Friday, December 08, 2006

Press Operator

We pressed our zin and merlot blend today. The zin is our Russian River grapes and the merlot blend is all Napa fruit - majority merlot with some cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Harold cranks on the zin in the first photo above and in the second pic Mark pours free run from the merlot blend into a new barrel. Pressing went well - so now we wait for aging to work its magic...

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Scent of a rockroom

The sweet smell of a winery is in the air in the new rockroom winemaking co-op digs as our recently arrived fruit ferments its way toward wine-dom. Briefly...
Our little barrel of chardonnay is perking away nicely and you can already smell the toasty vanilla-caramel influences of the French oak barrel. Remember this will be blended with some wine from the same vineyard that is fermenting in neutral vessels, so we will be able to moderate the barrel character. Other whites are doing well ranging from the pinot gris which has almost fermented out completely to the Napa sauvignon blanc that is taking its own sweet time. Keeping our whites in tubs of ice-cooled water keeps fermentation temperatures low. Maybe Santa will bring us a glycol chiller!
The picture above shows our merlot-cab-cab franc blend several days ago as it starts fermentation. Unlike the whites, we want fermentation temperatures to climb on this stuff so the bins are wrapped with insulation to make sure we get to 85 degrees plus. Fermentation is exothermic (ah look it up) so no external source of heat is required to easily hit this. The zinfandel got a couple extra days of cold soak to really get the fruit soaked out and be sure any raisined grapes got softened up enough to release their flavors and sugar. Look for pressing alerts on reds in a week or so.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

All Great Wines Begin With ... Lab Work!

Last night's lab frenzy - all white juice got tested, conditioned with nutrients to keep the yeast healthy, and innoculated with yeast, so wine is happening! There in the pic you can see the pails where each batch is fermenting. Each pail sits in a tub of water with ice added daily to keep fermentation cool and slow - avoids loss of aromatics in the whites. In addition to these pail there is a quarter barrel of chardonnay fermenting in an oak barrel. Further back are the large tubs with red grapes soaking in a stew of their own juice. These tubs are wrapped with insulation and dry ice added to cold soak the flavors out of the grapes - a step that costs a little extra but gives fruit extraction a head start before fermentation begins in a day or two.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

2006 Grapes Arrived

Yesterday the fridgee truck arrived with our shipment of 1300 lbs of premium California wine grapes. The whites are in the form of pressed and settled juice ready for a cool fermentation into white wine. The reds will go through various cold-soak regimens after which yeast will be added to start their fermentations. If all goes well we will be pressing wine in mid to late December.

In case you have forgotten what we are making or only wrote down the wines you are participating in, here is the full list:

Zinfandel - Russian River - a different vineyard source than we used in '05 (that was Mendocino) this is an old vines vineyard that rockroom sourced from in '03 and '04.

Right Bank Blend - Napa Valley - like its distant cousins being made from grapes grown on the "right bank" of Bordeaux's Dourdogne River, this wine will lead with merlot but we will give it an American-style boost from a solid dose of cabernet sauvignon and a splash of cabernet franc. Certainly an elegant sibling to that Inkgrade badboy we are making!

Chardonnay - being made in 2 styles from 2 sources: a big California-style barrel-fermented (Radoux French oak barrel, medium+ toast) Carneros chard, and a low-oak Santa Lucia Highlands chard going for a more acidic, food-friendly wine. Assuming the SLH juice tests out with solid acid levels (looks likely) we will make a small batch of sparkling "baby-blanc-de-blancs" wine as well.

Sauvignon Blanc - Napa Valley - same source as 2005 but more of it - it disappeared way too fast!

Pinot Gris - Suisun Valley - first time for this one. Call it pinot gris or call it pinot grigio - lets just hope it's good!

If you are in Austin over the Thanksgiving weekend you might want to drop by on Saturday or Sunday as things get going!

Monday, November 06, 2006

On the scene report as White Hawk syrah gets crushed

The following is David's hands-on report from Saturday where he was on location to sort our White Hawk syrah:

Report from sorting white hawk syrah: white hawk first, but had the opportunity to taste inkgrade and hein pinot for this year, all are early and in barrel, so just some impressions, and for those of you who I don't know well, had Jlin to confirm.

