(Another) Year in the Vineyard with Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe: Week #9

Another Year in the Vineyard, Week #9

May 7-14, 2010

By: Wes Hagen, VM/WM Clos Pepe

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Same shoot, week 9

Greetings, readers!  I’m happy to be reporting this week from the beautiful and cool confines of Clos Pepe Vineyards and the Santa Rita Hills—back from Temecula last week, and looking forward to being in Stevenson, Washington next week.  The Spring months mean travel in Wes’ World—I judge three or four Wine Competitions in May through July, travel to San Francisco for Pinot Days, and always do a few tastings and winemaker dinners in Los Angeles.  Before the vineyard gets too far along, it’s important to spend some time promoting the brand and networking with those in the wine business.  Summer’s slammed with fine tuning viticulture and getting ready to welcome interns and the bottling line, so I tend to only leave the property for those precious few weeks between the end of the frost season and the beginning of fruit ripening.  So this week I get to blog about all the wonderful happenings at the ranch this week, and next week I’ll post a short road blog from the WineMaker Conference in Washington.  I’m really looking forward to exploring this fabulous wine region and reporting my findings.



On the frost front, I am ready to declare a minor victory for 2010.  Mother’s Day is the traditional end of Frost Season on the Central Coast, even though there have been historic frosts up until early July (but we won’t mention that again).  The marine layer has returned to the Santa Rita Hills in the evening, night and morning, and the El Nino has released its grip and water temperatures have finally returned to normal, so we are seeing the good possibility of a wonderfully gloomy June, which usually is the last half of May and the first few weeks of June.  The final score for frost season was damage to 2-3 acres, and a safe 26-27 acres of vines.  The vines that were frosted have recovered nicely, and I expect we will see a decent crop even in the damaged sections.

Frost recovery

Winery work: My bud Josh McCourt (Carlsbad, CA) has arrived here at the Clos and we did battle with a mighty pile of sushi, sake, rum and tequila last night.  This is what happens when there’s no basketball on, and it’s already too dark to golf.  Today I put him to work after recording three segments for this week’s Grape Encounters Radio show, which will air locally on AM 1440 and AM 1410, and is available on iTunes as well.  The radio show discussed wine descriptions, wine ratings and finding bargains in the wine world, and I think it will be very interesting and entertaining to all those that take the time to tune in, drop out and wine up.  After the radio show, Josh and I headed out to the Clos Pepe winery in Lompoc and did some cellar work.  We tasted through barrels of all the 2009 wines: Chardonnay (both the stainless lots and the neutral French barrels), the 4 lots of Pinot Noir, and a blend of the 2009 Axis Mundi Syrah.  Josh was intimately involved in the production of many of these wines as a temporary intern during the harvest months.  The wines are all coming along very, very nicely and I’m rather bullish on the vintage.  The Chards are structured and rich at the same time—just a hint of tropical character lingering that will subside before bottling, the pinots are losing that hint of herbal character and gaining amazing depth, balance and complexity.  The Syrah is developing some of that wonderful, bright floral character from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands where we source the fruit.  All in all the 2009 vintage was time well spent—and all the 3 am wake up calls for picking produced some very nice wines.  I think I’m sold on night picking.  We blended representative barrel samples of all four wines—a bottle of each to take to the lab to test for alcohol levels, pH, titratable acidity, free/total SO2, and malic acid levels.  These numbers will let us know when we can do some sulfite additions to keep the wines sound and clean, and the alcohol percentage to accurately express on the label.  We also put together some samples of our neutral French oak Chardonnay and our Pinot Noir for the WineHound Santa Barbara County Wine Futures event in Santa Barbara this weekend.  We will show off some barrel samples, and they go up for sale at special pricing there. (Our Allocation List still gets a better deal, by the way on their Futures Offering.)  We dropped off the samples at the lab in Buellton, and hope to get results before the weekend.  I am currently waiting for a tour to arrive, and they’re late, which always gets me miffed because I plan my whole day around these appointments.  I did get to get a running start on the blog though!

josh working

The worst part of winemaking besides hangovers:  Bureaucracy.  Very rarely I wake up on a Monday and feel an inexplicable desire to clean my entire desk and office space.  I consider it a weakness really.  My clutter has a special order to it, and it makes me feel comfortable—usually.  But this Monday I had a list of bureaucratic tasks to complete and I suspect the cleaning fugue was spurred on by a desire to avoid the State paperwork that I was planning to complete in the morning hours.  So from 7 am until 10 am I dug in deep and made my desk sparkle.  Papers were filed, mail was read, bills were paid, checks were found (!).  Then I dug into the tax forms required quarterly by the CA Board of Equalization.

Not that it’s the most interesting of subjects, but it is an important part of the winemaking process.  I keep a journal in the winery where I write down everything I do to each lot of wine, from the crush date, weight of grapes, yeasts and fermentation regime during harvest, to dates I top the barrels, additions made, chemistry, etc.  I also file the lab reports in there, so when I need info on a vintage it’s all in the same place.  I am also required by Homeland Security to keep track of the lot number of every single thing that ever touches the wine…from barrels to yeast, to S02, yeast nutrients, yeasts used, etc.  So because of a few religious zealots that can’t even drink wine because of rule #87595 in a 1400 year old book, I have to do more paperwork.  It’s still a damn fine job, though, and I’m not complaining (too loudly).  So quarterly I have to do a full inventory of all bottled wine and barreled wine (they call it bulk, but I don’t like using that term), and fill out the paperwork, pay tax on all the bottled wine taken out of the winery for sale (wines taken ‘out of bond’), and yearly (because our production is so small) I have to submit full paperwork for all wines produced, bottled and sold.


flowers week 9

The bureaucracy of it all is really not that intense, except for the fact that on Tuesday, I basically stacked all of my bureaucracy for the last few months into a single day.  The morning hours were spent in line at the DMV, later I did all my inventory and State Board of Equalization paperwork, and then I spoke in favor of the new Fiddlehead Winery on Sweeney Road at the Planning Commission meeting in Santa Maria.  I won’t go into details, but they argued about a request to have amplified music during daylight hours in an empty rural area.  I wanted to point out that they could run 200 dB propane cannons all day and 180 dB frost machines all night without a permit, ands that there was no neighbors for half a mile, and people sipping $50 pinot noir rarely want to listen to music at a level that would be offensive even RIGHT NEXT TO THE SPEAKER, but I bit my lip, the engineers agreed to not have amplified music, and the project was approved!

lambs week 9

Well, Josh McCourt is going to do some suckering and vine head cleaning in Brian Loring’s little 1 acre pinot vineyard between the houses, and I need to do a suckering lesson.  I’ll also take some pictures and try to get this blog posted (12 hours late).

Cheers, and don’t forget to check out the Grape Encounters Radio show this weekend, or download it next week!  Drink lots of Pinot Noir this weekend—support your local winegrower.