Friday, October 30, 2009

Edna Valley

Edna Valley has been cold this week, making it really feel like vintage is quickly ending.Still, the sunsets have the valley glowing.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Morning Surf

Last week saw a good run of quality surf thanks to some northwest swell. Two different swells brought overhead surf to the entire coastline, including here in San Luis Obispo. We saw a few good days, but crossing swell directions, extreme tide conditions, and poor sand distribution at local beaches made the swell mostly unsurfable.

California typically sees its best surfing conditions of the year during fall; the water is still warm after summer and swells from the Gulf of Alaska have started to arrive. Unfortunately, we've seen far less swell than usual; I can't remember an October that I've surfed so little.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pressing Issues

Every winery has a different layout, primarily focused on ease of process for the fruit, wine, and employee. Fruit reception is the most essential winery practice, since you can't make wine without grapes. Our winery receives grapes in either picking bins or gondolas, depending on the size of the load and the vineyard of origin. Half-ton picking bins are more common and require a forklift to dump the grapes into an elevator, which transports the grapes up and either into the press doors or onto the destemmer belt. The picture below shows the elevator in the foreground with our two 11-ton presses in the background.
If grapes arrive in gondolas, the truck must be unloaded using a stationary crane located above the presses. The gondolas are dumped into an auger, which delivers the grapes to the press belt or destemmer belt (the first picture below shows a 2-ton gondola of Chardonnay being dumped, with the truck on the left. The second shows the auger filling up, while the third shows the press belt delivering the fruit to the press).
Red grapes are typically destemmed, crushed, and transported to their fermentation vessel immediately upon arrival (this is not true for grapes used for rose wines). This is a much more straight forward and quicker process than pressing. White grapes are typically pressed immediately (sometimes, several hours of skin contact are desired to encourage more phenolics in the juice). During pressing, grapes are put into one of three presses and subjected to varying levels of pressure to extract juice (pressure levels are based on factors such as fruit quality and desired yield). Our winery's white press cycle typically takes about three hours from loading to unloading.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Harvest Update - Last Week

We are officially down to our last 60 tons, which will be received next week. Our last white grapes will be received tomorrow (Monday), while the remainder of tonnage is spread throughout the week. Though no more fruit will be received after Friday, there will still be plenty of work to do. It will be another few weeks before everything is packed up.

As harvest ends, the remaining bottling from 2008 can be focused on. The only 2008 Cal Poly wine remaining in barrel is the Mustang Red blend. I also have some bottling of my own I saved for after harvest, a red blend I created using Petite Verdot, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Amazingly, it was able to survive on its own for six months while I was traveling. Despite being rather oxidized and flabby when I returned, it has been revived and is tasting lovely. I also hope to finish and bottle a Pinot Noir Rose I've made this vintage using some saignee juice (juice removed from red must prior to fermentation to increase the skin to juice ratio, thereby increasing concentration). This wine is just finishing fermentation now and is showing some nice, bright cherry flavors.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Morning & Evening

Well, I heard from my uncle, Gary, who was not particularly happy with my lack of knowledge about his plane (rightly so, I might add). He had this to say. "A skyline or skylane, whatever you call it, is a Cessna for old people. What you were in was a Beech Bonanza S model, slightly modified with an IO 550 engine. But close, after all it was an airplane." Sorry for the mix up. Just shows that asking instead of guessing is always a good idea, particularly when the difference is night and day. For Gary's emotional distress, I've got some night and day shots of Rainbow Lake (morning and evening, but still).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Harvest Update - Vineyard Games

