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Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Winemakers Share Mechanization Experiences

February 13th, 2018 by Jason Snow

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

In the most recent edition of Wines and Vines, we learn that the availability of labor is a problem that’s going to continue, according to Keith Striegler, who moderated a session about winemaker experiences with vineyard mechanization during the recent Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. Striegler, grower outreach specialist for E. & J. Gallo Winery, noted in his introduction that more vineyard operations and practices are being mechanized, and mechanized pruning, shoot thinning and leaf removal change vineyard appearance. “When you make a change in the vineyard,” he said, “you have to have a buy-in by the winemakers in the winery, or you won’t get very far.” He then introduced the four panelists, who came from different regions and grow grapes for wines with different price points. Andrew Meggitt, winemaker, vineyard manager and co-owner of St. James Winery in St. James, Mo., discussed how St. James got into mechanization. When Meggitt first arrived at St. James from New Zealand in 2002, the winery produced 60,000 cases. Today, it is the largest winery in Missouri, farming 185 acres and producing 250,000 cases, with 65% of the grapes grown on St. James’ property. The winery plans to plant an additional 55 acres this year and another 50 acres in the two succeeding years. St. James Winery began a mechanization experiment in 2004 that lasted until 2009 using side-by-side rows in a block of Chardonel grapes. Meggitt reported that initially they found some variation in the fruit, but in 2010, the vineyard crew began doing a follow-up by hand to the mechanized pruning. “That cleaned up and opened up the canopy,” he said. “The ripening zone is more even.” In 2012, the winery made the decision to convert their entire vineyard property to mechanization for four reasons: lack of labor, increased efficiency, improved fruit quality and improved fruit consistency. “We couldn’t find labor,” Meggitt stated. “Mechanization improved the timing of vineyard operations—for pruning, bud rubbing, hedging, leaf removal, shoot thinning and positioning, cluster thinning and harvesting. Our spray bill dropped 30%, because we were getting light into the canopy, and that helped with the presence of all the diseases.” All the grapes used by the winery—whether grown in Missouri, Arkansas or Michigan—are grown in mechanically manipulated vineyards. “We’re growing flavors in the vineyard and producing higher margin wines, but we’re still learning how to do this. We’ll improve. Technology will improve,” Meggitt said. “We’ve improved the bottom line for the vineyard; that wasn’t our goal, but it helps.” Check out our full line of stainless steel wine barrels.

Bringing Cooperage In-House

January 16th, 2018 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

In the latest edition of Wines and Vines, we learn that a Napa Valley winery is making their own oak barrels. Caldwell Vineyard winery is located in a cave dug in the mountains of the Coombsville AVA in southern Napa County. John Caldwell founded the winery in 1999, after selling grapes to other Napa wineries from his namesake vineyard for more than a decade. When Caldwell purchased his Napa Valley property in 1974, he had envisioned a real estate development, but Napa County’s agricultural preservation ordinance nixed those plans, and he opted to plant vines instead. A trip to France—and a visit to Chateau Haut-Brion, in particular—inspired a passion for winemaking, and Caldwell has done much to emulate the venerable Bordeaux winery. Haut-Brion has its own small cooperage, and that is something Caldwell wanted to bring to Napa as well, but it took years and only came together after he was able to find someone from the United States who could make barrels in France. Everything came together in 2014, when Herrera was able to build the first 50 Caldwell barrels in time for that year’s harvest. Since then, the barrel program has steadily increased, and the barrels are now used for nearly all of the winery’s production. Petiteaux purchases the stave wood in France and focuses on finding oak with both tight grain and exceptional grain structure. Marke said they want staves with at least 30 months of air drying. While they have enjoyed good results with wood from the Jupilles forest, grain tightness and structure is more important than forest of origin, Marke said. Petiteaux was able to purchase a log during a recent auction, and that stave wood is currently seasoning. Marke expects to receive those barrels for the 2019 vintage, at the latest. Each year, Herrera flies to France and spends several weeks at a leased cooperage space in Cognac assembling and toasting the Caldwell barrels from wood purchased three years prior. Herrera also toasts and assembles puncheons for the winery. “The big win for us is we have one guy who does all the toasting,” Marke said. That same guy is also at the winery the rest of the year to handle any issues with the barrels he put together himself. ”After he makes the barrels, he’s here,” Marke said. “He’s the one that is popping off the heads before putting in the grapes, so he’s here for the whole thing. Any issues, any leaks, he’s the guy and he’s here on-site.” It also means Marke is assured he’s going to get exactly what he specifies when he wants some barrels toasted a certain length of time or assembled in a certain way. The lines of communication are much more direct. Transitioning to essentially a single cooperage has required Marke to reevaluate the barrel program once more. “My role is to basically try and get it to replicate the success we had with multiple coopers,” he said. “It’s quite an interesting project. I’m learning more about barrels—even more than I had.” The trials are ongoing, as Marke constantly evaluates what toasts and techniques, such as water-bending staves, he needs to add to the barrel lineup to get the right mix of oak influences that match the Caldwell wines. The toasting is done over a traditional flame, and it’s up to Marke to determine what type of toasts and techniques are used. He’s working with all the Bordeaux varieties plus Tannat, Syrah and Pinot Noir. He buys barrels from a few coopers as reference points so he can decide how to adjust the Caldwell line of barrels. White wine barrels are still a work in progress. Total yearly barrel production is now around 300, and Marke admits it’s not the most cost-effective program. He doesn’t know exactly how much each barrel costs but was willing to bet it was significantly more than just buying a new, French oak barrel from a cooper. Marke said it is worth it to Caldwell to maintain the investment. “John is a guy who, when he’s committed, he’s all in,” Marke says before adding, “I’m the guy who keeps trying to hold him back.” Since the transition to estate cooperage, Marke said he’s noticed two significant changes: The barrels have become quite consistent and are also much more structurally sound. Back when Marke was using several coopers, about 10% of the barrels he used for barrel fermentation would prove to be leakers. “That was the bet John was making: If one person is doing all the toasting, it’s all more consistent, and structurally the barrels are much better.” A reminder that Skolnik will be showing our complete line of stainless steel wine barrels at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in Sacramento January 24 and 25, 2018. Visit us at booth number 1205.

