Posted By : Chris Corley
As I mentioned in my last post, it's people that make the difference. There are many ways to measure success in any business. This also holds true in the business of wine and grapes. In our family business, we pay close attention to the quality of our wines, the health of our vineyards and our financial statements, as any responsible business owner would. We have another important guage that we pay very close attention to that may set us apart from other wineries. We also measure our success in our people - our extended family. Happy employees that stay with us for a long time are indeed a major satisfaction and an important metric for us to guage how we are conducting ourselves as managers of our company. For this post, as we are just on the tail end of harvest, I'm going to focus on the Cellar Crew. Future posts will be dedicated to our other teams.
""UNCLE"" BRIAN CRAWFORD ... Uncle Brian (my mom's brother) really has no title. Over the last 25 years at Monticello, Brian has done just about everything. He has run the frost in the winter, driven the tractor up and down every vineyard row on the property countless times, and literally supervised tens of thousands of tons of our grapes going through the receiving hopper. He built most of the inside of the winery including all of our catwalks and barrel racks. Brian has lived on the property at Monticello - a stone's throw from the winery for almost 25 years. Brian is known to everyone around Monticello as ""Uncle Brian"".
RODOLFO CUEVAS - ASSISTANT WINEMAKER ... Rodolfo has worked with Monticello for nearly 18 years. He started in the field, working with the grapes, and moved full time into the cellar about 14 years ago. Rodolfo and I have worked side by side for all of those 14 years. Rodolfo has diligently worked hard over the years, and has performed just about every task imaginable in our cellar. He is currently our assistant winemaker and is also responsible for running our botling line.
ISAC AVILA - CELLARMASTER ... Isac has been with Monticello for about 9 years. He manages the daily operations in the cellar, and tracks all the work tags. During harvest, Isac is our PressMaster and supervises all of the grapes that go through the press. This is an important step in the winemaking process, and we're very happy to have Isac monitoring the pressing of our fruit.
MARK SULLIVAN - ENOLOGIST ... Mark joined us as a harvest intern in 2006 and again in 2007. Leading into the 2008 harvest, we hired Mark on full time. Mark tends to all of the fermentation tracking during harvest and performs all of our in-house analysis and prepares our trials tastings. Mark has a degree in Organic Chemistry from UC Davis.
RAFAEL CORTEZ-PEREZ - CELLARMAN ... Rafael has worked with Monticello for about 13 years. Most of those years he worked the vineyards as our main tractor driver. He joined our cellar crew a few years ago and has been a great contribution to the cellar. Rafael works diligently at the task at hand. During bottling season, Rafael assists Rodolfo in running and supervising the bottling line.
FEDERICO GUITERREZ - CELLARMAN ... Federico has been with Monticello for about 3 years. Federico joined us with little experience but a desire to work hard and learn. He has blended in with the team and has proven to be a very productive and welcome member of our cellar staff.
HEATHER FOSTER - ADMINISTRATIVE ... Although Heather isn't out on the cellar floor, she's an important part of our Production Team. For the last 2 years, Heather has organized all of our winemaking and packaging compliance, and kept our winemaking records organized and accessible. Her efforts in keeping us organized have been an enormous help.
Here's to our Cellar Crew! On behalf of my family, I want to say Thank You. We appreciate all that you do, and sincerely hope that we'll spend many more vintages together. You've become part of our extended family ..."
On Friday, we brought in our last batch of grapes for the vintage. It's a nice feeling to have all the fruit in for the year. It's been somewhat of a challenging growing season, but with patience and attention to the details we've worked through each challenge, and are extremely happy with the preliminary tastes of the vintage. The reds are concentrated and showing nice fruit and tannin balance. Our Chardonnay lots are showing excellent aromatic complexity and even some nice oak integration, as the barrel fermented lots have now been in barrel nearly a month and a half.
Every year, we tend to the vines and grow the grapes as carefully as we can, all the while showing our respects to Mother Nature. In the cellar, we hover over the tanks and bins, and tend to the barrels with care. However, with each year that goes by, I find more and more aspects of our lives on Big Ranch Road that I take deep satisfaction, pride and pleasure in.
