Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The next 10 Tons

Today we whipped thru another 10 tons of grapes - this is becoming old hat and I am becoming a better and better forklift driver! Today marked the completion of initial fermentation of our first 5 ton batch of grapes - remember them back on Sept 17th? Before leaving tonight we moved the tank onto the lift and let the lift do it's magic raising the tank up to the heavens - ok so only up about 4 feet (see first pic). A hose was attached and run to another tank (see pic 2). When the valve was opened the juice ran to the second tank. This was left to drain overnight and is known as the free run juice - a better quality juice. Tomorrow we will take the remaining mass of grapes from tank 1 and press out the excess juice. I will be especially curious to see how much free run juice is in tank # 2 in the morning.

Tomorrow will be a long long day (although today's 11 hour shift was long as well - thank god for OT!) We have the press plus our punch downs - now with 6 tanks to work our muscles, and we will have a whopping 15 tons of grapes awaiting us at 6am.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

10 more Tons

The morning started with a punch down of the tank we had inoculated a week a go.e It looks like we might be pressing that on Thursday as the fermentation is nearly complete. Around 9am the first of what turned out to be 10 tons of grapes arrived. With additional sorters sent down from Chardonnay and with improved methods we whipped right thru them. Unfortunately near the end I ended up cutting my pinkie finger on a sharp edge on the sorter table which, at my bosses insistence, brought a quick trip to an ER. No stitches were needed, just some new fangled glue and I should be good to go. I even got an updated tetanus shot as a souvenir of my visit. Even with the brief respite it still was a long 10 hour day.

Tomorrow we start bright and early at 6am as the grapes will be there early! 10 more tons will be awaiting us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Tons of Grapes Are A Lot of Work!

Well today was the day. 10 tons of pinot grapes arrived. What does that look like, Well, the first pic shows the truck where about 8.5 of the tons came on. That's a lot of grapes, believe me. So the grapes got weighed in the macro bins (see pic 2)and then cluster weights were also taken. Then to the sorting table and into the destemmer.

This turned into a long day starting at 7am. First off I had to do a punch down on the fermenting tank from the 17th. Then we had to ready ourselves for the grapes by rinsing a few tanks and the sorting line. The grapes showed up around 10am and after a day at the sorting table, driving the forklift, cleaning emptied macro bins, and finally the dreaded clean-up of the crush pad (which really sucks after a long day!) we were out of there at 7pm - so a nice 12 hour day. Initially it looked like it might be a lot longer as we were trying to do all this with basically 5 people. Fortunately they saw our struggles (and the potential enormous OT bill) and sent down 3 sorters from the Chardonnay facility and the speed picked up big time.

Tomorrow we do it all over again as 10 more tons are scheduled to come. Am I having fun yet!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day Off

Today I had a rare day off. We are awaiting 10 tons of grapes on Monday. I decided to go and do some sight seeing. I went to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park near Santa Rosa. I stopped at the gate house and asked the park attendant what there was to do. She said mainly hiking and I should take the 2.7 mile hike to the top of Bald Mountain. With it being 92 degrees she said to take plenty of water. I asked if the park had any animals that could kill me like bears. She said no bears, but they did have rattle snakes. Ok that's a lot better! So the entire hike was filled with me hearing things rustling by the path. On one occasion I swear I heard a rattler in front of me to the side. So what to do. I could chicken out and go back, no instead I decide to run full speed by the area in question. Phew!

When I got to the top (approximate time was 1 hour) it was gorgeous. You could see 50 plus miles in each direction. I could see San Francisco Bay to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the West, the town of Napa to the Southeast and much more. It was amazing In the first pic you can see Santa Rosa in foreground and the Pacific Ocean is the bright strip in the middle (Unfortunately the sun was this way so the pic doesn't do the view justice). The second picture is of a lizard - there were tons of these all around the path. Fortunately I made it safely back to my truck avoiding the rattlers. Although the climb down was harder than expected as it was so steep my calves and shins were burning as you had to really grip with your legs.
Well just another day in paradise. We shall see what the weekend will bring before the onslaught of grapes. The temps are to be close to 100 for the next half week at least.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Grapes Inoculated

The first batch of grapes we took in this past Friday got inoculated with yeast and have started the fermentation process. Before adding the yeast the grapes were taken off of their cold chill and the temp was brought up so the fermentation temp will be about 55 to 60 degrees. In about 10 to 12 days the primary fermentation will be complete.

In the mean time we are still waiting on warmer, sunny weather for the grapes to finish ripening. It sounds like 10 tons of grapes are scheduled for Monday of next week - way behind schedule. From all indications though once they start coming in it will be a FAST harvest with an inundation of grapes!

