Saturday, December 31, 2011

May 2012 Be Golden

Peju Tower by Afshin Atapour, December 2011

A guest took this stunning photo of the Peju tower yesterday and passed it along for our use. Who needs a white winter when you can have a golden one?

Production has been shut down between Christmas and New Year's, so there hasn't been much to report from the wine-making side. 2011 Whites are resting quietly in their tanks and barrels until Sara begins to taste and blend them sometime in January.

The tasting room has been poppin', however; the Valley seems fuller than usual with holiday passers-through. First day of rain in a long time yesterday, but it was more of a sprinkle than a downpour. Actually, the weather has been incredible these past couple of weeks. I love snow, but there is no denying the effect that so many days of sun throughout the winter takes on my psyche. I'd go so far as to say it's universal. Evolutionary, even. But I don't know how p.c. my theory is, so I'll save it for another time. The incontrovertible fact is that the sun makes people smile, feel good, and relax.

Peju is open tomorrow, New Year's Day, so come on by for a taste of something special! And with that, I'll sign off with the promise of writing you again in 2012. Hope everyone has the best New Year's Eve ever tonight! Party tiime! (Safety first.)


Hot air balloons sailed directly over my head as I stepped out of my front door this morning.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Good Night Sky

What do you see?

Nature made art in the sky as the sun set over the Napa Valley this evening. Sometimes it's good to stand on your head for a fresh perspective. Or if you're at work and/or wearing a skirt, to flip a photo around so that you force your brain to actively organize what you're seeing as though it's seeing for the first time. And so that you force yourself to look carefully, to see what's actually there. Sometimes I forget to look with intention at what's around me and I allow my brain to recycle old material to create my present reality. We would exhaust ourselves trying to practice this intentional sensory awareness all the time, but at least once a day starting today, I'm going to make sure I practice what I am now referring to as Intentional Sensory Awareness, ISA for short. One thing I learned while living in France was that if it has an acronym, it's legit. So, ISA. Fifteen minutes. Everyday. I might start over a glass of the 2007 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon I have waiting for me at home. Yum. 

This is actually one of the reasons wine is my beverage of choice. There is so much going on in every bottle of wine, and every sip is unique in its experience, so it invites this kind of simultaneously acute and expansive sensory awareness, no matter what kind of person you are or how many bajillion things you just did earlier that day. Wine brings us home in ourselves, inviting us to be fully present and to enjoy our senses. I think I'll go have that glass right now! When was the last time you felt fully present in your senses? 

Cheers & Good Evening! 


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Frosty Was Here

Another beautiful morning in Napa Valley. By 10 am, the radiant sun in the clear, blue Californian sky has melted away the frost. Late risers would never know it had been there. This is only the second time this year that I've seen frost and this time I caught it! Here it lives in temporary eternity on the internet. 

On December 13, it's 53 degrees Fahrenheit in Rutherford, CA. What is the weather like where you are and what will you sip tonight to stay warm?
Happy Winter and Happy Tuesday! Cheers!

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Harey Vineyard Amble

The vineyard is spectacular today. On my mid-afternoon, head-clearing stroll, a huge hare appeared about 20 rows away from me. He leapt casually out of a row of vines and paused, staring in my direction with an air of mischief and invitation before bounding away behind the next row. Naturally, I jogged on tip-toe past the rows between us with my camera at head height until I neared where I thought he might be. Slowing to my stealthiest step, I peered around each vine until finally discovering him halfway down a row of Estate Cabernet. Now with camera pressed firmly against my face, I crept down the row like the Grinch stealing Christmas. Surely, he was welcoming my advance. Despite the unavoidable crunching under my feet and the approaching shadow of my giant figure, Mr. Hare didn't flinch, didn't move, didn't budge. For some animals, this might be explained by the defense tactic known as 'playing dead' or 'camouflage'. Although the latter is conceivable-- he blends pretty well, don't you think?- he definitely knew I knew he was there. He beckoned me closer.

And then, like so many handsome hares before him, just as he had me under his spell and drawing near, he darted through the grapevine and off into the wilderness whence he came. Fare thee well Mr. Hare. It was fun while it lasted!

Hare one minute, gone the next.

Well, folks, that concludes today’s adventures here on the Crush Chronicles. This evening is the company holiday party, so I am off to help prepare. A wonderful weekend to all!

Birds, too.

Hanging on/Hanging out.

One Cluster Left Behind.