It seems like the vineyard staff must be playing games. My last harvest update said our winery had reached the last 200 tons, which would be split between the beginning of last week and this week. After processing a total of over 100 tons last week and yesterday, we're still expecting another 200 tons to come in this week and next. Last week's stormy conditions brought over three inches rain to Edna Valley, leaving the vineyards quite damp. Luckily, the weather warmed up rather quickly and kept gray mold (caused by botrytis cinerea and forming in continually damp, humid vineyard conditions) from becoming much of an issue. Bunch rot (also botrytis cinerea, but forming in wounded grapes) has set in to several blocks, probably caused by the extremely hard wind and rain creating damage to the skins. We received nearly 60 tons of fruit with over 25% bunch rot (probably already infected before the storm, but not benefited by it). The rain was able to help; the winery water reclamation ponds (shown below) have been struggling to keep up with the significant amount of solids coming out of the winery. While this is typical during harvest, the rain has helped dilute and aerate the ponds, kick-starting the bacterias that breakdown these solids.

The reds are finishing fermentation and ready to be drained and pressed before they are racked and barreled. Several red tanks will be drained everyday this week, freeing open-top tanks for the remaining red grapes. Below shows our 3-ton press being dumped after a red pressing cycle. An in-ground screw runs below all presses, transporting the pomace to the holding vessel. Our whites are fermenting through steadily, with nearly half completed. I am optimistic about wine quality and would venture to say that this vintage will be better than 2008; more concentrated flavors and better color in the Pinot Noir and more complexity in the whites. It's still a bit early to start jumping to conclusions since many primary and most malolactic fermentations must finish.

Monday, October 19, 2009

La Jolla Sunsets

The Ho Chi Minh Trail, named after the infamous Vietnam War trail, is one of the many paths that lead down to Black's Beach in La Jolla. Erosion has gotten the better of the trail, particularly the steps carved out of the cliffs. The beach goer shown below was quite adventurous to make it to the clifftop, requiring an eight foot jump across a twenty-foot ravine.

La Jolla's beaches have good surf, great weather, and interesting people. Marine Street is one popular spot where people go to relax, walk the beach, and surf. While waves suitable for surfing are far more rare, body surfers frequent the beach for its shore break conditions.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hang Ten

Several years ago, my friend's Pete and Ryan picked me up for a regular surf adventure. We paddled the channel at Morro Bay and walked the nearly half mile down the beach. Just north of the jetty, huddled near the rocks, a baby Harbor Seal lay almost invisible. It was alone, rather unusual for such an infant, and seemed disoriented and immobilized. After some discussion, we decided to take the Seal back to Morro Bay to get some help (I found out this is not the way to approach the situation; never touch or move a sea mammal, just contact the Marine Mammal Center).

We loaded the thirty pound baby onto my surfboard and carried it down the beach like a stretcher. Once we reached the channel, I had to swim across and push my board since it couldn't hold both the seal and I.We reached the base of Morro Rock, where we promptly contacted the Marine Mammal Center, who sent volunteers. They arrived rather quickly, determined the seal was sick, and loaded him into their truck.

Nearly a week later, I received a letter telling me that the Harbor Seal we had found had been dubbed "Hang Ten" due to his unique ride. They said he was only a few days old and had a severe case of otitis interna (inner ear infection), which was causing its disorientation. He was rehabilitated and released back into the wild after a couple weeks of care.

Harbor Seals, or Common Seals, have the largest range of the pinnipeds (seals, walruses, etc.), and can be found throughout the oceans of the Northern Hemisphere. Adults can reach lengths of six feet and weights of nearly 300 pounds. Female Harbor Seals give birth to solitary pups, which they care for alone. Baby Harbor Seals can swim within hours of birth and grow rather quickly.

Sonora Desert Birds

The Sonora Desert is one of North America's largest and hottests deserts, covering over 300,000 square kilometers of Mexico (sections of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur) and the United States (California and Arizona). A diverse and unique variety of animals and plants call the Sonora Desert home. Along with several species of cacti such as the saguaro, cholla, prickly pear, and organ pipe, other flora such as bur sage, mesquite, palo verde tree, desert willow tree, desert sunflower, ocotillo, whitethorn acacia, and boojum tree thrive in this harsh terrain. Animal species include jaguars, gila monsters, bobcats, javelinas, desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, harris hawks, red-tailed hawks, and ospreys.

