Monday, February 27, 2006

Vilafonte 'Babysitting blog' Saturday -day 21

From Mike: I just got off the phone with Adam Chase in Boston and had a good hour talking about viticulture and Vilafonte. Adam is studying for the MW in the USA and has been following the Vilafonte podcast and blog religiously since inception. We really had an in-depth conversation and he really drew on me to reach deep for answers. Good chat Adam!

Here is Zelma's update on all fronts:
Harvest planning: Phil has gone home to take care of his California clients (he came in mid January to get the vineyard ready for harvest). This morning Bernard is overseeing the sorting of Block E Merlot. So Julie and I walked all 7 of our Cabernet blocks. One, Block D, our "big, concentrated wine" block, is ready and will come in on Tuesday, we decided. The others are more or less neck in neck; tannins softening, seeds ripening, skin softening, and Bernard and I will check them on Tuesday to see which we want to bring in later in the week. I am told that we won't be able to harvest on Wednesday since it is a national holiday … it is Voting Day. Fortunately we won't need to bring anything in, and it is projected to be a cool week.
Weather: The weather has been perfect this last week; cool nights and warm days. Next week rain is projected for Tuesday and Thursday. We will see what really will happen! Weather changes frequently in the Cape.
Sorting: After the vineyard check, Julie and I went to help Bernard with the sorting. Block E had a lot of raisins; fortunately no small green berries (like we saw in the Cab Franc). But it took "heavy sorting" - Bernard and I doing cluster sorting; 9 women on the sorting belts, and Julie at the end, just before the grapes fall in, to catch anything we missed.
Fermentations: As of today we will have 2 tanks on cold soak (Merlot and Cabernet Franc); 1 actively fermenting tank (Merlot) just in the midst of fermentation; 2 tanks finishing fermentation (Merlot Z and Malbec) and one (Merlot AB - our first harvest) in barrels finishing fermentation. In addition to overseeing grape reception, destemming, sorting and crushing, Bernard oversees these fermenters, making sure their temperature what we want; that the mixing morning, noon, and night, is what we should do…(and it is different for each tank, both in timing, duration, and type…we decide as we taste together and discuss each morning).Other winery work:We anticipate pressing out the Malbec on Tuesday; today Bernard is organizing the barrels to be filled. I select the barrels for use based on my past experience with our Malbec. I have tried several types of new barrels and someolder barrels, and prefer the older barrels with this wine. It has so much fruit that we want the fruit to be forward, and it is so lush it doesn't need, or benefit from, the new oak.
Baby grape sitting: To the parents out there, it often feels like we are watching over our "babies" …some of them fermenting; some still "hanging out" in the field; and some being separated from their skins (pressing); but all needing daily and usually multidaily attention.
Zelma Long

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Vilafonte Harvest Thursday - Day 19

Harvest update.

Tuesday I visited Block E Merlot and our Cab Franc block F…and they looked to be ready to harvest. Julie sampled so we could check the grape chemistry…we look at phenolics regularly and Brix-acid-pH more often … I received the resultsWednesday morning ... and the chemistry agreed with our visual and taste assessment. So Cabernet Franc is coming in today, and Block E Merlot Friday.

First pressing of the 2006 season. Yesterday we pressed out Block AB Merlot…our first harvest. The drain wine is black red; deeply colored, and such a pleasure to see and taste. Today it will be barreled, into all new barrels from 3 different coopers. This is a full flavored block with a fine history and benefits from new oak, which provides a rich foundation for

the wine, without overwhelming it aromatically with oak. We like subtle, well aged, French oak. See photos of our first pressing: (1) Dark Merlot as it drains from the press; (2) seeds from the bottom of the fermenter - they do not go into the press; (3) Bernard, doing his first press for Vilafonte.