A week or so ago, I was standing on the crush pad, enjoying an extremely rare moment to simply observe the pad as a whole. As I was watching everyone working diligently at their tasks at hand - unloading the bin trailers, weighing fruit, preparing the sorting table, cleaning the press, etc. - I was once again reminded about the single most important aspect of growing and making great wine. People. You've got to have people who care about what they do. Otherwise, that shiny piece of stainless steel equipment that you just bought is just an expensive accessory - pretty but kind of useless. People make good things happen, and it's people that can coerce the magic out of a pile of sticky grapes. People are what counts.
We've got a gaggle of geese that spend their autumns in our fallow fields. They like to rummage around in the freshly spread pomace in the mornings and evenings. The sight of them flying through the sunset sky is one of my most memorable visions of harvest. The sound of them flying over my head on the pitch black crush pad before the sun comes up one of my most memorable sounds.
Geese work together. They fly in a formation to help everyone cut through the wind. When one bird gets tired, they switch around and the rested bird takes the lead for a while. A good winemaking team functions much the same way. We help each other and as a team, our individual skills and shortcomings are balanced by one another.
As I was watching the geese recently, it struck me that an upcoming post should be dedicated to our team. So our next post will be dedicated to the 2008 Monticello Harvest Cellar Crew ...
We're fermenting some of our Chardonnay lots with Wild Yeast this year. These native fermentations typically are slower, longer and a little more nerve-racking for the winemaker than fermentations which are conducted with isolated commercial yeast strains.
Our Block 1 Heirloom Clone Chardonnay is nearing the end of its fermentation, so our lab dude Mark is regularly checking each individual barrel to confirm its status. Some of the barrels still have a little more sugar to be fermented, and the lots are cooling down.
As the fermentation tails off, less CO2 gas is produced so the yeast start to slowly sink to the bottom of the barrel. It's important for us to keep the yeast floating in the juice. If all the yeast is at the bottom of the barrel, they can't very easily ferment the juice that is near the top of the barrel!
Over the years, we've tried all manner of techniques to keep the yeast in suspense - from playing Alfred Hitchcock theme music in the cellar at night to starting jokes in the barrel room and then not giving up the punchline. In the end, we figured out that the best way is simply to stir the barrels.
Usually the Wild Yeast has the last laugh as it keeps us in suspense right up until the end. While we are excited about the excellent aromatic complexity and killer flavors up to this point - until the wine is completely dry and settled down after harvest, we won't know what we've got ...
Posted By : Chris Corley
NOTE : We spend a lot of our time doing Fermentation Checks each day during harvest. As it relates to our blog, ‘FERMENTATION CHECK’ will be an opportunity for us to share our cellar activities with you in real time.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON – STATE LANE, TIETJEN & YEWELL VINEYARDS
As of today, we’ve got 4 lots of Cabernet Sauvignon fermenting in the cellar. The Tietjen Vineyard is coming in this morning. As a whole, it has been a very interesting year for our Cabernet Vineyards. The grapes reached 24 brix in early September but the flavors weren’t there. This made me a little nervous, as we had some hot weather in early September. I was concerned that the weather would force our hand, and make us pick earlier than we would have liked. Fortunately, for us the weather cooled off and we we’ve been able to hang the fruit for another 5 weeks, allowing the flavors to fully develop and the tannins to ripen completely. As an additional bonus, the sugars haven’t climbed up that much over the last 5 weeks. There are some aspects of this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon growing season that remind me of 2005, which was a great vintage all around !
STATE LANE (YOUNTVILLE APPELLATION) – This year, we’ve got two separate tanks fermenting and a batch that we’re fermenting in small bins. I’m looking forward to tasting the bin fermented batch alongside the tank fermented batch. State Lane is our first vineyard to be certified organic. The ferments smell great at this early stage.
TIETJEN (RUTHERFORD APPELLATION) – The Tietjen Vineyard has looked great all year long. The fruit has developed nicely all season, and has been in great shape right up until today’s pick. The flavors are dark red berry fruits, the seeds are fully ripe and showing a nice dark brown color. I’m looking forward to fermenting about 2/3 of this vineyard in tank and 1/3 in small bins this year.
YEWELL (ST. HELENA APPELLATION) – We harvested the Yewell Vineyard about 4 days ago, and the ferment is just getting started. We’ve got nice color development and the flavors right now are deep red berry. So far, looking great !
Please tip a glass of one of our Vineyard Designates tonight and share a toast to the 2008 Harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon !