Given the popularity of "blogging", or the creation of a "weB LOG" diary, it occurred to me that some people (including other grape growers, or people who dream of owning a winery), might be interested in some of our day to day successes and traumas! This blog began in October 2005, and this first post is the archive from this period.
December 26, 2005
Many people wonder how we came to leave our vineyard in Oregon for southern Ohio. When Ron was looking for a new challenge, we investigated eastern Washington (Walla Walla), southern Oregon, and southern Ohio. At the time, Walla Walla was a redneck backwoods, and I said to Ron, "I can't live here, you can't get a latte!" Look at Walla Walla now! Ron was intrigued for years with the soil in southern Ohio, unglaciated deep limestone, world-class for grape growing. We got on the web and searched Cincinnati, farms, 5 acres or more. The first listing that turned up was 4288 Kinkead Road, a tobacco farm of 126 acres, that had been on and off the market, as the Lawsons couldn't decide whether to sell. I was intrigued with the house, as I had never seen a Gothic Revival home. Three years of searching, with multiple airline trips, and we decided on this site. The soil was acceptable to Ron, and unlike the many derelict homes we had seen on various sites, the house was acceptable to me. This does not imply it didn't need some renovation... the kitchen only had one electrical outlet and no dishwasher! The soils have turned out even better than Ron expected.
When digging perennial beds around the house, it was a twilight zone moment to find a plate fragment, blue on white, with vinifera grapes on it.
The first cover story we got was Ohio Magazine, August 2001, in which Jenny Pavalasek said about Ron: "People think he is either a far-sighted entrepreneur... or completely nuts."
December 18, 2005
This diary will be somewhat quiet for awhile, as this is the period of rest for the vineyard. Winery work is never done, currently we are dealing with several brand new barrels which are leaking.
December 10, 2005
We received our medals from the American Wine Society just in time for the December 10 opening. My day didn't start too well though; I was hanging up our parking signs and the little boy across the street looked at me directly and said "You look evil."
November 19, 2005
Many of you know that we sold our 40 acre Oregon Pinot Noir vineyard to Tony Soter (Etude, Soter, Beacon Hill) in 1997. Food and Wine's Magazine 2005 American Wine Awards just named the 2002 Beacon Hill (our former vineyard) as America's "Best Pinot Noir". Congratulations to Tony Soter. Ron has a knack for picking great vineyard sites; and we are very optimistic about ours in Ohio and its potential. See Soter Vineyards
November 16, 2005
Filtering white wine; shortly after finishing the filtering and before clean-up, the power failed due to the intense weather in the area. One flashlight... weak batteries; our very kind neighbor brought us a flashlight and a Coleman lamp so we could half-heartedly hose down the tank, the filter, and the floor, and so Mr. Wizard (Ron) could add whatever solution he needed to the wine. It really was pretty funny to see the winery by the light of a Coleman lamp. You couldn't predict these emergencies if you tried!
When we pressed off the Cabernet on the 11th, I felt like the vineyard year was over, but of course it's never over; we had to bring all the fermentation bins home from our tiny facility and use the forks on the tractor to put them in the back tobacco barn, their winter home.
All the fermentation bins full of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot were pressed into two large tanks. It took two days. For those of you who have watched the winery grow, the next question is where on earth are we going to put 20 more barrels!
November 5, 2005
I run a mini-version of the winery at home when I make vinifera jelly. This is Cabernet Sauvignon, which I gleaned after the harvest. The grapes were stripped by hand from their stems (1 hour per 5 pound bucket), boiled up, and juiced in an old fashioned potato ricer. This juice, even in a quart container, throws tartrates, and needs to be racked, ha ha! Hence this set-up with surgical tubing, which racks a one quart container into another one quart container in the bar sink, and eliminates the sludge in the bottom of the first quart container. It's really a miniature version of what happens in the winery. The jelly tastes fantastic. I'm still tinkering with how to create just a dessert sauce instead of jelly.
November 3, 2005
Ron set up everything to pump the Cabernet Franc into a new holding tank, including climbing into the tank to wash it thoroughly. Shortly after the level crossed the valve at the bottom of the tank, it started to leak. We had to pump the wine back into the original tank and start work on figuring out what was wrong. Three hours later, after two hours of trying to get the valve off (the stainless steel screws had not been installed properly, so lots of tapping, reefing with a wrench, and WD40), it finally freed; and then we found there was a huge plastic bubble on the inside of the tank, which would have precluded the tank from ever not leaking. . This on little sleep, as Ron is getting up in the middle of the night every night to punch down the Cabernet Sauvignon. Sigh. The life of a winegrower.
October 28, 2005
If you think owning a vineyard/winery is wandering around the vineyard with a glass of wine and your trusty dog, follow this day. Get up at the crack of dawn; it's close to freezing; wait for the crew to show up. Ron's picking estimate for the Petit Verdot was "we'll be done by 11 a.m." but this is Barrett time. We finished at 2.30 p.m. because one harvester had to leave early. Nancy and Ron helped finish the pick. The big question is: should we bottle the Petit Verdot as a varietal? Not many exist. Normally we blend it into the Cabernet Sauvignon. Send an email to [email protected] if you have an opinion on this; I think some of our wine fans might be interested; there was some opinion that Viognier/Roussanne was too exotic for Cincinnati, but it is going to sell out before the end of the year. The Petit Verdot bottled on its own would yield about 90 cases. Petit Verdot is one of the highest paid prices in California with regard to tons per acre, because it is such a fantastic blending grape, and adds deep color to Cabernets. It's so pretty. Very small berries.
