Monday, March 29, 2010

Pacific Northwest AVAs

The Importance (and Confusion) of AVAs
American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are winegrape-growing regions that have been legally established by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB - created as a reorganization of the functions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2003). The purpose of these regions is to allow wine producers to better describe the place of origin of their wines, and to allow consumers to more easily identify wines that they may wish to purchase. Simple enough. But this simple concept can actually lead to a lot of confusion. This post will detail the Pacific Northwest AVAs, and the next post will address some of the issues raised by the American Viticultural Areas system.

(A bit outdated, but the best map I could find to give you the total picture. Thanks to Quentin Sadler's blog for the map.)

Pacific Northwest AVAs
Before diving in to some of the complexity surrounding AVAs, and Pacific Northwest AVAs in particular, I wanted to list all of the AVAs, sub-AVAs and in one case "super-AVA" found in the Pacific Northwest as of March 2010 (as this is bound to keep expanding). A caveat - I'm an Oregon guy, so my coverage and knowledge of Pacific Northwest wines are jilted in that direction (a deficiency I am working (drinking?) to correct).

Willamette Valley AVA - the largest AVA in Oregon, and the one containing the highest percentage of the state's wineries. Has six sub-AVAs:

Southern Oregon Super AVA - This AVA was established specifically to encompass two already-existing AVAs in Southern Oregon. This was mainly done to allow the southern AVAs to better distinguish themselves from the much larger and more influential Willamette Valley AVA which, to many buyers, was simply synonymous with "Oregon wine". The Southern Oregon AVAs are:

Umpqua Valley AVA - Part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, centered around the city of Roseburg, OR. Has one sub-AVA:

Rogue Valley AVA - Again, part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, located just across the border from California. Contains one sub-AVA and two AVA-ish regions:

Columbia Gorge AVA - An approximately 40 mile long stretch of the Columbia River Valley, including land on both the Washington and Oregon sides. I can't explain it any better than Paul Gregutt did here.

Columbia Valley AVA - Starting just east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, the Columbia Valley AVA includes some land in Oregon and then follows the Columbia River north into Washington, becoming Washington's largest AVA. Paul Gregutt has an excellent description of the Columbia Valley AVA posted here. The Columbia Valley AVA includes eight sub-AVAs:

Puget Sound AVA - Washington's "outlier AVA" (as described by Paul Gregutt here), the only AVA in Washington located west of the Cascade Mountains. Includes the entire Puget Sound region from the Canadian border down to Olympia.

Snake River Valley AVA - Idaho didn't want to miss out on all the fun, thus was born Idaho's first (and currently only) AVA (the Snake River Valley AVA also extends into Oregon, although I do not believe there are any wineries or major commercial vineyards there yet).

To help you figure out where all of these are:

The Confusion of AVAs
Phew, good to get through that list - and I think in reading over it you will already have picked up on several of the issues that make AVAs overly complicated. More on that in the next post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wine Closures Over Time

After winemakers have spent so much time and attention birthing and nurturing their wines in the winery, they face a big decision when it comes time to send those wines out into the world - what type of closure to use on the wine bottle (or should they even use bottles at all)? This decision can have a huge effect on the aging and longevity of the wine, and it is a topic of hot conversation in the wine industry.

There is a lot I could say on the matter, and I will likely address this issue at some point in the future, but for now I simply wanted to share a graphic that very convincingly makes the point for why screw-top (aka Stelvin) closures need to be considered as the closure of choice, particularly when bottling white wines (thanks to @Herbguy for the link). Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vinvenio *RESET*

SO, it has been almost 2.5 years since my last blog post. A lot has happened in those intervening years, and I feel like the time has come to jump-start this blog once more and slightly redirect it towards my current pursuits. But first...

A Vinvenio History
I started this blog in April 2007 when I was moving beyond wine as a mere hobby or interest, and heading into the realm of obsession. The wine bug had bit, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about, well, everything really, and I thought I may as well write some of it down along the way.

I started out fairly simple, blogging about different wines I was drinking, and why I liked or disliked them. This quickly lead to my desire to know WHY I liked or disliked them, so I began doing some background research on the varietals or regions of each of the bottles. The posts started getting longer, and started including links to various Wikipedia and other sources to provide a more complete picture of what was in the bottle. Then, I started working at a Virginia winery.

At first I worked in the tasting room, and found that you can learn a lot about wine by pouring a glass and then listening to how hundreds of people describe the exact same bottle. I was able to further educate tasting room guests about different varietals and just wine in general, and getting asked a lot of good questions had me do my homework so that I would be able to answer any questions I missed the first time they were posed to me. I then had the opportunity to step in to the cellar and help with the wine production.

