Harvest officially ended today

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Harvest officially ended today at AVV with the final load of grapes arriving at our crushpad. Needless to say we have been insanely busy since that first load arrived on September 7. 

81% Complete

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Winemaker Kevin Hall reports that harvest is about 81% complete, and notes: "Quality is fabulous, 2012 is a really good year.  There is great color in the zins and cabernet and tremendous concentration in the syrah with inky dark colors."  

As we get closer to the end of harvest, weather is always on our mind.  We have had a few showers, but as soon as the sun comes out the phone rings off the hook with calls from our growers wanting to get their grapes picked. 

65% done ...

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Well, I would like to say that we are almost done but that is not the case. We filled every tank in the winery last Saturday (10/20) because of the rain that was coming Sunday night.


At that point we were at 65% done. The yields have been averaging a bit over our initial estimates.


Even with the mad scramble on Saturday I still wasn't able to bring in the last few lots of Zinfandel for what is a record crop of Zinfandel this year.


We had showers/rain off and on for the past few days with the last showers on Wednesday. Today has been dry and the phone has been ringing off the hook from anxious growers wanting to get their grapes picked.


The view at the winery are stunning this time of year, though all of us will be able to enjoy it a little more once we have finished our harvest.


Liquid Amber trees & vineyards & Wetzel Estate 10 30 12.jpg


We have been pressing off tanks at an accelerated rate to make room. Friday we will start in again with several lots of Cabernet and Saturday is going to be even bigger.


At this point we still have a little Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Petit Sirah, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon to harvest.


In other words, we will be finishing up in mid-November. 

Long night last night....

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From the Assistant Winemaker Harry Wetzel:  "Ugh, long night last night...for the record, 227 barrels to collect, prepare and fill, 6 yeast inoculations, 1 tank to drain, dig and press, 80 punchdowns, 30 pumpovers, three malolactic bacteria additions and 1 wine racking. Of course all of that was split between two work shifts, but they were two very long shifts...my feet hurt."

45% complete....

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As you all know the weather has cooled quite a bit after our mini heat wave.  The 2-3 days of heat pushed the Zinfandel forward slightly but had more of impact on Cabernet.


Most of the picks that I have lined up for the week are Cabernet Sauvignon.  The winery is full and as we dig out a tank we fill it the next day or in some cases that day.


This week we will finally finish Chardonnay.  We have finished Pinot Noir, Syrah, Gewurz, and Sangiovese.


Zinfandel is 70% harvested.  If you count what we still have left to pick we are only 45% through harvest.

30% complete now

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AVV Vineyard Manager Mark Houser writes: "As we move thru harvest 2012 at Alexander Valley Vineyards we are near 30% complete. We have finished Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and our red varieties are "perking" along to reach full maturity and the best wine quality.

Thumbnail image for AVV night harvest Oct 2012.JPG

Picking schedules can be hectic, a 2am start by machine and finish at sunrise or a midnight start by hand under the lights so our crews can see all the ripe clusters.  When we hand harvest our hillside vineyards we start at daybreak, men and equipment can move thru the terraced rows with ease to ensure a good and safe harvest."

Mark continues:  "Time off in- between picking schedules is precious, rest and recreation is essential.  I am out in my R.V., heading home to enjoy a good bottle of A.V.V. Chardonnay!" 

After the long days and even longer nights we are still having fun at AVV.


Thumbnail image for Heading home AVV harvest Oct 2012.JPG

Think harvest is about grape stomping....

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Outside of California, many wine lovers think of wine stomping when they think of harvest  - the reality is that our crushpad is highly mechanized.   But at our Harvest Party it is another story - grape stomping is a heated battle.


With AVV Director of Hospitality (or should we say Director of Grape Hostility) Caitlin Santin cheering them on, a heated battle ensued for our 36 adventuresome grape stomping contestants.  After five rounds, many pounds of grapes, lots of grape skins and juice flying everywhere, we had our finalists for the stomp off.  At the end of the competition, John and Julie Jaeger from Woodland, California were named the winners.    


Julie & John Jaeger & other grape stomp finalists 2012.JPG


All fun aside, harvest is hard work.  We are are operating around the clock now.  Most importantly the fruit looks and tastes great.  Thankfully, yields are back to normal this year. 


Winemaker Kevin Hall writes:  "So far the weather has been great for this harvest.  Cool if not cold nights last week (in the low 40's) and warm sunny days have gradually ripened the grapes.  This week it has warmed up and we haven't had any fog for the past few days.  This has been enough to push some of the grapes along.


Flavors in the Zinfandel grapes have started to come together. The Zinfandel crop, just like the Chardonnay crop, is quite large - which is why the crop has been taking its time."