Monday, September 20, 2010

No Ripe Grapes

Unfortunately California has had a very cold summer so the grapes are not ripening like they should. As a result we will not be getting in any more grapes for a few days - hopefully at least by the end of the week. Til then it is more cleaning - FUN! On the upside we did do punch downs on the tank of grapes we had from Friday. See the right pic - that is Luis punching down the cap to keep it covered in juices. This allows more extraction of color, tannins and flavors. We punch down twice a day. The grapes are finishing up their cold soak and this tank should be ready for an inoculation of yeast to start the fermentation process tomorrow.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Grapes Arrive

Finally we hit the first day of harvest. A light day by their standards as first macro bins of what would end up being 5 tons of fruit arrived at 8am. The bins are immediately weighed and then it is onto the sorting table area where they are dumped and slowly work their way to the sorting table where stems, bad looking grapes, leaves and more are removed. The grapes leave the table and go up an incline conveyor to the destemmer where the stems are removed and they drop into an awaiting 1,500 gallon fermentation tank. The tank is chilled to 28 degrees to keep the fruit fresh and from beginning fermenting on their own. The tank was brought into the tank room and will stay chilled for 4 days while the grapes undergo a cold soak to extract more color and flavor. On the 4th day the tank will be inoculated with yeast and fermentation will start.

After a few conveyor belt issues we got the fruit sorted and in the tank by 2pm then the 2 hour cleanup of the area began. Phew, what a day. Unfortunately with the cool summer California has had the grapes are slow in ripening. As a result it will probably be mid next week before the next load comes in. So that means another weekend to relax and catch some sights and catch the Husker Game! Go Big Red!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Harvest Begins Tomorrow!

Well today was the calm before the storm. Tomorrow the first grapes arrive. 5 tons of Pinot. This is a light load as normally we will be getting in 15 to 20 tons a day. This is a trial to get us going.

Today we finished up some last minute cleaning and got the crush pad set up (see picture). We (the 5 person Pinot crew) got a tour of the mega Chardonnay facility. Sonoma Cutrer's main bread and butter. This is an amazing facility. They do 200,000 cases of wine a year (the pic above is just some of them) with all the wine fermented and aged in one of 15,000 barrels! It is quite the operation. The Pinot facility sits on the other end of the property and pales in comparison, but is more laid back and fun, just my style!

Can't wait for the grapes to arrive in the morning. An exciting day awaits.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Getting Closer

We got confirmation, the first 5 tons of grapes will arrive on Friday. Then the pace will really quicken. Today I hooked up the glycol chilling system to the tanks you see in the pic from yesterday. We fired it up and had to work out a few bugs, but before long the tanks were really chillin (down to 28 degrees) and ice was forming on the sides. So they are ready for the Friday grapes. The remainder of the day involved getting the crush pad ready. The grape sorting table and conveyor belt to the crusher/destemmer had to be cleaned and sanitized. I also got a start on cleaning the concrete pad.

The best part of my day was a nice hour long bike ride thru the rolling hills and vineyards of the area. The beautiful scenery makes it so much easier going up the hills!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Cleaning!

We continue to ready for the arrival of grapes. I climbed into and cleaned more tanks and this afternoon moved some of the newly cleaned tanks into position in the "holding room". You can see the tanks aligned in the picture. I moved the tanks with the electric hand fork lift, we affectionately call "The General." When we get grapes in (we will only be making Pinot Noir - a red wine) we will initially sort and "destem" them (not pressed yet) and put into these tanks. The tanks have the capability to keep the grapes cool and they will sit in these tanks for 4 days undergoing what is known as a cold soak. They will then be inoculated with yeast and the fermentation will begin.

It looks like we will be getting the first 5 to 10 tons of grapes in on Thursday or Friday. Then the fun and long days will really begin!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cleaning Tanks

The final drive to get prepared for the arrival of grapes began. Today we began cleaning clamps, valves, and tanks. All parts need to be cleaned thouroughly and rinsed so they are sanitized before the grapes come. Nothing like donning a wet suit and scrubbing with a brush all day, ahh the charm of a winery. Unfortunately a few more days of this before the grapes arrive.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend Sightseeing

Well the weekends over (can't be all work). I jammed a ton of sightseeing into it. Saturday morning I enjoyed the Husker Game while driving to the Pacific Ocean (thanks to Satellite Radio). I had a great day of hiking at the beach and watching whales at Bodega Bay. It was picturesque. Beautiful cliffs, the waves hitting the rocks, amazing. Then I drove back inland, seeing some of the really tall redwoods California is known for and stopped at several wineries.

Sunday it was mainly a winery tour. I hit Simi Winery and took an hour tour and got an inside look. Along my tour of about 8 wineries (no I didn't do a tasting at all of them) I stopped at Lake Sonoma - a beautiful lake in the hills.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Made it thru the first week

Well Friday has come and gone and I made it thru the first week - well sort of since it was only 3 1/2 days of work. Friday we finished cleaning the barrels (YEAH!). I was also trained on moving the fermentation tanks - they are limited on space so they move them with an electric pallet jack, storing them outside. We also had a great company wide BBQ for lunch - an incredible feast of chicken and ribs. We ended the week by cleaning the floors of the barrel room.

Next week the plan is to clean, sanitize, and ready all tanks, the conveyor and the press as the grapes will be here late in the week and the real action will begin! It sounds like this will be the only weekend I will have sans working, so I will do some touring in the beautiful weather.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Forklift Rodeo

Today was safety day. We went over going into and rescuing people from confined spaces (tanks in particular). As previously mentioned we also had forklift training and testing. You can see from the picture that we had to run through a macro bin obstacle course carrying a bin from one end to the other and then going back with no load. I successfully completed the course and now am a certified forklift operator for the winery! The final class and testing was on a boom lift. No obstacle course with this, instead we had to move the boom into position and raise it so as to get an object from an elevated position. Then for fun we extended up. The final picture was taken from the top. As you can see it was a gorgeous day - 75 degrees and sunny. Tomorrow it is back to washing barrels.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The real work begins

Today I reported at 7am and began working in the Pinot Noir facility for the day. After a brief overview I was thrown into the fire. My first mission was to clean 190 barrels. So I was given a hose, a brush, and a bucket with special cleaner and waited for one of the full timers to get barrels out of the "barn" so I could begin. What fun! It was a great 7 hour workout. The picture shows the setup.

My final hour was spent learning to drive a forklift. I had never driven one, but was up for a challenge. I spend the hour learning to drive, steer, and move things. I loaded up macro bins and barrel racks and moved them. After a nervous beginning it became kind of fun. Now tomorrow I have to go thru official training and take a test to hopefully get my forklift certification. It's just like being 16 again and taking my drivers test!

My first day was a blast and I even got an hour of overtime on my first day! The boss is already talking about 10 hour days next week.

After I got home I took an amazing bike ride thru vineyards and passed probably 8 wineries. It was something from a movie. I could get used to this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Work Day 1 (Kind of)

Well today I made my first appearance at Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards (SCV). A short 15 minute drive from my base I showed up at 9am for some orientation -basically an overview of company policies, etc from the HR director. Then I got a tour of where I will be working. SCV does primarily Chardonnay (about 85 or 90% of their sales). The processing facility for the Chardonnay is in their modern beautiful winery. I will be working for the Pinot Noir winemaker. As I said I got a tour of that facility which is located in a different area of the estate grounds, in several "barns" While not as pristine, it was still really cool to see the place. It will be a lot more closer to the size of winery (although still producing quite a bit more in volume) that we will be doing. So it will be such a great learning experience.

I will be starting in earnest, bright and early at 7am tomorrow.

For the rest of the day I spent it grocery shopping and getting familiar with the area. It looks so beautiful in the daylight after coming in in the dark. Vineyards everywhere. What a sight!

Dr!iving - Day 2

A beautiful 50 degree Salt Lake City morning got my second day under way. I took in the Mormon Temple site - what a gorgeous church - and was on my way. In western Utah - there was salt everywhere - it looked like it had snowed, what a site. In Nevada it became apparent that they are lucky casinos were invented as the 3 or 4 "major" towns I passed along I-80 were basically all casinos! An amazing site crossing the Utah border and in the barren land up rises a 5 story casino. The mountains in Nevada were amazing, but all in all it was pretty barren - actually, aside from Salt Lake City, between Laramie, WY and Reno there was virtually no population. Fortunately I hit civilization and hit a Cabela's in Reno! Crossing into California, I stopped to get a map and my first site was a man sitting on a bench dressed in white spandex with a "buffalo" hat complete ,with horns - Welcome to California! Then I was introduced to California traffic - hitting the end of Labor Day weekend meeting all the "outdoors types" leaving Lake Tahoe and causing a 2 hour traffic delay. It was bumper to bumper stop and go traffic for 120 miles. Fortunately I had my personal on-star team Dwayne and my lovely wife available via the cell to get to my base camp for my time here - my sisters beautiful Healdsburg condo. After a few wrong turns driving up from Sonoma I made it at 9:15. Now on Tuesday my "job" begins.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The California Adventure Begins

Today I began my California Adventure by completing the first leg of a 2 day 24 hour drive. What is my California Adventure you ask?? After taking 4 distance learning enology courses from DMACC, I was fortunate enough to get a harvest postion in the Cellar at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Windsor California (Sonoma Valley). It promises to be a 6 or so skills building experience of a lifetime.

Leaving at 7:50am my travels down I-80 took me thru Nebraska and into Wyoming where the wind was blowing almost as fast as the truck was driving. At about 7pm Mountain time I left Wyoming and entered Utah. It was quite a scenic drive to my first nights destination, Salt Lake City. The red rock, mountains, and streams were beautiful as I had never been this far on I-80 before. The drop to SLC was amazing. I got to my hotel at about 8:30. I tried to get a nice dinner, but many places were surprisingly closed at 9pm so Mickey D's it was, and now I will crash for the night. Tomorrow it is on to California!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Harvest Day 3

Today we harvested Frontenac (685 lbs) and Frontenac Gris (516lbs). It was a beautiful morning for a harvest. We had a great crew of family and friends for the harvest. Thanks to All we couldn't have done it without you! Tomorrow my journey to California begins.