I had never really seriously considered a career in winemaking, but after a few short weeks in the cellar, I was in love. My scholastic background is in molecular microbiology with a minor in geology, and then a graduate degree in environmental engineering; I found that winemaking combined everything I loved about all of my previous scientific fields of study, added in a distinct artistic element which I felt had been lacking in my career up to that point, and did so in a way that resulted in a bottle filled with a scrumptious beverage! (the importance of this last bit cannot be overstated - the existential joy experienced by producing a "thing", rather than just adding to the piles of paperwork in offices everywhere, is a large part of the appeal for me).

I tried to continue the blog with posts about my experiences learning winemaking, but was quickly overwhelmed by my full-time job in the "real world", my part-time job in the cellar, and my inability to find the time to post content with the thoughtfulness and attention I believed it deserved. So I stopped writing (but continued working in the cellar!).

Vinvenio 2010
Fast-forward 2.5 years to March 2010. I now live in Portland, OR, and have embraced winemaking with open arms. I am taking winemaking courses through Chemeketa Community College in Salem, worked the 2009 harvest at Beaux Frères (a northern Willamette Valley winery focusing on ultra-premium Pinot Noir), and am seeking out full-time employment in the cellar. My goal is to continue to learn about winemaking, and progress up from the cellar to assistant winemaker, then winemaker, at an established Willamette Valley winery. And hopefully sometime in the near future I will be able to become an indie winemaker, making a small quantity of wine under my own label!

Current Wine Interests
Since this is my blog, I'll use it to talk about stuff I find interesting. What might this be?
  • Winemaking, and learning more about winemaking.
  • Interesting wines / wine varietals (particularly those from the Northwest, or those I think should be planted in the Northwest) - especially interested in "lesser known" Northwest winegrowing regions such as the Columbia Gorge, Yakima Valley and Southern Oregon.
  • Sustainable winemaking practices, such as Oregon's LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) program, Demeter's Biodynamic wine program, and the new Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) label.
  • Technology, such as Wine 2.0 (the blend of wine and new technology, particularly social media and other similar tools to reach consumers); I am also interested in the adoption (or not) of new technology into the vineyard and winery as well.
  • The expansion of and/or opportunities with collective winemaking facilities, such as the Carlton Winemaker's Studio, and custom crush facilities, such as the Northwest Wine Company and Wine By Joe. Particularly interested in seeing whether there is a future for something like this within Portland.

Updating the Blog
Not only are the posts out of date here, but many of my initial links are as well. I'll slowly update these to 2010, and hopefully start integrating other social media like Facebook and Twitter. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Second Star to the Right and Straight on 'til Morning
So, hopefully you've got an idea on where this thing is now headed (at least, as good of an idea as I do!). Although I'm moving into the more "professional" side of the wine business, I hope to keep my posts at a level that anyone with an interest in wine can appreciate. I also may be using this space to post interesting articles I've come across, mainly so I can find them later. If other people find this interesting too, then that's just great. I'm really looking forward to the possibilities I'm facing in 2010, so hopefully I'll be able to share that with you.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Checking in on the Whites

My last several posts detailed the harvest and initial winemaking steps for Three Fox Vineyard's Viognier and Pinot Grigio. As I mentioned, those grapes were harvested and fermentation initiated on September 7th. On September 8th, we received a load of Vidal Blanc grapes from a local grower for our "Appassionata" off-dry Vidal and started that in on fermentation. On September 13th, we took some Brix readings (the level of sugar - read my recent post for more info) to see how our fermenting wine was coming along. Here's what we found:

Brix at Harvest (9/7) = 23.7
Brix on 9/13 = 9.0

Pinot Grigio
Brix at Harvest (9/7) = 24.9
Brix on 9/13 = 9.2

Brix at Harvest (9/8) = 24.0
Brix on 9/13 = 10.0

The fermentation reaction takes the sugar from the grape juice and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. [The generic chemical reaction for a fermentation reaction is C6H12O6 → 2C2H5OH + 2CO2 + 2 ATP, or in English: glucose (sugar) → 2 units of alcohol + 2 units of carbon dioxide + 2 units of energy (which is why the yeast are even bothering with this in the first place) ] So, as you can see after not quite one week our fermenting juice is well on the way to fermenting to dry wine (i.e., Brix is roughly zero, meaning there is no residual sugar left in the wine). Cool, eh?