Growing up in Southern California and making frequent trips to Arizona, I've spent a lot of time in the Sonoran Desert and have seen a lot of wildlife in the area. One place to get a great view of Sonoran Desert flora and fauna is at the Sonora Desert Museum located just south of Tuscon, Arizona (more like a zoo than a museum). I took the two photographs below while wondering the grounds, though neither were enclosed. 

The broad-billed hummingbird (shown above) is indigenous to the Sonora Desert, measuring 9-10 centimeters in length. It's primary breeding habitat is southern Arizona, though it is a partially migratory bird that will stray to west into California, east as far as Texas, and far south into Mexico. Broad-billed hummingbirds feed on nectar from flowers and flowering trees, as well as the occasional insect if it can catch one. The cactus wren (pictured below) is Arizona's state bird, measuring 18-23 centimeters in length. The cactus wren lives in desert thickets, building its large nests in cacti (two nests are created, one for the young and one for roosting). It has a very similar range as the Broad-Billed, southwestern United States through central Mexico.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

TDW 2006 Cal Poly Vineyard Syrah

The 2006 vintage was not kind to the Cal Poly Vineyard's Syrah crop. There was very little fruit available on the vines, so the call was made not to pick the crop. After spending some time working in the vineyards, my friend Trevor and I decided the fruit seemed fine and we picked a small portion. After picking, I made the wine at home using a trash can for fermentation and a keg with oak alternatives for maturation. I think this wine turned out great and is a testament to the quality of Cal Poly Vineyard's Syrah.

Winery - The Drifting Winemaker
Location- San Luis Obispo, CA
Wine -2006 Cal Poly Vineyard Syrah
Varietals - Syrah
Appellation -San Luis Obispo
Alcohol - 13.0% by alcohol
Price -N/A

Color
-Vibrant purple.
Nose/Aroma - Raspberry jam.
Palate/Flavors - Raspberries and boysenberries with a slight hint of mint and oak that finishes rather quickly. Medium body and acid, smooth tannins with littler bitterness or astringency.
Style - Fruit forward, lighter style than most coming out of California. Closer to a Rhone style.
Food Pairing - Great food wine for pairing. 
Comments- Not as powerful as the latter vintages, quite a different style. I used this wine as a baseline to expand on for the 2008 vintage, with the goal of making a broader, more complex version.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cal Poly Wines

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo University has a growing Wine & Viticulture program that has developed rapidly over the past several years. Last year was their inaugural vintage in the new pilot winery on campus and just this spring, a major overhaul of their 12-acre vineyard replaced a majority of the Pinot Noir and a large portion of the Chardonnay while adding several rows of Tempranillo. This is great news for the program which will now have four estate-grown varietals to produce Cal Poly wines. Cal Poly wines were first made at Wild Horse Winery before finding a new home at Orcutt Road Cellars in 2005 working with winemaker Christian Roguenant.
I was fortunate to have an excellent vintage as the 2008 winemaker, with great quality fruit thanks to Mark Welch and Keith Patterson. The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah were all made with 100% Cal Poly Vineyard grapes and recently bottled. These wines will be available for sale next year, along with the Mustang Red and a newly created Mustang White (the new blends are a surprise, sorry). Another new addition and first for Cal Poly wines is a red dessert wine, a blend of 78% Zinfandel, 11% Syrah, 9% Tempranillo, and 3% Souzao. This wine, called the Poly Royal, has just been released in conjunction with the 2007 vintage wines. Check out Cal Poly's available wines here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cool Flight

I have probably taken thirty flights in the past year, some good and some bad. Most people don't particularly like flying, primarily because of the process involved in commercial flights: getting to the airport, checking in, going through security, sitting in a crowded plane, and getting baggage. My usual reason for flying is the destination, but last December it was the flight itself. During a visit to Arizona, I was lucky enough to accompany my uncle, Gary, on a leisurely flight.

