Monday, December 29, 2008

2006 Proprietor's Reserve Zinfandel-91 pts WS

What more can be said but JOB WELL DONE to Kerry and Dan. Wine Spectator scored our 06 PR Zin- 91. Let me reiterate that we don't normally submit for scores but when Wine Spectator requests specific wines-you honor that request period. We're quite pleased about this score and I'm proud of the winemakers. Only one thing to say-sorry but we just sold out last week. As Kerry and I have said, the wines keep getting better so enjoy the 2007.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Blending with Kerry

To know Kerry and me is to understand that we have lives that are run by our calendars. I look forward to the appointments where I have the opportunity to blend with Kerry. What can I say but it's one of the best parts of my year to spend time with the winemakers and work towards a finished product that our consumers will hopefully love. Kerry, Dan and I just finished our blend session for the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and 2006 Taylor Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Let me try and be neutral but the Taylor is really going to be good. Not to tough to say when I love the 2005 vintage. During the session, the winemakers try blends that can range from 22% to 25% and will vary the acid too. Yep-all were very different and I know no one in their right mind feels sorry that I have (get) to taste all 20ish blends. Finalized the blend at 75% Cabernet and 25% Syrah. The 2006 Taylor is small production for us but it's really good. Love seeing the excitement of the Winemakers when they settle on the final blend and then say " each vintage keeps getting better".

The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is fun. It's our wine that really showcases the blending concept here. Every vintage the blends really do change. The 2007 doesn't have the Roussanne like the previous vintages. We just weren't able to find the quality grapes so we weren't willing to compromise the wine. 2008 has all three of our blenders (or spices as we like to refer to them). The Roussanne, Viognier and Semillon blended into the Sauvignon Blanc. I'm going to keep the blend percentages a secret just to give everyone something to look forward to tasting. I always enjoy hearing how every ones palate is so different. Some notice characteristics that other people don't etc. What eventually happens is our customers have conversations about what they taste with each other which results in an educational experience for my staff and I. It's one of the best ways for my staff to grasp what the Sauvignon Blanc is all about.

I look forward to these wines being released. April looks like the month for the Sauvignon Blanc and may be April/May for the Taylor. Stay tuned for further updates.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Problem Solving Bottling Issues

In a perfect world, all necessary pieces to the puzzle would fall in line as we approach bottling. That is not reality when you produce wine. All wineries face one issue or another during bottling and they seem to arise when we think we have all bases covered. We use a mobile bottling line so we don't face all the mechanical issue that reek havoc on wineries with there own bottling line. That can be a nightmare but on the positive side, they have more flexibility with timing for bottling.

We ran into our November issue with the labels. Yikes to say the least. Bottom line is that we bottled shiners. Now for those of you that are not aware, we are in the process of improving our look. This bottling would have had the new look for labels and capsules. Well, labels were not ready to go but our wine and bottling was. What is a girl to do?! We bottled 3400 cases of shiners! The wine is great but unfortunately our bottling is not done. This means scheduling a mobile truck to label the shiners at our warehouse in January. Not only is it staff that we have to send off site but it adds significant cost to our bottling expenses.

My problem is reallocating funds from another area into our packaging budget. Adjustment will need to be made in spending for the winery. It's not just a simple solution of increasing prices to offset the additional costs. Our prices have been set based on numerous factors (grapes, barrels, labor contracted packaging costs etc)-not costs of mistakes. Not happening here at Dutcher Crossing. Not the correct thing to do with our wine club family or loyal customers. Our customers understand increases in price based on normal increase COGs but we'll tighten our belts in other areas to get through our additional expense.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holidays and Chardonnay

My TR Assistant Manager, Sam, and I were working on a special flight which led us to tasting our Chardonnays. For me, Chardonnay and holidays go hand in hand. Quite honestly, I tend to drink more Chardonnay during the holidays then any other time during the year. While I can't say I'm partial to one over another, each has their place with meals and special occasions. I'm still drinking 06 Stuhlmuller and 06 Costello and enjoying those to the fullest but as Sam and I tasted the 07 vintage from those vineyards on Friday. I have to say, they were REALLY good. We made the choice not to pour them as they are still young but I am going to rethink that now. I have to tell you -our new Russian River 07 Saralee Chardonnay is a shining star for being a first release from that vineyard. It's one of those things that just makes an owner smile. Who wouldn't when the better wines are created every year. We've even converted some "I only like Cabernet Sauvignon"drinkers to add our Dutcher Crossing Chardonnays to their cellars. That's a great way to start the holidays.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taylor Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Earns 90 pts!

