Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gearing up for Harvest 2017

Mid-August in 2015 and 2016 found us preparing to bring in grapes near the end of the month. This year we are still several weeks away from our first pick date -- a more normal pace, starting in early-to-mid September -- but starting to make preparations all the same.

Picking bins are being washed, last year's wines are mostly bottled, and supplies are emerging from storage.

This is the calm before the storm for us. Veraison is progressing (where the berries turn purple on the Pinot Noir), and we'll be doing our first berry samples before the end of the month. We'll test the sample for sugar, pH and acidity and we'll be visually inspecting color, seed ripeness and more. It will provide that first data point -- a benchmark -- for the rest of the season, however far out it is.

Pinot Noir berries turn purple at Charles Vineyard.
We are relatively lucky here at Foursight and we just have one vineyard to prepare to pick. Of course that does mean that all the fruit comes in, in a relatively short period of time (we only grow three varieties of grapes). So it's a bit crazy while it happens, and then it's over.

This will be our 12th harvest for Foursight Wines, as unbelievable as that is. How life has changed. We went from an ambitious young couple who held down day jobs and launched this project during every moment of free time (nights, weekends, vacation time) to the parents of a 2.5-year-old boy entering our second decade as a winery. Wish us luck with a new vintage, and come taste it when it releases -- let's say 2019!
Evan inspects the growing vines early this summer.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

10 Years of Lessons Learned in The Wine Business

As we wrap up our first decade as wine business owners, I've been thinking quite a lot about the lessons I've learned over the years. What would I distill and pass along from our first 10? In that spirit, here is a (slightly salty) musing -- the top 10 things I’ve learned from a decade of running our own wine business. This could also be entitled: "The best advice I could give someone starting their own brand."

1)      Get a good lawyer. Get an even better accountant. Love your label designer. Adore your customers. Know many others will just be there to blow smoke up your … or sell you something.
2)      You’ll probably get a little fat. Because wine is not calorie-free, and either is all the amazing food – and amazing friends who cook – that come along with it. But it's okay; you're in good company.
3)      You will wear three to 10 hats each and every day. Being in the wine business for yourself requires at least some knowledge of many things, from botany to meteorology, to chemistry, to accounting, to finance, to customer service, to food service… I could go on. If you enjoy never quite knowing what you’ll be up to each and every day, this may be the job for you.
4)      Drink less of your own wine and more of others. Too many winery owners only drink their own product. Because, well, it’s there, and you can justify it because it’s your product, and because you like it (let’s hope). But understanding what others are doing is paramount. Tastes change, styles change, and “cellar palate” – where only your own wine tastes right – is a real thing.
5)      Don’t. Ever. Stop. Running your own business is pushing the rock up the hill. Especially in the beginning. But just because there are little plateaus that get easier, and because you keep getting stronger and more adept at pushing, it doesn’t mean there’s ever a time you should let go. Because that rock will, eventually, roll back downhill. Owning your own business is deeply rewarding, but you have to push every day, until you sell or quit. The thing I’ve heard the most, from all the entrepreneurs in all the various businesses I’ve talked to over the years: you get out what you put in. When you stop is when the trouble starts, so be relentless instead.
6)      Do not underestimate the amount of time you’ll spend doing paperwork. The wine business is romantic, yes, glitzy, sometimes, down-and-dirty, often, but it’s also one of the most highly regulated industries in the United States. Your county, your state and your federal government all want their piece and those records that go along with it. And so will all the other states where your product finds a home. And then there’s inventory, payroll, bills, label approvals, supply ordering, and on and on.
7)      Know that tax law is not on your side as a wine business. Wineries are generally required to use the accrual method of accounting. This means that, even though you incur the costs of manufacturing your product as they happen, you can’t write those costs off until you sell the product – often a year or more down the road.
8)      Schedule your time off. Bake it into the cake, as my husband says. Because if you follow #5 and never stop pushing, you’ll be hard-pressed to take it. But also know that you’ll only take half of that scheduled time off, because you like what you do, and you've got shit to do, you know?!
9)      Make your business profitable. Because vanity or lifestyle wine businesses don’t work unless you have multiple, multiple zeros in your (or your family’s) bank account.  And even if you have a lot of zeros, you’ll only want to lose money for so long. My best advice, for what it’s worth: work a side job, build reasonably, get into DIY in a semi-masochistic way, and build a business for the long term. Because it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to buy someone else’s wine than to make your own just for kicks.
10)   You will lead a very rewarding life. Crafting a product that people will enjoy, appreciate, wax on about, share with friends, and use to console themselves, is pretty awesome. There’s an inherent satisfaction in being behind a well-made product. This business will also keep you grounded: close to the earth, close to the weather, close to what you can see, smell, taste and explain. Close to your senses, and to family, and to all these amazing parts of life. This is what makes #1-9 worth it. Because THAT taste of THAT wine from THAT vintage causes amnesia in the best way, much like the amnesia that happens after you have a child. The hardships of the first years just slip away, among all the precious moments, like the trials of each harvest fade, and you jump back in again the next fall. Having children and making wine seem to be the same sort of happy insanity.