I'm still making jelly. Gleaned the Syrah and the Cabernet Franc.
October 20, 2005
We harvested the Syrah yesterday... 6000+ pounds, so once again there will only be a small production of Syrah wine from 2005. The 2003 sold out in two weeks. The fruit was dead ripe, and rather than wait until the next morning to crush it, Ron put in another long night to crush it the same day. Crushing takes time; it's not just feeding the grapes into the stemmer/crusher... more than 200 picking bins had to be washed, and the stems need to be bucketed into large bins for disposal. We appreciated the interest and help of Jens Rosencrantz, owner of the very cool Cincinnati Wine Warehouse on Madison Avenue.
October 12, 2005
A cool day for the harvest of 11,595 pounds of Cabernet Franc. The fruit is in excellent condition. The grapes came in at 23.3 brix. In Oregon, when we harvested, the usual Mexican crew would have a little ticket under their baseball cap, and they would fill two heaping buckets and then run down to the weigher (moi!); They would take their hat off, hand me the ticket, and I had a punch tool, and would punch their ticket, and they would be paid by the number of buckets. Here in Ohio, we have a different system, here is the form where I keep track of the bins and their weights. We pick into picking bins, and the bins weigh between 25 and 34 pounds depending on the softness of the fruit.
The pickers are paid by the pound, and the price varies depending on the difficulty of the pick. If there is a lot of rot, and the fruit is spread out, the price per pound is higher. Lots of fruit, easy picking, the price per pound is lower. Historically, our crew has been very happy with their paychecks. The ticks to the left are the "half pounds".
October 4, 2005
So far, we have picked all the white vinifera, including 6972 pounds of Viognier, and over 4000 pounds of Roussanne. The 4000 pounds of Roussanne was picked by four of our experienced women harvesters, Judy, Nicole, Tracy and Gretchen in 4 hours! This is a bin of Semillon on the scale, the grapes average 28-32 pounds a bin. This shot shows mother Judy and daughter Nicole in the Riesling, note how manicured the vineyard is. It doesn't grow this way naturally! Many hours of tying up shoots, hedging and leaf pulling morph it into this.
It's not all glamorous. A few Sundays ago, Ron came into the house waving a tweezers and a needle-nosed pliers (like a mini Edward Scissorhands), and wanted me to dig out the Japanese beetle that had crawled into his ear. Of course the minute the beetle was touched, it went deeper. $1000 later at the emergency room, it was out.
Recommended reading... there's a very realistic book called "My First Crush" by the couple who were living in Iowa and purchased Panther Creek Winery in Oregon.
Since last February, I have been making 15 second digital movie clips about activity in the vineyard and winery. I plan to string all these together and burn it to a CD after harvest. The title of the movie will be "A Vineyard Year.", it should be playable on a PC with typical movie software.
Today I discovered a fascinating web site... the Internet archive and the "Wayback Machine". I was able to review some of our web site home pages since 2000... what a chuckle, to read about an early Kinkead Cellars Riesling... only FIFTEEN cases produced! We've come a long way Baby!
Ron and I are both 58 years old and have a limited window of time to make a difference here in southern Ohio, where we are mentoring new vineyards and potential wineries. Our best clients are open-minded; they taste the wine, and judge the wine on its merits. There is a lot of prejudice against Ohio wine in some circles; this is partially due to Ohio's historic production of sweet wines, hybrids and wine made from fruit that could be riper. I have come across four types of wine consumers.
1. Open-minded customers, who taste the wine and have no built-in prejudice against "Ohio wine". They appreciate the enormous dedication of the winegrower to the vineyard, the potential of our world-class unglaciated limestone site draining to the Ohio River, and our passion to produce world-class wine, 12 hours a day. 7 days a week, except in January/February, when the vines are put to bed. These customers have great experience and palates and are judging the wines on their own merits.
2. Sweet-wine lovers. Some of these, who usually say " I only like sweet wine", will taste our reds and say "This isn't so bad, this is better than I expected!". Because we pick our grapes fully ripe, our reds are not tannic and mouth-puckering.
3. Customers, who, if they tasted the wine blind, would rave about it, but when they know it's an Ohio wine, they are prejudiced. And customers who won't even TASTE the wine (on their way to the $70 Cabernets!) I'm sorry but it's true! We are trying to change that. A 90+ rating in the Wine Spectator would go a long way. Our 2003 Viognier/Roussanne blend was rated one of the Top 100 Exciting New Wine Finds in the world in the 2006 Wine Report by Tom Stevenson, international wine writer.
4. Some potential wholesale customers think of us as "just another distributor" and don't wish to dedicate any time to connect directly with an owner intimately involved in the production of the grapes and the wine.... and owners who care about customer service. I do understand that restauranteurs are very busy and under a lot of stress, and there are many reasons why a restaurant cannot see one more person; but if you have a niche on your wine list for a well-made Ohio wine, we'd love to see you. There are some fantastic distributors in Ohio, but some not so good, who have "feet on the street" with very limited knowledge of fine wine production. Unlike a distributor, I only have a new wine to sell three times a year... May (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc), July (Viognier/Roussanne), September (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc). We greatly appreciate the ones that have supported us, and they have had excellent success with their purchases.
This week I gleaned the vineyard and made some white vinifera jelly. Good with southern biscuits and unsalted butter... not for a peanut butter sandwich!