[Note: We are pleased to welcome Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Magnusson who will be contributing a regular column "Notes from the Cellar" to the Tablas Creek blog. You can follow her posts by selecting the Notes from the Cellar category from left-hand navigation bar.]
Since the day the Central Coast was slammed with the monster rain storm, it had been quite difficult to venture out into the vineyard. The vineyard experienced far less erosion than anticipated, primarily because the soil was so incredibly parched it just soaked up all the water we received. However, that absorption made trips into the vineyard a bit challenging to say the least.
For the most part, we have had pretty nice weather following the storm, so the grapes (along with the soil) have had a chance to dry out and continue the ripening process. Neil, Ryan and David (our Vineyard Manager) have been cruising out into the vineyard regularly to pull samples on our fruit that’s still hanging out there. Approximately 90% of our fruit has been processed already, but everything on-vine seems to be taking its sweet time. As illustrated by the photo of Syrah below, you can see that there is indeed fruit worth waiting for.
While we remain optimistic about most areas of the vineyard, there are other areas that were a bit concerning. Numbers weren't moving, and there was fear that the fruit would either rot on the vine or we would be forced to bring in fruit coming in at a paltry 18°Brix. So, rather than shrugging their shoulders and admitting defeat by bringing in fruit that was less than stellar, Winemakers Ryan and Neil made the decision to lay the fruit on beds of straw in one of our greenhouses, a la our Vin de Paille program. The fruit that was selected for this process was a block of Roussanne that was far behind its counterparts and an area of Counoise that was especially stubborn in its ripening (or lack thereof).
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Vin de Paille process, we lay the fruit on beds of straw to allow it to dry, thus concentrating the sugars. The straw underneath absorbs moisture and allows air flow under the fruit in an effort to avoid any mildew or rot. This method is preferred because we are able to concentrate the sugars without affecting the pH and acid as much as would be the case if we allowed the fruit to dry on-vine. It's also safer: the fruit is kept in a controlled environment with fans keeping it dry and happy.
After the fruit had reached a number that we were happy with, our vineyard crew pulled in 4.5 bins of Roussanne, weighing in at 2.45 tons. At this point in the year (especially considering what the vineyard has been through), it’s absolutely thrilling to see sugar numbers coming in at 25.3°Brix, no matter the method used to get it there. And I, for one was elated to hear “Bring it in!” once again. It had been a few weeks since we last brought in a crop of whites, so it felt pretty good to fire up the white press today. White press days are among my favorites - the juice in the pan smells very similar to fresh pressed apple cider (and tastes like it, too!) and cleaning the white press is quite fun (if you're into that sort of thing). It’s one of the more quiet places in the cellar as far as external noise is concerned, and the acoustics are great. For those of you who can belt it out in the shower, I would say the white press is the next step for vocal styling.
On the days we’re not bringing fruit in from the vineyard, we throw ourselves into activities involving the fruit that has already been brought in. We’re continuing to pump over and punch down the reds that are just beginning to ferment or in the process of fermenting, and pressing off the reds that have slowed in their fermentations. After they’ve been pressed, the wines have been barreled down and tucked away for storage and aging in cellar conditions conducive to primary fermentation completion. In a short while, we’ll start checking on the secondary fermentation (malolactic fermentation). As far as the whites are concerned, we have topped up our Marsanne, Viognier and Vermentino that we have in the cellar. The whites get topped after fermentation has slowed to protect them from oxidation (when the fermentation is rolling, the carbon dioxide blankets the wine and protects it).
As long as the weather reports bring good news of sunshine and warmth, we’ll continue to check the numbers on the fruit in the vineyard, allowing it the time that it needs to ripen properly. Until then, we’ve got plenty to keep us occupied here in the cellar!