Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Liberating Barrels

What’s the best way to free up barrels you’ll need for crush?


Today we bottled more than 910 cases of a number of Borra wines, yielding 36 barrels for re-filling.

Most Lodi wineries are done bottling by mid-August, but Borra sees an advantage with waiting until the last-minute.

“This way my barrels don’t stay empty for a long period of time, which can mean more chance for contamination,” says Markus Niggli. “Ideally I would bottle today and put new wine in tomorrow.”

Empty barrels are ozone-washed to kill off any living things left inside, gassed with sulfur dioxide, then bunged and stacked, waiting for wine to be pressed into them.

As for the process of getting wine into bottles, with the cost of a small automated bottling line heading easily into six figures, most small wineries work with equipment shoe-horned ingeniously into semi trucks and rented by the day.

We tend to use Mobile Wine Line of Galt, run by trusty head honcho and truck captain, Harry Hakala, along with a couple of life-long friends.

As of 9 a.m. this morning, the truck’s team, aided by a crew of about 7 from the neighboring Lodi Irrigation staff, had boxed up 111 cases of 2007 Old Vine Barbera, and a bunch of 2008 vintage wines, including 118 cases of Merlot, 58 of Members Reserve Intenso, 73 of Members Reserve Syrah. The photos show the team working on 550 cases of Red Fusion.

Empty bottles were constantly loaded into the back of the truck, filled with Nitrogen, then wine, screw-capped, labeled, and finally placed back into the same boxes for cold storage.

The process can be back-breaking, but is always very satisfying, knowing that the winemaking is absolutely finished.

“The cycle has closed,” says Markus.

While the team was hard at work, Markus and Steve Borra were busy with quality control: making sure the right labels were going onto the bottles; helping with wedging finished pallets of cases into a cramped storage room; tasting new bottles; and ensuring that everyone was to get their Dante’s Philly Cheesesteaks done up the way they wanted for lunch.

It will be a busy week, with this bottling, followed by over a hundred La Dolce Vita club shipments tomorrow, and the start of grape sampling for sugars on Thursday.

If all goes well, we could be picking our first Chardonnay of 2010 within two weeks.

Monday, August 23, 2010

15 Minutes of Fame

Our Markus Niggli was just handed his 15 minutes of fame, appearing in two newspaper articles in Saturday’s Lodi News-Sentinel.

Here’s an excerpt from the first, entitled “Yellow Cab submits application to come to Lodi,” with several quotes from Markus:

The biggest competition for a taxi company serving wineries during the day is limousine service, he said, because the limos can be rented out for a long period, and there is no waiting for it to show up.

“Limo services are not too expensive,” Niggli said. “It is also probably better looking to come up in a stretch limo than in a cab.”

But he could see the cabs being used at night when the wineries have events.

“People might leave behind their cars, take the safe route and take a cab home,” Niggli said.

The second story, “Lyrics of the vine,” describes what Lodi wineries are doing to offer evening entertainment, along with excellent wines.

Here’s the full quote:

Borra Vineyards started combining wine and music four years ago with their Fusion Friday events, named after their Fusion wines.

Relaxation, entertainment and good wine was their motivation for the monthly summertime event.

“Music and wine are the two things that help you relax after a long, hard week of work,” Markus Niggli, Borra Vineyards winemaker said.

Niggli says there were about 40 or 50 people who would attend. Now, the even that combines food, wine and music brings in at least 150 people on the first Friday of the month during summer.

“You pull up in a winery site and it takes you away from daily life. For just a couple of hours, you can be yourself and enjoy the moment off,” Niggli said.

At Fusion Friday, guests sit at tables surrounding a Bocce ball field. In the beginning, many get comfortable at their tables with a full glass of wine or dinner prepared by a local caterer. But as the music plays and wine glasses get a little emptier, groups starts dancing and joining in games of Bocce ball.

Meanwhile, I touched base with Markus today as he was munching on a mouthwatering peach.

“The fruit this season looks great. Maturity is very nice. Normally we’d see sugars climbing. This year we have nice even sugars in grapes that are holding on to their acid,” he said.

Regarding current sugar levels, “The Viognier and reds are all under 20˚ Brix and we’ll start sampling late next week after our last bottling of the year. With this cool weather, we won’t be picking anything until the second or third week of September.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

Topping Up

Every few weeks, Markus hooks up a canister of Nitrogen to a keg of extra Syrah and goes to work topping up each of our 220 barrels of aging Borra wines. A long hose equipped with a special nozzle make the job much easier than the old “watering cans.”

If we were to leave a barrel completely alone, eventually enough wine would evaporate through the microscopic pores in the barrel walls to create a pocket of air under the bung. Air leads to the growth of the bacteria that like to make vinegar, and we’re not currently in that business.

An automatic humidifier sprays a mist of water into the barrel room every few minutes or so to maintain just the right amount of moisture. Too much humidity leads to mold growth and greater loss of alcohol, whereas too little humidity results in water loss from wine, rather than alcohol.

In any case, it’s always amazing how much wine we lose to the “angels.”

We’ve got both the 2008 and 2009 vintages of red wines in the barrel room, with some to be bottled at the end of this month. Markus can have them all topped and the barrels polished with a sulfur solution in only a couple of hours.

The whites are almost always bottled fresh from the vintage in March of each year. So we don’t have a problem turning white wines a blush color via a topping boo boo.