Visit Skolinik at the 2018 Unified Wine Symposium

December 12th, 2017 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

Third generation winegrower and artisan winemaker Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery will deliver the keynote luncheon speech on opening day of the 2018 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium on Tuesday, January 23, in Sacramento at the Sheraton Grand. “As a member of one of America’s historic winemaking families, Gina embodies a sense of tradition, family legacy, craft and business acumen that transcends generations and inspires future growth amongst colleagues,” says John Aguirre, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG), a co-organizer of the event along with the American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV). Gina Gallo oversees the Gallo Signature Series and Ernest & Julio Gallo Estate wines. In her role, she is intimately engaged with the Gallo family’s premier estate vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Monterey counties. As the Senior Director of Winemaking, she views winemaking as both a creative expression of the land and as a demonstration of the unique qualities of a specific vintage. Her values stem from her family’s entrepreneurial history, using her experience and creative vision to craft luxury wines from her favorite blocks from the family’s estate vineyards. Gallo was a 2016 inductee to the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America. Fortune magazine named her one of the “Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink,” and she was named #17 on Decanter magazine’s “Power List” of the most important men and women in wine. She is a board member of the American Farmland Trust, which works to preserve agricultural land, and Taste of the NFL, which raises funds and awareness for food banks and anti-hunger initiatives. The 2018 Unified Symposium will again take place at the Sacramento Convention Center, located in downtown Sacramento, January 23-25. Built with the joint input of growers, vintners and allied industry members, the Unified Symposium serves as a clearinghouse of information important to wine and grape industry professionals. The Unified Symposium also hosts the industry’s largest trade show of its kind, with over 650 vendors displaying their products and services.
For additional information, visit www.unifiedsymposium.org and be sure to visit Skolnik Industries at booth number 1205 to see our complete line of stainless steel wine barrels.

What’s So “Natural” About Natural Wines?

November 14th, 2017 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

As a general rule, technology is a good thing. Right? It’s a tangible example of human’s progression— how we improve our lives and surroundings. The wine industry has certainly seen massive benefits from advances in technology. From vineyard to glass, we have tinkered with everything from fertilizer to fermentation. Adding sugars, tweaking yeast; modern winemakers work hard to scientifically engineer every step of the process. Even here at Skolnik, we seek to improve the wine production process with control and waste-reduction provided by our stainless steel wine barrels.

There has, however, been a new trend in the wine industry that rejects technology. Rather than embrace the advances at our disposal, natural wines forgo them entirely. Instead, they seek a return to simpler, more traditional times. These vineyards make wine as their ancestors once did, by merely harvesting grapes, crushing them, and allowing them to ferment. The end result is a straightforward snapshot of that particular vineyard in that particular year. It also means that any irregularities or impurities, flaws or faults all make it into the end product, warts and all.

Of course, how one defines “warts” is part of the experience. While a drinker could devalue natural wine if it’s cloudy or oxidative, another could celebrate the diversity and find their new favorite bottle among the variety of previously unexplored flavors. It’s also very attractive to anyone who is wary of all the chemicals and additives used in modern winemaking and for those concerned that we are becoming less and less attune with nature as we seek control over every single step of production.

Much discussion has been had about the legitimacy of this movement, with equal part supporters and detractors, but the biggest challenge it faces is the lack of accreditation. At this point, anyone can claim to produce natural wine, and there is not yet a governing body to confirm or deny those claims. There is progress towards rectifying that, and establishing quality charters will do a lot to help the legitimacy of the wines

Despite any negative opinions though, in a GMO, pesticide and additive-wary culture, natural wine is a growing industry. Perhaps adopting stainless steel wine barrels is the modern touch the movement needs to push it to mass consumption, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. After all, the beauty of stainless steel is that it protects against impurities or unwanted additives. Regardless, it seems that natural wine is here to stay. With about 400 natural winemakers in France alone, and many more around the world, this return to a simpler process and the results it produces has enough fans to sustain it for now. For information about our complete line of stainless steel wine drums, check out www.skolnikwine.com