), skipped over to his 4th symphony and ended up with his 7th symphony. That's a lot of Mahler.  Tomorrow we will explore more dead composers. 

Final disjointed thought.......  The Simpson Vineyard Syrah finally arrived at about 7:30 p.m. which means that our exceptional picking crew put in a really heavy day (7:00 a.m. - 7:30: p.m.). We got six bins, none full, which means there's definitely less than 3 tons of Syrah which is a little lower then we had hoped for but the quality looks beautiful (from what we could see in the dark).

Friday, October 2 1998         (low 46 degrees; high 76) 

The day began with the prospect of getting through six tons of grapes to crush. Out of that six, we were expecting around 2-1/2 tons of Simpson Syrah which we knew would go through our destemmer quickly because there was no rot or red bunches. As we've mentioned, Zinfandel sugar readings range from bunch to bunch and also within a bunch from 18 brix to over 30 brix. Syrah, on the other hand, does not vary much from bunch to bunch, making it easy to pick and crush. After weighing the Syrah, we were disappointed that the actual total was only 2.08 tons. If we had been planning to make a 100% Syrah varietal, that would yield approximately only 130 cases. 

Even though Brendan and I were up after midnight celebrating our biggest day of crush this year, we were anxious to start this new day and I wanted to provide Brendan, Mitch and I with more classical masterpieces to work by. This time, the dead composer was Tchaikovsky. Brendan had either had too much Coffaro wine last night (he stayed for dinner and spent the night) or his ears were just not receptive. As I walked in and out of  the winery numerous times during the day, he kept crying out for Mahler instead. One time after I had been gone for some length of time and came back in, I was surprised to hear musical strains of an entirely different sort - Lyle Lovett's new CD. He said this music was good for soothing his broken heart over his recently lost girlfriend - effectively playing on my sympathies. 

All this musical intervention gave us an inspiration. We decided to keep all the grapes that we've rejected in the last two days and ferment them separately. We suspect even though the sugar will be much lower and alcohol accordingly lower, too - perhaps around 12% - the wine quality could possibly still be very good. This experiment will act as a control and will hopefully prove to justify all the time we spent in separating out these grapes (a minimum of 15 hours' time in my estimation). 

My work day ended at approximately 5:30 p.m., while Brendan remained in the winery for another couple of hours cleaning up, moving bins full of Must, and listening to music of his own choosing - the price he must pay for being the young assistant! 

Saturday, October 3 1998       (low 45; 77 degrees high) 

We left Brendan in charge of the winery and to finish the enormous task of clean-up after two days of crushing, while the family went out to see Susie's soccer team win again (hooray!). By the time we got back at around noon, Brendan had managed to get everything back in order, as well as begin to greet the many groups who stopped by, some new visitors and some here for '97 futures pick-up. Brendan packed up and headed for San Luis Obispo for a couple of days to "tie up some loose ends" while Pat and I spent the afternoon promoting, pouring and boxing up wine for people from both northern and southern California, as well as two groups from the Chicago area, and a couple from Texas. 

The rain which had been predicted to develop this weekend fortunately never materialized, but temperatures have remained cool for two weeks now. I am praying for warm weather and dry conditions in the next few weeks, as my next big concern is the Petite Sirah which, like Zinfandel, also has thin skins and is very susceptible to rot. I am extremely happy with the ten tons of Zinfandel we took from our vineyard. The sugar after swell-up registered over 24%. The colors and flavors seem to be outstanding. The sugar reading on the Syrah after crush was 22.6, over one percent lower than we would have preferred, but the acids were falling off very fast and I think we made the right decision in taking the grapes this past week. With the hope of warmer weather conditions coming up, we plan to be harvesting Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Carignane from our vineyard, as well as the Pinot Noir from Ryan's vineyard within the next week. 


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