Zelma Long, Vilafonte winemaker

Friday, February 24, 2006

Vilafonte Harvest Wednesday Feb 22

Our Malbec says "feed me"
Bernard came into the cellar this morning and boy was it "stinky"! And it was due to our tank of Malbec..which had fermented down from 20 Brix to 15 Brix overnight…this is very fast…and in moving so quickly had used up its nutrients.When this happens the yeast start to stress and put off less-than-ideal aromas…in this case hydrogen sulfide (smells like rotten eggs). So he knew the minute he came in that the yeast needed feeding! We do monitor the natural nitrogen that comes in with the crushed grapes, but we don't know the natural level of vitamins and minerals. When the yeast start to stress (which may or may not happen during a fermentation) we give them a mix of yeast hulls, which have vitamins and minerals, and nitrogen. We want them to be happy so they will finish the fermentation, but not so happy that the sugars (Brix) will drop like a rock. We want time for the skins and fermenting juice, to mingle, so that all the "goodies" in the skins (color, tannins for texture, aromas and flavor) have time to be extracted out into the wine.
We love our Malbec wine; this is our only fermenter; as wine it gives flesh to our Series M blend. After feeding today, it reverted to its normal, ripe black fruit aromas, once again a happy fermenter.
Zelma Long

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Vilafonte Harvest Tues Feb 21 - day 17

Harvest Decisions and Harvest Pace
I am out in the vineyard early to see how the Cabernet Franc, and block E Merlot, are doing. We checked them Saturday; they seemed "nearly ripe"; and I want to see if we want to bring them in this week, and how they look after the rain. Julie is sampling each of them, to check phenolics (color and tannin) and Brix, acid and pH. I will pool our observations (of seed color, ripe flavors, skin texture, etc) with the chemistry and decide about harvest later this week. For the time being, I have put off our Wednesday harvest to Thursday; due to Monday rain. But all Cab Franc seeds are brown; I think this block is ready to come off; and by the appearances of the Merlot it should be ready by Friday.
Today is clear and sunny; last night was chilly; this morning we had a steady breeze which was GREAT!!! ...dried off the leaves and clusters. This is just lovely ripening weather for the Cabernets that are coming up. As you can tell if you've been following us; pace of harvest has been slow and steady. Measured, if you will … time to consider each detail with each vineyard as it comes to the winery. Ideal. Almost too good to be true…but it is early days yet.
Zelma Long

Vilafonté Harvest Blog Feb 20th - Day 16

A Rainy Day...
We woke up to grey skies and drizzle, and the drizzle/intermittent heavy rain continued through to mid afternoon when the skies went from grey to blue and white. Is this a bad thing…this rain in the midst of harvest???
For us, no. All of Vilafonté is red grapes, and with open clusters and thicker, more rainproof skins. In fact Phil was delighted; the dust will be washed off the leaves and the whole vineyard refreshed. If the rain were prolonged and heavy; if we had white grapes that have thinner skins; if we had Pinot Noir which has tight clusters; the story might be different. But for us, we welcome this cleansing.And previously, I have seen this type of rain seem to "kick" the grapes into ripeness; maybe it is the water; maybe just a warning to them to get on and ripen their seeds (we are interested in the fruit, but the grapevine is all about ripening and distributing its seeds.
Zelma Long

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Vilafonte Harvest Blog Thursday - day 12

Of Termites and Terroirs
A quiet day, for a change; crushed grapes are resting and releasing their color; AB fermentation is revving up, and we are not harvesting. There is a certain peacefulness here.But in the vineyard, Phil is make plans for a new planting to be done next spring.We are putting in 7 more acres of vines, and he is doing a thorough soil study. A smart guy, he wants to be sure that spacing, row direction, drainage, soil amendments and soil treatment are all correct to give the new vines a chance to grow evenly. So I ran into a soil scientist, out flagging locations for backhoe pits so soil samples can be taken and Phil can see how the soil changes, for his planning.We have some spots that appear very distinctive on the analysis and also some places in our existing vineyard where vines don't grow well. The scientist told me that these might be from old termite mounds, although he was careful to say that only analysis would show that. He said that the "termite mound soils" are very different; more alkaline, more lime, more salts. They tend to be small areas, and round. Later that evening, Ronald told me that other "historical" impacts on the soils were (1) areas where settlers had cleared and mounded up trees and brush for large burns, affecting the soils underneath; and (2) areas that had been used for"kraals" - corrals where the tribes kept cattle as they moved from place to place.As it turned out, our spots are more prosaic…merely areas where the clay comes clear to the surface; and they will need organic material incorporated (straw, compost, cover crop, etc) to improve the soil for the vines.
Zelma Long

Friday, February 17, 2006

Vilafonte Harvest Blog, MALBEC - day 11

Today is a Malbec harvest day.
We don't grow much of this, and it is a very distinctive variety; bigger berries, lots of color and very soft tannins,a nice blender and, as I have tasted from 80 year old vines while I was in Argentina, can make a very rich wine. Malbec is also juicy, and so it is the one variety that we do not berry sort - too much juice running everywhere. Instead, we will sort the clusters as they go into the destemmer.
Other news: Block AB, harvested last week, has, after several days of "coldsoak"; been yeasted and is starting fermentation. This will be our first fermentation; an exciting new stage in harvest. The cellar is starting to smell wonderful; of yeast and fermenting wine.
Weather: it was chilly last night; warm but not hot today. Perfect ripening weather. We had a very hot day last Saturday and Saturday night; Phil said the vines were "sighing" a bit about it, and he gave them all a drink. They have perked up with this cooler trend and are continuing to ripen the fruit nicely.
Zelma Long

Valentine's day, Vilafonte 2006, Tuesday

Sorting in photos:
I talked about sorting on Friday but photos are the best way to demonstrate, short of being on the sorting line (hard work, long days). So here are some photos showing the process and results.
#1 As grapes go into destemmer, the first sort post vineyard
#2 This is what is taken out from this first sort
#3 This is what is removed immediately after the destemmer. Notice the number of pieces of stems that come through. No matter how good a stemmer wehave, nor how well or cannily it is run, I have never seen a destemmer that doesn't send some of those undesirable green stem pieces through.
#4 We have 6-7 people doing this final sort, removing raisins, and lighter grapesprimarily although still removing some green matter
#5 This is what they take out
#6 Nice, clean, purple grapes falling into the fermenter. The amount removed is not large in either weight or volume, but it is important to remove. And consider, most of the leaves that are accidentally picked are removed from the bins while still in the vineyard. So the grapes come in pretty clean, and we are "perfecting" them, at the rate of about 1 ton/hour. These are photos of Block Z Merlot, that should produce a rich, dense Merlot.
Zelma Long

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Vilafonté Harvest Blog 2006, Monday Feb 13 Day 9

Today we are bringing in one of our loveliest blocks, Block Z Merlot. It is a sensitive block; if you get it right, in the vineyard and winery, it is wonderful; dark, rich palate, black fruit aromas. But equally if we get it wrong it can be tart and lean. It is a building block for the 'Series C' and I sweat bullets over this block every year.
What is the magic "ripeness", anyway?? A computer model for it would be quite complex, and it would take into account:
Vine: color of leaves, shoots and stems. Can it continue to ripen its load?
Clusters: deep purple color. Good condition. Equally ripe across the block.
Berries: purple black color, brown seeds not green, thin skins, flesh pulls away from seed; a 'melt in your mouth" texture, soft tannins, not astringent; nice flavors and balance of sugar-acid.
Chemistry: good balance of potential alcohol, acid and pH.
And then there is experience and intuition, plus…what do you want to make with these grapes anyway? Style? Flavor profile?

But personally, after all the visual, flavor, texture and data input; it ends up…what does my gut tell me? On Saturday, Block Z Merlot said to me: "pick me Monday"!
Zelma Long
PS These photos show the sorting table process of removing of poor quality grapes, stalks, raisins and any MOG (material other than grapes).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Vilafonte 'Weekend Blog' 2006, Saturday Feb 11

We hit the vineyard around 8:30 am, so that Julie could sample 3 blocks first, and get them in for phenolic analysis at 8 am, and join us. Last night was warm; the grape bunches are warm, and the air is warm!! We checked Z Merlot to be sure we want to harvest it Monday (yes); looked at the Malbec and AC and E Merlot to figure when they are likely to be ready, then looked at B,C,D Cabernet and F Cabernet Franc. Then, as is our way, we adjourned for a cappuccino and breakfast at Cottage Fromage at Vrede en Lust winery to discuss all the information at hand.
Here is what is going on in the vineyard:
a. a major improvement in ripeness since Thursday when I last checked E and V (likely next up for harvest).
b. We decided to harvest upper and lower Z Merlot together; they have come very close in ripeness
c. B,C, and D, Cabernet, are closing in on harvest; it looks like they are likely to be right on the heels of the last of the Merlot, instead of a week or 2 later as is often the case.
d. Vines look good; leaves are green; berries are firm; slightly softer than last week but still in very healthy condition…what we need for continued ripening.

Phil did an information download and here is what else we saw from the data:
a. The rate of increase in Brix mentioned in earlier blogs has screeched to a halt; flattening out. This is GREAT NEWS since the stems & grapes are not yet physiologically ripe; so if we can get some ripening time without an increase in Brix, we will be sitting pretty!
b. Around Feb 2 - 4, we saw a spike in Brix in all sites, then the brix came back down. Normally we would think the spike was due to a bit of berry shrivel but berry size (which we measure every time we sample) did not change. At some level it is nice to know that we don't understand everything; that there are still mysteries to be explained, and, at least for the time being, this is one.
c. Berry variabilities look good; several are better than in earlier samples; Some have widened in distribution. We are sampling blocks over a time line to develop our understanding of the change in evenness of a vineyard as it approaches harvest
Photo is the Saturday morning "ripeness team"; we all go together weekly to look at the vineyard: Julie, Phil, Zelma, Bernard (left to right). Ronald joined us last week but is too busy with his other harvests today.
Zelma Long

Monday, February 13, 2006

Vilafonte Sorting Blog 2006, Friday February 10th Day 6

A word on grape sorting before crushing…I love it. I first did it here in South Africa, 5 years ago. It changes the traditional idea of destem-crush. Here it is destem-sort-crush; or sort-destem-sort-crush (for more variable grapes); or, depending on your winemaking plan…destem-sort-no crush!We do pick our grapes clean in the vineyard, and they look good when coming in the bins. But once the grapes are shaken off the stems, it reveals: some little raisins hiding at the bottom of the cluster; a few green berries; some leaves that sneaked through the destemmer; a few particles of stems that broke off; some grapes that did not come off the stem cleanly. If you looked at, or weighed, what we sort out, it would not seem like much. But all of it is what we do NOT want in our fermenter. To me, we are "improving the grapes" , and I know the wine will have greater purity of fruit expression, for having done this.I also love something less tangible about the sort; those grapes rolling off the belt into their fermenter are like paint to the artist. I can see & feel their size, their color, their strengths and weaknesses; they become much more personal; I have a much better feel for this vineyard, by spending time sorting them. (Just to be clear it takes 8 sorters minimum plus someone overseeing the feeding of the grapes and removal of stems, not just me).The photo is Bartholomew Broadbent, our U.S. importer visiting South Africa for the first time; our most excellent sorters; and me; at the sorting belt. Zelma Long, Vilafonte winemaker

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Vilafonte 2006, First day of Harvest, Thursday Day 5

