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Second Protocol

Thank you for indulging me last week in my aside - I hope I conveyed the feeling of winter here at the winery. I'll return now to my recap of the 2009 harvest.

Where we last left off the heavy and early fall rain had greatly complicated things, creating mold in the vineyard, and we were slowing down the sorting table to a crawl in a valiant effort to remove the affected fruit. But the sorting table wasn't the only front at which we were to battle the gray-green scourge. We would have to change our entire method of operation to combat our foe...

And so our winemaker put into effect a Second Protocol with which we were to handle all of the wines we were crafting. No matter how discerning we were at the sorting table it is impossible to completely remove all the mold as some of the pesky microbes aren't even visible to the naked eye. The wines would be later treated to remove all trace of the fungi but in the interim it was imperative that the clean wines we had fermenting already not be contaminated. During fermentation it is crucial not use equipment on different lots without sanitizing it in between, in order to prevent cross-contaminating the lots with different yeast strains. It only takes one little yeast cell to create an entire colony.  But there are many stages during production where it is not necessary to totally sterilize everything between working with different wines. After the Second Protocol was instituted those days were long gone. Everything had to sprayed with ozone between every time ANY piece of equipment touched a grape or juice. Ozone is used industrially as a disinfectant. It's useful because Deerfield has an ozone generator which creates it from the ambient air so you have an unlimited supply. Ozone is an O3 molecule whereas oxygen is O2. It's amazing how that one extra oxygen atom changes it from life giving to lethal. Ozone has incredible oxidizing power and as it decays back to the stable oxygen configuration is releases free radicals that can break the carbon bonds of organic molecules making it a deadly enemy of the unwanted spores invisibly infesting our hoses and pumps. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. But it's a double edged sword because since ozone is such a terrific oxidizing agent it must not come in contact with the wine either. So a spray with ozone and a thorough rinse before any work is done is prescribed but not expedient. I think I've mentioned before how much easier the process can be if you just cut a few corners. To follow the protocol to a T required dedication, patience and imagination: You have to imagine how much better the wine will taste if you take the time to do it right. And at Deerfield we do it right. Every time.

Fortunately, this all happened as the work at the winery was beginning to reach its zenith as the last of the grapes came in. As sorting stopped the attention of the crew could be shifted to the fermenting wines and our time was freed up a great deal. Next time I'll talk about the winding down of harvest and putting the wines to sleep so they can mature. Salut!

Introducing Vinnie

With the rain comes the flowers and with the flowers come the allergies, but in the Valley Of The Moon at least the budding vines are a condolence for the sniffles and bleary eyes. The rows upon rows of woody vines, protruding from the earth like an army of twigs, are renewing themselves and along the top of each trellis is the very beginning of a new wine's journey. When I came to the winery for harvest last August the vines were in full swing. Maybe not all of the grapes had yet undergone véraison (the coloring of the berry) but the 2009 crop was already quite mature upon my arrival.

So it was very exciting to find one day that suddenly a tiny layer of green had appeared atop each vine. It is also a remarkable example of how true the "micro-climate" theory really is: Growers and winemakers alike often say that a particular part of a vineyard produces superior grapes to another part only meters away and for that reason divide up a vineyard planted with the same varietal into seperate "blocks" that they feel have a slightly different terroir. While it may be hard to believe, I have to admit that the recent budding of our vineyards in ample evidence to support the idea. I was feeling a little left out because everywhere around us (and I mean up and down the entire valley) the vines were budding out while our vineyard appeared as if it had decided to hibernate for another year entirely. Right across the street our neighbors had vines with almost full leaves on them! Finally our vines came around and now every vine has happily sprouted. Also certain parts of each of our vineyards budded simultaneously while other blocks seemed to lag. Certainly there must be a great diversity of factors why vines that are so close to each other would be on different calendars but considering that they share equal amounts of sunlight it created an interesting puzzle. This set Ryan and I speculating on a range of possibilities such as a difference in elevation or sometimes more outlandish propositions. I suggested that as the sun set the shadow of the peak of the mountain covered one part of the vineyard sooner than the other. I eventually asked Robert what he thought and he attributed the difference not to heat of the surface but of the heat below ground: Our vines are lower than many of our neighbors and as we are situated right next to a wetland there is more water in the soil which keeps the roots cooler.