Good news for Dutcher Crossing and congrats to Kerry and Dan. Our 05 Taylor Reserve earned 90pts for Wine and Spirits Magazine. As a rule, we don't chase scores or even medals with our wines. We carefully select what wines we would like to submit and to whom. There are a plethora of theories regarding scores but each winery needs to do what works for their business model. I'm quite proud of the 05 Taylor Reserve and the job well done by the winemakers.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Proprietor's Cabernet is Finally Released

The long wait is over. The 06 PR Cab has finally been released. It's a difficult decision to make as to the release of wine and to be honest, it's something I struggle with from time to time. While I have the understanding that DC wine club family members are knowledgeable about the blend and how it develops, it is difficult letting it out of the chute when it's so young. As all of us have heard many times, you only get one chance to make a first impression. With that being said, what is the first impression we give about the PR Cab when it is so young and for many people, it's their first experience with a good Cab/Syrah blend.

That's where my winemakers come into play. Their passion for Syrah and blending it with Dry Creek Cabernet is contagious. As a long time Merlot fan, I have been a little partial to Cabernets that have some Merlot. Let's be honest, for many of us, Merlot was our first experience with red wine. Plus, our first quality Cabernets we encountered were most likely a Bordeaux blend from France. How many of us really had much experience with the Aussies style reds until the recent decade? Not many as Australia has really starting to come into their own over the last 10 years. So maybe I'm partial to our Cabernet-Syrah blends because during my time searching for a winery, I had Aussie consultants. But those Aussies love much more than just Syrah (Shiraz)! They get the concept of making food friendly wines which is what we love to do.

My staff does a really nice job educating new people all about the Cabernet-Syrah blend and why we do it. Not only is it important for the Dry Creek fruit we use but the Syrah soften the Cabernet and helps to create food friendly elegant wines. I think we have a good product with our PR Cabernet and it's rewarding to see people enjoying the wine even when it's so young. We hear more and more comments stating that they could drink it with almost any food. Our key seems to be that we work hard on educating the consumer on all aspects of each specific wine and that allows them to understand our young wines. If we do the work we need to, we should be able to overcome releasing a little early.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Syrah-Is It Really Misunderstood?

As our Rhone Ranger event approaches, Syrah has been a hot topic. The question is-How does the wine consumer perceive Syrah (or the unknown Rhone varietals)? Wine stores and restaurateurs have very different perceptions. Wine stores have growing difficulty selling Syrah vs the restaurateur finding Syrah to be a good seller. Does the ability to pair wine with food give the advantage to restaurants? Yes! The Rhones are food friendly wines but what can the industry do to help bridge the gap between the different points of sale?

The Rhone Ranger event has the distinguished honor of Barbara Hom-CIA and Gary Saperstein-The girl and the fig as a panelists. During our pre-event tasting for the seminar, they touched on this very topic. They both enjoy pairing food with Rhones and find them well received by their consumers. Does this allow consumers the chance to side step the intimidation factor they may feel when they come face to face with Syrah or uncharted waters? Personally, I believe so. I have a difficult time purchasing wines in stores that I haven't tasted especially when I'm unfamiliar with the blend or varietal. I don't drink a lot of Marsanne/Rousanne straight so I tend to not be daring/adventurous and purchase a bottle. I have the confidence that restaurants knowledge regarding their food and wine list that I always take the suggestions from the wine director and go out on a limb trying unfamiliar wines and brands. I guess the big question would be why I don't always take wine store employees suggestions to heart. There are some that I have great relationships with the managers and I do take their advice with no hesitation. But then again, I know they suggest wines they are very familiar with. Unfortunately, not all employees have the luxury of tasting all the wines that pass through their doors. Maybe wine shopping is like shopping for jewelry-one needs to build a relationship with company before you really turn to them for advice.

From the boutique wine owner point of view, I always want the consumers to come to the winery personally for purchase. For DCW, we know our product better than anyone. My staff understands our wines because they experience the product start to finish. Our education starts with staff learning about the vineyards, tasting fruit during different stages, tasting fruit when we bring it in for harvest. My winemakers take time having staff try the wine when it's juice though the stages of fermentation and while it's barrel aging as well. They really absorb what Kerry and Dan are trying to express in the fruit. Having access to winemakers that are willing to explain/education makes all the difference. Our DCW wine club family and customers buy our Syrah and Petite Sirah because they trust our advice. We sell our Syrah because we had the opportunity to turn on people to something they normally would not try unless they are in the right situation. Our customers are given suggestions of how to enjoy the wine with food pairings. They start of on the right foot with a Syrah experience which is enjoyable. That helps develop the passion. We all can remember not liking certain vegetables we hated as children but eat now. Maybe our early dislike of them had to do with the way they were prepared or with what they were paired with.