Happy New Year! Here's to an amazing 2017!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Harvest 2016 Comes to an End

This weekend we pressed the last lots of Pinot Noir off the skins and put them into barrel. In other words, we're done!!! As it has been the past few years, harvest came fast and furious with one estate, and we are done with time to spare in September, which is a bit unusual for us.

All in all, we're very happy with 2016. Quality looks to be great, and quantity was surprisingly good. I wrote earlier about the smaller cluster sizes and our expectation that the crop would be down for the Pinot Noir. As we neared harvest, we did more counts and weights, and, although some blocks were slightly down, some picked out slightly heavier than expected. Looking back, we seem to be pretty close to our long-term average on tonnage -- a fact we're happy about after a few down years.

The Sauvignon Blanc was our big winner this year, finally cropping a decent amount and filling several tanks in the winery (in 2015 it was down more than 50% due to inclement spring weather). We hope we'll finally be able to meet demand for this bottling when we release it next year.

Harvest was more challenging this year in some ways -- I spent more time playing mommy to our toddler and less time helping at the winery. This leaves Joe with more work on his own, but as luck would have it, we were connected with an amazing intern who was able to help us get everything done.

The winery was scrubbed, organized, and sanitized before any grapes came in, and then we started the process of picking, sorting, destemming or adding whole clusters to the fermentation bins (or pressing the whites off the skins), punchdowns, pressing the Pinots off the skins, and barreling down.

Evan, our son, LOVED harvest. The trucks, the tractors, the forklifts, the people, and most important, the grapes! They were all exciting, loud, and/or delicious. He took it upon himself to sample most of the bins that came in, just to make sure everything was "yummy."

Here are a few images from harvest 2016 at Foursight Wines:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Our First Pick Dates Are Scheduled! Harvest 2016

Last week we started eyeing the vineyard suspiciously. With a few recent heat spikes and a smaller-than-average crop, ripening was moving along very quickly. And as I wrote in this blog just one week ago that we expected harvest in early September, we took our first berry samples for the year, testing acidity and sugar and tasting for flavor.

The verdict? We start harvesting estate grapes next week! A quick turnabout, but every vintage is unique, and I always tell our customers that a lot can happen in a vineyard in a very short amount of time! This year proves that.

In many of the blocks this year, clusters are tiny (see photo below, where the cluster is only as long as my fingers). Pinot Noir is known for small clusters, but this year they're very small, meaning less crop for the vine to ripen and a faster ripening pace. Once the vines started to get some summer heat, then off they went! Sugars are accumulating quickly and we should have all the grapes in the winery by the beginning of September.

Here we go!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August Update

With bottling behind us, harvest looms. Our winemaker spent his days off this week turning the cellar from a bottling space (with all the supplies and equipment involved filling the cellar) into a harvest and crush space.

Our fermentation bins now fill the back, and all the punchdown tools, containers, carboys, and miscellany are out of storage until late fall, when they are scrubbed, ozoned, and returned to their respective homes.

We're not quite ready for September's incoming grapes. All these supplies must be cleaned (same process as above) and the sorting table and basket press prepped (and cleaned), but we're getting closer.
Evan on the crushpad for the Sauvignon Blanc pick, 2015

This is one of the few times during the year that our barrels are stacked in the cellar. One of the ways we are able to achieve cleaner, unfiltered wines, is that we single-stack our barrels once they're filled, then try and leave them alone. If you shake up your unfiltered apple juice, what happens? It gets cloudy, right? Same principle applies with the lees (sediment) in the bottom of the barrels. We embrace some sediment, but there is a limit, so we try not to disturb the wines during the aging process, until we rack (remove some of the sediment) and blend to prepare for bottling later in the year.

One thing I'm particularly looking forward to this year is harvest with our toddler, Evan. It sounds a little crazy, because it will be given how active and curious he is, but he's beginning to understand broader concepts and can talk about what he sees now. During crush 2015 he was just 6-7 months old and trying to stuff grapes in his mouth. This year he'll be able to ride the forklift with dad and taste green versus red grapes, and generally enjoy the craziness and equipment involved with this exciting time of the year.

Plus, in 20 years he'll be able to say this is the first vintage he was truly able to help. Given how few zucchinis make it to maturity in our garden, he can at least pick a few grapes for the cause!