Support Hurricane Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico w/ City Winery

Puerto Rico_rotator

On January 29, City Winery’s sending 125 of our management to Puerto Rico, spending two days in the middle of the island, where we’ll work with farmers to rebuild their property. This includes planting seeds, removing debris, and rebuilding barns, sheds, and farms. Hurricane Maria took a horrific toll and decimated the agricultural industry, which normally acts as the main food supplier for the island.

Chef Cuevas of Restaurant 1919 and the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel acts as the leader in the farm to table movement in Puerto Rico and is collaborating with City Winery to help those in need.

The City Winery employees will be making the trip with duffle bags filled with supplies. Thanks to American Airlines, who will be waiving the excess baggage fees, the company will be able to bring necessities including ground coffee, shovels, extension cords, dehydrated milk, and much more.

To supplement the rebuilding efforts, City Winery will be leveraging its extensive customer-facing business with a campaign to help raise additional funds, allowing the company to bring much needed cash down for distribution directly to the farming and food-creating community.

With over 300,000 email subscribers and a strong social media presence, the 125 managers participating – separately from the campaign – are striving to raise over $250,000 between now and their departure.

Would you be willing to help support by donating product or funds
? We are looking for partners that can offer supplies, cash, and support in our efforts to continue to rebuild Puerto Rico. In return, we will make sure your brand is mentioned on all materials sent to the media and we will have photographer (Getty) documenting the entire effort and you are welcome to use those as you wish. Our PR team can also connect and collaborate with you directly as they will be doing appropriate outreach.

We’re doing boots on the ground efforts to help those affected, and together we’ll make a real difference, please join us by donating at http://www.citywinery.com/puertorico or emailing us at puertorico@citywinery.com

Manhattan’s Only Crush

This time of year is always a busy one at City Winery. Summer is over, and the crowds return to the city, the holidays are just around the corner and with thema flurry of events, and, most importantly, it’s harvest time. This past Sunday we received our third shipment of grapes, about 6 ½ tons of Syrah and Viognier grapes from Alder Springs Vineyards in Mendocino, California. The grapes were picked in the middle of the night when the grapes are at their coldest, driven in refrigerated trucks by two drivers (so the truck never stops) and arrived at our back doorstep here in Manhattan. The grapes we’re greeted by a crew of winery staff, loaded onto a grape elevator, called a “giraffe,” and dropped by the cluster into a destemmer. From there they traveled onto a sorting table to be examined by at least six pairs of hands and cleared of any “MOG” – Material Other than Grapes – stems, leaves, or the errant bad grape. Once the winemakers were sure the grapes were ready, they were dropped onto another giraffe and into the fermenting tanks, where they began the maceration process. With this batch of grapes the winemakers are using a classic technique that most likely originated in the Northern Rhone region of France. They combined 90% Syrah with 10% Viognier– the former being red grapes and the latter being white. It may seem strange to combine red and white grapes, unless you’re making a “blush” wine, but the winemakers had a very particular goal in mind. Syrah grapes themselves are very thick skinned and dark red, creating a big, masculine and tannic wine. By adding Viognier the winemakers are able to create a more mellow wine with lower tannin, and some floral, feminine notes. In the end, we will arrive at a deep red wine full of complexity, but without the possible jarring aspects of a Syrah macerated and fermented on it’s own. These grapes will spend about four days soaking and becoming juice before fermenting for two to four weeks, followed by aging, which can take anywhere from seven to eighteen months. In the meantime, as we wait for this year’s grapes to become wine, we are reveling in current triumphs. City Winery was most recently recognized for its 2012 Reserve Chardonnay from Scopus Vineyards in Sonoma, California. The Beverage Testing Institute awarded a Gold Medal and 93 points to our Chardonnay, which they described as “a fantastically flavorful chardonnay with great structure for the table.” As harvest comes and goes and new grapes begin their journey, it is always a proud moment to know that once they reach the glass our City Winery wines will prove that all this hard work does not go unrewarded!