Bottom line until our discussion happens, it is the winery's responsibility to educate everyone who sells their wines. Too many times Syrah and other small lots wines get lost in the shuffle. If a winery makes it, they should be just as proud and excited about that product as the traditional wines such as Cabernet or Chardonnay. How we go about getting everyone up to speed about Syrah and Rhones is another problem. DCW, along with 21 other wineries, is trying to break through the unknown with the launch of the North Coast Chapter of the Rhone Rangers. Our seminar has as many participates as our general tasting. That goes to show people want to learn so they can enjoy wines they have been missing out on.

Monday, October 20, 2008

End of an Era for Our Old Vines

It's the end of an era for our old vines and I have to tell you, I'm sad about seeing them go. Even though I only have that a short time to spend with them, it's difficult to see part of our history being ripped out of the ground. 33 years is a long time.

We have made the right business decision for the winery regarding the change. It would have occurred whether we were here or not actually. Jim and Bruce had it in their long term plans to rip and replant. There was nothing wrong with the vines with the exception that they were growing older and the production was decreasing every year. But that doesn't make it any easier.

They have helped us produce gold medal winning Proprietor's Reserve Cabernet. We have used them as part of our educational program and to be honest, it has been interesting to be able to see first hand how the wine industry has changed over the years with respect to planting of vines. But those fans of Proprietor's Reserve Cab-DON'T WORRY. We have Cabernet planted in the vineyard and as Kerry said to me-"Wow, our PR CAB won medals for us already. Can you image how yummy it will be with better clones?" With my Winemaker enthusiastic about the direction of the vineyard, wines and everything that is happening, it helps re enforce that fact that we are taking the steps in the right direction.

Dutchess seems to be the one that is taking this the hardest. It was her favorite place to run though the vines and chase bunnies. She doesn't understand what they are doing to our hide and seek area. She'll come around when she sees them cut the vines down. Doggie heaven for her as she adores big sticks. For those of you that want a vine as a remembrance, give us a call and we'll put one aside for you to pick up.

Monday, October 6, 2008

People Within The Wine Industry

It's been over a year and a half since my purchase of the winery and there has been one standout occurrence that has happened-the help I have received from several other winery owners and people within the industry. I knew that many people out in Wine Country were helpful as my Dad and I had experienced that during our search. It really is a different concept to get my arms around. I understand the neighborly aspect as I grew up in the Midwest. You always offer help, check in or simply help someone to their car. But as a whole, business owners are friendly with each other and work together on community projects but it's rare to take the time and answer questions from a competitor.

Maybe the use of the word competitor is the key difference. In general, we all are competitors but there are a few exceptions to the rule that view the industry through different glasses. Some of my fellow owners have extended hands of friendship but also guidance as well. They not only understand that if their neighbors succeed chances are it will help drive people to their winery as well. However, the most striking gesture is the guidance they have been willing to share with me. I have made decisions with planting vineyards, building a possible barrel building, inventory issues to shipping and compliance concerns. I have been fortunate to meet some quality people that I could turn to and ask questions. These people have been patient as they have been though the same bumps in the road as I am or will experience. They are willing to share their trials and tribulations to help me understand things more clearly as I try to make the right decision for my winery. Some of my neighbors have even gone so far as to put me into contact with someone they know will give us the right answers (even if it's not what we were hoping for).

Some of the best advice has come from sitting with my neighbors sharing a glass of wine. They continually stress to me that it's important to have patience. But to do things the way that is correct for DCW and not what was right for anyone else. Every winery is different but we can learn from each other. Sure, I want my customers to enjoy DCW wines and our experience but part of my duty to them is to make sure when they are not with us, they are having a great experience in wine county too. That's were knowing and working with neighbors comes into play.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Proprietor's Table Helps the Cause.

Kerry and I traveled back to La Crosse to host a fund raising dinner for cancer research. This concept really started when I decided to release my Dad's first tribute wine in my hometown. I knew that all the proceeds from that wine were going to Melanoma research but wondered what we could do to take it to the next level. That's when my brothers and June Gale put their heads together and suggested we make a fund drive for cancer research-and The Proprietor's Table began.

The Waterfront Restaurant was generous and not only donated their new facility but the food as well. So we had a good start and their generosity was instrumental in us surpassing our goal of $150000. Our chef, Mike Ellis, worked closely with Chef Shawn from The Waterfront and they jointly put out a 6 course meal that is still the talk of the town. The importance of the chefs joining forces is significant because the hospitals receiving the funds collaborated as well. Having people put their agendas to the side for 1 day and work together for one cause would have been made my Dad proud. Growing up in La Crosse, there were times when the two health institutions didn't always get along. To have come so far and for them to work together on 1 cause and my dad's wine beginning a part of it had special meaning to me.