At last, the vineyard has released its first grapes, block AB, Merlot, ready to pick. We are all over it…the pickers…Phil watching over…Julie sampling for phenolics analysis; Zelma and Bernard waiting anxiously at the destemmer and sorting line. 5.7 tons. One tank, and 6 hours of sorting. I am very happy.
Picking decisions are always nerve wracking…should I wait a day…or two…or did I wait too long. But watching the grapes roll over the sorting belt, they look good; like little black peas, very clean, occasional raisins, very tasty. Our analysis looks good too; acids are soft; sugars are on target; and color, from the phenolic analysis is very solid. The clusters do seem a bit less physiologically ripe than last year; stems end are purple but rest of the cluster architecture is green. The grapes skins are soft, but not thin.
All in all, it is a good start, and I am happy!!
Zelma Long

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Vilafonte 2006 Harvest Action Blog - Day 4 Feb 8th

We care about evenness of ripeness in each of our blocks. Think of it this way; you can take a grape at 18 Brix (sour and green) and at 30 Brix (overripe), crush them together and measure the Brix (% sugar), and you will get an average of 24. On the other hand, you could crush 2 grapes together, both reading 24 Brix. At this sugar level grapes are usually close to being nicely ripe. The “average Brix” of each example would be 24. But you can imagine how different they would taste….
Listen to our PODCAST explanation of this graph.

When our grapes are ready to pick, we want them as evenly ripe as possible. And Phil plans quite a bit of work in the vineyard over the year to get that evenness. So how do we know how successful we are?? Before harvest Julie will take a vineyard sample of 500 individual grapes and check the Brix of each. She inputs the data and gets statistics on the grapes. That is our
quantifiable data and feedback to the vineyard. Here is a picture of Block AB, which we will harvest tomorrow…very even in its ripeness. Tomorrow we will tell you how it looks when we are sorting it after harvest.

We have an exciting development ... Click on the link at the right for all of you that would like to subscribe to our PODCAST.
Zelma Long

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Vilafonté 2006 Action Blog - Day 3

From the Cape of South Africa

"Hurry up and wait"; this seems to be our harvest mantra. We haven't actually started bringing in our grapes yet. We have been hovering over them: thinning; evaluating maturity, phenolics; water status; and evenness of ripeness since mid January. Watching and waiting.

Yesterday I introduced the crew who grow the Vilafonte wine from grapes to bottle. Today I will introduce the vineyard.

Our vineyard site, that we care for, care about, and are watching in this blog, is in the Paarl appellation; downslope from the Simonsberg Mountain, on a bench, before the valley slouches down across the Berg river and becomes the Paarl Valley.

It has a desirable configuration: a bowl, but a shallow one, and 3 sided, with the 4th side the drainage. What we like here is (1) the slope, which drains water and air; (2) the different aspects; so we can plant blocks that will face north, south, and West - to give diversity; (3) and that the "bowl" has its back to the "Sou-Easter"; a fierce wind that pushes fog over the Hottentots Holland and blows down the Valley. So we get wind, but more breezy and less fierce that it could be elsewhere.

We have planted our 30 acres in 1 hectare blocks (approximate); there are 4 Merlot blocks; 2 Malbec; 1 Cabernet Franc; and 7 Cab blocks. We have unimaginatively named our blocks by letter (A,B,C, etc).

Today Phil, Bernard and I walked Block Z (Merlot); AB (Merlot); E (Merlot) and D Cabernet; the latter because it is usually the first Cab to ripen and we wanted to check its status (not ripe).
The essence of our time was: (1) Are Z and AB ready to pick?? (answer…no); (2) Since the upper part of Z and the lower part ripen at slightly different times, should we pick them separately or together?? (answer is: still thinking about this; there are pros and cons on each side)…and Julie is sampling them separately and together today and tomorrow. We will look at her information and I will walk the vineyard again on Thursday. And finally, (3) is E ready to pick??? E is a different clone and more difficult to time harvest and make it very well. It seems to do better being picked very ripe. And it is definitely not ready to pick now; skins are tough; tannins still a bit dry. So it is hurry up and wait.

Have a look at our experimental harvest PODCAST!
Zelma Long

Monday, February 06, 2006

Vilafonte 2006 Harvest Blog - Day 2

Vilafonte 2006 Harvest: Day 2 Saturday Feb. 4
Yesterday I mentioned the “cast of characters” needed to grow Vilafonte wine.
Here they are:
In the Vineyard:

Dr. Phil (Freese)
- Vilafonte Vineyard designer. Plans & directs winegrowing. Sensitively moves grapes to harvest readiness.
Ronald Spies – Vilafonte Vineyard manager. he’s where the “rubber meets the road”. He gets the right things done at the right time.
Fossie and crew – They remove the grapes from the vine into small lugs, carefully. And in winter (July & August), will prune and tie the vines.
Ronald’s father Johan Spies - Essential harvest helper. He drives the harvested grapes to the winery.
Julie Lohwasser – EHH. chief sampler, data collection vineyard & winery. Julie does ripeness sampling; vineyard work QC; berry variability analysis and phenolic maturity sampling.
In the Winery:

Zelma Long – Vilafonte winemaker and wine style maven. Decides on the harvest and structures winemaking
Bernard le Roux – winemaker; new team member; “gets the right things done at the right time”, in the winery. Bernard oversees the work and works with the crew.
Miles Mossop and crew - sort the grapes, mix the wine during fermentation, fill and clean the presses, clean and fill barrels, and more of the many types of work needed to grow the wine.

Mike Ratcliffe
– advice, humor, brings cold beer; sells the wine.

Sugar development in winegrapes

Grapes have a particular motive for developing sugar; the grape berry carries the seeds; the tasty ripe grape is an attractive package (to birds; humans; dogs, and in the Cape, occasionally baboons.), and thus, the vine spreads its seeds.

Those supermarket grapes you buy are only about 16% sugar and usually are heavily cropped. Our wine grapes when ripe are usually 24-25% sugar, and have intense flavors; without which we cannot make good wine. But sugar is only part of what makes grapes tasty and wine a pleasure. More on that tomorrow.

However, today, here is some historical information to illustrate that each vintage has its particular ripening characteristics..look at this graph to compares the rate of sugar increase per day, for Cabernet, for 2004, 2005, and 2006.

(graph by Dr. Phil Freese)

Today we (Zelma, Phil, Ronald, Bernard, Julie) spent the morning at Vilafonte looking at our Merlot and Malbec; considering ripeness and readiness to pick. Despite the wind and warmth, the vines look very chipper; leaves nice and green, berries firm and fresh, definitely on a healthy track for ripening. Nothing is ready yet. Maybe next Wednesday? Julie will sample all these blocks Monday and we will visit them again Tuesday morning.

Zelma Long

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Vilafonte 2006 Harvest Blog #1

This Blog's for you…

…for all of you who are curious, intrigued, or passionate about winemaking, wine growing, wine in general, South Africa and South African wine.

…it will track grapes from our site through to the wine.

…it will introduce (tomorrow) the "cast of characters" who touch the grapes and wine at one time or another and who help mold its characters.

…it will follow the winegrapes of Vilafonte Vineyards, a 30 acre vineyard located in the Paarl (Pearl) appellation of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Pre harvest jitters
Growing and harvesting wine is a dance with Mother Nature. Right now it's a fast dance; harvest nerves are tightly wound; we have had almost two weeks of very warm and windy weather; sugars (measured as Brix) in the grapes are skyrocketing.

Phil (one of the cast), who has been watching harvests for 30 years, has never seen vines produce sugar in the grapes at the rate off 1 Brix (% sugar) every three days, for this long. This is faassstttt.

Sugars predict potential alcohol but aren't directly related to what we all care about…flavor, good concentration (power); good balance (of alcohol acid and tannin); soft tannins…fleshy texture. The yum factor.

The wind here is "blowing like stink". Winemakers and winegrowers are pacing the vineyards. Pick now before sugars are too high? Or wait for ripe flavors and risk higher alcohols? How to make everyone happy in this dance????

More tomorrow.

Zelma Long