One cent shipping special today through 12/11 for purchases of 12 bottles or more. Cheers!  Call with questions: 800-446-7358

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No More Monkeying Around in the Cellar for Me

From Friday: 
Today, I write to you from my brightly lit desk in the very tame upstairs offices. Actually, ironically, I just heard a cacophony of high-pitched hollers from the other end of the offices. Sounds like a big sale came in, woo-hoo! The holidays are an exciting time for Patti, Jess & Christina who take care of phone sales. Anyway, it is the first Friday in two months that I've had to iron before clothing myself presentably, and that I’ve come to work to spend the day wielding the almighty mouse and keyboard. Slightly different strengths required than those for wielding the heavy hoses and 20-gallon buckets of juice in the cellar. I am in the office today because finally the seasonal work requiring so many extra hands has come to an end. There is still much going on for the full time cellar workers, but they've got that under control. We drained our very last tank yesterday to press and barrel down today- Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the later-ripening blocks on our Persephone Vineyard. Almost all of the leaves have fallen off the vines, which are now dormant and will remain so until spring when the weather warms, rousing the vines out of their winter stillness to begin again to do what they are meant to- to photosynthesize, to pull nutrients out of the ground to create leaves and eventually to flower and to bear fruit. 

'Dormancy', as defined by Wikipedia, is "a period in an organism's life cycle when growth, development, and (in animals) physical activity are temporarily stopped. This minimizes metabolic activity and therefore helps an organism to conserve energy." ( My organism can relate to that.

Dormant Vines on Peju's Rutherford Estate
 Next week Winemaker Sara, Assistant Winemaker Joe, and Production Planner Sheri will begin tasting through the 2011 whites to see how the now two-and-a-half-month-old wine is tasting, and to start thinking about how they’ll want to blend it in a month or two. Blending involves systematic tasting through barrel-aged versus tank-aged lots, lots in French versus American and new versus neutral oak, and then blending varietals with any combination of these variations. I love how winemaking involves doing science with your taste buds. 

Most of the work that’s going on in the cellar these days is to take care of the older vintages of reds that were laying low in their barrels while Harvest's new crop, like a needy newborn sibling, took all of the attention. Mostly, it's the topping I mentioned in a a recent blog post that the crew is busy with now. On a monthly rotation, the crew will bring all of the hundreds of barrels in our Estate cellar out to the crush pad to make sure the headspace in each barrel is at a minimum, lest the wine breathe too much oxygen and lose its youthful vigor.

Naked Vines Soak Up the Winter Sun
And as the vineyard rests for winter, the sales team springs to action for the most wonderful time of year for us humans! It is certainly true that some of the best gifts in life are free. But wine is always a great gift too. Cheers!

Brittany Starr for Peju Province Winery

View from Peju, December 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tank Vacancy & Pre-Turkey Day Topping

The cellar is an eerie place these days. Its spotless, vacant walkways lined with hollow tanks give no indication of the furious activity this very space beheld just a couple of weeks ago. The action is outside now and the crew continues as though nothing much has changed. It’s as though we are all in on this little secret that was the hectic harvest and now we continue at a normal pace as though this is how it’s always been. But I guess that’s just how life is. We share a meaningful moment with others and it feels like life should pause for us to appreciate together its significance, but of course life cannot. Time barrels ahead leaving us alone to process the fleeting moments through our individual recollections of them. It’s the times like Thanksgiving, which give us the opportunity to pause together and to reflect collectively. This year I am thankful for a time to give thanks!

Lony and Pablo topping barrels of 2010 Chardonnay.
Anyway, the action is outside the cellar on the crush pad now. The press runs with the contents of the last few tanks of young wine, the newly-filled barrels of Chardonnay are brought outside for stirring, and the older vintage wines brought outside for topping.

 Peju’s signature Sycamores have been stripped of their leaves for the winter, their spindly, exposed limbs a beacon for the brisk season ahead.

Well I wish you all a joyful, meaningful, restorative, fun and delicious Thanksgiving weekend. What will you drink with your turkey? I wonder how many people don’t actually eat turkey on thanksgiving… food and wine for thought...

Have a good one!


Peju Sycamores, Trimmed for Wintertime

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

With All Our Grapes Safely in Tank and Barrel, We Begin Our Descent Into Winter Calm.

The last of the fruit-carrying bins
leave the crush pad
 That's not quite all folks, but we have brought in the last of our fruit. Friday the 4th marks the end of the 2011 Crush, nearly a month later than 2007's October 11 end date, but sooner than we were thinking it would be a few weeks ago.