200 personally invited guests attended that night. There was no ticket price nor was there a auction. We wanted people to come enjoy a part of DCW and to really get WHY we were together. Kerry and I reminded people through the night about finding a cure for cancer. My brother Steve, the quiet one, ran the program and Dr Medland spoke about cancer. He shared stories about living with cancer, having friends with cancer like my Dad and having a spouse that has cancer. Everyone in the room understood the meaning and opened their checkbooks. Of course my brother gave a little encouragement at the end but it tells you something about people. One can't underestimate the human spirit. The people of La Crosse knew they were part of something special and took it to heart. They came through when we needed them.

There is a lesson learned from this event. You don't always have to go big and over the top when you do events. You don't have to charge people to come or hit them up with a auction. Do something different and connect with people. Our guests knew what would be asked of them when they came and they didn't disappoint. I'm proud that I launch my Dad's wine in my hometown and I couldn't be more proud to be from La Crosse as the quality of people that live there showed by their generosity at The Proprietor's Table.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Harvest Report

DCW is nearing the midpoint of our 2008 Harvest. The weather changed the flow of grapes coming in but that is part of farming. It seemed like we couldn't pick the grapes fast enough a few weeks ago then the cool weather hit. Our winemakers are working incredibly hard and I'm quite proud of them. "It's that time of year-it's what we need to do" said one of DCW winemakers when I said good job for all the non-stop work he had been putting in.

To sum up some of the action, we started with a bang or maybe a burn out would be a better description. Our first day of harvest, the guys were working in 110+ degree heat and the machines were working hard. It's isn't difficult to surmise what happened next-a part of the machine broke due to the heat. Of course a call went out out for help and to get it fixed but within minutes, I had a production staff member standing on top of the press shoveling the grapes in. Grapes then started to arrive rapidly after our first day. Winemakers were receiving calls from the vineyards about BRIX-they had to go check the BRIX out and grapes were coming in on those days as well. Controlled chaos would be the description. Grapes were ripening so rapidly that it was hard to organize crews to pick for many of the farmers-everyone was picking at the same time so there became a shortage of crews to be had! Good thing my winemakers are flexible and adjust to when we can get grapes (if they come at 3 pm and they work late into the night then that's what they do). We finally seemed to get a break from the heat and we have had a slow down of grapes coming in. WHEW! This week Saralee Chardonnay, the Estate Zin, Petite Sirah and Syrah are being crushed. Some of the reds that have come in already, such as the Maple Zin, have finished fermentation and are being pressed and put into barrels. We expect the Cabernets to be arriving in a few weeks but that works well for us-we have gallons of other wine that needs our undivided attention at the moment.

I love this time of year. There is the smell of fermenting grapes in the air, tons of activity in the vineyards and the leaves are starting to turn color on many of the vines. It is very evident and real how the cycle of life (vines) is. The vines work hard all year long and what we are fortunate enough to receive is their gifts of grapes. It's a truly amazing thing and nothing I take for granted.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wine Industry and Dogs

The wine industry and dogs clearly have a special relationship. This goes back to the early vineyards in Europe where the dogs were protection for the owners as well as to scare other animals off the vineyards-a simple summary. Well, of course, it has evolved and for many of us, taken on a very different role.

When I acquired the winery, there had never been a winery dog for DCW. Now, I can't say if that was a good or bad thing but I knew we were missing a key piece to the puzzle-which was a dog. I had never had a dog but just knew it was a must for the winery. I could tell you which wineries I had visited that had dogs and which didn't. It gives a winery a different feel-a welcoming and inviting environment (hopefully). Some dogs just wander the property with the owners, some stay close to the house or office and some (like mine) can't wait to say hello.

I couldn't have speculated about how much Dutchess would mean to DCW prior to her arrival but what a magical experience it has been for me and DCW. I knew I would absolutely love my chubby fur ball but didn't realize how loved she would be by others. DCW staff are her human Aunties and Uncles and she eagerly awaits their arrivals every day. But what we find striking is our customers. They comment and wonder out loud if there is a winery dog or if they can see the winery dog. Oh course, Dutchess is more than happy to be the center of attention. All it seems to take is a sharp whistle (which alarms the unexpected) and she comes running to see a possible new friend. She absolutely loves to sit in the breezeway greeting people and really has more fun walking into the tasting room to grab some attention or taking mule tours.

