May 20, 2015
Last week, I spent the day in the vineyards covering ground to cover 10 of the 12 vineyards we purchase from. A long day but good to catch up with the growers and see how they are coping with 2015. It is up to the partnership between the grower and the winemaker to overcome any challenges, as well as take maximum advantage of the best qualities of the vintage, in order to make the best possible wine. While every vintage has it's 'unique' qualities, this one has the potential to be one for the record books.
Already we have the earliest bud break on record due to a very mild winter and spring. Also, as you no doubt have heard, water is scarce and it is shaping up to be a challenging vintage for irrigation management. Water supplies are below 40% of normal and the predictions are getting more and more grim. In the Yakima Valley, which is more dependent on snowpack than other regions, the canals are currently closed for a period of two to three weeks. The real challenge will come in September and October where they are certain to close the canals early. This is creating some real challenges in managing crop load and canopy in an attempt to minimize the amount of water the vines will require during the year.
One more challenge we are facing this year is some winter damage in several spots. In particular, I looked at one Chardonnay vineyard that is being used by Array Cellars that has a significant amount of damage. Crop levels will be 3/4 to 1/2 of normal in that block if my predictions are accurate. I also saw a few examples of spring frost this year. But in general, it did not appear to be enough of an issue to significantly impact crop with proper management going forward.
In the meantime, in addition to irrigation, we are dealing with normal issues like shoot thinning, pest control and vigor. Shoot thinning is critical this time of year. Most vines tend to produce many 'non-count' shoots that clog up the canopy. These shoots, which are typically not very fruitful, prevent sunlight from getting to the fruit which is important to flavor development, especially in red wines.
These shoots also prevent sprays from penetrating and stop airflow through the canopy which increases disease pressure. Getting in the field early helps with these problems but it also makes the job easier compared to later season shoot thinning where the shoots become more lignified and harder to remove. Soon we will be talking about leaf removal which further opens up the canopy giving us even better cluster exposure.
The next big occurrence in the vineyard will be bloom and fruit set. We will have a better idea of crop levels after the little green berries are hanging on the shoots. The weather continues to be warm so I am expecting bloom will occur fairly soon, weeks ahead of normal. All this is shaping up to be an unusually early harvest. I'm not making any vacation plans for Labor Day weekend this year!
At Brian Carter Cellars, we have just two bottling's per year. Together with harvest, it is the most intense part of the winemaking process. In many ways, it is actually the most stressful for several reasons. For starters, it is the culmination of all the hard work that has gone into the wine up to that point. All the walks through the vineyard, the sorting at the crusher, the punch downs, the pressing, the barrel selection, the blending, and the topping come down to this moment. A thousand details that had to be done just right can be for naught in this final hurried process. Secondly, it is a winemaker's last chance to touch the wine. Once the cork goes in, there isn't much I can do to change the wine.
The process of bottling takes place over just a few short but furious days. It is not my favorite part of the winemaking process, nor do I think it is for most winemakers. Even though the dates have been set aside for months, everything must come together for the bottling to work. The corks, the bottles, the labels, the capsules, the truck, the labor and of course the wine, all these things have to be planned well in advance and missing any one of them, the process comes to a screeching halt.
The wine is no small part of the process, but if everything has been prepared properly, it should be a minor part of the bottling process come bottling day. Before bottling, the winemaker has to check the wine’s stability, especially for white wines which can turn cloudy in the bottle if they are not heat and cold stable. Bentonite is added as a fining agent to remove proteins that lead to heat instability. Chilling and the addition of potassium bi-tartrate (cream of tartar) gives cold stability to the wine. The decisions of whether to filter the wine or not and how tight the filtration should be are critical. Precise additions of sulfur dioxide made to each lot, too little will cause the wine to become oxidized with time, too much will cause the wine to have an unpleasant aroma. We also carefully monitor the wines oxygen, carbon dioxide and temperature.
