Tuesday
Sep092014

What Happens When Equipment Breaks?

The auger system that feeds grapes to the de-stemmer decided to quit working this morning. On the ground & ready to de-stem were 6 bins of Chardonnay grapes. Thus we witnessed the following sequence of events:

Clay standing on the bin dumper on the ready with his trusty shovel. The goal is to dig into the grapes:

Here is the dig:

 

And now a lovely shovel full:

 

And finally a perfectly pitched load into the waiting maw of the de-stemmer:

 

Six bins? Why that’s a bit shy of three tons worth of shoveling. Not a bad morning’s work, & then just as Clay finished the last shovel load, the auger came back to life. The fervent hope is that the auger will choose to continue working throughout the remainder of harvest.

Thursday
Sep042014

And More Grapes!

Today it’s Pinot Noir from the Jack Creek Vineyard, & a bit of Petite Sirah from the Kirk-Landry Vineyard.

Clay with a cluster of Pinot Noir grapes -

Dumping Pinot to the hopper to feed the de-stemmer -

 

 Jimmy with the end result -

 

Wednesday
Aug202014

The First Grapes Of The 2014 Season

I’m back after a lengthy sabbatical away from this blog, but with grapes arriving momentarily, it seems both meet & fitting that I once again enter the word fray, & otherwise resuscitate this business.

So where are we with the 2014 harvest? As noted above, today it starts, August 20, 2014. Clay Selkirk (he-who-actually-does-the-wine-work-while-I-watch) & I have been commenting on how unusually early the harvest will be this year. Yet looking back at 2013, I see that last year we actually received our first grapes on August 19th, or one day earlier than this year.

Looking back some more, I also note that we were essentially done with the 2013 harvest on September 25th, while in earlier years we typically saw a major part of our grapes arriving right on through October & into early November. In 2011, for example, we received our first grapes (Petite Sirah) on September 26th, with the last of the crop (some Cabernet Sauvignon) coming in on November 11th.

Today’s first pick of the year is Malbec from the Kirk-Landry vineyard . . . lovely dry-farmed grapes.  How does this harvest date compare for Kirk-Landry Malbec over the past several years?

In 2011 the Malbec was picked on October 3rd, October 28th, & October 31st.

In 2012 the Malbec was picked on September 9, 11, & 13, or about a month earlier than 2011.

In 2013 the Malbec was picked on August 23rd, 26th, & 27th

In the words of that squeaky folksinger, “the times they are a-changing,” or so it seems, but then weather is cynical, while climate is cyclical, or so they say.

In any event, the vines look great & the fruit tastes grand despite the very early harvest. All the more remarkable since the vines are “dry-farmed” (i.e., not irrigated), as compounded by the undeniable fact that we are in our third year of drought . . . or is it the fifth year. Can’t remember.

And here come the grapes! I must pause this writing for the taking of photos so that I can chronicle the day’s effort in film . . . bits & bites, actually.

First you have Clay, Jimmy & the grapes. Jimmy is working with us for the season:

Clay dumping Malbec into a screw-hopper that feeds the clusters into our destemmer:

 

The destemmer is aptly named because it coincidentally separates the berries from the stems. Here naked stems are seen being ejected from the machine:

 

And here you have an almost full bin of berries sans stems, with an empty bin lined up & ready to be dragged under the destemmer:

 

Six bins of whole clusters become one bin of stems:

 

Dumping to tank:

 

And that’s that, so where’s the beer?

 

Monday
Jan272014

I'M BACK!

There have been rants & complaints from the Le Cuvier Winery Staff about a distinct lack of blog postings on this site. Well, I'm back.

Where have I been? Mostly lost in that sublunary zone known as "The Ether," & otherwise on trips of different kinds & sorts, with thoughts & plans of living in a yurt along the lower reaches of the Patagonian coast. But the yeasty-beasties have been calling my name: "Johnny, Johnny, please come play." So I'm back.