White hawk fruit was very clean, but a bit late picking. Having said that, acidulating is easy, and it is ideal to let those grapes hang a bit, because you can never replicate what is 'earned' in the vineyard by getting some more hang time with the clusters. Tasting the fruit...about every fourth cluster was peppery, and we replaced lots of thepre-sorted fruit with browner stems for the whole-cluster component. Still, whole cluster this year is 20% at most, which is fine for the fruit nature gave us...opulent, refined, ultra-aromatic fruit...hints of spice, pepper, but most delicate and important for syrah, floral elements....who didn't as a kid pull off a honeysuckle flower and 'sip' it! That is one of many components our '06 syrah has. Better yet, we got (twist an arm) pulled to the numerous barrel rooms and tried all sorts of 2005-vintage White Hawk Syrah, and I must say the formula rockroom will use this year was the best of what we barrel tasted from 2005...come on out and try it yourself if you don't believe! The best of class was 25% whole cluster, 25% new oak (zebra barrel, recooped with staves so ratio is 25% new French oak...those guys in Sebastapol are forward thinking), which exhibits fruit and nature, which in '06, imho will be stellar, and not oak bits, which are easily overdone.

We also tasted through the 2006 Hein Pinot and Inkgrade cab. In order, here is the progress report: Hein-damn, must be better than last year...why? been in barrel a month, so fully fermented but still has 9 months to pick up character-I tasted stawberry preserves, and loads of cranberry, the whole-berry variety you find when you're lucky. This differs from the '05 rockroom Hein in magnitude....the '05, if any are Burgundy fans, is Anderson Valley*read cool climate*, and is oppulent and pretty, with ultra-floral notes. The '06 will be that, if barrel samples hold true, just more preserved fruit qualities, so look for both, and try them side by side. Next, Inkgrade. Do you know how hard it is to find a cabernet with chocolate/cocoa notes? tough to do with a young one, and that is EXACTLY what Inkgrade is yielding this year so far. This is an inaugural year for availability of Inkgrade fruit, and thank goodness we jumped on it. Scott C. was all over this one, as he was out here to meet the fruit, and since the cab came from 2 VERY distinct blocks, both good but one higher altitude with more sun, I think we got the best ratio of fruit, and damn it's good. Inkgrade just finished malo, and has a complexity and flavor, so far, which easily tops your favorite Napa cab if you are looking for something aside from ultra-toasted, oaky cab. Nothing wrong with that if that's your Parker preference, but this is less oaked, and meant to be so because it shows what nature gave us this year. I like 'oaked' too, but this exhibits real varietal character, and with well treated *thank you Scott* Howell Mountain fruit, chocolate/cocoa notes get to show themselves. It's going to be a yummy cab, gang.

That's it from the source, and realize that is mostly one pallette, all opinions stated are mine, not necessarily from JLin, our resident sommelier, who was there too, and sure she'll have her say as time permits, but think we were of a mind for basic impressions. Rockroom wineauxs, this year is looking good across the board, so pay attention!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ink Grade Cab "scratch-n-sniff" data sheet

There is a saying that "Great wines are made in the vineyard", but most great wines also have a data sheet like this showing all of the steps taken in the winery to ensure they get to the finish line in the best shape possible. Various additions of chemicals, yeast and yeast nutrients as well as temperature controls and punchdowns or pumpovers to keep juice and skins mingling all add up to make contributions to final wine quality. Based on this early tasting I would say the effort has paid off!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Grapes will soon be inbound to Austin

Harvest 2006 is finally drawing to a close in California and the last of our fruit to be shipped to Texas has been picked - Caldwell Vineyard cabernet franc from Napa Valley for our Right Bank Blend. I am anxious to see this fruit as the report from the field was super-ripe grapes with some raisining and thick skins on tiny berries. Several wineries use this grape in blends to add complexity to bordeaux-style blends. Hey - that's just what we are going to do! Well I had a vineyard pic to post with this but Blogger is screwed up at the moment and won't upload.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Our Ink Grade Vineyard cab was pressed last night and it is, well, inky. Great color and nice tannins . Most promising of all though are the subtle aromas and flavors of spice, cedar and cassis - just some of the unique character we were hoping for with this Howell Mountain fruit. What will it be Christmas 08 when you pop it open with a slab of prime rib? We will see...