With the number of work orders diminishing each day, the cellar dance has changed from a swift and sprightly Viennese waltz to the more moderately-tempoed American variety. I watch the team work now and I imagine the cellar like one giant music box with the song coming to an end and all the players slowing simultaneously to a halt as the box lid closes us inside the dark, quiet of winter. We can no longer celebrate (or commiserate in) the craziness of being ‘in the middle of Harvest’, yet there is still work to do. Interns and temporary workers are starting to prepare for their migration to the other side of the equator for the next one. The high of Harvest end’s cheer and festivity gives way to the realization of what will pretty immediately follow: a (relatively) cold, wet winter with less time in the day and less people in the Valley. But whoa woe, it is also the Holiday Season! Americans’ favorite time of year! A time when opportunity abounds to spend quality time with family and friends. A time of reflection and joy and thankfulness and snuggling in tight. A time of cooking up old traditions, of getting inventive with those that have gone stale, and a time when red wine never tasted so good. 

Much of what is now 2011 red wine in the Peju cellar has been drained and pressed, though a handful of ferments are still finishing up. When a ferment finishes, Sara usually lets the wine mingle with the skins in the tank for a bit before pressing off the skins and putting the wine into French and American oak barrels to age. This prolonged contact of the wine with the skins at the end of fermentation is called ‘extended maceration.’ Maceration is simply the name given to the process by which all that good stuff in the skins is extracted by the juice. This occurs naturally upon contact with one another. Phenolic compounds give color to what would otherwise be clear(ish) juice and tannins give structure/body to the wine, which also give it the potential to age. Sara does a cold maceration at the beginning of each ferment, too, to allow the pre-fermented juice to extract water-soluble components. The water-soluble components are less likely to be extracted once alcohol is produced in the juice during fermentation. It is all of these numerous steps taken to ensure that the wine maximizes complexity, concentration and integration which distinguishes ‘fine wine’ from the rest, and makes it so-o fine.

Below is the mouth of a tank that has just been drained and sent to press and then barrel. What you don’t see is that in order to empty the tank to the extent it appears here, a member of the team has to climb into the tank through this very opening to shovel out the skins, all the while attached by a harness to a fellow crew member outside the tank in the event of a Carbon Dioxide overdose, which is an actual cause of death during every harvest!!! Yet another example of just how much goes into the production of a bottle of wine.

Quality Control Lab Tech Nick presses the last truck samples for testing.

The last yeast inoculation.

Asbel represents our collective joy at this being the last time we will have to clean the crusher-destemmer!!

And resourceful, winemaker Sara sabers a bottle of bubbly with a draining-valve clamp to honor a Phase-One well done.


The Cellar Team at the After(Crush) Party on the Peju Crushpad

Stay tuned because there is work left to do and words left to write for Harvest 2011!

Until next time,

Be sure to check out our spanking new Holiday Catalog. It's hot off the press with a whole slew of lip-smacking new releases from Peju. 
May you always have cheer in your cheeks and great wine in your glass! 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Yellow Vines, Whinnying Winds, Seasons Change. That Was Fast.

Three days ago I looked around at my cluttered desk and three-page to-do list and decided to take a stroll through the vineyard. Perspective was indeed gained when I stepped outside and into a different season. Wasn't it just last week that the vines were green, that we were in the midst of harvest, and that much to everyone's relief, the midday sun shone hotly on our ever-ripening fruit? With a high of 60 degrees F, 20% chance of rain, and wily, whispering winds blowing yellow leaves from the exposed vines, today we have no choice but to accept that Autumn is here, and Winter confoundingly close. 

Cabernet Sauvignon Vine, Peju Rutherford Estate
Mid-Morning, November 3, 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon Vine, Peju Rutherford Estate
Mid-Morning, November 3, 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon Vine, Peju Rutherford Estate
Mid-Morning, November 3, 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon Vine, Peju Rutherford Estate
Mid-Morning, November 3, 2011

Tomorrow, we bring in the last of our fruit. But of course there is still much work to be done. Fermentations will be finishing, we will drain and press and clean out tanks, and transfer freshly fermented wines to their new homes in French and American oak barrels where they will live and breathe and age and develop for the next 12-36 months, depending on the wine. 

I can't believe I took those photos above just this morning. I'm feeling a strange mixture of marvel at the novelty and beauty of the changed surroundings, and anxiety about the frenzied, fleeting passing of time. But this is nothing new!

What's the weather like where you are?

Autumn cheer and cheers!

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's a Happy Halloween at Peju!

Every year for Halloween, Peju employees furtively collaborate within their respective departments to vie for the title of Costume Competition Winner at the annual Halloween Family Meal. This year, as has been the case almost every year since Sara has been at Peju, the Production Team garnered the departmental win! Their group effort in a time of such harvest hectic-ness is inspiring. Other costume creations comprised Jersey Housewives, a couple of pirates, one Zorro, one Sumo Wrestler, and Tony Peju delighted us all with a shockingly accurate, surprise Papa Smurf performance. 

