Journal | July 20, 2019

Hardscrabble Journal

Lag Phase

The vineyard has now entered lag phase, which is the transition period from growth to ripening. The green berries have temporarily ceased enlarging. Cell division has stopped. There is now a physiological pause in grape development. The next stage will be véraison, which is the very important onset of ripening. This current heat spell is OK right now as the vines have plenty of water available to them. In fact, we would like to see the soil dry out even more to help slow down vegetative growth. Soon, we want the vines to put their energy into ripening grapes rather than producing more leaves.

We also enter our own lag phase. The heat wave has driven us inside. Good timing. The rhythm of the seasons typically sends us back to the cellar in late July. The vineyard work is tapering off and 30,000 empty bottles need to be filled.

These bottles will pack to capacity our underground bottle cellar. Accessing the pallets of wines in the back will be logistically difficult until after harvest. Space is at a premium in the fall, as we need lots of working space. This is why our first task is to organize the cellar so that we aren't in the awkward position of trying to retrieve wines buried in the bowels.

This week is dedicated to white wines. Barrels will be carefully “racked"—clear wine is pumped off the lees (the yeast sediment) into tanks. Each emptied barrel will be internally pressure washed, steamed, and then pressure rinsed again. After drying upside down, barrels will be “burned," which is our term for the tradition of burning a large sulfur stick that hangs inside the clean empty barrel. This is done to use up any available oxygen and leave a sulfur gas that prevents bacteria or mold from growing inside the barrel.

The week of July 29, we will bottle these 2018 white wines from tank, and then do the same cycle for the reds. Then we take vacation and drink lots of exceptional wines in order to fine-tune our palates for making important winemaking decisions.