The Beast – Our New Press

As mentioned previously, our first shipment of grapes this fall was accompanied by our new 12hl (317 gal) press, affectionately known as the Beast. Well, last week we let her loose. She is more than double the capacity of our old press, and with the ability to be programmed, the operator is now free to press more grapes, rather than buttons. Pressing grapes is actually a complex, multi-step process. It must be done very slowly, building up pressure gradually so that juice extraction is maximized. With each stage of the pressing, there is an interval of relief to allow juice to flow through open channels in the pomace. Without this, the channels would close and much of the juice would be trapped in pockets. Our current process builds up hydraulic pressure in 10 bar increments (one bar equals one atmosphere, or 14.7 psi). We go up to about 90 bar this way. This is actually the pressure of the hydraulic fluid, not that on the pomace, which tops out at around 4.5 bar.

The first step is to bleed juice from the tanks beginning the day before, so that when the door is opened, there is not a gushing flood. The wet pomace is then shoveled out of the tank into half-ton bins that can be moved by pallet jack to the loading dock. The empty press basket is removed from the press by forklift and placed just below the loading dock to be filled. After pressing is complete, the process is reversed: the dry “cake” is removed from the basket and shoveled for a third time into composting bins. The pressed wine is divided into two parts: light press and hard press. Usually, only the light press is aged in oak barrels. If you look in our barrel cellar, most of the wine from each vineyard is marked as “FR” for free run (the wine which freely flows out of the fermenter during the bleed) and “LP” for light press. The hard press is stored in stainless steel kegs and used for a variety of purposes.

Use of the Press Wine

As you might expect, the press wine is rich, dense and as Robert Parker might say, “backward”. It lacks the aromatic complexity of the free run and is fairly harsh and unbalanced all by itself. It is also slightly sweeter than the free run. Some of the sugars locked up in the pulp are released by pressing, and often the press wine will resume alcoholic fermentation until this residual sugar is consumed. The dried pomace has some alcohol left in it as well: this can be distilled into Grappa or the french l’eau de vie de marc most notably. As our wines are aged in oak, they are constantly evolving. Our head winemaker, David Lecomte, monitors each wine assiduously in barrel right up to bottling. Sometimes press wine is added to the free run if he wants to add a bit more depth or structure. Various combinations are tried until his palate is satisfied with the final result. Care must be exercised because adding too much of the press wine could produce harsh tannins and reduce acidity. This is where a winemaker’s talents play a critical role. Only after many years of experience can a winemaker taste a immature barrel sample and know what needs to be done in order to achieve a final result that is worthy.

Check out the gallery below for illustrations of the various steps mentioned above:

 

Our Big Crush Last Weekend

Close to one-quarter of our entire fall harvest arrived last Saturday. Needless to say, it was a long day for us, but it was also filled with high expectations. We were not disappointed. The grapes arrived in top condition ready to fill our hungry tanks. In the Pinot Noir department, we received grapes from the Bien Nacido vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley and the Bacigalupi vineyards in the Russian River. Petite Syrah and Zinfandel arrived from Lodi as well.

Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton delivered pallet after pallet of grapes to the loading dock where Sikou Nakate and his trusty pallet jack were waiting to lift and pull each one-ton stack to the loading station. In the case of the Petite Syrah, whose clusters tend to run somewhat large compared to other varieties, the stems had to be snipped into smaller pieces so that they would go through the destemmer properly. Working in shifts, the sorting table was kept busy all day long, with only short interruptions in order to move from one tank to the next. Purple hands and sticky fingers were in abundance.

With our second crush of the season now finished, three-quarters of our fermenters are already full.  It is now up to the hard-working yeast cells to transform all that sugary must into wine. We tend to them day and night making sure they complete their important task on schedule. This means regular pump overs, punch downs and temperature regulation. Our lab technicians are busy monitoring the progress and if all goes well, we will start to press and barrel down during the next two weeks. As you can see, timing will be very important so that tanks are available for more crop as it comes in. We are excited about breaking in our new press that will make this process more manageable. Stay tuned for updates.