As of today, we've brought in 76% of our total crop. Sara aims to harvest all remaining fruit by this Friday. It's all fermenting, pressing & barreling down from there! 

Sheri, our Production Planner, gave me some "fun facts" today. (Visit the 'Meet the Team' page above for photos and titles of everyone on the Production team.)
These are the dates on which we had brought in the last of our fruit over the past four years:
October 11, 2007
October 28, 2008
October 25, 2009
November 1, 2010

And if all goes to plan, it will be November 4 in 2011. Not bad considering we started harvest 4 weeks later this year than in 2009. And by 'not bad' I mean 'this was one logistical nightmare' with the same number of tanks as in years past and around the same amount of fruit coming in, only this year in a much more condensed period of time. Sara and Joe had to use acute foresight to plan their tank assignments and rotations, making sure to align when to bring the fruit in (dependent on nature) with how much fruit had been predicted to come in (a tough (inexact) science) with what kind of tank space would be available at that time. Who knew such a big part of wine-making could be about the logistics of coordinating ripening with fermentations with tank space.

At the Family Meal today, Sara gave us a harvest-time update:

Signing off and wishing you a Happy Halloween! It's Trick-or-Drink in many of the small towns that line the Napa Valley. Adults go door to door with plastic, portable wine glasses and greet their neighbors over splashes of delicious, Napa Valley wine. It's something one hears over and over out here, but has truly been my experience: that in Napa Valley, people really know how to live. (More specifically, people prioritize enjoying life everyday. And I think this is good.)

Halloween Cheer and Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Peju's Biggest Day Ever!! And Sisters Work Together

30 tons of red fruit and 20 tons of white came in today. This is completely insane. (For us.) I think on our biggest day last year we brought in 28 tons of fruit. I don’t know how they are going to get through 50 tons today. Oh, and they also received a shipment of new French oak barrels. 
New Barrels (front), Sorting Red (back left), Pressing White Simultaneously (center back)

Jose says, "Today is crazy!"
Two people on the sorting table, two driving fork lifts, one raking the raichus-- which I can’t for the life of me figure out how to spell and I’m starting to wonder if the term actually exists or if Sara made it up. Doubt it-- Anyway, one raking the stems that get shot out of the crusher/destemmer after the grapes have been spun off and pumped into the tank, four conducting pumpovers, tank transfers, and racking. 

Oscar Rakes Raichus (sp.)

Same Stuff (the stems that come out of the crusher/destemmer)

Lisa Peju is here today. She has a few days to "relax" at home (at the winery, really) between restaurant and wine shop visits around the country, and chose to spend this one in the cellar! Last year, she and I were the lone/rogue harvest interns. I say 'rogue' because neither of us had all that much experience. But we were avid and according to Sara, excellent students.  
Lisa sets up a tank transfer
Ariana measures height of wine in tank

So I just went out to the cellar to see how everyone was doing, and Israel, Miguel and Sara all said to me separately, "Are you going to come help?!" with a tone of desperation that made it impossible for me to say no, so I'll have to write more later because the grapes won't wait! Earlier today, Ariana looked a little skeptical at the idea of doing a pumpover by herself. Now she is in the midst of a few at one time. Today is crazy!!! This harvest is nuts!

Some quick photos and tomorrow I'll let you know how it went! 

Lisa, Ariana & Jose converting inches high to gallons full (wine in tank, see above related photo)

And from just a moment ago:

Israel throws around 10 gallon buckets of grape skins like it's his
job (oh right, it is) while Nick rolls 1/2 ton bins around the cellar, n.b.d.
Nick, our Quality Control Lab Tech, can normally be found in the lab.
It's all hands in cellar today.

Ariana sets up a pumpover

Sara checks in with Ariana 

This is full of heavy grape skins!

Harvest is hard work!

So much going on today that Sheri leaves her Production Planner
duties in the office to help out in the cellar.

Jose and Ariana drain the lees from the bottom of a tank that just went to press.

Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harvest Hustle & Making Chardonnay

Finally! The cellar is cranking!!! Today is the first day that it feels like harvest is in full gear. Most other times when I’ve skipped over to the Production office to chat Sara up about what’s going on, she is excited to talk to me. She beams and expands willingly on what we’re doing and why we do things the way we do. (Always for superlative quality.) She talks about the grapes with a Science-minded mother’s balance of rational analysis and though somewhat-concealed, nonetheless fuzzy, tender babymama love. As any good mother, she knows she has little control over the laws of Nature and will love the grapes, all of them and every vintage, for who/what they are, while she guides them to realize their potential slash achieve perfection. (So there’s a streak of Tiger the name of perfect wine!)