Hein in barrel

It was a perilous climb but well worth the trip - our Hein Vineyard pinot is happy times in the barrel. Loaded with bright fruit it should soften with time as it goes through malolactic fermentation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Merlot, er, I mean "Bordeaux Varietal" harvested

The cornerstone ingredient to our Right Bank Blend will be Napa Valley Suscol Ranch Vineyard merlot (see photo of this relatively young vineyard) which was harvested October 11th. Preliminary report is that the grapes were very clean with good ripe flavors and solid acidity. Sugar levels were a tad high so we will have to see if blending with cab and cabernet franc balances this out or we do a little "amelioration" to prevent excessive alcohol. Cabernet from the prestigious State Lane vineyard will be picked this weekend and cabernet franc soon after that. Then we will be ready to make our bordeaux-style field blend! This should be a very different wine from the Ink Grade cabernet sauvignon we are making.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Working lunch

One of the perks of winery work - 1989 white burgundy with meatball subs. Yum!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ink Grade cab is in

Our Napa Ink Grade cab is on its way to becoming wine! David P. sorts grapes here as we took fruit from 2 blocks - 70% G1 which was very ripe with some clusters showing slight raisining, and the rest F4 which had brighter acidity and cleaner fruit. The idea is that the 70/30 mix will have big, ripe flavors , plus enough structure to age a bit and/or enjoy with a steak.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bleeding for flavor

JLin taking out a bit of pink juice to concentrate flavors in some bins of pinot noir. Yum!

Barrel fermented chard

I siphoned settled chardonnay juice into 8 barrels for a barrel fermented chard last night. Note the mix of oak and stainless. We will add yeast today. This is Santa Lucia Highlands - we will do some barrel fermented chard from this region for the co-op this year.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hotel San Fran garden

A couple was in the hot tub so I left it out of the photo.

Accommodations when Crushing

Almost as unique as the custom crush experience is my suggestion for where to stay when visiting the area. Check out - not the usual tourist part of town but you can walk to the winery and it is a great value for a true Victorian b and b. Gourmet cont breakfast spread and beautiful grounds.

Hein-ie Crush

Here goes our Hein pinot dumping to the sorting table where we will pick out sticks leaves and any bad clusters. This is a good chance to taste lots of grapes as they go by on their way to the destemmer and make a first guess as to character of the wine. Good balance in our grapes with bright acidity and little raisining but also soft tannins and some earthy flavors. Stems are still pretty green so we will not risk including whole clusters in the fermentation as it could introduce bitter tannins. I know a couple of you tuned in on the crushcam: glad you joined us!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hein pinot harvest

As you can see our Hein vineyard grapes came in today and we will be destemming them tonight. A bit lower in sugar and higher in acids than last year so will be an interesting contrast .

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Zin and Chardonnay harvest this week

Our Russian River zinfandel gets picked tomorrow. I made wine from this vineyard in 03 and 04 but skipped last year when we did the barrel with 100% Mendocino zinfandel instead. I am looking forward to trying a barrel of this one. We will do it in a French oak quarter barrel, medium toast - I ordered the barrel today. Note the photo of the vineyard - these are the old head-trained vines that grow in clumps with no trellis and as they were planted in 1937 should qualify as "old vines". Top quality stuff.

Our Carneros chardonnay from Sangiacomo Vineyard is picked Friday and so far is showing great acidity which is good news as we go to barrel-ferment it. Let's hope this will allow for a rich malolactic-fermented wine that still has the acidity to round it out. The 2003 I did with this fruit turned out really nicely and barrel fermenting will ratchet things up a notch.

Here is an excerpt from an email our vineyard broker Peter Brehm sent out. He has a good view of things going on all over wine country as he coordinates grapes from many vineyards...

The flooding from winter rains of 2006 were topped by heavy Spring rain. This cocktail made farming difficult and very expensive and labor intensive. An unusually hot (up to 115°F) August spell stunned some grape vines, while stimulating others. A cool September nursed most grapes back to more normal conditions. The grapes growing within the immediate influence of the Pacific's cold water, accumulated sugar very slowly, while keeping their acids.
Harvesting Zinfandel & Petite Sirah before any Pinot Noir has set a new standard in grape ripening. Harvesting cool Russian River Malbec & Cab Franc while the yellow trays of the sparkling wine houses were still being filled - unheard of!
The California North Coast has broken down into two distinct zones. One near the coast and Bay which is producing intense wine with higher than normal acid and lower than normal pH. The warmer inland, California vineyards are on a more normal ripening track. On the 24th of September we will harvest the final two clones from Mahoney's Las Brisas Vineyard. A few days before harvest I got a 3.17pH and malic acid content of 2.9. This is with a sugar of over 25°. BV's White Salmon Vineyard staff will be harvesting Pinot Noir during the same week we are harvesting Pinot Noir in the Carneros. In 20 years I have never had a parallel; the same time harvest separated by 600 miles. This is indeed a unique year.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dead soldiers

