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.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Team That Picks Together Stays Together

We all gained a mega-appreciation for our super-skilled vineyard staff today. It took us 1.5 hours to pick 1.5 tons of grapes. According to Manuel, our Director of Facilities, in 1.5 hours, the vineyard crew of 16 guys will pick 8 tons to our 1.5. And we were 30 strong out there today. We’ll have to get a video of the vineyard crew doing their thing. It’s mesmerizing the way their fingers fly through the vines while the voluptuous grape clusters go thunk thunk thunk in their bins. Today my grape clusters went thunk…[30 seconds later]…thunk… It’s hard to get your little blade through all the intertwined leaves and vines to make a quick, efficient slice at the hidden juncture where the cluster grows, and then move on without missing a beat. For us amateurs, it was a lot of bending over, squatting down, feeling and fumbling and fighting with the vine to get to the stem of the cluster only then to try to untangle it from the vines it has grown around. The pros in the vineyard practically keep a steady walk as they pick. I don’t know how they do it.

Next week, we will begin bringing in the bulk of our fruit, and it is going to be crazy. I’m running out the door to go pour at a wine and food event in San Francisco, so more updates will have to wait until next week. I wish everyone at least one delicious and memorable wine experience over the weekend!

Employee Pick Participants, 1.5 hours and only 1.5 tons later...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

All Whites Are In, Reds Begin

Yesterday, we processed the last of our Chardonnay. All of our white grapes, both Sauvignon Blanc and Chard., have now been plucked from their vines and have begun their journey to becoming delicious white wine. 
The last of the Peju Chardonnay waiting to be 'crushed'  (ever-so-gently)

The first bit of Sauvignon Blanc that we picked on September 6 and inoculated on September 9, allowing a few days for the lees to settle out, is dry! (‘Dry’ in winemaking means that all of the sugar in what was once juice has been converted to alcohol in what is now wine. In wines with what we call ‘residual sugar’, not all of the sugar was converted to alcohol, and the wine remains ‘off-dry’ or slightly sweet. There are a number of reasons that this will occur, some intentional, some not…) With much of our Sauv. Blanc dry, this means that technically, we have 2011 wine! 

But it’s not quite finished wine. It’s baby wine. Born and alive, tangible and functional, but so fresh off the boat (out of the womb/off the vine and the lees) that it hasn’t really come into itself yet. Foregoing a discussion (monologue) on nature and nurture, suffice it to say that wine and humans make for amusingly comparable subjects for consideration. The point is that you take what ‘God/Nature/Insert-Name-Here gave you’ and then you take advantage of what Life throws your way. You try to cultivate your best self and you enjoy pondering how you got to be that way. Wine lacks the ability to introspect, of course, so we have to ponder its constitution for it. 

Our 2011 Sauvignon Blanc has been born tasty, bright, and fresh. Soon a small percentage will hang out in neutral oak barrels for complexity, flavor, mouthfeel and structure. Then it will be time for Sara to work her magic, blending from the different tanks of S.B. separated by vineyard blocks and ripeness-levels-at-crush, to create what we are proud to call Peju Sauvignon Blanc. Forgive the shameless self-promotion, but it really is delicious! J
The first Zin to come in (hill-side vineyard block :. less water retention in the soil) 

Oh, and also, we brought in our first red grapes on Friday, which was very exciting, as it has been a long time coming.  The reds still aren’t quite there yet, however, in terms of ripeness. And the rain yesterday and today has everyone feeling a little nervous. As long as we get sun after the rain though, all should be well. Friday, we brought in the little bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot from our Rutherford property. Yesterday, it was Zinfandel grapes from the Persephone Vineyard. Friday, I’ll be working crush with the crew so stay tuned! Can’t wait!


Pablo, Lony, Juanito & Frankie wave 'Hello!' from the sorting table