Once bottling day arrives, the wine must be ready, the packaging materials are all there, the truck is in place, the crew has assembled, and then the real fun begins. It is hectic, it is noisy, it is mechanical, it is sometimes heavy lifting, and it is often monotonous. But the winemaker's attention to detail needs to be in top form. Are the bottles clean, do we have the right corks, labels and capsules going on? Is the cork going in the correct depth? Is the vacuum on the corker giving us the right cork pressure? Is the fill level correct? Is the capsule wrinkling? Are the labels going on straight, unwrinkled and in the right position? Is there any scuffing as the bottles go into the cases? Are the boxes labeled correctly? Are the cases stacked properly on the pallets and the pallets stacked properly into the winery? There isn't any time to relax while the line is pounding out four pallets (224 cases) an hour.
At the end of the last day of bottling, there is a big sigh as the final step in the process is completed. Time to relax, enjoy a glass of wine, and dream of more fun times in the winemaking process. Once again, it is time to get back into the vineyards, the buds are breaking!
If this description hasn't scared you off from helping out on bottling day, get ahold of Robert at Robert@briancartercellars.com and let him know you would like to come out for a day. Our next bottling is April 7th, 8th & 9th.
Director of Winemaking
This years Yakima Enological Society Platinum Awards Wine Dinner was held at the Yakima Country Club on April 11th. Brian attended along with other honored winemakers that received Platinum wine awards from Wine Press Northwest this year. Memorable highlights of this years event were two separate dinners at John Caudilll's home featuring Brian Carter Cellars wines sold at live auction, for $2,000 each.
We racked over 130 barrels last week. Brian, Robert and Dennis worked long hours to get this done.
Just to review a little winemaking 101, here is a summary of the Winemaking process at Brian Carter Cellars:
Red grapes Harvested > Shipped to winery > Grapes crushed >
Alcoholic Fermentation > Pressing to barrel > Malo-Lactic Fermentation >
First Racking > Barrel Aging > Blending and Second Racking >
More Barrel aging > Bottling > Bottle aging > Wine for Sale
The first racking does not take place until both the critical Alcoholic and Malo-Lactic fermentations are complete. The completion of these two fermentations is confirmed in our laboratory by measuring for the presence of sugar and malic acid. When yeast have used up all of the sugar in the wine and when the bacteria have converted all of the malic acid to lactic acid then the wine is considered stable and ready rack.
This first racking is essentially pumping the wine out of the barrel while leaving the heavy deposit (called lees) behind. During the process each individual lot is blended together in a tank, usually two to eight barrels per lot. We then add the minimum amount possible of sulfur dioxide to the wine to protect it from oxidation and growth of undesirable yeasts and bacteria. Finally the wine is returned to the cleaned and sanitized barrels, bunged tightly and put into the cool cellar to age.
Now is a great time for me to taste through the barrels and assess the quality of each lot. My enthusiasm for the 2014's has only grown more with every stage. Look for more reports as the wine settles down to age slowly in the barrel.
Brian D. Carter, Winemaker
Bordeaux River Cruise: A week in French Wine Country
with Paul Gregutt of Waitsburg Cellars,
Brian Carter of Brian Carter Cellars,
Chris Peterson of Avennia Winery
Join these Washington winemakers for seven nights in Bordeaux aboard the River Royale, a 130-passenger cruise ship sailing on the Dordogne, Garonne, and Gironde Rivers. This vessel sails from Bordeaux on Sunday, July 19th to Sunday, July 26th. Come early and stay late to enjoy Bordeaux, Paris, or Normandy after seven nights on the river. Explore Pauillac, Medoc, Saint Émilion, Libourne, Bergerac, and the city of Bordeaux. Visit Chateaux, tour cellars, and experience the wine that put Bordeaux on the map.
River Royale will cruise the three rivers that define the region, the Garonne, Gironde, and the Dordogne. In addition to the shore excursions and wine events provided by Uniworld, guests will have the opportunity to enhance their holiday with visits to renowned wine producers and chateaux in the area.
