David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery Winemaker's Diary

Week 43
October 25, 1998 to October 31, 1998 

Sunday, October 25, 1998      (47 low; 75 high) 

The Raiders win the fourth in a row--how mundane. 

As some of you have grasped:--most of what we do in the wine industry is very mundane. In Microsoft Word thesaurus, Mundane can be described with two adj.: normal (ordinary-everyday) or earthly (terrestrial-worldly). In winemaking, most of what we do is very boring or rudimentary UNLESS you enjoy or have a passion for it. 

Most of my time spent within two days after filling barrels is consumed with a topping ritual. Brendan and I have decided to do something that most wineries do not :- go straight into barrels after pressing. Most wineries do not (I am suspecting) because it creates a lot of Mundane work. I have used this method since I was an amateur, because I didn't want to use stainless steel tanks (they are expensive and I don't like them as storage vessels--another subject). After the wine is moved from one medium to another, I want as little oxidation (Air) on it as possible. As I have gotten bigger (now 2800 cases) this method has become very Mundane or time consuming. To preserve the fruit in my wines (little oxidation/Air) I like to press just before the wines go dry. That leaves between .5% and 2% sugar left in the barrels. At bottling I would like virtually no sugar left in the wine-- less than .1% (only the natural fruit and of course alcohol). After going into the barrels we must top off.  (By storing in barrels, there is a slow oxidation --evaporation) that occurs -- about one-half bottle per barrel per week.) The more often we top off, the more fruit (less air), I believe we will have. One of the problems with going directly into the barrel is that the wine is still fermenting. Some of the wine in the barrels will expand or overflow as the sugar goes from 2 or .5% to virtually zero. I must continually go out to the winery and tend to these little overflows and, as the fermentation calms down, top off.  Half of today was spent on retopping, with 20 gals, our 49 barrels already filled. We filled 9 new barrels Saturday and will fill 26 tomorrow. We will have 85 red wine barrels filled tomorrow or 2100 cases. But with evaporation and blending over the next 9 months until bottling, we will lose approximately 10%. 

Monday, October 26, 1998      (47 low; 86 high) 

Brendan and I are zombies. We filled 26 barrels of wine today. We also received two+ tons of Teldeschi Cab. Their Cab grapes made up 50% of the 1997 Neighbors' Cuvee. The quality of the pressed wine today was stunning. It was so much more interesting than the Zin. To be fair to Zin---it is so sharp, tart, yeasty, and spicy when it is first pressed that it is not enjoyable. But in a month or so, with its fruit, it will be the most complex and  interesting wine. The wines today are concentrated black bombshells. We pressed the Carignan first! Incredible! By far the most complete wine at this stage. As some of you know, I'm a big  fan of Carignan. I can tell that this will be the best we have made so far. The Aca Modot Cab was next and appears to have the darkest color and by far the most tannin. We finished with the Petite Sirah--also very dark like the last two. At this point, these three Estate varietals appear to even have more potential than the '97s. TIME WILL TELL. It is 10:35 pm and I must get to bed and get some sleep. Tomorrow I have my biggest test in the last three weeks--I am going to Santa Rosa and COSTCO-- my favorite place to spend money--can I resist all the temptations? 

Tuesday, October 27, 1998      ( 44 low; 64 high) 

I am constantly changing my estimates of the percentages for the wines we will sell in 1998. As I press and put the wines in barrel, new possibilities occur to me. My favorite time will be in the next 3 months as customers and Brendan and I taste the different barrels in order to decide what the final blends will be in February. We hope you are one of those who will give us your input. In the meantime, please consider my changes on the order form in the BUY section (updated today) as only a guess. I think the Barbera in the Aca Cab is necessary because of the low acid in the Cab, but taste will tell. The Syrah in the Zin is necessary because at this time the wine may need some middle mouth feel. 