It's a given that I think my dog is awesome but we have developed great relationships with other winery dogs. Now the wineries and dogs seem to be sending customers to each other. I can't even tell you how funny it is to hear people walk in and say they were just with Gus (a fellow winery dog-who Dutchess loves dearly) so they needed to come meet Dutchess. Now please don't take this the wrong way but the wineries dogs are amazing marketing tools and even better Ambassadors. They really are not "just pets". They are as much a part of the success of the business and any other component. Really amazing how their roles have changed (for some) from guard dogs and hospitality dogs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bernier/Sibary Arrive!

What can I say but I LOVE it when the growers bring in their grapes personally. Having Paul Bernier and Scott Sibary transport their grapes tells a story. They are all serious about their fruit and the relationships with the wineries. Now, many people may just assume that the growers bring in the fruit. That is FAR from reality. We are lucky. The growers we have relationships with are special and unique. Either Kerry or I are in direct contact not only with the vineyard managers but the owners themselves. We don't deal with producers that are looking to over crop the vines or that are large growers. These are special people that are hands on with their business-that's why we deal with them. Sure, there are vineyards out there that grow outstanding fruit but there is much more to it for us. We want to develop relationships with the growers. We want to be able to work with them when it comes to the fruit they are growing that goes into our product. We look for people that are interested in giving us not only the fruit but the fruit that meets our expectations. We have those vineyards/growers as part of our Vineyards designate programs. It's easy to take pride in our Vineyard designate wines because the pride starts in the fields.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Maple Grapes Have Arrived

We are in full swing at the winery and I must say-it's pretty darn fun being here at DCW ground zero. The grapes are starting to arrive quickly now as the sugars are spiking due to the heat. With Kerry out in the vineyards checking the BRIX of the grapes, Dan is directing the action here on the home front.

This week the Maple Zinfandel grapes arrived and to my delight, Bill's Block from the Maple Vineyard too. I'll get to the reason of my delight in a few lines but first things first. We were actually a few days early if you compare the arrival time to 2007 Harvest. If they had their choice it would have even been a few days earlier but the heat and scheduling of pickers delayed it. DCW winemakers were pleased with the BRIX and flavors were what we were looking for so in the final compromise, our customers should have another outstanding Zinfandel to put on the tables. I will definitely keep everyone posted on the progress of the wine during the next several months.
Bill's Block arrived as well. Good thing to as we are sold out of the 2007 vintage already-and we haven't even bottled it yet. It's our first time to pre-sell out of any wine. Makes me quite proud of my winemakers to create a wine that excites people this much from barrel. To be honest, it was nice to see the 2008 Bill's Block grapes arrive as I already have demands for it. It's a hard concept to get use to bee sold out before we even bottle the wine but gosh-what a great feeling.
Stay tuned for updates from this week as we are planning to crush several more wines.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Harvest 2008 Has Begun

Wow-a year has passed and we are harvesting again. Our first grapes (Sauvignon Blanc) arrived Thursday. Hard to believe one year has passed since I dumped the first bin of Sauvignon Blanc grapes last year. To be honest, my headed isn't spinning so fast for this harvest. That doesn't mean that we're not chasing hard-it simply means I have a better understanding that grapes come when they come.

Last year I had a hard time grasping the uncertain time table for harvest. Sure, I knew what was going to happen but the reality was, it was hard for me to learn/accept that we can't have things scheduled as I would like for harvest. We sample and sample until Kerry calls for the pick of a vineyard with 48 hour notice. I had a hard time scheduling other appointments as I was uncertain as to when grapes were to arrive and to be honest, I didn't want to miss seeing each vineyard's grapes arrive-it was my first harvest and I was excited. I'm just as excited but I understand what I need to do now with scheduling. I simply schedule all my other activities and meeting and if I need to cancel so be it. Everyone in the area understands it's harvest and don't take offense to cancellations. If I had known last year that I could have said-Grapes are coming in, I'm going to have to cancel-I would have a few less gray hairs.

This harvest has a different feel for me. I have better relationships with each grower this year. I gotten to know them and appreciate their vineyards and have developed a friendship with several. I was always passionate from the first day I started to pursue the wine industry but that passion continues to multiply everyday. I have a greater sense of pride/responsibility for each vineyard when the fruit comes in. Knowing the growers well, drives me-they have put their trust in DCW to "do right" by the fruit and their name that is associated with it. I don't want to let them down-only exceed their expectations. Secondly, I desire to have great fruit and wine for our DCW family/club members and our future customers. All of that starts in the vineyard and then crush.

We're just getting started for this Harvest. Some of the Maple Zinfandel grapes are due in tomorrow continuing thru Wednesday. Costello and Comstock are arriving this week as well. Will be a busy time on the crush pad this week. Stay tuned for updates and pictures every few days as I'll keep you briefed on our progress.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Having Fun Being Energy Conscience

OK-Who says you can't have fun and be environmentally conscience? Not DCW! We have recently acquired a Segway to travel in our vineyards. It's our way of continuing to take steps forward in becoming an energy efficient/conscience business. As hopefully many of you know, DCW installed solar panels on the winery and at the house. We just decided to take it to the next step and evaluate where we could improve our energy use.