Extras aboard ship include a private seminar by instructors from l’Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux. We’ll also have an evening of tasting to compare the wines from the Bordeaux region with Bordeaux-style Washington Wines. You’re encouraged to bring whatever special bottles you might have found while ashore to enjoy with dinner or to taste with friends.
Opportunities exist to join small group excursions to visit First Growth producers in Medoc such as Mouton Rothschild and Chateaux Margaux. In contrast to the more established producers, tours will also be available to more contemporary wine makers in the area who are creating great wines.
River cruising is the easiest and most affordable way to tour Europe in comfort and style. Ships dock right in the heart of the towns and villages along the river. The itinerary is designed to maximize your time in each port of call.
Take a walking tour through a medieval village. Experience a winemaking course at the prestigious l’Ecole du vin. Join a small group to explore centuries old chateaux or taste one of the many “garagiste” producers that are establishing themselves in the region.
Guests are encouraged to arrive early for 2-3 nights in Bordeaux prior to sailing. The area is known for its vintages, but is incredibly rich in history, architecture, and natural beauty. Indulge yourself in additional wine experiences or tour the countryside.
It would be a shame to travel to France and not spend time in Paris. Stay three nights after the river cruise to experience the City of Lights. I have a hotel on the Left Bank near the Luxembourg Gardens that is a perfect place to wrap up your holiday.
Cruise Dates are July 19th to 26th, 2015
Tour program costs
Seven nights in Bordeaux on an all-inclusive river cruise ship, sailing the Garonne, Dordogne, and Gironde Rivers
Prices start at $3284 per person (category 3), based on double occupancy. - July 19th to July 26th
Optional pre-cruise stay in the city of Bordeaux for 2 or three nights. - July 23rd or 24th to July 26th
Optional post-cruise stay in Paris for three nights. - July 26th to July 29th
Optional Normandy D-Day beaches tour following the Paris stay option. - July 29th to August 1st
What your cruise includes:
• Seven nights’ accommodation aboard the ALL-INCLUSIVE River Royale
• Welcome reception
• All meals aboard ship
• Complimentary wine, beer, spirits, and soft drinks
• Uniworld Shore Excursions and tours as outlined
• Shipboard gratuities and Port Taxes
• Free WiFi access on aboard
• On board wine tasting and discussion
• Airport Transfers (Bordeaux Airport) on July 19th and 26th
• Access to optional wine excursions and tastings throughout the week
Paris and Bordeaux extensions include accommodations, tax, breakfast, local sightseeing, and airport ground transportation. Paris extension also includes TGV Rail from Bordeaux to Paris. Extensions are hosted by a representative of Northwest Travel Service.
Round trip airfare is available for as low as $1450. Business class options start at approximately $2800 round trip.
An initial deposit of $2000 per cabin is required to confirm your reservation.
Balance of payment for the cruise is due by January 15th, 2015.
Additional discount for check payment is determined by category. Check Discount is:
$400 per cabin category 1
$350 per cabin, category 2
$260 per cabin for category 3
Special discount of $600 per cabin is available to guests of Brian Carter Cellars.
Only 14 cabins remain available.
For reservations or more information, visit nwtravel.com. A full brochure is available by contacting Brad Cilley by email or phone at 425 313 1691 or email@example.com.
Another great harvest is in the barrel. 2014 will be remembered for starting warm and pretty much staying that way; as a result, grapes got ripe quickly. Fortunately, the number of really hot days were limited so sunburn was not a big factor, and the acid and color seemed to hold. Like 2013, we started off with a bang and slowed by October. Quantities were also good and we picked a few more tons than originally planned for.
The red wines can be described as big and showy with nice balance, good color and fairly soft tannins. Oriana has it's typical fruit driven aromas and crispness. 2014, truly a vintage to look forward to.