Next post: First up for harvest for the reds is the Chambourcin grape. Reds undergo a slightly different process than the whites, as reds are fermented with all of the skins and seeds - not just the juice as is the case with the whites. More on that soon!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Viognier and Pinot Grigio Harvest in Virginia, Part 3

My last post left off with us finishing the crushing and destemming of the Pinot Grigio, pressing it off in the bladder press, and pumping it back to a stainless steel tank for eventual fermentation. I mentioned that Three Fox harvested the Pinot Grigio and Viognier on the same day this year, so after we had finished with the Pinot Grigio we had to turn right around and repeat the process for the Viognier!

Deja vu with the Viognier
We went through the exact same process with the Viognier as I described for the Pinot Grigio - the freshly harvested grapes were dumped into the crusher/destemmer, where the resulting mixture of juice, seeds and crushed skins (called "must") was pumped into the bladder press. As you can see from the photo, Viognier looks much more like you would expect a "white wine grape" to look - green and gold, rather than the light purple of the Pinot Grigio.

Once the press was full, we closed the top and started inflating the internal air bladder. The one slight difference between our handling of Pinot Grigio and Viognier occurred at this step: with the Pinot Grigio, we inflated the bladder slowly allowing for some contact time with the skins in the press; the Viognier press run occurred more rapidly, with less time spent in the press in contact with the skins. The Three Fox winemaker/owner tells me that the additional skin contact on the Pinot Grigio leads to a richer color and lusher mouthfeel.

The pressed juice from the Viognier was pumped back into a separate stainless steel tank. We now had two tanks full of grape juice, and we were ready to start making wine!

The Numbers
For those interested in this sort of thing, we estimated our Pinot Grigio harvest at about 5,453 pounds (2.7 tons), which pressed off to about 456 gallons of juice. Our Viognier harvest came in at about 5,080 pounds (2.5 tons), and pressed off to about 381 gallons.

A little "wine chemistry"
So, now we're back in the winery with two tanks full of juice. When you're about to make some wine, there are really just three measurements you need to take to get all the information you need to know before starting off: brix, pH and "titratable acid" or TA. I feel we've covered brix pretty extensively over the last few posts. pH is a measure of acidity on a logarithmic scale of 1 to 14 (7 being neutral water - below that being acidic, above that being "basic"). Both our Pinot Grigio and Viognier clocked in at around 3.5 on the pH scale (we took the measurement with a digital pH meter in the lab).

A reading of 3.5 is pretty good - as you may recall from my cool graph two posts ago, pH starts rising as the grapes ripen. If your pH gets too high, it'll make the wines taste flabby (after all, we often describe the "acidity" of a wine when writing it up - acidity is what makes a white wine in particular sparkle on your tongue). If the pH IS too high, you might add tartaric acid (one of the three main acids often found in grape juice, along with malic and to a lesser degree, citric) to bring the pH down again. Luckily, 3.5 is a respectable number, and we could do what most winemakers prefer to do in these situations - nothing (why stand in the way of nature?).

The last measurement tells you about the "titratable acids", or TA in the juice. I just mentioned that wines often have tartaric, malic and citric acids to them (sidenote: wines that undergo "malolactic fermentation", or "ML" convert the crisp green-appley malic acid into a smoother "milky" lactic acid; many creamy Chardonnays have undergone ML). TA is somewhat related to pH, as pH does measure acidity, but TA specifically measures the amount of organic acids in the juice/wine. TA is what gives wine its "tartness". Our Pinot Grigio came in at 0.65 and our Viognier at 0.75. Our winemaker felt that both of these levels were good, and so we could again do what most winemakers prefer to do - nothing.

Get them Whites Fermentin'
S0, we have now determined that our grapes ripened well, and no manipulation was necessary in the winery to make some great wine. The only thing to do now is to add some yeast and get the fermentation going! As I mentioned before, our winemaker likes to use Lalvin D47 yeast for our white wines. We get our yeasts from Scott Labs, and it's really worth a look at their "Yeast Strains" website to get an understanding of what a huge selection of yeasts are out there. True, the main purpose of fermentation is simply to convert the sugar of the grape juice into alcohol, but different strains of yeast produce difference nuances of flavors into the finished wine, and it's only through trial and error that most winemakers find a "favorite yeast" that works for them.

At any rate, we added the specified amount of D47 yeast to a 5-gallon bucket with a couple of gallons of juice in it. Instead of adding the yeast directly to the tank, its good to "wake them up" from their freeze-dried slumber by adding them to a (warmer) smaller batch of juice so they are not immediately overwhelmed by their conditions. In a half hour or so, once the juice starts bubbling and fermentation is underway, you can then dump the bucket into the stainless steel fermentation tank to start the process in earnest. And this is exactly what we did with our Pinot Grigio and Viognier. Next up: how quickly do the yeast beasties munch on the grape sugars and convert them into alcohol? We take measurements of the fermenting wines, and perform some taste tests as well... More to come!