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On The Assembly Line

Today was the first day of bottling! I'm going to give you some rough figures because I don't have them in front of me right now. I will, however, get the exact amounts later and update this. We bottled about 2000 cases of wine today! Since there are 12 bottles in a case that means we produced 24,000 bottles of wine! And we're going to do it again tomorrow. On the list for today was a 2005 Shiraz Cuvee and a Meritage style blend (which is my absolute favorite). The winemaker's favorite Deerfield wine is the 2004 Shiraz Cuvee and she says that this one is even better. At the end of the day as a little bonus for our hard work all of the crew got to take home a bottle. I'm actually going to open it right this very minute...

Amazing! I mean it's obviously not all there because it was just bottled today and the whole process kind of shocks the wine. But it is absolutely delicious none the less and I'm sure in a few months this will be an outstanding wine. (Note: I just asked Robert and he said that immediately following bottling, wine, though undeveloped, will be fine. After about two weeks it goes into "bottle shock" for several months). I can't wait to try the Meritage next!

So a little bit about the bottling: Most wineries have a portable bottling facility come in when it's time to finish the long journey from the vinyard to the cellar. It's because bottling only happens a few days out of the year so it doesn't make sense to purchase and maintain the complex machinery when it's unused. The bottling trucks don't come with a crew though so manning the thing is up to the winery. Today there were 13 people constantly working to ensure that it flows properly.

I'll describe the process of putting wine in a bottle for you. I'm going to upload a video tour of the bottling line some time this week - more on that later. First, the empty bottles, which come from the glass maker in the same cases we sell the wine in, are put onto the skinny conveyor belt that moves the bottles along the line. Then they go into a Ferris wheel like device that "sparges" the bottles. That means that an inert gas (in this case nitrogen) with a higher density than oxygen is blown into the bottle forcing the O2 out. Then the bottles are filled. An air pump is constantly working to make sure that wine from the enormous tank fills the hopper unit. After that the bottles are automatically corked. I've done hand-corking at smaller wineries and let me tell you: it is not fun. Next the humans come in. You know the foil that's on the top of the bottle? Well for some reason they haven't devised a machine (or I should say the owners of the truck haven't bought one) that places the foil on the top of the bottle. Why that would be difficult for a machine is beyond me. It's not difficult for a human either but after an hour (let alone three) it does become mind-numbing. But, like much of the winemaking process, it is very zen. It's all about your attitude. After the loose foil is placed on the neck of the bottle another machine down the line deftly tightens it so that it's snug. At this point the bottles would run through a labeler but because we silk screen our bottles this step is bypassed. And this is where I come in. At this point the wine is bottled. So what's left to do? Well, put the bottles of wine back in the cases of course! Interestingly, this is definitely the hardest part of the job. It's certainly the busiest and it keeps you constantly moving. You work in a team of two. I put six bottles in the box pass it down for the other guy to put the other six bottles in. That leaves me just enough time to grab another empty box and enough time for him to fold the flaps and feed it through the....Taping machine! That dumps it down a ramp where a group is slapping labels on the cases and stacking them on palettes. A forklift is constantly delivering empty bottles and taking away finished ones. We bottled for about ten hours. So if you didn't know how it was done, now you do!

Chardonnay is tomorrow.


I haven't had my home computer so it's been really difficult for me to upload photos and the like but I have a ton of great ones from the past week and I WILL be uploading them soon. Also I'm going to build a video section of the sight and the first footage is going to be of the bottling! I made someone record me so you'll be able to actually see me doing the assembly-line bottling job and I think that's pretty cool. So check in later this week for some cool new stuff!

The Three Ton Refrigerator

Today was an eventful day and I was kept busy from seven to five. One of the marvellous pieces of equipment that Deerfield uses to make wine is an enormous refrigeration unit that we refer simply as "The Chiller". It is an extremely important and useful machine but its designers were apparently unconcerned with its aesthetic qualities. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they were entirely unaware of the concept of aesthetics. The Chiller is ugly. It does the job but it doesn't look good doing it. And that's a problem. Especially because the device was the first thing you saw when you drive up to the winery. We tried to gussy it up a bit and make it a little less obtrusive by putting a big white tent on it. But the white tent got very dirty so it was a little bit like throwing soiled bed sheets on a hippo and trying to pretend it's not there: It just doesn't quite work out. Did I mention that this was an extremely noisy hippo? I think by now you get the idea that it would be a good thing if it was moved. And so it was.