Our mule is used two ways mainly. The most important way is our vineyard tours. Secondly, we spend time traveling in our vines and around our property for various reasons. Now, we will still use the mule for our tours as I assume no one wants in have a piggyback ride while I'm driving the Segway. But we realized that we actually used the mule chasing around the vineyard much more than once thought. We really wanted to reduce our fuel consumption. After an in depth search, we came up with two options-bicycles and a Segway. A bike is always my first choice of transportation (and if you are here at certain times, you'll see Dutchess running beside me while I bike the vineyards) but I can't say my entire staff shares that same view. Especially when it's 106+ degrees out in the vineyard. So, we've added a Segway.

Many people asked "Why and how would it work in the vineyard?". Segway makes a x2 model. Built specifically to be an all terrain product. It's tough and roughed-ready to take us where we need to go. With deep tread tires and a wider base, this allows us to travel in nearly any condition we'll face in the vineyard. Well-maybe not the current condition in our fallow field with the deep trenches. Joe and I are not that skilled yet to tackle those. We can travel 12 miles on a charged battery and zip along at speed of 12.5 mph. We haven't maxed out the speed yet as 7-8 mph feels like you're flying-we can't imagine the 12.5 mph but I'm sure we'll have a go at it sooner than later.

I'm still and always will be a bicycle girl for my preferred choice of transportation but we believe that this Segway will help reduce our fuel use. We use at least 2 tanks of gas per month for the mule and our hope is to reduce our use to max of 1 tank every 2 months. Some people may think it's too little of an amount to make a different but WE DON'T! Every single amount of conservation adds up and if everyone starts to do their part-that's when we'll start to see progress. Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone go purchase a Seway or electric car but think before you travel-car pool, ride your bike or even walk. Everything and everyone can make a difference and we need to start now before it's too late. I only have one piece of advice-DON'T LET KERRY DRIVE A SEGWAY IF YOU GET ONE-HE CRASHED OURS INTO THE WINERY ALREADY!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

July Bottling Complete

It never ceases to bring a smile to my face when I see the bottling process completed. Every bottling seems to bring about different obstacles and hurdles to overcome and my wine making team plows thru them with determination.

What many people outside the industry don't have privy to is what goes on behind the scenes in preparation for bottling. This actually is more stressful for a winemaker than harvest in general (or at least for my team). Sure, there is a lot of work that goes on during harvest and throughout the time a specific varietal and vintage is in barrel. That's part of the winemaker being an artist in my opinion. But, the crucial time is prepping the wine for bottling. For wineries like us, we create some of our blends closer to bottling (Yep, Kerry doesn't co-ferment at DCW) and make the final last minutes adjustments to the wine. I will explain at a later date the steps in detail which they go through the month plus prior to bottling but this is focus time for the guys. Blending, filtration, stabilization etc are all occurring during this time frame. They almost behave like expectant fathers the way they pace and obsess over the wine. I'm not exaggerating this as I was on the crush pad at 615am tasting wine with them. Kerry said he loves to be there as he wants to be able to make the tiniest adjustments right before it goes in to bottle-if he has too. "I want them just right" said Kerry. As the owner, I absolutely love that. I'm involved with the final blending decisions but what I enjoy most is the time I spend with them on the crush pad leading up to and during bottling. I have the opportunity to taste the wine at different stages-even more exciting is seeing them take the time to educate the staff about the wine and bottling process. They are beginning to understand the more knowledge our crew has about each wine-the more the crew become spokespersons and passionate about the products.

10 wines were bottled in July and it was unanimous that these were the best wines to date that have been crafted by DCW. Winemakers are their own worst critics so to have the guys jazzed about all of the wines is quite a feat. Makes the future of DCW only shine brighter. Life isn't always a bed of roses as Proprietor. I make decisions that everyone is not always happy about and I say "no" more than I would like but the right choice isn't always the popular one. But it's times like the July 08 bottling that make me forget the unpleasant moments. I had winemakers that loved the wines being bottled that bottling wasn't overly stressful for them (just a boat load of hard work), wines that just keep getting better and hopefully, club members that will concur with our evaluation of the wines.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Petanque Court Near Completition