Wednesday, October 28 1998   (low 50; high 73) 

This is one of those kaleidoscope days. Brendan and I had no idea where the wheel of unpredictability would take us. Everyday within the past seven weeks of harvest has been unpredictable, but today was one of the most. We didn’t know what was going to hit and when. Ultimately, we pressed 2 tons of a most intense Carignan and 5 tons of Neighbors’ Cabernet. The initial tests on the Cabernet averaged over 24 brix, which is what we are aiming for. We are planning to press the Lane Zinfandel and some more of our Petite Sirah tomorrow, a total of 5 additional tons. We were elated to hear that Ryan is back from his harvesting excursions up north to bring in our 4 plus tons of Cabernet tomorrow from the sandy loam (most of which goes into the Estate Cuvee). This will conclude our harvest for this season!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ----- with the exception of hoped for select picking for the late harvest sauvignon blanc, which Brendan and I will have to do ourselves. 

There were so many twists and turns today that it would be impossible to relate them all. The rain that was predicted did not occur. The rain predicted for tomorrow does not look likely either. The Cabernet from the Jones’ vineyard which we had expected next week was delivered today. WineX came to take photos for Brendan’s pending article. (Brendan is also a budding journalist. If you get a chance, check out the latest issue of WineX--the wine magazine geared to Generation X’ers--where you’ll find an entertaining article written by Brendan about his wine-related excursions on California’s Central Coast.) Many customers came by to inquire about our harvest and pick up wine. Etc., etc., etc.  All these distractions were just part of the winemaking process this day. 

In case you’re wondering why you haven’t heard from Brendan recently, he’s still here. It’s just that he’s now worked 17 days in a row without a break and he’s about to collapse. We both need a vacation and since it looks like the end is in sight, I’ve agreed to let Brendan take a long 3-day weekend at a WineX extravaganza in Lake Tahoe. He has been working hard and deserves a break. I have been working hard and think I deserve a break too, but someone has to be here. After all, just because the harvest is in doesn’t mean the work is over. In some respects, it’s just beginning! 

Thursday, October 29 1998     (low 47; 

Since after today, we will only have late harvest sauvignon blanc and maybe a few vines of second crop to pick, I’ve decided to do an hour-by-hour account of what we will be doing today. 

Yesterday evening at 5:30, I got a call from Steve Ryan to inform me that his crew would be  here this morning at 7:00 a.m.  My computer estimate for this year is for 4.5 tons of Cabernet from our sandy loam to be harvested. This estimate was arrived at after dealing with these grapes since 1983 and realizing this year would be somewhat lower-yielding than normal. At 6:55, the first workers arrived and smiling Caterino arrived a couple minutes before 7:00 a.m. Since the sandy loam Cabernet is about 1200 feet away from the winery, we must have two vehicles to harvest from. After one is filled up and driven up to the winery, the other one can be filled up. Since Ryan’s tractor is not here, I only have my tractor and my new Ranger to work with. The 4-wheel drive Ranger is heavy enough to accommodate a bin extending beyond the end of the tailgate. It was loaded with 930 lbs. of Cabernet. The tractor was connected to a trailer that holds 3 bins and on the first load, those 3 bins averaged about 850 lbs. per container. At 9:00 a.m., we are still estimating a total of 4.5 tons. 