"The only grape varieties that are completely in are Gewurztraminer and Sangiovese for the Rose'.  We will bring in the last clone of Pinot Noir at the end of the week and the last of the Chardonnay next Monday/Tuesday.  I like the flavors from the Chard so far and the Rose' is nice.  This year's Rose' is lighter in color, as is the Pinot."


Unloading macrobins of  Zin 9 2012.jpg


"Keep calm and carry on is our slogan for this year.  It feels like harvest will be big but not huge.  But then again, ask me about that next week."

Life on the night shift

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During harvest we're not stopping at the end of the day, instead we run night shifts. Assistant Winemaker Harry Wetzel, IV starts his day at 4pm. Often trucks are rolling in with loads of grapes well into the night. Tonight was a little less hectic than most.

Harry writes: "We're spending time between loads cleaning equipment, so that we're ready for the next load. Our interns are getting very familiar with pressure washers, cleaning solutions and water...

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Intern Maria Ausejo cleaning the hopper at the crush pad 9 12.JPG

Finished crushing and pressing Chardonnay from Creek's End (this is the first year we have received Chardonnay from our new vineyard).

Inoculated our first lot for the malolactic fermentation, and barreled it down, it was our first lot of Pinot, clone 777.

We racked recently pressed Chardonnay juice off of the sediment that accumulates while the juice settles. We keep that sediment and filter it to get the rest of the juice out of it.

We started the fermentation on five different lots of Zinfandel from Alexander Valley, and did pumpovers and punchdowns.

Maria Ausejo, our intern from Spain, did punchdowns of small lots of Pinot, Zin and Syrah.  Note her shirt in the photo above, then look at her below.  I've never seen someone get that covered in wine from simply doing punchdowns....."

So did Maria decide to show the grapes who's the boss or is she combining abstract t-shirt design with punchdown?  Who knows, she just might start a new fashion trend for our tasting room.


Thumbnail image for After punchdown AVV 9 12.jpg

Starting fermentation

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Prior to inoculating our grape must we rehydrate our yeast in a starter culture.  It is similar to the process you go thru at home when using yeast - only on a much, much larger scale.  At  home you warm up a little water,  stir in the yeast, then let it sit until it activates.  We basically do the same process with our starter, just on a much larger scale. 

Rather than tearing open a small packet of yeast and adding it to a cup of water, we start with about 10 gallons of 104° F water, add several pounds of dried cultured yeast, stir it gently, then let it sit for 15-20 minutes to proof. 


Checking temperature of yeast.JPG

Here we are adding some of our Pinot Noir juice from the tank (it is about 50° to 60°) to the starter that is around 100°.  By adding the juice slowly, the starter will acclimate to the change of the temperature and we will not kill our yeast.  Finally we pump it into the tank, mix and wait for the yeast to start fermenting our grape juice.


Why do we use cultured yeast strains?  First and foremost:  to insure a predictable fermentation.  Kevin selects cultured yeast strains from across the world (including Italy, Bordeaux, Burgundy).  This year we purchased hundreds of pounds of different strains for the 2012 harvest.  Different yeasts are used for different varietals.  How does he choose?


"Each yeast strain has a track record that I analyze.  I pick yeast strains based on their ability to ferment to dryness, their nutrient requirements, temperature parameters (cool fermenter etc) and most importantly flavor profiles.  Ultimately, different varietals and different vineyard sites need different yeasts."


Picking at AVV

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So what happens before our grapes get to the crushpad?  AVV's Vineyard Manager Mark Houser coordinates our crews, making sure we have enough people ready to go when he and Winemaker Kevin Hall make the decision to pick. 

Outside of California many people have this romantic image of winemaking, dreamily imagining all of the fun of harvest.  

Picking Pinot Sept 2012.JPG

Don't get me wrong, it is a fun business.  But the reality of harvest is that hand picking is hard work.  You twist your body into all sorts of positions to find the perfect clusters and quickly make the cut, then do it again and again and again.  You start when it is dark around 3am and finish before it gets warm by 10am - to keep the grapes from getting hot.

Dumping grapes in gondola 9 12 12.JPG

You fill your picking box with about 45 pounds of grapes, run and dump it into the gondola, then rush back to the vines to start all over.  Meanwhile someone else is at the gondola sorting thru the fruit to make sure leaves and bad clusters that you might have missed are pulled out. 

When the trailer is packed with gondolas we take them to the winery.

Mark Houser getting ready to load grapes on truck.JPG

Mark Houser recording info about PN 2012.JPG

Next stop is AVV's weigh station.  There, official weigh master Mark Houser accurately records the weight of the load.  Why?  Because that is how you and the rest of your crew get paid for the day's work.  

Tomorrow morning the process begins all over again......