They served us well saturday. Some good reviews so far on the rock room pinot noir.

Ink Grade Cabernet happens Oct 2nd

Just worked out the schedule on our Ink Grade Cabernet Sauvignon: picking is October 2nd and they will drive the grapes down for destemming which we will do at 7pm. That is pacific time so 9pm here in TX. IF YOU WANT TO CHECK IT OUT... Assuming it is working check out the CrushCam (go the the custom crush website and click the Crushcam link) and watch the fun as we sort grapes before they run through the destemmer.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pinot Gris has been picked

Check out this photo of our Suisun Valley pinot gris just before harvest last week. Did you know this was such a red grape? It is a close relative of pinot noir and is more of a red grape than white. In fact a Texas grower I know made wine from his pinot gris and it was a faint pink color. Think blanc de noir champagne!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Harvest 2006 Status

The picking has begun! The growers are reporting in and here are a few harvest stats:
pinot gris (or pinot grigio if you prefer Italian) was harvested Monday 9/11 at 20.1 Brix (percent sugar by weight) and acidity of 8.2 g/l at pH=3.51. Finished with a little residual sugar this should be a nice low-alcohol quaffer to beat the heat next summer. Our Napa sauvignon blanc was picked the same day at 22.2 Brix and 7 g/l acid at pH of 3.3. We will do it bone dry and it will be a great refresher to pair with grilled shrimp next summer.

Meanwhile our InkGrade cabernet sauvignon (that is the photo) is already at 24.5 Brix at 7 g/l acid and pH 3.34. Should harvest by the end of September. The Hein pinot noir will be ready a week or two after that (two weeks later than last year). Bottom line is that California harvesting is bunching up a bit and could have shades of 2004 when fruit came in all at once.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Our first rockroom label

Here is our label - photo taken and sent from my mobile phone. Mobile blogging is cool!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

rockroomers gone pro

The pinot is turning purple as some in our midst prepare to leave God's Country (aka Texas) for a time to join forces with the pros at CA harvest time. David P just arrived in Cloverdale, CA to intern for the season with the Pisoni family. Gary Pisoni and sons Jeff and Mark have put the Santa Lucia Highlands on the map bigtime with some amazing pinots, syrahs and chardonnays. These wines have little brand recognition and very limited distribution but sell out quickly every year at $30-65 a bottle. They are that good. In fact about a week ago I was fortunate enough to sample a 2003 Lucia Garys' Vineyard pinot and a 2000 Nuits St Georges burgundy side by side. Both beautiful wines with many similarities - a real testament to the Pisonis' product. Meanwhile, JLin heads to Siduri to join our fellow Texans Adam and Dianna Lee as they crank out their annual array (20+ unique bottlings) of super-premium California and Oregon pinots. Click the links to these wineries, print out a map and phone number, and when you go to wine country call up your fellow rockroom winedanistas and demand a barrel sample!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bottling photos: 2005 Hein Vineyard pinot noir

Some of you get rockroom email updates at work and have had problems viewing photos sent as attachments. Hey, I always wash my hands before sending email and have even started wiping my camera down with sanitizer before taking photos but some mail servers STILL filter out my attachments. So posted here are a few choice photos from the recent bottling of our pinot noir...

Make a rockroom fashion statement

How appropriate that the first rockroom blog post is a shameless plug of our merchandise. Chalk it up to timing pure and simple -we now have a online store where you can buy your favorite rockroom winemaking cooperative gear. So now you can buy t-shirts. Or thongs. Or not. As with our co-operative winemaking endeavors, I am the organizer and promoter but am not making any money doing it. Think of me as a tent revival preacher that never passes the plate! It's all about the mission. Anyway, here is the url link so you can go shopping any time you want to: