Sunday, March 26, 2006


Today is the first day of harvest that we are able to sit back and relax a little after what we can describe as a spectacular harvest - the timing and the quality have been right on the money. Phil is a genius when it comes to predicting harvest date and will even go so far as to book flights from California to South Africa on the back of his hyper-sensitive phenology and modelling data. It is quite incredible.
Today Zelma delarted for a well-deserved holiday with one of her 'rock-star' winemaking buddies called May-Anne Graf who actually worked as assistant winemaker under Zelma at Simi. They are off to the Natal Midlands which is in Kwazulu-Natal - for those that dont know this is one of the ten provinces of SOuth Africa. I am very jealous.
We are now starting to think about beddding the vines down and starting to get them ready for a good sleep during the upcoming winter. There is a lot to be done and the first order of business is to spread a fine layer of 'designer mulch' onto every drip emitter in the vine yard - this is an enormous job and going to be crucial as we plan to leach the nutrients from the mulch/manure into the soil through the organically sensitive techniwue of runnning drip irrigation through it.

We also took delivery of our new tracctor last week - very exciting.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Vilafonte 'Harvest Reflections' - day 29

Reflection on the vineyard and the 2006 vintage
I have included a photo of the Vilafonte vineyard, taken from across the valley, with the Cape's big mountains behind it. From here it looks like a few big blocks of grapes. However each big section is subdivided, and great variations in wine personality come from each of the sub-blocks, which are about 1 ha (2 ½ acres) each. A word about the 2006 vintage. Our harvest was 1 month long; we started Feb. 9 and finished Mar. 10. This will seem short to winemakers who either (1) work with more different varieties; (2) make a large volume of wine; (3) work with grapes from quite different climates.Those 3 conditions can "spread out" harvest. Our work is focused on (1) 1 vineyard site; (2) only red grapes; (3) only 4 Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec. Thus the timeline is quite tight. The grapes, and wines look to be excellent…" a fine vintage". For us specifically, the wines are more concentrated this year; we have good ripeness; and for each variety the smallest berries (grapes) we have had in 4 years.
What I hear in general - winemakers are pleased with the harvest quality; the reds look excellent (I haven't heard so much about the whites); water toward the end of harvest has been useful to keep the vines going after the heat, and lack ofwater at this time has forced harvests in some places. I have also heard that winemakers are getting ripeness at lower sugars this year. Vilafonte block personalities - the building blocks of Series C and Series M
Block Z Merlot complex, deep, rich, dark, firm
Block AB Merlot aromatic red/black fruit aromas; good concentration & long
Block VW Malbec deep red black color, herbs & black fruit flavors, very soft Cabernet Franc violet aromas, medium intensity color; very firm tannins
Block D Cabernet very deep and complex, red black color, long with firm tannin
Block C Cabernet intense fruit with slightly chunkier tannins than D
Block B Cabernet clear fruit expression, softer tannins, medium long
Block A Cabernet Good color, black fruits, very soft tannins
Block N Cabernet Aromatic, red fruits expression, tighter structure, and long
Zelma Long

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vilafonte Fermentation Blog - day 28

Today is our last day of harvesting grapes …hooray! For the next 2 weeks, our harvest blog will focus on the fermentation side of harvest before we wrap up around about the last day of March. It is always somewhat of a relief and celebration to see those vines empty of their brood of grapes. A relief, because we are never sure what weather is just around the corner; and a celebration; another year of tending the vineyard is complete; wines developing; more lessons learned about our site. This is not to say that work is done; to the contrary, we now have a cellar full of Cabernet waiting to ferment. There are 2 important components to fermentation:
Fermentation is a delicate time. We are working with 2 natural processes:
#1. a biological process…yeast changing sugar to alcohol; and all the influences on this process…of which there are many.
#2 is the natural extraction of desirable Aromas, flavors, color and texture from the skin, which we group under the name "phenolics" - a class of compounds that is huge and varied. For red wines in particular, much of winemaking success is to coax what is in the skins, out of the skins, into the wine.The extraction part….We do this coaxing, in fermentation, by letting the fermentation proceed at warm temperatures (80F); by mixing the skins (which float) with the developing wine liquid below; and by just the naturally enhanced extraction as the alcohol develops. As in many things in life; one can have too much (color and tannins) or too little (color and tannins). Our goal is to aid fermentation so that we get the tastes andcolor and aromas "just right" - with regard to being a mirror to the vineyard blockthey each come from.T omorrow I will do a "personality" summary on each of our blocks this year.
Zelma Long, Vilafonte winemaking partner

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Vilafonte 'Disaster Averted' - day 27

Disaster Averted
Harvest is always a sensitive time in the cellar, because with long work hours, people get tired and can be more prone to make mistakes. We had a case in point tonight with the Block B grapes that were harvested today…..The sorting table was busy all day with others' grapes, thus we started sorting Block B at 7 p.m. and continued on until midnight. Quite nice…cool, quiet; a pleasant evening until…Bernard went downstairs (the grapes fall by gravity, from the sorting table through a hose, down into a fermenter below in the cellar below) to check the fermenter we were sorting into. To his dismay, the large bottom valve was leaking….slightly thank goodness, but….when he tried to tighten it; it leaked more, indicating that the "leak" was not due to the valve not being tight, but due to someone else in the cellar, who had prepared the tank…forgetting to put a gasket in which would seal the valve firmly to the tank. He put a 50 gallon tub under the tank to catch the leak, while we finished sorting. Then we considered the options…none were pretty. And meanwhile these was a 2 hour crusher cleanup to do (washing all parts of the sorting system and then hosing down with high pressure hot water, to be clean for the next day). But what Bernard finally did was quite creative…and photos attached illustrate…
He drained the juice from the tank, into a clean (properly valved) next door neighbor tank. This left the grape skins in the original tank. And with the juice gone, the top of the skins was just below the side gate of this tank. So he opened this gate, climbed into the tank, dug down through the grape skins to the valve, and plugged it, from the inside, with a plastic 2 liter plastic bottle!!!! This allowed Teresa, on the outside, to remove the valve, put the gasket in, and put the valve back on. The juice was then moved back into the original tank, dry ice spread on top for protection from oxygen, until fermentation starts.Disaster averted. And they both went home at 5:30 a.m.
Photo #1 - Bernard knee deep in Block B Cabernet, getting ready to dig forthe valve outlet.
Photo #2 - Taken from the outside of the tank - plastic jug with cap plugs pipewhile valve removed and fixed
Photo #3 - a grin for success
Zelma Long,
Vilafonte's Winemaking Partner

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Harvest interview with Zelma Long

A late night interview with the4 extraordinary winemaker Zelma, Long, the head of quality for the first South African American joint winemkaing venture. Have a look at to see more.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Vilafonte 2006 Harvest Blog - day 25

General harvest and winemaking update
Harvest. We are harvesting like mad this week! Which means, we bring in one of each of our 1 hectare (2.5 acre) blocks each day. The weather is cooperating and is back to cool nights and warm days; perfect ripening weather. At the end of this week Vilafonte will be finished with harvest. Last Friday we harvested the first of our 7 blocks of Cabernet, and this Friday will be the last. Remember, our Cabernet blocks are imaginatively? named Blocks A,B,C,D, N,O,P. The latter 3 have different row directions from the former, and, of course, make different wines. Among them, P is a different clone. These three tend toward more red fruit, or red/black fruit…raspberry, red and black cherries, boysenberry. A and B tend toward lush black fruit. C and D are our building blocks; very concentrated; lots of firm tannins. A-D are contiguous, but, different. Anyone who says there is no such thing as terroir (as I have heard a few people say) has never made wine from vineyard blocks that have differing vine environments.
Last weekend's heat and low humidity knocked some of our clusters on our small vines to a shriveled state and they must be sorted out. Julie and Mary Ann are "cluster sorting" in the vineyard, about 9 hours a day, leaning over half ton bins of fruit. Not glamorous work. Tonight those grapes come in (Block B) and they will be berry sorted by a crew of 10 of us, starting at 7 p.m. until approximately midnight. Long days. This will happen again tomorrow night (Block N). Cold soak
Cabernet D and C are sitting, very cold (12C) in tanks for 3-4 days; while their skins slowly release color. The first day after crush, D was light pink. Today, it is purple black; really really dark. And delicious. Rich, deep flavors, big tannins. I was excited when tasting D. It is just barely starting fermentation today.
We have had a pause between Merlot and Cabernet, so nothing is fermenting in tanks just now, but some of the lots were pressed off before they were dry, so we are carefully watching their progress in the barrel. It's a delicate time….we want to be sure that these wines complete fermentation so they are totally dry…no sweet reds for us!
Pressing and Barreling
All the Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc are pressed and safely tucked into barrels. When we are ready to take the wine off its skins, we drain the free wine off (this becomes Series wine); then take a light press; then combine the heavypresses (which are not very heavy) in one tank, to go to barrels in due course.
Monitoring fermentation, and planning the work
Photo is Bernard checking Brix on Block D Cabernet. He checks all fermenting wines twice a day for Brix (sugar) and temperature. I taste all the new wines with him daily and review the results; together we ID what each wines needs are for the next day, and thus, the work plan.
Zelma Long

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Vilafonte 'Barrel Blog' - day 24

"Barrel prep"
#1- barrel selection and orders.
One of the very constant harvest cellar jobs is preparing barrels for filling. But a good deal of work goes on first. Back in October, we tasted our wines from the last vintage, and evaluated how well the new barrels of each type had worked with each block and varietal. Based on that…answering the questions: what worked? Which blocks need new oak? Which need once used, or twice used oak (French oak is what we use for wood)?do we have a cooper that we want to test this year?? Etc......we placed a barrel order.Preceding the barrel order we meet with each cooper or cooper's representative. We tell them what we want to accomplish; what we liked or found disappointing about their barrels the previous year, and ask what if any new developments they have in their coopering. Coopering barrels…from selecting the oak, drying it; preparing the staves; assembling the barrel…is very complicated; barrels are from biological elements and take judgement to make, just like wine. Each cooper tends to have a signature style, again like wine. Base on our assessment and their information, and our projection of harvest tonnage by block (a bit difficult since the vines are just budding out at this stage!) we organize our order for new barrels. What we don't do is as follows:
a. we don't use a formula such as " we need x% new oak"
b. we don't assume that each block will have the same needs as the nextc. we don't assume that a block's match to new and older oak will be the same year after year (generally as vines get older they can absorb and benefit from more new oak)
d. we don't assume that all coopers are the same. In fact we are very particular, and work primarily with coopers with a long track record for quality, style, and consistency of quality.
e. we are not driven by cost. We select the number, type and style that we believe will be absolutely the best for our wines. These barrels are beautiful works of craft in and of themselves, and are a major cost of winemaking, so their selection, care, and use is, in my opinion, one of the 4 major critical segments of refined winemaking. More on barrels later…once we have them, then what??
Zelma Long
The photo is one of our grape sorters. Her T shirt reflects perfectly the detail needed for fine winemaking!!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Vilafonte 'Grape Chemistry' Blog - day 24


The cool and the warm..
Last week, as previously reported, it was cool. We had 2 days of light rain, 1 cloudy day and one national holiday. This left everyone with little time for harvest, which was not a big problem, since the weather was cool and the grapes were in good condition. It became a problem, however, this week. On Sunday and Monday, Mother Nature reversed herself and sent hot weather rather than cool. The grapes were not pleased. We saw some dehydration and increase in Brix. Suddenly, everyone needs to harvest everything!! Actually, last Thursday I looked at the phenolic samples taken that day. These samples record tannin and color, and at the same time are checked for grape chemistry. I was delighted to see the results; our grape "ripeness chemistry" was excellent - the relation of Brix, acid and pH, and color and tannin. And we were getting ripeness at lower sugars than 2005.If I had control of the weather I would have ordered a week of mild days, say 75 - 80 F. Winemakers always yearn for control of weather. It did not come to me. So now, everything is ready, to come in, and indeed we will be will be going full speed with harvest this week. Meanwhile, we are working very long days.