After the start of the picking, Brendan and I checked all the sugar readings on the 5 tons of fermenting grapes we were hoping to press today. As I’ve mentioned before, the Lane Zinfandel had a lot of rot and strange smells. Even though I added 100 parts per million SO2 to kill some of the bacteria, it apparently still wasn’t enough. The sugar reading on one of the one-ton fermenters was 5% yesterday morning and 5% again this morning (A STUCK FERMENTATION). We’ve decided not to press the 3 one-ton fermenters of Lane Zinfandel today. The two tons of floral, spicy Petite Sirah that was harvested last week is still active at 1 or 2 percent and we will press that today. There are several methods that winemakers use to re-start a stuck fermentation. Most wineries do not use the only fool-proof method; that is, to start fermenting fresh grapes, make sure the fermentation is very active, and then slowly add over a period of 24 hours, the stuck wine. Since varietals are harvested at different times of the season, this method usually involves mixing two varietals together. Since we make many blends, including Zinfandel at the legal limit of 75 percent, this method is perfect for us. BUT Brendan is still going to school to learn. He suggested, with some reluctance from me, to try to re-start the Lane Zin today and hopefully press tomorrow morning (Brendan is hoping to leave tomorrow for Lake Tahoe). Since I definitely want to keep some of the Lane Zin separate to see what the quality is like, I agreed to a different method. This second method involves making a starter of twice the normal yeast recommended and slowly adding the stuck fermentation to the yeast. We decided to start a 30-gallon container with five gallons water and five gallons of wine and 3 lbs. of nutrients. Then we added the yeast to this 2-1/2% sugar (5% of the stuck wine and water, making 2-1/2%). Since I think it was better to add some of our Cabernet harvested yesterday, we also added about 5 gallons of Cabernet juice at 22% sugar to the approximately 500 gallons of Lane Zin. As I am writing this at 9:00 a.m., we have now added approximately 7 gallons more of the stuck Lane Zin. The sugar reading now is around 4%. In the next 2 to 3 hours, we will continue to add some more until our 30-gallon container is almost full. Then we will add the 30 gallons back to the 500 gallons of the stuck Lane Zinfandel. Now the 500 gallons of course may continue to stay stuck because we’re only adding 30 gallons to it. Again, the only fool proof method is to have a 1000 gallon fermentation going of new, fresh grapes and add 500 gallons of the stuck fermentation to it.  But, of course, this would take another week and I would not have pure Lane Zin anymore. 

In the next hour we received another 1.5 tons of cab and checked the sugars from the 6 tons of neighbors’ cab we stemmed yesterday. The Teldeschi was already fermenting and was down to about 23 brix. My guess is that the initial  brix readings were about 23.5. The Simpson cab came in at 24.4 and the Jones close to 24. I added yeast  to all 6 fermenters. 

In the mean time Brendan emptied the barrels we had filled with water the night before (to soak up.) He also emptied the press of the Carignan from yesterday. 

At 10 am Brendan started doing PH readings on all our present fermentations. And I started figuring out our sales tax for the winery—due today. Nothing like waiting till the last minute! 

At 11 am the rest of the grapes came in. 5.05 tons a great surprise and we are through! BUT Brendan’s and my work has barely started. 

After seeing the results of the PH tests I asked Brendan to do an experiment. The ph on the Simpson Cab was 3.85—low acid (ph is confusing, because it acts opposite. A ph of 3 is much more acidic than a ph of 4). We would like a reading of between 3.5 and 3.6. Since we are planning to use our Zin/Barbera blend for acid, instead of  Tartaric Acid in past years, I asked Brendan to add some Zin/Barbera blend to the Simpson Cab until it reaches 3.6. That will help us estimate if we have enough Zin /Barbera (two barrels) to adjust the low acid wines. Ryan arrived just when I was getting the results from Brendan. He was in a festive mood since he had paid the crew and was near the end of harvest. I appeased him for a half an hour as he drank some beer. Brendan’s results were disappointing: it took 2 oz. Of Zin/Barbera to  lower the ph of 2 oz of The Simpson Cab to 3.6. That means that if we wanted to raise the acid in the Simpson Cab to a 3.6 ph reading, we would use both our Zin/Barbera barrels. Now I see why most wineries use tartaric. As I was appeasing Ryan ( he was amusing at times), I instructed Brendan to check our ph readings again on our wines already in the barrel. I concluded that we had enough acid in some of our other wines that we should only add a little tartaric to the Cab. After adding the tartaric, we then added the Stuck fermentation starter to the Lane Zin. 

I am writing this at 9 pm---A lot has happened since 12 noon and I will try to relate this day the best I can. 

After getting rid of Ryan and making the 10 crew members happy with a 30 pack of Budweiser (they complained when I give them Ale), Brendan and I started pressing the P Bot - as I call it - or the spicy floral clone of Petite Sirah from our sandy loam. After an hour and a half we moved the press up to it’s highest point of pressure to extract the last bit of wine. This can take hrs, but can yield as much as a case an hour more wine (5 oz per minute very slow---turn your faucet and try to slow it down to 5 oz per minute). 