I understood from Robert that this is the fourth time it's been moved. You might be wondering how one goes about moving a three ton fridge. Well first you make a phone call and then a nice man named Gabe arrives with a very large truck with a very large crane attached to it. The Chiller has big steel I-beams welded to the bottom so it was actually very easy to attach it to the boom and hoist it precariously onto the bed of the truck. The hard part was that the Chiller had been sitting in that spot for years and in that time developed a new functionality. It had become a fully operational and quite powerful junk magnet and all sorts of odds and ends had amassed around it. So I spent the entire day moving things away from the Chiller so we could transport it and then putting 3 years worth of various building materials and tools and trash in their proper places. It was actually really satisfying when it was all done though because it really made the entrance to the winery look much nicer.

I think it's pretty obvious what exactly the Chiller does but you might not know what exactly we use it for. Often it's necessary to work with wine outside of the controlled climate of the cave and it can get very hot out there on the crush pad in Sonoma Valley. So we use the Chiller to cool every single one of the tanks on the Pad and in the Barn. It's pretty impressive the volume of wine it's able to keep cold and how it's able to make massive stainless steel tanks, sitting in the sun, that would normally be burning hot, cool to the touch.

Of course there are pictures of everything and they will be posted as soon as I can but I also have some exciting news! I will be adding a Video section on the website soon and there is footage of the Chiller being lowered into its new home! So keep your eyes peeled. I also should mention here that I added a new sidebar to the site so you can see recent updates so that you no longer have to rescan every single post to see if there's been an update. Hope you find that more convenient.

In other news I'm going to be at the San Rafael Wine Festival on Saturday (August 15th), pouring Deerfield wine! So come on by and check it out. It's a really fun event in a beautiful spot. I'm really excited about it and I'm sure I'll have some fun stories to share Sunday! Tomorrow I get the day off. I'm going to spend it catching up on some sleep, working on my tent (which I'll move into this weekend), and working on my report for the Deerfield Staff Meeting (which I'll tell you more about later). Ciao for now!

San Rafael Wine Festival

Readers: I have been very busy and I haven't had the opportunity to write since last week. I actually tried to write a little last night and fell asleep at my computer after typing half a sentence. I've noticed that I get about 5 people returning to check out the site everyday. If you're one of those people and you've been disappointed I want to apologize, thank you for reading, and let you know that I try my best to post at least every other day, so keep checking in! The good news is because I've been so busy I also have lots to share!

How about I start with a wine festival? On Saturday I travelled to my old stomping grounds to represent Deerfield at the annual San Rafael Wine Festival. It was a blast. The setting was what really made it a unique event. It took place on the grounds of this historic estate that has been turned into a museum. My aunt Sandra, head of sales, was my mentor. She's been to a great deal of these kind of events so it was wonderful to work with her and listen to how she talked about the wine and interacted with the patrons. It was really enjoyable talking with all of the people at the event and there wasn't too much of a crowd so I could have actual conversations. I surprised me how into wine everybody seemed to be. I thought people would want their taste and then get on to the next one. But nearly every person was extremely engaged and wanted to know as much about the wine as possible.

It was also a great event to cut my teeth on because there was no pressure to sell the wine. In fact, we weren't allowed to. The whole event is meant for the companies representing themselves to advertise. I thought the format of the event was genius: You pay for a wristband at the door and you're given a glass, then you can taste as much wine as you want and eat all of the food you want. That's right - free food. In addition to inviting wineries, the hosts of the event got all of the local gourmet restaurants to give away food. Nobody was stingy with their portions and there were more tasty tidbits around than I could hope for. A few delectibles: Quail with a orange demiglaze, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almond, octopus ceviche, gourmet sweet potato french fries and the best gazpacho in this hemisphere. But my favorite food vendor was my neighbor! The first thing we did was have a food pairing. Our neighbor's delicious pulled pork nachos went excellently with our 2004 Shiraz Cuvee (although Sandra thought is went better with the Red Rex).

At any rate, I got to try some nice wines (I was careful not to try too many), meet some nice people, eat some good food, but the best part of the day by far was what I learned: It's great to work for a winery, but it's absolutely wonderful to work for a winery that makes wine that people love. Every person who tasted the wine had a little "wow" moment. More than once I was told that our wine was the best at the event. Even though I didn't make the it, I felt so proud that my family makes such outstanding wine. Lots and lots of people try to make wine. And they try their best. The fact that, after these people spent all day drinking wine, ours stood out to them is amazing to me. I think that it was well worth the wine invested. I expect that lots of those happy people will be returning for more!

Note: I know I've been promising more pictures for a long time but they're coming! I've already edited them all and they would be up right now but I'm having some technical issues. They WILL be there tomorrow. There's a lot of really great shots so check in tomorrow to see them!