We entered Tucson Airport from a side entrance, finding a security gate that Gary keyed us through before proceeding slowly past identical rows of hangars. He soon stopped the car, unlocked a large metal door, and rolled it back slowly, revealing his shiny plane that looked just as I remembered. Gary (shown below) has owned his Beech Bonanza S Model for years, and has been flying for even longer. After preparing the plane, we taxied and took off, turning north over the Catalina Mountains.

 The flight was a completely different experience than a usual commercial flight. The view was unhindered as I sat in the cockpit, surrounded by windows. At an altitude below 10,000 feet for most of the fight, we were significantly lower than commercial airplanes, who fly near 30,000 feet. Gary pointed out some familiar places and told stories about his experiences in the area. Soon enough, we were passing over Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside, home to many childhood memories of fishing with my family.

Snow blanketed everything: the homes, trees, and roads blended together, shining in the mid-morning sun. We flew over Rainbow Lake (shown above) before making a pass by the small airport, barely visible under the snow. Gary decided landing wasn't the best idea since the snow could be hiding ice. Instead, we looped southwest, continuing over the copper mines (shown below). The southern part of Arizona has been extensively mined for precious metals, leaving the area's beautiful landscape scarred. After a roundabout path back, we talked with airport control again before landing smoothly. Despite several hours in the air, I felt like the ride has just begun.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pacific Beach Point

Pacific Beach was founded in the late 19th century and has grown into a vibrant community. Nestled between Mission Beach, La Jolla, and the ocean, Pacific Beach is one of San Diego's main nightlife centers, with restaurants and bars lining Garnet Avenue and its side streets west of Ingraham. Though traditionally known as a younger community full of college students and surfers, an older population has begun developing as its proximity to the beach and city bring increasing property values.

Pacific Beach is lined with great beach break peaks that run all the way from Pacific Beach Point at the northern end to Pacific Beach Drive at the southern end, with most surfers converging near Crystal Pier. PB Point itself rarely produces waves, requiring a large swell from the west. Though the waves here are typically mellow and perfect for longboarding, bigger winter swells can produce larger waves that require more critical surfing. Getting good waves at PB Point requires a range of conditions to line up, including swell, wind, and tide.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Hawaii: Big Island

It's been several years since I last visited Hawaii, maybe six years by now. After talking about Kilauea, it seemed only fair to talk about Hawaii a bit more. The eight primary islands of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kuaui, Molokai, Lanai, Nihau, and Kaholawe contain almost all of the state's 1.3 million residents, with hundreds of smaller islands completing the archipelago that spans 1,500 miles in the Pacific Ocean. 
After several trips to the islands with my friend Drew and his father Mark, Mark moved to Kailua-Kona, the main city of the Big Island's west coast. Hawaii's west coast is home to miles of beautiful beaches and amazing scenery that allow a range of fun activities for tourists and residents alike to enjoy. During one visit, I was nearly hit by a falling chameleon (shown below). Drew and I were standing under a large mango tree when it fell nearly 30 feet from the branches above. As we helped it back into the tree, we watched as it changed colors and patterns.
The island of Hawaii demonstrates the chain's volcanic origin well. Five volcanoes, the active volcanoes of Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea and the two dormant volcanoes of Kohala and Mauna Kea, define the landscape. Mauna Kea (shown below) is considered the tallest mountain in the world from its base to peak (just 13,803 feet above sea level but 33,476 feet from it's base on the ocean floor).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Harvest Update - The Last Push

We have another 200 of 1,700 tons remaining on the vines after the last of the Chardonnay arrived yesterday. Despite having significantly less tonnage this harvest than last year, the winery seems rather full. The fast paced harvest is to blame, requiring more tanks dedicated to fermentation simultaneously. A rather large weather event is predicted for the middle of the week, which should bring rain to the Edna Valley. While the rain is welcomed by many farmers, viticulturists and winemakers wish it would hold off a couple more weeks. Any fruit near ripe will be rushed in on Monday and Tuesday, while the rest will be pushed back until the sun comes back next week.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Siesmic Times

The recent seismic activity in the South Pacific has been a popular topic lately. The magnitude 8.3 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that devastated Samoa last week was followed by a large earthquake that hit Sumatra just hours later. After the nine earthquakes, the largest a magnitude 7.8, erupted near Vanuatu two days ago, scientists are not ruling out links. A recent study claims that vibrations from one earthquake may affect other faults, even over large distances. This study showed that earthquakes along California's San Andreas fault line increased after the 2004 earthquake in Indonesia. The South Pacific has been rocked by several devastating earthquakes in the past several years, and seismic activity has been increasing.
Living in Cailfornia, I've experienced several earthquakes, including dozens that I've never felt. The San Andreas fault is quite active, running 800 miles through California. One visit to Hawaii took me to another seismic event, one of the world's most active volcanoes. Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the southern end of Hawaii, Kilauea is slowly increasing the Big Island's land mass, erupting continuously from its east rift since 1983. I took these pictures during a 2003 visit to the volcano.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a cool town, located just one hour south of San Francisco and two and a half hours north of San Luis Obispo. It's known for its talented local surfers and stellar breaks, primarily divided between westside breaks (primarily Steamer Lane, shown below) and eastside breaks (primarily Pleasure Point and its breaks).

When there isn't swell, there's still plenty to do in Santa Cruz. There's Ano Nuevo State Reserve's elephant seals, Big Basin Redwoods State Park's impressive trees, and downtown's restaurants and nightlife. My last trip to Santa Cruz was almost a year ago, but I'm planning on heading up there after vintage to check out some Santa Cruz Mountain wineries and explore the coast a little bit.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Waiting for Snow

Sierra Summit isn't a world-class ski resort, but it is the closest mountain to San Luis Obispo. A four and a half hour drive east can take you from the beach to the snow. Sierra Summit is just 65 miles northeast of Fresno, next to Huntington Lake in the Sierra National Forest. It stands at 1,700 vertical feet and has over 45 trails, including the 2.3-mile Academy run.
Sierra Summit just received their first snow of the year. It was a light dusting, but shows potential for a good season. I missed the last California snow season since I was in New Zealand. After missing the ski season there by two days, I feel like I missed two chances in a year. Now I'm left just waiting for snow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Morning Glory

The Cuesta Grade in San Luis Obispo is home to several popular mountain bike trails. My favorite ride has always been Morning Glory, a trial built by the Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers. One can access Morning Glory by riding up from Poly Canyon (just behind Cal Poly's campus) or driving out TV Tower Road from Highway 101. The views from the mountain top are stunning, overlooking the entire county all the way to the ocean.

The trail drops through a petrified forest with some pretty technical switchback sections and fun single track. Eventually, several choices can be made. One can take Shooters back to the mountain top or continue down several other trails that eventually end up in Poly Canyon. Shallow river crossings, electrical fences, occasional cattle herds, and varying terrain are the main hazards along the several mile trek.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Boat Tripping

Costa Rica's most renowned break would have to be Witch's Rock (roca bruja), made famous by Bruce Brown's 1994 footage in Endless Summer II. Surfing the break then required a long four wheel drive followed by a long hike and paddle through a crocodile-infested river. While one can still drive to the break, several boats can be chartered out of Playa del Coco. Nick, Drew, and I were lucky to have internet at our Tamarindo hostel in early August (maybe not lucky, seems like everywhere in Tamarindo has internet). After studying the surf forecast for a couple days, we decided to find a boat to take us to Witch's Rock. We made plans with two Spanish surfers to charter a five-person boat and awoke before dawn to make the nearly two-hour drive to Playa del Coco.

Our boat driver Raymond was waiting for us when we arrived at sunrise. The forty-five minute boat ride was peaceful, and arrived to find Ollie's Point, another well-known wave just up the coast from Witch's Rock, empty and breaking. Ollie's (shown above) is a fickle rivermouth/point break with a small swell window, requiring a large, direct south swell. Nick and I were off the boat quickly, racing to the lineup just as a head high set rolled through. I caught the first wave, which feathered down the rocks all the way to the inside. Nick took off on the next one, following me to the inside. The others joined us and we all enjoyed some great waves. After an hour by ourselves, boats began trickling into the bay.

First one, then three. All of a sudden, there was thirty people in the lineup, including several longboarders. We still managed to get our waves, but it was quite disheartening to see such a secluded spot overrun with poorly skilled surfers. After spending the morning at Ollie's, we motored over to Witch's. Four empty boats floated near the rock, which meant a crowded lineup. We relaxed on our boat and ate lunch, waiting to paddle out. We had another fun session before Raymond called us back to the boat. We were running late and had to hurry back. The stormy conditions had made the see much rougher, making the boat ride back great fun, launching off waves and trying not to crush our tailbones as we bounced around the boat.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Pebbles

Offshore winds have blown the fog away, and brought some crystal blue mornings to Morro Bay. Offshore winds have also been bringing warm air from inland, continuing the unusually hot days in San Luis Obispo. Morro Rock seems out of place sitting at the mouth of Morro Bay Harbor, though it is very photogenic.

Morro Rock is part of San Luis Obispo's Nine Sisters, a series of volcanic mountains that starts with Morro Rock and ends with Islay Peak in the Edna Valley. Juan Cabrillo charter Morro rock in 1542, referring to it as "el morro", or "the pebble". The rock is referred to as a volcanic plug, created when magma hardens inside a volcano's vent. If the volcano becomes inactive and doesn't build up enough pressure to destroy it, the plug will remain while the surrounding volcano erodes over time.

The Nine Sisters are loved by San Luis Obispo locals. Cerro San Luis, commonly referred to as Madonna Mountain, has a spectacular view as shown above, and is popular with hikers and mountain bikers alike. The backside of the mountain has a world-class downhill run called the Rock Garden and several other trails. Bishop Peak, the tallest in the chain and shown in the foreground above, is also widely used by hikers though biking is prohibited.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bike Ride Home

I've been trying to bike to work a few days a week, schedule permitting. The warm, clear weather we've been experiencing lately the midday ride to work a bit hot, but allows me to time my ride home with the sunset, partially because I don't have a light on my bike but also so I can ride into this.


Friday, October 2, 2009

In the Hills with Nico

Despite my hectic harvest schedule, I was able to take a trip down south to Santa Barbara to visit my friend Nick Cook. Nick works at UC Santa Barbara, keeping the school running from the inside. Otherwise, he can be found trimming on his hull at Rincon, playing the piano to the trees at his home in the hills, or snapping photos around the county.

Since our return from Costa Rica, Nick, or Nico, has been busy with several new projects and toys. He has been constructing his new website, ...In The Hills... Photography, while continuing to keep us interested with his daily blog-log. Both reflect Nick's view of the world and display his stunning photography. He also just got a new housing for his camera. "This new waterproof housing I have is a beast, I'm going to have to get a leash for it or something," Nick tells me. "Sometimes you have to get drilled if you want to get the shot."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Harvest Update - Nearly There

It's still hard to believe how quickly this harvest has been going for our winery. After yesterday, we've received approximately 1,300 of 1,800 tons in our first month. The remaining grapes should easily be in by the end of the month, which would make this a particularly short year (typically we're receiving grapes until nearly Thanksgiving).


Several Pinot Noir lots are reaching dryness and completing fermentation, meaning that there has been lots of red pressing and barreling this week. All the wines are tasting delicious; good color, structure, and flavor in our Pinot Noirs. The whites are all doing well, just chugging along through fermentation. We're still waiting to receive the last 50 or so tons of Chardonnay, Syrah, and a few other bits and pieces.