Tom’s busy!!! I know, can you believe that?!?! And you thought that Tom just hung around greeting our wine club members and customers, sipping wine, talking about wine, blending a little of this and that, or perhaps entertaining us with some fine piano music. While he does do all those things, he is busy, and getting busier, even in these cold and short days of winter. Here at Heritage Oak Winery winemaking never stops, it goes on all year round.
Believe me there is lots to do. Tom is currently racking the 2015 red and white wines and blending the 2015 reds. Racking involves separating the spent yeast that has settled to the bottom of the barrel or tank from the wine. The spent yeast can give the wine undesirable flavors and odors (making the wine a yuck, rather than a yum). Racking is done by carefully pumping the wine from the barrel, separating the wine from the sediment that has fallen to the bottom, leaving the spent yeast behind. The vessel is then cleaned and the wine can be returned to it.
And racking is not a one-time thing, Tom does it about a week after pressing and then again in December or January, as is going on now.
The early winter racking is also a convenient time to start the blending process. This starts with knowing what was harvested and how much of each wine was produced. Then comes planning out the blends, what goes with what, on paper (lots of spreadsheets, lots of numbers), checking the quantities to make sure there is enough and then . . . going and finding the barrels (they are all numbered). Sometimes finding the barrels is easier said than done. It can involve climbing over the racks and stacks of barrels. The other day it took a couple of hours to find barrel 304 (containing Block 14 Zin Lot II). Perseverance won the day and it was finally found!
Once the barrels are found, for either process (racking or blending) the forklift comes into action, unstacking, moving, isolating the needed barrels and then restacking the others. The necessary barrels are staged out back on the crush pad, pumped over into a flex tank so the barrel can be cleaned and refilled or blended at the proper ratios to begin aging. In blending Tom needs to put on his thinking cap to decide which wines will age well together. Some of the wine, once blended, may be pumped back into an oak barrel for further development of secondary aromas and tastes. The wine in barrels may, at a later date, be blended into the wine aging in a flex tank. And again, lots of notes, lots of tracking what went to what and when — lots of paperwork. So far this year, Tom has created the 2015 Block 14 Zin, Bartlam Zin, Zinhead, Vino Tinto, Zinfidelity, Petite Sirah, Charbono, Malbec, Grenache, Zinjo, a Spanish blend, and a Rhone blend. Yum, can’t wait! The bummer in all this, as I’ve mentioned before, is we have to wait 2 years plus till we can taste the fruits of his current labors.
While all this is going on Tom is also heat and cold stabilizing the whites. Heat stabilizing is done by stirring in a negatively charged material, like bentonite (which is a clay). Pardon a little chemistry here…the bentonite bonds with positively charged proteins in the wine that can give the wine a haze when the wine warms up, giving it a cloudy look in the bottle. By treating the wine with bentonite, the proteins are pulled out of the wine and left behind when racking. Cold stabilizing is done by chilling the wine below the point of water freezing. This drops out the potassium tartrate crystals (more chemistry) that would otherwise fall to the bottom of a refrigerated bottle of wine. Tom does this so that we, all of us wine connoisseurs, don’t wonder what all that crud in glass is.
And as if all this racking, blending, stabilizing is not enough to keep Tom busy, he has begun pruning the vineyards. He started pruning Block 14 in mid-December, preparing it for the 2016 harvest even though it is the dead of winter right now. It is important to know, and Tom does, what the vines need and how they grow in order to get the best fruit and the best out of the fruit, and to prune the vines accordingly. The pruning will continue until late February (it has to be done before bud break). That does not mean the end to the vineyard work either. Weed control needs to be done (does it ever end?), removal of weak shoots, powdery mildew control, canopy management and on and on and on . . . And before you know it, Tom will be preparing for harvest and bringing in the 2016 vintage.
So you see there is never really any down time here at Heritage Oak Winery (at least for Tom) even if the languid pace in the tasting room may give that impression. So come on by, enjoy a taste with Hailey or me, and maybe, just maybe you can catch a glimpse of Tom as he darts from one task to another or settles in at the piano.
Enjoy the wine, enjoy the moment!
- Posted by Tom Hoffman
- On February 4, 2016
- 0 Comments