 

 

World’s Fastest Winery

Last Saturday we had one of our largest crushes ever — 20 tons of grapes! Thanks to our dedicated members, staff and friends, it was processed in record time without a hitch. In fact, they managed to sort the grapes with such precision and care that David’s high standards of winemaking were held in the highest regard. In the time lapse video below, you will see most of the day’s effort compressed into two and a half minutes.

 

The World’s Fastest Winery from Hank S on Vimeo.

 

First Crush of the Season: 2012 Carneros Vineyards

This past Sunday we arrived in the pre-dawn hours for our first crop of the season: 6 tons of Pinot Noir grapes from Carneros. Within the Carneros AVA, these grapes were harvested from two vineyards: Poseidon and Beckstoffer. They were in excellent condition and the sweet aromas made us feel like a part of each vineyard came with them! As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes on this quiet Sunday morning and felt the warm, bright sun shining on the pallets loaded high with moist grapes, you might have thought you were in the middle of a vineyard.

This delivery was more than just grapes, however. It included our new 5-ton press: we call it the Beast. It will allow us to dramatically increase the amount of grapes we can press in one day. Pressing is actually one of the most time consuming and labor intensive procedures. With our old press, which was quite a bit smaller and not programmable, it would take much longer to press a tank than to fill it with the crush. Below you will find our gallery of photos from the day.

 

Torbreck Wine Dinner With Winemaker Dave Powell

 

 

Last night City Winery hosted the irrepressible Dave Powell, owner and winemaker at Torbreck.

Here is Dave speaking  on the style he’s going for with his Woodcutter’s Semillon and Roussanne/Marsanne/Viognier whites: “I like wines with acidity and cut, not fat and flabby wines. Having just passed my 50th birthday, I can see fat and flab in the mirror anytime I want, I don’t need to see it in my wines.”

 

The Grapes are Coming! The Grapes are Coming!!

Poseidon Vineyard-Pinot Noir 2012

 

As I sit here at my keyboard in Soho, our first crop of the season is being hand harvested at the Poseidon Vineyard in Napa. These luscious Pinot Noir grapes have reached the point of optimal ripeness and will soon be on their way to City Winery. The small yellow bins that you see above will be stacked high in a refrigerated tractor trailer and covered with a protective blanket of argon gas to retard oxidation. If all goes as planned we will have them in our hands this Sunday! Six tons are expected and will make for a gentle opening to our fall crush (We have been known to crush as many as twenty tons in one day!).

The Poseidon Vineyard, situated in the Carneros AVA at the northern end of San Francisco Bay, was first planted by the Molnar family in 1973 where the cooling winds from the Pacific temper the summer heat. This maritime climate is ideal for growing Pinot Noir grapes so that they ripen slowly and develop phenolic ripeness at the same time as sugar ripeness. Phenolics are a vast group of organic compounds that are responsible for the color, tannins and complex flavors found in wine. Over the years, the quality of this vineyard has been so remarkable that many of the big names in Napa purchase grapes from it, including Joseph Phelps, Heitz Cellars, Sterling, Pride Mountain, Acacia, and Mumm (The PinotFile, Volume 9, Issue 11, September 11, 2012).

Those of you who read my last post know how busy we have been preparing the winery for the biggest crush of the year. Time is of the essence so that when the grapes arrive they are crushed and placed into fermentation tanks without delay. Today we finished cleaning and reassembling our conveyors and made sure the tanks are fully cleaned and sanitized. As you can see below, these are big tanks (6,500 liters or 1,717 gallons) and require a person to actually get inside to do the job thoroughly.

Sikou Nakate preparing to clean one of the 6500 liter fermenters

 

Cleaning a stainless steel fermenter in preparation for Sunday’s crush

 

Work schedules are being drawn up and provisions made to have the fermenting juice, pulp, and skins, aka the must, attended every day from early morning to late at night. For the next two weeks or so, it will be like incubating very precious farm eggs: keeping the temperature just right, making sure there is proper ventilation (or circulation in this case), and constantly monitoring the development. And this is only the beginning of what we hope will be our most phenomenal harvest to date!

 

City Winery Wins 5 Awards at San Francisco International Wine Competition

San Francisco International Wine Competition

City Winery recently entered various wines to be judged at The San Francisco International Wine Competition, which is one of the most prestigious international wine competitions in the nation. This summer the event was held at the distinguished Hotel Nikko downtown San Francisco, and the panel of judges comprised of the leading wine experts in the country.  The competition, just celebrated it’s 32nd anniversary of judging and awarding wine excellence saw over 4500 different wines from 26 different states and 29 countries.  There were many different categories of competition, including the “Best in Show,” “Portfolio of the Year,” “Winemaker of the Year,” “Winery of the year,” “Best of Varietal,” and the “Best of Nation.”

City Winery is very proud of our winemaking process, where we source our grapes from some of the finest vineyards in America as well as the world renown Catena Vineyards in Agrelo, Medoza Argentina. Because we are a winery in the middle of the city we have great resources to bring the most elegant and bold flavored fruits to our dining tables. We are pleased to announce that our 2010 Kosher Syrah Mendocino was awarded with a gold medal, and 4 others came back with silver and bronze medallions. The silver award winning wines included our 2009 Cabernet Franc, known for being a tannic and powerful wine which has a distinct taste of dark berries, and our 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Bronze medals were awarded to our 2010 Pinot Noir and 2009 Syrah. We look forward to another year of continued wine making success, and sharing our love for making fine wine.

 

ALL HANDS ON DECK! Preparing for the 2012 Fall Crush

As August draws to a close here at City Winery, word is arriving that our fall crop is going to be extraordinary this year. The growing season in California has been nearly ideal so we are expecting to have our fermenters filled to capacity in the next few weeks. Crushing up to one hundred tons of grapes takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears so we reach out to many of our staff, members and friends to pitch in. In other words: ALL HANDS ON DECK!

The work itself is quite exhilarating for those who appreciate the art of winemaking. Seeing the freshly picked grapes as they arrive opens a new window into the enjoyment of wine. Suddenly you make a direct connection between these luscious, aromatic fruit and the flavors that make wine such a distinct and delightful experience. Tasting a Pinot Noir grape and comparing that to a fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grape immediately reveals the source of their differences. The Pinot Noir’s bracing acidity and crispness contrasts with the thicker-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is rich and chewy.

But the real miracle is to witness the transformation from juice to wine. The combination of crushed grapes and juice, known as the must, begins it’s metamorphosis as a beautifully sweet and intensely flavored mixture. As the yeasts begin their work, the sugars are replaced with a complex variety of compounds that add a wide range of new tastes and aromas. Gradually the must becomes more wine-like over the roughly two-week fermentation process. During this period, the must is tasted and analyzed twice a day in our lab. Adjustments are made in order to insure the best possible outcome.

The preparations for the crush are moving into high gear. The fermenters need to be thoroughly inspected and cleaned, as do all the conveyors, destemming machine and sorting tables. Pumps, hoses and fittings are being put in order for managing the must. New barrels are being acquired and must be tested for leaks and other imperfections. Existing barrels are undergoing a thorough inspection, then washed and set in racks for receiving new wine. Our basket press will be taken out of storage and similarly prepped. Once a crush begins, there are no timeouts, so everything must be in near perfect working order. In the event of an equipment failure, we review our backup procedures. As they say, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the order of the day.

The winery is a hub of great activity and anticipation as we strive to improve every aspect of vinification each harvest. David Lecomte, our head winemaker, is never satisfied with just maintaining the status quo, no matter how diligent. We have been upgrading and intensifying our laboratory analyses with new staff and protocols. This will allow David to prevent or more quickly correct any must issues before they cause a wine fault. A week ago we received a new bottling machine that will allow us to substantially increase our capacity. This is important for the harvest because it will free up barrels and rack space as the aged wine can be put into bottles more quickly.

September marks a new beginning for City Winery with its sister facility in Chicago now open and ready for its first harvest. Together we watch the ripening grapes in California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere with renewed excitement. With our combined knowledge and experience, this fall offers us an opportunity to make the best City Winery vintage yet.

CHEERS!