It has been a great pleasure waking up every day and inspecting the vineyard to see what progress the vines are making. They grow at an incredible pace! I knew that vitis vinifera was a vigorous plant but sometimes I feel like I can actually see it growing. I am beginning to now see the allure of the growing. Incredibly inflorescence (flowering of the vine) seems right around corner although it's not supposed to occur until sometime in May. I'm taking a series of photos of one of the vines so you'll be able to see its growth over the year. The temptation to name it is mounting... I'm thinking Vinnie but I'm open to suggestions! Until next time - Salut!

Alternative Transportation

It's easy to get lost sometimes in 23,000 square feet of caves but it's even harder to find somebody. Working at the winery requires a lot of teamwork and communication. There's always some question that you have to ask somebody in particular. Has the Petit Verdot been punched down yet today? Have you seen the alcohol spray bottle? Are you done using the air pump outside? Have you seen the alcohol spray bottle? Can you move these barrels with the forklift? Have you seen the alcohol spray bottle?!?! The cave has two entrances and there's been many-a-times when I've played a game of cat and rat - You go in one end looking for Ryan and he comes out the other looking for you, going round and round till one of you gives up and that's when you end up finding each other. And those caves are BIG! It takes a few minutes to walk all the way to the back of the cave and make a full loop. The cave sometimes seems like it has a personality; a very mischievous and playful personality. It loves to play tricks on you. When you call out somebody's name, their answer occasionally bounces off the walls in such a way that it seems to come from the opposite direction. Or it loves to change the quality of people's voices so that you think you're closing in on your target but in fact, when you round the corner, it's somebody else entirely waiting for you. During the hustle and bustle of harvest time is a precious commodity and I decided that if I could just get around the cave faster maybe (just maybe) we could get the job done before dark.

Hmmm.... What wheeled personal transportation device could I use to get around the smooth even surfaces of the cave? Aha! A skateboard seems like such a contraption! Except I didn't really know how to ride a skateboard very well... At first I managed quite well with the small exception that I couldn't turn left. But after a month of practice I became a full-fledged ambi-turner and the only rat I know on wheels. It sounds funny but it really is the best way to travel - I could get to and from a work area quickly and find people in a flash (No more games of cat and rat because I could overtake somebody looking for me). The only thing is that the floor gets wet so I have to be careful not to skate through any puddles. I bought a skate board with griptape that looks like caution tape so that I remember whenever I ride it that I'm in a work zone! What's next - a skate park in a wine cave? Stranger things have happened!

Quirks With Corks

A lot of wine writers have spoken about the ongoing debate regarding how best to keep wine in a bottle but I thought that I would chime in with my two cents. Corks, to me, are synonymous with wine. What are the first images conjured in your mind’s eye when the word wine is mentioned? For me it’s usually a wineglass or a bottle filled with the wonderful stuff. That bottle in my imagination is invariably accompanied by a cork – that most unique creation of nature, perfectly adept at maintaining and aging wine in an almost symbiotic relationship. I think it’s reasonable to say that the connotations we have and the associations we make are based often on tradition. So wine, a substance whose entire life span, from creation to consumption, is governed by tradition, has even stronger mental associations then most things. If you went to a fancy restaurant in North Beach and your wine was served to you in a pint glass I doubt you’d shrug, assume that they were just trying to be trendy and sip. No. You, being the gracious person that you are, would politely ask your server if perhaps they had a normal wine glass available. Sure, there are plenty of reasons that a wine glass is shaped the way it is: So that the wine is directed to the most suitable spot on your tongue; so that when you hold it your hand does not affect the temperature of the wine; so that your grubby fingerprints don’t mar the surface of the glass… But that’s not why you send the pint glass back. You do it because it’s just wrong. Now this conservative point of view might seem at odds with the California anything-goes attitude and approach to winemaking. I believe though, that that viewpoint doesn’t come from a sort of dogma which asserts that tradition is inherently stifling, but rather from a perspective of “Hey, if this really does work better then why the heck not use it?” If you show me a wine closure today that is superior to a natural cork in every way then I would be on board and gung-ho about it. But the fact is that insofar it looks as though we got it right the first time. In the 1600s, when glass bottles started to come into wide use, a clever man named Dom Perignon rediscovered the use of cork as a natural stopper and modern science has yet to better it. It allows the wine to breathe at a remarkably apt rate. It keeps the wine clean – as Robert says it acts like a “magnet for off flavors”. And from the beginning of the industry, the production of cork serves as a remarkable example of sustainable agriculture as the cork is harvested from the outer layers of the bark of Quercus suber  (which is actually good for the tree) leaving it to grow back. In fact, the only threat to the cork trees comes from the decline of the cork industry due to a rise in synthetic and alternative closures. While companies that manufacture synthetic corks made from plastic tout that their product is 100% recyclable, they often forget to add the footnote that that statistic is only true if the cork makes it to the recycling plant. Deerfield uses natural cork on all of our wines, except for one vintage of Sauvignon Blanc where we decided to dabble with Zorks (which are pretty neat actually) and I hear it from Robert that we aim to keep it that way. Cork surely has its drawbacks but until some mind blowing revolution occurs in the future I’ll look forward each time to that satisfying pop rather than the crack of a screwcap.

Also Robert recently added his opinion on natural cork to the public forum. It can be found on Deerfield's Facebook page.

While you're there become a fan if you haven't already!

Winemaker Or Zookeeper?

Building a winery and vineyard next to a thriving wetland certainly makes for a scenic property but it requires a degree of comfort with sharing the space with some very assertive fauna. Everyone in the Valley Of The Moon has to contend with deer pillaging an unprotected vineyard. Even the wild turkeys that roam can be a threat when the grapes hang low enough. But I think we're the only ones on the block who have a family of geese to contend with. These are some self-righteous waterfowl. They know very well who was here first and that we are only welcome as long as it pleases them. Their favorite hangout is the middle of the only road that leads in and out of the property. I think that they like the warm asphalt on their downy behinds. When you drive up the road, just past the bridge there they are. Politely I wait for them to move to the side so I can get by, but I swear - they enjoy taking their sweet time. I've started to name them already. Tony is the clan leader and he's bossy but he always is looking out for his flock, making sure there's no danger. Ethel is the nice one. She lets me get closer than any of the others. We're all holding our breath at the winery, waiting for the appearance of the new goslings. We're getting a little worried though because we haven't seen any yet and it's possible some nefarious critter found their nest, which I believe is cleverly concealed on the island in the middle of the pond. There's plenty of other types of birds who call the marsh their home, including a beautiful and stately heron who likes to perch atop one of the giraffes.

But geese aren't the only creature we contend with. Our proximity to the pond makes the winery a favorite spot of a huge variety of frogs and toads who just love the cool damp environment of the cave. They seem very partial to the sump room as well (the first stage of our water processing cycle). In the cave one tiny little frog seems like it's croaking through a megaphone - it's always hard to believe when you find them that the little guys have such a load voice. You'd think that bat's would like the cave but in fact they are a menace in the barn where they like to nest in the high peak of the roof and just outside the lab. During the warm months lizards are everywhere but they don't make too trouble. And of course, because we are surrounded by forest and a marsh bugs of all kinds can be found (they especially like taking up residence in my tent). The rain sure does make life abundant and the scenery vibrant. It's so beautiful! I hope you can come visit me and see it for yourself!

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