Our wait is nearing the final stages. DCW Petanque court in close to competition. For those of you that are wondering-Petanque? It's basically the French version of Bocce Ball. Both the French and Italians would cringe at that comparison but C'est la vie!
One could wonder why on earth I wanted the court built. Good question. I'll give the credit to Kerry but honestly, he could not have foreseen this coming during the dinner conversation when I was first introduced to Petanque. My first month as the new Proprietor, Kerry and his wife, Daisy invited me over for dinner. They wanted to help introduce me to people in my new community and thought the Petanque league would be perfect place to start. OK, I went home thinking I hadn't understood them very well-surely I must have had too much to drink. Petanque? Well, Daisy had actually taken the time to investigate getting me involved in the league and the results were-no spots open but I could come to certain social parties with the group. Well, the year went by and I have to admit that I was chasing hard with the winery so it was a blessing I wasn't in the league. But..... this year rolled around and I spoke consistently about the league to Laura (one of my wine club members AND a Petanque league member). She helped me connect with my fabulous partner, Alain, and we are 2nd alternates in the league with our good buddies as alternates right behind us.
So with the ground work laid, I made the build decision for 2 reasons. First, it's great addition for the winery and our customers. Secondly, I needed a practice court and a place for us rebels to have our own Petanque rebel league. As Truman and I agreed, if we can't get into the Big Bouler league yet-we'll create our own league in the interim. What's not to love about the sport-drinking a glass of wine, hanging with friends and lots of trash talking and friendly competition. Last count, we have 6-7 teams ready to hang out. Come one , come all-we'll welcome you with open arms and a glass of wine.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Must have had too much wine

I must have drank too much wine prior to my nephew and niece arriving at the winery-I emptied a few barrels. William turned 19 the day before traveling to DCW so I waited until he got here to give him his gift. As our tradition has been, I always do something unique in "wrapping" the gift. Buried it 10 feet deep on a beach, hid it in cement and even did my version of FEAR FACTOR. Being a Vintner, it only seemed logical that it be wine related this year.

All that was said to him was it was hidden in a barrel on the crush pad. Now what kind of person has to drive a fork lift to find his present-MY NEPHEW! I had great laughs watching him move barrels, spin them around and peek inside the bung holes! I absolutely love the mental image of
his expression when I told him it was hidden in the barrel. Even more watching them peek into the barrels. Sometimes I'm stunned at the stupid things I think are funny-love that my niece and nephew can laugh with their Aunt Bug.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Table Turned on Proprietor and Winemaker

What can I say but Alaska rocked!

It was the Damskeys and my first time (but not our last) up to Alaska. We were approached by an association we belong to about traveling to do a winemakers dinner. OK, our first response was "where is it?" and when told Alaska, The Damskeys and I jumped at the chance. We decided why not as we had never been there and always wanted to go. Now, for those of you that have met us, you can imagine how non-stop we spoke about this trip. I think everyone we met knew we were headed to the great white way. In fact, I think DCW staff was more excited to see us go as the day came so they wouldn't have to hear us ramble on anymore.
Having arrived around Midnight (YIKES), we were exhausted but ready to go on Wednesday for our tour and dinner at night. How cool is it that a wine club member was our tour guide! Both Kerry and I taking the tour from a wine club member instead of giving one-can't say that has happened before. Lisa and her daughter Chloe were just fab too. She took us several places and didn't even laugh at us when it seemed like we had our noses pressed to the window checking out the scenery. Of course we saw some blue ice and glaciers but moose too. Finished the afternoon having lunch on top of the mountain at the ski resort. Such a nice tour with great people-that alone made our trip and we hadn't even arrived at the dinner yet.
The winemakers dinner was at a lovely restaurant called Kincaids. All native Alaskan inspired cuisine that was paired with Dutcher Crossing wines. The chef really did an outstanding job. He paired some wine with dishes that we would not have thought worked until we tasted them. He was spot on with all the pairing. I have to admit that I was thrilled no reindeer was served. I jokingly commented about having reindeer sausage the day before and didn't have a clue as to what wine would match. The WHOLE room quickly commented that our Maple Zin would work. That made me laugh as Alaska is really becoming a wine drinking state if they're pairing it with reindeer sausage.
Overall, we had an incredible time but one thing stood out the most. THE PEOPLE. Everyone we had dealings with were outstanding salt of the earth folks. That alone makes me want go visit again. Heck, Kerry and I are rarely on the other side of a tour-with Alaska folks playing tour guide, we'd happily take the opportunity to be in their hands again.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Migrant workers and the wine industry

As I walk to work daily, it continually strikes me of how the immigration issue plays an important part on the wine industry. As consumers, it's easy to not think about the migrant workers as we drink our favorite wine. I used to be that way until I started the search to find my dream winery. I gave little thought to the farming aspect of the wine industry and focused on the winemakers working their magic. Now, please don't get me wrong-the winemakers play a hugely important part and they SHOULD shine. However, they will be the first to credit the terroir,vineyard and vineyard management crews. As my winemaker, Kerry Damskey, has stated numerous times, the winemakers are shepherds of the grapes. It takes a lot of knowledge, strategy, care and hard work to create the outstanding grapes Kerry likes to shepherd. With that being said, here are a few thoughts and observations about migrant works and their importance to this industry-without going into the politics of immigration. That's for another time.

DCW has the philosophy of hand crafted wines and that all starts in our own vineyard and everyone we source fruit from. Our vineyard management crew works year round for our ranch and 5 others. It really takes a person with special drive to do this work-it's far from easy. Our crew has been known to show up in our vineyard at 5am and off they go working up and down the rows with smiles on their faces. They hand prune, tie up the vines, thin the fruit and even hand pick during harvest. Heck, during the summer, most of us don't like going outside in the 106 degree temperature and these guys are working hard outside in these temps to produce good fruit for the wine industry. I won't go into the complete details of the back breaking and hard work they do as it would make for a long blog post but let me state this one thought. They do work, and are happy and grateful to have jobs, that almost everyone of us would NEVER do.

My appreciation for their work ethic really started last summer while we were planting acres of new vines. We spent several weeks prepping the soil, plotting the rows and laying irrigation, stakes and wires-all done by hand. OK, honestly that was fun to watch part of the time and then I went back to my office. When the crew started to plant the vines, I was truly amazed. These guys were almost like machines in how consistent they were. They had a process and they followed to the letter. Our Sauvignon Blanc block was planted in 6 hours. 6 HOURS! I watched every minute of it too. The next day they planted acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on the ranch with the same enthusiasm and work ethic.

Now I bet these guys went home and told their families that the crazy new owner stood and watched them plant. Would be a logical thing to do as they were very unfamiliar with me at the time and may not have understood that I was trying to understand and learn what was happening. However, over this past year they are use to seeing me in the morning. Dutchess and I are up when the roosters start to crow and walk the vineyards. It gives us a chance to check out the vines and see what's going on in the vineyard. During our walks, we have gotten familiar with the crew. Yep-I still don't speak a lick of Spanish and it's not beneath be to gesture while I speak so they understand my questions. They have been happy to explain and show me what's happening in the vineyard. We work around the language issue and they continue to educate me. I have learned more about what's happening in the vineyard thru the crew than I have from any book.They deserve respect for the job they do and they have earned mine.

My first thought was these are men my brothers would love to have work for Mathy Construction road crews. They have the same mentality my brothers look for in our road crew. Finding people to work the road crew gets harder every year for them as many of the millennium generation can not possibly grasp the hard physical work concept. I actually think I told my brother that if he can't find road crew workers-come hire the guys from a vineyard crew.

Bottom line is we only deal with legal immigrantes-that's our winery choice when we sub-contract out the vineyard work to a management company. We may pay a little more than other vineyards but it's the law to deal with legal immigrantes and we'll follow it. I would NOT trade our management company and their immigrate workers for anything. But I do understand that the immigration policies/laws will ultimately effect our industry. We are planting so we can mechanically harvest our fruit if the time comes. Until then, we're going to continue to care for and harvest our vines by hand. The immigrantes are an under appreciated but valuable part of our industry and the production of high quality wines. I continue to be astounded by how hard they work and how difficult their job is physically. Do I worry about our industry and what will happen if we are driven to mechanically harvest? Sure I do as I wonder what will happen to the quality of our fruit. I don't care what anyone says, even the greatest winemaker can't make great wine from so-so grapes. Until the time comes for us to mechanically harvest, I'm going to continue to praise our legal immigrantes and give them the deserved credit and appreciation for the job they play in my vineyard and the wine industry.

New beginnings at the one-year mark

I've always got more to the story to tell and our winery newsletter just can't fit all of my musings. Somebody suggested a blog and I knew it would be perfect for me.

I’ve just marked a little over a year at Dutcher Crossing Winery and so much has happened. I was told by a mentor that the first year would be fast-paced with a big learning curve, but things would be different after that first year as I would have seen everything once. Well, he was correct with respect to the first year’s pace but things are always changing and never the same year-to-year. If I knew what the first year would have been like, would I have still chosen this path? Absolutely! The great things in life aren’t always the easiest. Have I had numerous sleepless nights? OF COURSE! But have I seen the wines and winery going down the right path? You bet! Heck, half my sleepless nights are purely from excitement over the wines we have in barrel. Bill’s Block Maple Zin and Bernier/Sibary Zin are tasting so great and I can’t wait to share them.

But as I said, there's more to the story....