When I ask Sara what is going on in the cellar today, I get bullets:
                  “draining and pressing,
                  “barreling down,
                  “stirring the Chardonnay,
                  “Rocking and rolling!” She exclaims. “It feels like Harvest!”

All of our Chardonnay has finished its primary fermentation, has been consolidated into oak barrels, and is now going through Malolactic Fermentation (MLF), or as it’s sometimes referred to, quite simply secondary fermentation. Primary fermentation is when yeast convert the sugar in the juice into alcohol and CO2 to produce wine (obviously a drastic oversimplification). MLF is when (via specific bacteria) we convert the Granny Smith-reminiscent malic acid into the lactic acid that is found in milk.  Diacetyl, a prominent compound in butter, is produced, which is what gives so many California Chardonnays their characteristic ‘butteriness’.  By stirring the lees once per week (lees are the dead yeast cells and un-soluble solids) for approximately 6 months in what’s called sur lie aging,  our winemaking team allows the diacetyl to dissipate a bit, resulting in the more elegant, subtle hint-of-butter sensation that you might have noticed in our Chardonnay.

Though Sara had to be concise with me today, after a few moments of rattling off the facts, she couldn’t help but gush a little over how delicious the Malbec and Petit Verdot are tasting. This is the first year that we’ve gotten much yield from those small blocks on our Rutherford estate since they’re just a few years old and it takes three years for a vine to start producing. Last year we got less than a ton of each. This year, however, we got enough fruit to put to good use, and apparently, it is tasting excitingly delicious. Sara is not sure where she will blend these lots once they are ready, but looks forward to being able to make a true Bordeaux blend with such high quality fruit in all five requisite varietals.

It’s sorting fruit, inoculating yeast, and pumping over the ferments for me tomorrow in the cellar. (YAY!!) Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Today at Peju: Yeast, Zin in Bins, and Making Rose

Lots going on at Peju today! 

 Ariana is inoculating the Zinfandel we pressed yesterday. These yeast started out in dormant, powder form. 
Watch the vid:

 Frankie pumps small-lot Zinfandel into 1/2-ton bins.

And we are in the process of creating what will become 
our 2011 Rose of Syrah. Here's a sneak peek! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mutinous Mother Nature

It’s a real nail-biter, this 2011 harvest. Or as assistant winemaker Joe says, it’s “one year that Mother Nature is not cooperating.”

The sun has come out this afternoon, and it’s almost as though the breeze that left with the rain this morning was a collective sigh of relief from winemakers throughout the Valley. It has been raining for over a week with a tease-of-a short, sunny respite this past weekend. Most of the grapes simply aren’t quite ripe yet, so it’s a gamble as to when to bring fruit in. Wait and hope the right weather comes to ripen fruit to its potential, and risk rain that’s unrelenting? Or play it safe and bring in now what you’ve already got? The fruit is not as concentrated and scrumptious as anyone would like, but picking now would pre-empt the potentially major loss of yield that would occur if these damp grapes continue to get no love from the sun and start to mold.

Luckily for us and for our wine (and it’s no accident), Sara is a unique, dynamic blend of an optimist and a perfectionist. She’s also this awesome combo of serious scientist, positive energy force, and sensory-sensitive sweetheart with super smarts, sass, and a proclivity to fun. Anyway, she believes the weather will change, that the fruit will ripen beautifully, and that the wine will be delicious as always. And she won’t settle for anything less. “We’re taking the risk!” she says. “To ensure the best quality of fruit. With ripe tannins and good sugars and all the other delicious things. Mmm…” She pauses, smiling with an excited glint in her eye. Then she continues seriously, “It will just mean an action-packed couple of weeks of harvest, as we have fewer days than ever before to process all of our fruit.” But I can’t think of anything more rewarding than busting your boots with a group of people for a common goal. I’ll be out there tomorrow!

In the vineyard, the crew is busy opening the vines’ canopy, or removing leaves to concentrate the plant’s energy into ripening the fruit.

And this afternoon is turning out to be a bright blue beauty, so nail-bitten fingers crossed it stays. It’s amazing how quickly a little direct sunlight evaporates the melancholy ennui of a week of rain. Let’s hope it does the same for the grapes’ moistened skins!

Peju Sycamores with Sunshine
Clouds for a Daydream
We are indeed.