At about 1:30 we started stemming our 5 tons of Cab Bottom from the sandy loam. Sugar readings were consistently in the mid 23’s. About the same as the Cabs stemmed yesterday. At about 4 pm, I heard a hissing noise from the press. I suspected what was wrong: yes—the bladder had sprung a leak. I knew we had to try to repair it this evening. We finished  stemming at 4:30 and the biggest surprise of the day occurred:-- Brendan matter of factly asked if he could go over to the Salvation Army to purchase a Holloween  costume. I understood immediately that this poor guy has not had a day off for over three weeks and has not had time to shop. After all, he is 23. He said he would be back is 45 min. and was. He said he would do all the clean up, but I informed him that we had to try to repair the press. 

While Brendan was gone, I decided to check the stuck fermentations again and obtain the sugar reading for today—also to punch down the newly started Cab. When Brendan returned at 5:15, he had to empty the press and fill it with air to see what was wrong. The problem was determined to be what we thought: A leak in the rubber inner tube. We then spent about an hr repairing and will try it out tomorrow. At about 6pm., the cleanup started. We decided we would do most of it starting tomorrow at 7 am. We still had to rearrange in order to put the stemmed grapes from today inside and wash down some to be able to walk around without sticking to the floor from the grapes and juice that had flailed all over the place. At about 7pm we bid good-bye until tomorrow. 

I am signing off at 10:55. At 6:30Am I was ready to go. I had a tuna fish sandwich at 7:30 am that took 15 min.—a dinner break that included a bottle of Carignan from 7:15 till 8:30 and then back to the winery to tend to things and on to the diary at 9 until now. All in all, a very satisfying typical day in the life of a winemaker. 

Friday, October 30 1998

Today I have decided to end the "Harvest" Diary, because the harvest is nearly over. I hope to still make entries almost every day, at least until December. The weather will only be updated -- per extremes. I welcome any visitors on site or in person to post notes. I am encouraging BB, my web adviser to set up a button for  your input on my wines. I promise to take all comments with respect and hope you will make me a better winemaker with your suggestions. 

Here is the first guest diary: 

By Mark Horvatich and Doug Powers

We arrived at the winery for our scheduled bull session and tasting with Dave at 2:30 after lunch in Napa at Bistro Jeanty (good food, slow service, and an excellent bottle of ’86 Seppelt Sparkling Shiraz brought by Mark).  When we arrived, Dave said he had already been out dining and drinking. . . . which is the reason for the guest authors! 

Here’s our impressions of  the ‘98s Dave has in barrel. It should be noted that none of what we tasted has been blended, and some wine had not yet  completed fermentation. 

Based on the barrels we tasted, our overall impression was that Dave has some very successful ‘98s and should make some outstanding wines, albeit in more limited quantities than the more copious ‘97s.  The various cabernet barrels seemed more intense than the ‘97s at a similar stage. The cabernet franc barrels were awesome! The carignane this year seems even more berry-fruited than the past few years, and for those of you who have been privileged enough to try Dave’s pre-bonded ’93 Carignane, is reminiscent of that wine without as much alcohol.  The bottom petite sirah (which  is NOT petite but more likely tempranillo) is even better than either the ’96 or ’97 at a similar stage. We can’t make statements about the zin because no one, including Dave, knows what will go in the ’98 zin (plus the old sweet Davis clone zin is now a retention pond). However, the zin we did taste was quite good and a bit reminiscent of the ’96 at a similar stage. 

And then there’s the pinot noir. . . . where do we start?  The whole-berry (carbonic maceration) barrel was just as you would expect: it tasted like nouveau Beaujolais. The cold-soak barrel was excellent, and it tasted like pinot! The hot-fermentation barrel was the most intense, but it reminded us a bit of zinfandel. This isn’t surprising because it was made in the same way Dave makes all his other wines, and it’s also not surprising that of the three pinot barrels, Dave likes this one the best. 


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