Monthly Archive for February, 2012

Barrel Cleaning

This week in the cellar we’ve been cleaning barrels. Wine barrels are made of oak which is porous. While that porous quality of the oak is what allows wines to micro-oxydize and thus age in barrel, those pores make great hiding places for what thirty-one year Santa Barbara Winery winemaking veteran Bruce McGuire so eloquently refers to as “cooties”.

To safeguard our barrels from cooties between uses and promote general barrel hygiene while they rest empty in the interim we have in our arsenal the TomBeard Industries 2000 Barrel Washing System. Custom built just for us, the TomBeard Industries 2000 is the Lamborghini of barrel washers. She boasts two gear-driven, high-pressure injectors that blast 180-degree water and ozone at an impressive 700 PSI.

The Bearded Lady (as we fondly refer to her) is also a convertible capable of handling both 60 gallon barrels and 130 gallon puncheons, a modification made just for us. And she’s extremely efficient using only three gallons per minute compared to a traditional spray-ball assembly which uses fifteen gallons per minute and if left unattended, could run indefinitely.

Washing barrels is an important part of winemaking. Not only does it kill the cooties that can be detrimental to the wine, but it also keeps the wood hydrated and healthy promoting the longevity of the barrels themselves. Even when barrels are sitting empty for extended periods of time between uses, we wash them regularly to keep them in optimal condition.
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Carlos Mascherin, Santa Barbara Winery


Saturday was a Porsche Rally Day at Lafond Winery. There were dozens of these elegant cars.
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Wind Machines

Pruning is all done except for a few touch-ups and now we can have something else to worry about – frost. Enrique is checking our wind machines which are scattered about the vineyard. They are all located in the lowest part of each field. The plan is to throw up the cold air that collects in these spots by using large horizontal fans.

The air which is thrown up 50 to 60 feet creates air currents which in turn bring the warmer air from above down to the vines. Our experience last year is that it works, unless, the temperature goes substantially below freezing.

Enrique has the further pleasure of getting up in the middle of the night, when his temperature alarm goes off, and starting each wind machine. Each fan has a gas driven motor which can run for 12 hours, so if you start them at midnight they will run well into the day when the temperature warms up.

New Case Stacker

David and Bruce are installing a case stacker. The way it works is it picks up the case by vacuum suction and an extended arm lets you deposit the case on the pallet by releasing the vacuum. Picking up and stacking between 1500 to 1800 forty pound cases is hard work.

Twenty or so may be good exercise but after that the benefits kind of wear off. The machine consists of a very large and heavy post with a long extended arm, a vacuum pump and an electric panel that controls everything. Bottling is of necessity repetitive but it doesn’t need to be so physically demanding.

Visitors from Australia

Santa Barbara Winery had a group of 30 visitors from Australia this weekend. This was a group who had won, or received, a trip to California as a reward for their work at an Australian company. Beyond that we don’t know very much, other than they were very pleased to be in California and especially, we assume, Santa Barbara. Lunch was prepared and brought over by the State Street Wine Bistro. We had a very pleasant lunch.

Valentine Weekend at Lafond Winery

Mirella prepared her Special Chocolate Dipping Sauce; first melting some dark chocolate then adding some heavy cream and Honey.

It sounds over the top, and it is, but it is incredibly delicious when dipping Strawberries and sampling with the Lafond Pinot Noir and Syrah. The Strawberries, as always, were from her favorite stand, in Lompoc, fresh from the field. That is Mirella pouring.

Lise Anne and David Camping in the Vineyard

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Winter is a little bleak in the Vineyard but things are about to change.

Chocolate and Wine Pairing

Pairing of 6 wines and 6 Jessica Foster truffles. A Valentine’s day tradition at Santa Barbara Winery. Jessica makes incredible truffles and it is our job to pair them with a wine that brings out the qualities of both. Our incredible staff has been up to the task.

Topping Up

This week in the winery we’ve been topping up barrels.

While many credit the Romans with stealing the concept of the wooden barrel from the Celts and putting it to use for the storage and transport of wine, there is some evidence that the ancient Babylonians used barrels made from palm-wood to transport wine from Armenia to Mesopotamia way back in the infancy of wine itself, nearly ten thousand years ago.

Of course the benefits of storing wine in wooden barrels would have been noticed immediately. Wood is porous, allowing oxygen in and carbon-dioxide out. Wood has particular flavors that it imparts on wine as well. The arts of barrel making and barrel aging would be the next quantum leap in the evolution of winemaking.

Today wine is aged primarily in barrels made of oak which comes from France, Hungry, Slovenia and the USA. During its sojourn in barrel, wine undergoes many changes. One critical side-effect of barrel aging that winemakers must pay attention to is evaporation. While wine cellars are kept cool and damp enough to promote maturation of wine without allowing for proliferation of bacteria, wine still evaporates steadily and quickly.

In order to prevent an air-pockets from forming in the barrels and spoiling the wine, we top the barrels with wine from a reserve every three weeks. Usually one barrel is tapped and sacrificed to all the others. At the Lafond facility, two men working from opposite corners of the cellar toward the center take all day to finish the job.
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Carlos Mascherin, Santa Barbara Winery

Pruning in February

Pruning is in full swing now. Some of the younger vines in our Burning Creek block that are just coming out of the growth tubes need to be tied by hand. They don’t look like much in the photo but they will be growing vertical canes and will form spurs from which more canes will grow. Even this year these pre-pubescent vines will bear some fruit.

Once all these young vines are tied then the pre-pruning machine can come into play. The machine goes down each row, very slowly, leaving about 12 inches of the vertical canes which will be further pruned, by hand, to two growing buds. The machine chops up the canes into 2 inch segments which can be easily tilled back into the soil.

The big advantage is that the work can be done much more quickly and with a much smaller crew. The work is also less arduous, cutting and pulling canes out of the jungle of attached and intertwined canes is really hard. The other advantage is that pruning late can delay bud break and the perils of early frost, but you can’t always count on good weather, so if you start late and it rains in February and March you can’t always get into the field so that the ability to do it quickly is important.
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