About Barrels

I've been working a lot more inside the cave recently, which is something I really enjoy. The floor of the cave is paved with really smooth cement and I use a skateboard to get around everywhere. It's not really conventional but I think that making wine is all about being unconventional. I suppose that's a very Californian approach to winemaking and I'm sure that the exact opposite is true in France but we'll talk more about the West Coast approach some other time. So far I've been doing two important jobs: Topping the wine barrels and gassing them.

Topping wine barrels isn't very difficult and it's one of the only things at the winery that I know how to do without asking for any assistance. The only thing that makes it challenging is when the barrels are stacked really high or too close to a wall. Before I go any farther I want to get something out of the way: The hole on the side of the barrel where you put the wine in is called the bunghole. The thing you put in the bunghole is called a bung. Done snickering? Ok, good, I'm glad you got that out of your system. Unlike racking, barrel topping is a straightforward term. As the wine continues fermenting in the barrel a small amount of it evaporates. That leaves room in the barrel for air to seep in. And because the last thing you want is for your wine to be exposed to air for a year, Cellar Rats like myself can be seen scurrying from barrel to barrel, topping them off. For the same reason that you top off, you can't leave any half-full barrels lying around. So any wine that's leftover is put in a metal keg (that air can't seep into) which nitrogen is then added to in order to force out any O2. If you can, you use the same wine to top off the other barrels but most of the time there's not any leftovers of that particular wine to use. So the standard practice is to use another similar wine and because such a small amount is added there is no real change. A fine wine like the ones that Deerfield produces is made using the cleanest practices possible. And so, even for a simple thing like adding a little bit of wine to a barrel, strict sanitation procedures are observed: I scrub around the bung using proxy and citric; Then I rinse with some water; Then I remove the bung and place it upside down on the barrel; If the bung is dirty I replace it with a clean one; I add the wine using a sanitized air pump; Then I put the bung back and the barrel is rinsed again; Lastly I spray a solution of sulphur dioxide to kill any lingering bacteria. Typically I'll do this for several hundred barrels in a day.

The other thing I've been doing is gassing the empty barrels. When the barrels sit empty in the cave lots of bad things can happen. Between beetles and bacteria, a winemaker needs an offensive weapon to make sure those fine oak barrels stay usable until they're next needed for service. So I spray a gaseous form of SO2 into the barrels and stick a little Dixie cup in the bunghole and slap a piece of masking tape on it for good measure. I learned the hard way the importance of wearing a gas mask while doing this. I was coughing and wheezing for a good thirty minutes. So now I wear this big awesome Darth Vader looking thing whenever I'm adding the gas. I also wear my big DJ-style headphones while I work in the cave. The effect is that I look kind of like one of the aliens from the Fifth Element.

Well I've got one more story from this past week but I am exhausted so it will have to wait until tomorrow! I'll be talking about decanting and the virtues of proper bin-city planning. Cheers!

Bin City

This year Deerfield is going to crush about 350 tons of grapes into sticky and oh-so-sweet juice (and hopefully ferment it into some darn good wine). It probably never crossed your mind though how all of those grapes get from the vineyard to the crush pad. I'm not going to tell you all about picking here because I'm sure I'll actually be doing plenty of that when harvest gets here. But I will tell you that after the grapes are picked and a preliminary sort is done they're loaded into huge plastic bins and shipped by the truckload to where ever they need to be, sometimes hundreds of miles away. None of the vineyards we buy grapes from are too far away though so our grapes' journey is much shorter.

But interestingly enough, the whole business tends to follow a BYOB rule. Bring Your Own Bins. That means that Deerfield has to have dozens of these large plastic cubes on hand for when it's time to go get the grapes. And because you never know when the first day of harvest will be it's important to be prepared. And that means a veritable cityscape replete with skyscrapers made of bins must be thoroughly cleaned. This city isn't as beautiful though as San Francisco or New York's skyline so for the 9 months out of the year that they're not in use we keep them out of sight. I'm actually not too sure where we were hiding them but I can tell you with certainty that it was somewhere very muddy. And damp too: A battalion of tree frogs had colonized the city. Ok, maybe a battalion is overstating things... I counted four.

I used my close friend the pressure washer to clean them and got drenched in the process, but I'm pretty used to that by now (I usually change my socks at least once a day). At the end of the day I decided that Ricardo, who brought the bins from the vineyard and put them on the crush pad, was a terrible city planner. So I hopped on a forklift and did some major reconstruction. Sometimes I get a little overly-enthused about a project. I guess that's a nice way of saying obsessed because I stayed an extra hour and a half after the day ended making sure my Bin City was perfect. And it did look better. But not nearly as beautiful as the view of the valley behind it, which it will do an excellent job of completely obscuring until harvest is over. At least I can still see the view from my tent!