But there have indeed been changes, lots of changes. Regrettably, & as many of you already know, my assistant Robin Graham left our employ in the spring of last year. Oh yes, there had been steady pressure upon him for quite some time to return to his rightful place within the family business, so Robin & his wife Susan finally gave in & moved back to Washington State from where Robin will be overseeing a rather large acreage of apple & cherry orchards running from Washington down through to Chile. The final & irresistible inducement for returning to Washington was an unsubtle aside dropped within his hearing to the effect that the family would need to provide him with his own helicopter & airplane, both essential for conducting his duties on behalf of the cherries & apples. Our counter offer, which included an old ratty pickup & a gift certificate to Marv's Pizza, did not, in the end, sway the argument in our favor.

For a guy not quite 30, the choice was obviously a torment for Robin. However, before disappeared into the sunset, he helped me grandly by spending a couple of extra months working with his replacement, Clay Selkirk. Consequently, not a beat has been missed, nor a barrel lost during the transition, & Clay's degree in the Classics, plus a total lack of education in "science," makes him a perfect fit where it comes to Le Cuvier winemaking.

To be sure, Clay, with his Biblical name going all the way back to The Book Of Genesis, is no stranger to me, & he represents a grand catch to the distinct advantage of Le Cuvier. It appears that I've known him for quite a few years, & watched him grow into the fine specimen that he is under the questionable guidance of his father, Stewart. In fact, this particular father & I occasionally meet to discuss philosophy & neuroscience at Schooner's Saloon in Cayucos, & it was during one such session that I negotiated Clay away from employment within his own family's winery, Cayucos Cellars. Schooner's, by the way, is a lovely place with windows overlooking the soothing break of ocean waves, & most worthy of a special pilgrimage.

Thus, it is that I've kept in touch with Clay's progress as the years have past into shadow, etc., & thus it is that Clay Selkirk came to be employed as Assistant Winemaker at Le Cuvier. But there's more: the Selkirk's own winery, Cayucos Cellars, has the distinction of having a tasting room on the main street in Cayucos, just a couple of doors south of Schooner's. And here's yet another bit of important information: "Selkirk" was the actual family name of that historical gentleman who was marooned on that famous desert isle, & who ultimately became the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. A brief visit with Clay's papa, Stewart, will support the vision of someone most definitely lost, so if you happen to be in Cayucos make it a point to visit Cayucos Cellars & ask for "Stewie." The amusement value alone is certainly worth the trip, & besides that, the wines are very good indeed.

However, the real reason for my absence from the pages of this blog is that I decided to finally grab the focused time needed to complete the writing of any number of stories that have been tickling my fingertips for these past many years. Word was leaked out that I was writing The Great American Porn Novel, & yet the truth is even better than that because I am, in fact, writing a novel called The Great Roach Race, which, coincidentally, is a story about a cockroach race.

 

Please understand that this is not a novel about a species of roaches, a task better suited to some Neo-Darwinist, but rather a story about a sporting event akin in style & excitement to a horse race, the only difference being that the race in my novel is being run by cockroaches rather than by thoroughbred horses.

A hundred & fifty or so pages of the novel have been written & re-written & re-written over the past several months, so the task at hand simply remains one of perseverance while maintaining a strong personal conviction that there is be a BIG undiscovered market out there for a book about roaches. I can barely stand the tension, the lying awake night-after-night tossing & turning with anticipation, waiting for that magical moment when The Great Roach Race is finally finished & ready to be submitted to a select few publishers for their honored consideration. Of course, once my opus has gone to print I will need to take time off from winery affairs for a book signing tour, not to mention additional focused time off in order to hone that inevitable acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature.

I've considered posting the first chapter or two of the novel in this blog, but so far I've not received any encouragement from the gang at Le Cuvier. Perhaps they just don't understand highbrow literature. Do you, dear reader, feel differently? Would you care to read a few engrossing words about my roaches? Let me know, & your wish will be my command.

Monday
Jun032013

Lone Madrone Blockage? June 20th Is The New Date For Their Movement

Disregard yesterday's post. Or at least some of it, because it now appears that Lone Madrone Winery is suffering from some ill-defined blockage with the result that they won’t enjoy their long anticipated movement until Thursday June 20th.  However, the new address for their new tasting room remains 5800 Adelaida Road as reported in yesterday’s blog. Said new address is directly across from the entry to Adelaida Cellars, or put differently, Lone Madrone will be more or less, or give or take, 5 miles from Le Cuvier.

Sunday
Jun022013

Lone Madrone Winery Is Having A Movement!

ON THIS COMING THURSDAY, June 6th, Neil Collins is moving his Lone Madrone winery from its current location to a lovely spot on Adelaida Road, just a few miles further west & up the road from Le Cuvier. This move will be a grand thing  because it means that Neil & I will be able to return to active collaboration on very important winemaking unknowns. 

Here below is a photo of Neil & me from a couple of years back, perhaps a few more years than a couple. As I recall, we were in the process of trying to entice wild yeast to join with us, & I do seem to remember that we were successful in that endeavor . . . 

 

And here is the Loan Madrone announcement of their move, containing within the text all of the why’s & wherefores . . . . . .

 

LONE MADRONE WILL  BE MOVING TO A NEW HOME JUNE 6, 2013

In 2003, Lone Madrone was producing just a few hundred cases of wine, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon from the YorkMountain appellation, just as we had done since our beginnings in 1996.  We were then joined in our small business by the larger than life Mr. Tom Vaughn.  Tom was keen to push us forward as a business, to grow, and grow we did!  It was at this point that we began the search for a tasting room on the west side of Paso Robles, amongst the sources of our grapes.  Out of the blue we were offered the newly rebuilt barn at Sycamore Farms.  We jumped in with both feet into this historic and beautiful property.

2013….Now I swear that if one blinks, all of a sudden you find yourself greyer, rounder, and you look more like the chap you used to work for than yourself!  It can be a touch disturbing at times.  However, during this period, Lone Madrone and Bristols Cider flourished.  We added many new wines sourced from a variety of new vineyards and from these vineyards developed many new friendships. We have been blessed with the support of these varied and entertaining fellow lovers of the grape and the plate, and together are immersed in the vineyards and culture of our homes.  To share the wines that are produced from these partnerships with all of you is the pinnacle of what we do.  We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued support of Lone Madrone and we promise to keep it interesting!

In addition to our new wines and the creation of the Lone Madrone Wine Club, this property has made it possible for a plethora of memorable events.  We have had many “Burger Sundays” with great music, corn hole and lots of wine and cold cider.  We had several Basil Festivals complete with multiple days of food, music, and a fair old dose of merriment. Of course Jackie’s Christmas dinner was again sold out before the Stilton was eaten!  In a nutshell, it’s been more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

Well now the time has come for us to move on.  Oh yes, of course we have mixed feelings, but it “tis what it tis”.  One door closes and another opens.  Recently, we were offered the opportunity to move to a newly remodeled horse barn in the Adelaide.  Now the Adelaide is my hood!  I started working at Adelaida Cellars back in January of 1992 when it was owned by John and Andre Munch (of course I was only six years old at the time but Mr. Munch could not bring himself to pay an adult wage so there you have it).  Also, Marci and I have lived on Adelaida Road since 1998 on the Tablas Creek property, where to my constant surprise and gratitude they also allow me to make their wine. 

So it fits.  The new tasting room is on Adelaida Road directly opposite Adelaida Cellars.  In fact, when I worked at Adelaida, Morgan horses lived in the barn.  Not anymore!  Gary and Wendy Schmidt are the owners of the barn and the property it sits on is called Cocavin.  Gary and Wendy have done a spectacular job of converting the barn into a rustic, yet elegant winery/tasting room.  Done with style and character that is a perfect fit for us (ok maybe a bit stylish for Neil).  WOW!  It would be quite the understatement to say that Jackie, Marci, and I are excited about the whole situation. We are jumpin for joy, giddy with anticipation and pretty damn grateful for the opportunity that has been put before us.

The work that Wendy and Gary have done and the work that Jackie and Marci will surely do will need to be seen in person with a glass in hand.  So get in the car or on the bike and get up here to see us!  The fun is about to fire up once more with renewed vigor and you may rest assured that when you come we will join in and EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY!!!               Bring it on!

Our new address is 5800 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446

All other contact information will remain the same

Saturday
May182013

This Is It!!!!

In the immortal words of the mortal pop star, this is it:

Friday
May172013

An Edwardian Flair For Hearst Castel?

This morning I finally found an exemplar of men’s formal wear that I am convinced suits my body type & disposition perfectly, at least from the photos found on line. Edwardian in style, but alas when I clicked through to the originating site it was that of the Cutler Family Funeral Directors in Lichfield, England. Though they do claim to be “full service,” the distance & water between us produces a distinct impediment. And yet, they do offer rentals for a formal occasion, but one must presume that the rental option is only available to the guests, not the principal.

A further consideration in favor of the Cutler Family establishment is that, for a reasonable fee, they will include a brace of Scottish bagpipers for the event, which in my case would ensure a grand entrance at Hearst Castel.

To be practical, however, I suppose that the search needs to continue closer to home . . . .

Thursday
May162013

Tux Redux

And still we search for an appropriate tuxedo to wear to the Hearst Castle soiree on July 11th. From readers’ comments to previous blogs about this dilemma, the votes are currently running in favor of the Pink Tux, though there was a strongly worded suggestion that I move outside of the box & procure a reproduction of the purple sequined velvet bell bottom suit Van Morrison wore in The Last Waltz. This last item, unfortunately, has sequins running up the crotch, which does not sound particularly comfortable.

There’s still time, I suppose, so here are a few more choices, though I begin to despair of ever finding an appropriate rental at the local shop that caters to those in need of a one night’s supply of formal wear.

Red sleeves & rather snappy:

 

Keeping within the red vein, something with a little more flair:

Still red, but with a distinct style likely to turn the occasional eye:

 

Moving towards that golden look, this first example would offer an air of dignity & courage due to the military vibe, though the trousers do seem a bit short:

 

And finally, something more formal in gold:

 

Please, your thoughts (& sympathies) would be greatly appreciated. Time runs short, as they say.

Friday
May032013

More Monkey Suits

In terms of what formal clothing I might wear to the Hearst Castel dinner in July (see my blog from April 30th), here below are a couple of possibilities that follow more traditional lines.

Orange is slimming, I’m told:

But I’m partial to pink:

 

What do you think, or should I continue the search?

Tuesday
Apr302013

Monkey Suit

As some followers of Le Cuvier’s doings will have already heard, we have been announced as one of two honorees for this year’s Central Coast Wine Classic, the other winery being Opus One, that little place up in Napa founded as a joint venture between Robert Mondavi & Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Good company indeed!

Unfortunately, with honor comes responsibility (I suppose), & since my partner Mary & I will be carrying the Le Cuvier “flag” (as it were) during the four days of the charity event, one of us has been told to “do the necessary to make oneself presentable,” specifically for the big poo-bah dinner at Hearst Castel on July 11th. Given that my idea of dressing up is limited to newer flip-flops & a more or less clean T-shirt, that must mean me.

Formal wear: a quick glance into my little closet shows what it showed the last time I looked a couple of years back for something formal to wear. Nothing has changed. There is still just that one suit, rather dated, & certainly tailored for my person before ongoing excess & pleasure larded me up to my present girth. If the back of the jacket & arms were to be slit open, with similar treatment to the trousers, that particular suit might just be acceptable dress for a casket, but not for Hearst Castel.

So my goal over the next couple of weeks is to post possible evening costume on this site, with the request that readers help me choose: your comments will represent your votes, & your recommendations will be duly considered by the staff at Le Cuvier who, to my great trepidation, will have final say.

A couple of photos . . . this first one represents how I feel:

This next one represents the early range of chronological possibility:

 

And this final photo carries me into the future, but would require a level of nerve I may lack.

 

As for the Central Coast Wine Classic itself, if you are unfamiliar with this charity auction event, it has repeatedly been one of the top ten charity wine auctions in the country. Quite grand. This year’s events are scheduled to run from Thursday July 11th through Sunday July 14th. And here is a link:

 http://www.centralcoastwineclassic.org/events.php

Monday
Feb182013

Elliptical Pickup Party

Yesterday, February 17th, was the day for our Elliptical Society Pickup Party, & we were (of course) only open to our Elliptical Members & their guests. Given that we are still wrapped about in the chill of winter, there was some blasphemous talk about the possibility of cold, rainy weather, but as I anticipated with fullest confidence, the day dawned sunny & warm with grandeur. All to the good, & here you have a shot of the day with cars beginning to fill the parking lot at opening time:

Some folks took immediate advantage of the sun with a glass & a view:

 

While others first chose to ranged through the wines with their paired hors d’oeuvre inside the tasting room:

 

Cheryl, who started out as an Elliptical Society member, & who is now our chef, is seen here calmly preparing one of her amuse-gueule treats:

 

And just to give you a sense of the range of treats she has created for this season's wines, here is Cheryl's menu. These are our daily pairings by the way:

 

And next you have a photo of two of the items on the menu, with a plated array of Sundried Tomato & Walnut Pesto which pairs with the Mighty Murcielago (AKA, Red Bat Cuvee) in the foreground, & then Crushed Cashews with Mushroom Pate in the beyond. The delightfully appropriate little balls go perfectly with the Enfant du Pape:

 

Next is a shot of the Open Face Roast Beef & Cheddar Sandwich being drizzled for a guest with a very special warm sauce to the pronounced benefit of the Cabernet Sauvignon, & vise versa:

 

I had planned on taking a photo of each item, but the Elliptical Society crowd grew, & grew, & grew, & I was quickly converted from photographer to dishwasher. It was a truly wonderful day . . . we had anticipated 150 or so guests, but the end count was something like 330 lovely people. Were we busy? Moderately so. Here is a shot taken through the kitchen window of yours truly drying glass number 322 for the day. In the right background you can also see Chef Cheryl groaning up at the ceiling:

 

And then there was the patio for sitting:

 

With J. Street Slim making music in the sweet, soft air:

 

And the day ends with the end, & with the sun starting to set upon a scene where the seats with a view remained fully booked: 

 

Saturday
Feb162013

Undulating Ungulates

This morning is Saturn’s day, with lowing black on black ungulates dotting the undulating green hills, a perfect cliché for sure, especially with sun bursting on the scene, & two delightful demitasses of espresso, which combined make one single cup, milk frothed to creaminess on top, & the coyotes are howling joyfully to the dawn about something most likely recently rendered. Oh, such a wonderful start to the day, especially in light of asteroid DA14’s safe passage!

Tomorrow is Sunday & the Elliptical Pickup Party. Please visit; please come, & remember that every dime you deposit at Le Cuvier goes to support this owner’s excess.

Friday
Feb082013

The Great American Porn Novel

I’ve been told by the Le Cuvier staff, repeatedly, that I am failing in my obligations to maintain a certain freshness to this blog, to ensure that it is timely, informative &co., & otherwise that I have been failing in my commitment to write a posting from time to time. Surely they are wrong, I thought to myself, but given that the last posting was from back in September of last year, perhaps they are right.

Why haven’t I updated this blog? Frankly, I’ve been very busy attempting to write the Great American Porn novel. The efforts involved are profound, & the focus required borders on intimidation as I search for & chew over each & every delicate word. Alas, I discovered that all attempts at creating my intended oeuvre by writing at home were doomed to failure for a multitude of reasons. First & foremost, every time I stick my head out the door at home, the winery grabs me, demands my attention, requires that I fix something, & the house being a mere 6 feet away from the winery means there is no escape, even out the back door. Second, my partner Mary kept looking over my shoulder as I worked on the masterpiece, & would say provocative things such as “that’s disgusting!” which only served to break my concentration.

So just about the time of my last blog posting I found & rented a charming getaway, my writer’s keep which sits atop a hill a mere three miles from the ocean. My goal has been to spend a couple of days per week writing at the rental, & this I have been doing with varying degrees of success. So the purpose of this particular posting, this renewed invigoration of the blog, is to provide you with a sense of the scope & grandeur of what has become known as “my manse up in the clouds,” & therefore I offer the following few photos for your enlightenment.

First is a shot of my writer’s residence all dappled in September’s light taken on the day I signed the lease:

Out front on my lovely deck is a wine barrel planter with a fine growth of onions & two lovely flamingos. The green of the onions are a perfect foil for the pink of the flamingos, don’t you think? In this photo you will also see club member & friend Keith (last name withheld by request) contemplating the birds:

 

Inside, you have a shot of the great hall with writer’s desk at he far end, along with a view of places to sit while contemplating the deeper meanings of life. I think that you will agree that, in the infamous words of the Dude in the Big Lebowski, the Persian carpet ties the room together:

 

Then you have a photo of the house shrine. Every house should have a shrine:

Penultimately, a shot of the inside of my larder:

 

And finally, my partner Mary on the day she first visited the manse. I can tell you, she was wildly impressed. By the way, I’ve since picked up the rake & taken down the clothesline, which refinements significantly improve the aspect of the front yard:

As time moves on I will endeavor to do a better job of refreshing this blog with newsworthy news, & perhaps with an occasional excerpt from my novel in progress.

Thursday
Sep272012

Pink Flamingos

Two lovely pink flamingos showed up a couple of days ago, & now grace our grape hopper like two guardian garden angels. Since having the lithesome birds affixed to the machine, grapes exiting the de-stemmer are markedly improved & free of MOG (“material other than grapes”).

Monday
Sep242012

Harvest Grape Bins

I thought it might prove curious to some of you if I gave you a general overview of the cycle of grape bins, that is, the typical cycle of hauling picking bins out to the vineyards & back to the winery during harvest. So here it is . . . .

Our grapes are all hand picked into what are aptly called “½ ton bins.” Not a bad name since the bins actually do hold more or less a thousand pounds of whole cluster grapes. During the course of a normal harvest, we will need to deliver & receive in the neighborhood of 160 or so bins to accommodate the 80 or so tons of grapes that it takes to produce our small yearly total of around 3,500 cases of wine.

First, we load our bins onto our own trailer:

If lucky, there is a forklift at the vineyard. In the following photo, we are dropping off bins at Jack Creek Cellars where we buy some of our Pinot Noir grapes. Jack Creek should be a definite stop for you if you have not yet been to the winery. Lovely grapes, wonderful people, & hence very lovely wines. Check them out at www.jackcreekcellars.com :

Sometimes there is no forklift. We buy a good percentage of our grapes from Osgood Farms & the Kirk Vineyard, neighboring vineyards that are both farmed by Dave Osgood. These are steep, dry-farmed & head pruned hillside vineyards that don’t lend themselves to rational use of a forklift:

Here you have a couple shots of Dave Osgood off-loading bins:

And then hand humping the bins onto a picking trailer:

Sometimes we pick up the full bins with our trailer, & sometimes they are delivered to us. Following is a lovely series of shots of Dave Osgood delivering grapes. Dave’s old yellow(ish) truck is remarkable to behold. When he drives it he describes himself as "trolling for the CHP":

And finally, here you have a still life of Dave taking his repose with a beer on our crush pad at the end of a hot harvest day:

Sunday
Sep232012

What Happens When You Catch Fire?

Our wine press is a simple machine, but with a very complex set of electro-mechanical controls. Filled with grape pumace shoveled from our fermentation tanks, the press will gently extract wine remaining in the grape skins. In our case, it’s a very gentle process from which we only get about 10% of our juice, the rest being “free run” wine which is drained directly from the tanks to barrels via gravity.

What’s neat about a press like ours is that, once the press program has been set, you can go off & do other things to help speed up the toil of harvest. The press controls allow you to set the machine to apply pressure via the virtue of an air filled bladder pressing against the pumace. Our press begins with a low pressure of 0.2 bars & then moves up through stages to a maximum pressure of 2.0 bars. For your edification, a “bar” is a widely used metric unit of measurement for pressure & is equal to precisely 100,000 Pascals. I thought you would want to know that . . . in any event, our press is European & thus speaks in metrics, but to translate for those of us who are still in the process of adopting the metric system, one “bar” is equal to about 14.5 pounds pressure per square inch, or a little less than ½ the pressure in your car tire.

Bear with me a line or two longer, & this might all begin to make sense as we go back to our wine press. So we program our press to do its initial work at 0.2 bars, or only about 2.9 pounds per square inch. That’s less pressure than your pillow applies to your face when you use it to keep the morning light out of your eyes. Very, very gentle indeed. Then we set the program to slowly increase pressure on the pomace, going up to 0.4 bars, then 0.6, after which we generally stop our press at 0.8 bars which is in the range of 11 ½ pounds per square inch, or about the weight of a cat sleeping on your face.

All fine & good, but the importance of a press program is not only in the incremental jumps in pressure, but rather in all of the other things that need to happen between each pressure jump. First, a timer tells the press how long to hold pressure while wine or juice is being drained into a collection pan. Next, a vacuum pump deflates the press membrane (the thing that applies the pressure), after which another timer tells the press how many times to rotate on its axis to break up the pomace cake before starting the next bladder inflation, AKA, press cycle. All of this is very cool, but the press program also needs to rotate the press (essentially a horizontal drum) to precise stop points for each one of the described actions. Very complicated, it is.

So what happens when you catch fire? Everything goes to Hell in a bucket, is what happens, & that indeed is what happened to us a couple of days ago. Here below is a photo of the inside of the press control panel once the smoke cleared:

Next is a close up of the disaster:

 

Followed by a photo of a much amused Rick Austin, long-time technician for Euro-Machines:

 

Then a photo of one of the control units that might require replacing . . . the fingers in view are not habitually filthy; rather, what you see here is soot from the flame out:

 

Well, it looks like we need a new control panel at a cost of about $20,000. Sounds like a lot, & it is, but a new press would cost us around $65,000 so a new panel it is. Unfortunately, control panels are built to order in Germany for the specific press, & that will take a couple of month’s turn-around, so we are stuck half way through harvest without a controller. However, Euro-Machine techs are fabulous at making things work, & they set us up with a temporary manual system. Here is a photo showing a somewhat amused Robin trying out our new system.

 

If you think back to the beginning of this blog where the automatic operation of the press is described, you might get an idea of what the little yellow box in Robin’s hands does: one switch makes the press drum rotate slowly; one switch makes it rotate quickly; another switch turns on the vacuum pump; and, the final switch turns on the air compressor which pressures up the press bladder. All fine & well until one notes that the little switches don’t have a clue of when to start & stop. That will be my job: press controler, John the pseudo-microchip, where you will find me sitting under an umbrella next to the press with beer in one hand, yellow switch box in the other hand, spending the rest of harvest telling the press what to do through every silly aspect of every mad press cycle. Surely time thus spent will be credited against time due in Purgatory, don’t you think?

Friday
Aug312012

Night Of The Goat

A couple of Saturdays ago we held our yearly Thank You party for Elliptical Society Volunteers, i.e., members who had helped pour wine at Le Cuvier events during the course of the past year. The night was somewhat of a potluck, & included a drop or two of wine, a few beers, & the music of that famous coastal band Cayucos Creek.

In addition to wine, our contribution to the night’s festivities was a freshly slaughtered & pit roasted goat. Robin Graham (he who does all of the wine work for which I take all of the credit) had gone over to some strange place in the Central Valley & procured the goat in trade for several cases of Bud Lite. The unlucky beast had been feeding on cherry culls for a month or so, & was thus quite fat & lovely to behold disrobed & sizzling over the coals on a bed of rosemary branches.

We dined in style al fresco under the stars out on our new patio. Here is a view of some of the evening’s revelers excitedly lining up for a nice fatty hunk of goat:

 

Long time volunteer Ron Rose with fork & knife, wine & goat:

Stuart Selkirk, a founding member of the band, was coincidentally celebrating his un-birthday, so a “gift” was requisite. Here he is, the man himself, being presented with our guest of honor’s head by a latter day Salome clad in Jeans, all in all a faithful reenactment of John the Baptist’s appearance at Herod’s celebration of some years ago:

 

By the way, Stuart is also owner & winemaker coeval with wife & sons of Cayucos Cellars. Their tasting room is located at 131 North Ocean Avenue overlooking the ocean (if you look out the back door) in Cayucos. Definitely worthy of a visit, both for the wines which are totally unique, but also to check out a fine level of madness seldom seen.

And now a close up of the properly garnished goat head moments before its presentation:

There was no spontaneous dancing, but lots of eating, games, & wine tasting. Here, the evening moves towards the dark of night with a fine soft wind blowing to ruffle the sprites & spirits:

 

And finally, a view of the Cayucos Creek band members. If you look closely, you can see Mr. Selkirk’s goat head looking on with delight from atop the stone wall around the tree:

Tuesday
Aug072012

Winemaking In The Shade

For mysterious & bureaucratic reasons, our building permit did not allow for the added square footage necessary to enclose and/or cover our grape crush pad. So upon completing construction of the new winery during harvest last year we of needs worked in the blazing heat, but with the bright sun baking & flashing off of the winery’s white stucco walls, the unavoidable consumption of iced beer while we crushed the grapes became a concern. Now, with the anticipated beginning of harvest just a few weeks off, we are installing a shade sail as a cost cutting measure.

The sail will be attached to the upper wall of our fermentation room & will expand over the entirety of the crush pad, & will then be fastened to the top of two newly installed columns. The columns are largish. Here is a photo of the first one being hoisted into place a few days ago:

And here it is being set into a 4 foot by 4 foot wide hole that is a bit over 6 feet deep:

 

Then pre-sun rise this morning we anchored the base of each column in concrete:

 

Column # 1 is shown here finished, but still held plumb with braces:

 

And here is a view of the crush pad with both columns complete, one on the right & one on the left side of the photo:

 

The plan & hope is that our shade cloth sail will be installed within a couple of weeks. We shall see . . . . 

Friday
Jul272012

Construction Continues . . . Alas!

I built the building we call “the Old Barn” way back around 1980, at a time when I shared this bit of land with Breezy the Horse. In 1983 the Old Barn became a bonded winery, & was the original home of Adelaida Cellars, a winery I founded & owned at the time.  The building has remained a fully licensed winery ever since. Here is a photo of the old place taken early this morning from the entry deck of the new winery, showing a concrete truck ready to dump its load:

A couple of things happened to the Old Barn over the past 30 years. First, Breezy the Horse moved a great deal of earth down against the building. Horses move lots of dirt. Sadly & ironically, earth now covers Miss Breezy who lived to the ripe old horse age of 29. Then when we did the grading for the new winery, the level of dirt around the building increased further, to the point where earth would have climbed about 3 feet up the side of the building. Rot & destruction would surely ensue, so we decided to form up a small concrete wall 5 feet or so away from the edge of the building to hold back nature. The following photo gives a sense of the wall as it was being poured this morning:

And here are Scott West & Moto grinning as they enjoying the process, which is sort of scary, given the hour of the morning & the nasty nature of concrete. I don’t know the third person:

Next week a concrete walkway will be poured between the new wall & the Old Barn, & ultimately we will probably build a roof overhang to shade the walkway & wall, & also to help modify the overall aspect of the building which my partner Mary often describes as “butt ugly . . .” A debatable matter of opinion.

So what use will we make of the old place? The Barn is highly insulated, originally having been designed & insulated to act as a freezer box for processing the sparkling wine (AKA, champagne) I made at the time. As such, it remains excellent additional storage for wine &co, & since we are once again making small amounts of sparkling wine, it could also return to its original use. There has also been some talk about acquiring a smallish distillation apparatus for the making of “West Side Whiskey.” So lots of possible uses, not least of which is its current use as a lovely, windowless place where people & other creatures can hide & chill.