Today Julie, and friend and visitor Mary Ann Graf from California, worked from 8 am to 6 pm, in the vineyard, sorting grapes as they were harvested into our bins. In the heat, some small clusters had shriveled and needed to be discarded. Tonight (starting 9 p.m.) we will crush these, and Bernard and I will be sorting clusters for the final touch up. And so it will go all week.

Zelma Long

Monday, March 06, 2006

Vilafonte 'Cabernet' blog Friday - day 24

Friday was the first, and only, harvest this week
As predicted on Tuesday, we did not bring grapes in again until today, due to rain and the national holiday. It has been cold, cloudy, and drizzly this week!! Bernard barreled down the Malbec, pressed out Block Z Merlot and barreled it down. We moved the Cabernet Franc and Block E Merlot off of cold soak into fermentation (just warmed them up, started naturally). Today we did our first Cabernet of the season, Block D. Each of our vineyard blocks, which are 1 hectare ( 2 ½ acres) or less, has its own personality, which I have learned through the years. Block D is one of our most concentrated, and has very solid tannins; it is a major "building block" of the longevity of our wines. Below are some photos taken as harvest was starting this morning:
1. picking basket waits for tasty Cabernet
2. our harvesters
3. Mr. Spies pulls tiny trailer needed to fit between narrow rows and pick up grape-filled boxes
4. " vineyard pre-sort" - removes leaves, shriveled clusters; light colored clusters
5. forklift on tractor will pick up bins, load them on a flatbed truck to get them to the wineryWe pick only 1 block per day - between 4 and 7 tons. We pick in the morning starting at 7 a.m. when the grapes are cool; do a presort in the vineyard, load bins on a truck and whisk them away to the winery.
Have a look at a video of our sorting table. Click HERE
Zelma Long, Vilafonte winemaking partner

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Vilafonte 2006 Harvest Blog - day 23

What is Cape weather during harvest 2006?

I’m quite happy with weather this harvest. Yes, it was windy and warm earlier, and drove the Brix up fast, but then the vines stopped adding brix yet continued to ripen… Yes, we had a particularly hot Saturday. And yes, we’ve had perfect ripening days…warm days, cool nights. And yes, we had a light rainy day, with more to come this week. But all in all, to me it has been good harvest weather, with just a few hiccups.

Cape weather, similar to California’s north coast, comes in cycles of temperature. See below Phil’s weather graph for February, and watch how warm and cool cycles over 3-5 days. This chart by Phil Freese, taken from weather station near Fairview, 2.06 Graph shows max and min
temperature and ET (evapotranspiration – represents evaporative demand on the grapevines due to heat, wind, low humidity, etc). For reference, our harvest started Feb. 9.

Zelma Long

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Vilafonte Harvest - day 22 - Dubai Visitors

Laura Bunzel, sommelier and wine buyer for the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai who has been staying with Mike for a week, joined Bernard and I while we checked Brix, and temperature of our fermenters and tasted them, to see what their "Sunday needs" would be. Harvest brings visitors; those who want to get a first hand feel for wine growing and winemaking. Friday, Laura had joined Phil in the early a.m. for harvest (of Merlot Block E). After an overview of our winegrowing, she helped Julie document vine details (shoot length, etc) for Phil. Julie does this in every block near harvest...One of the nice thing about visitors, and Laura exemplifies this, is their interest and curiosity. She had seen several other wineries and was curious to discuss the different winemaking techniques that are used. For example, she asked why we didn't harvest all our blocks together for a field blend (answer: (1) they get ripe at different times; (2) we want to see, after fermentation, which will be suitable for Series C and Series M). I told her … every winemaker has a different approach…and that makes wines diverse and intriguing. It is not a matter of "right technique" or "wrong technique" but how they all fit together and most important, how they work with the grapes, and the winery's vision.For Vilafonte, the grapes drive our decisions. That is why we collect data on our vines…to know them very very well, each vintage. Laura says she fell in love with the Cape.
Laura, come back next year and we will put you to work again!
Zelma Long