Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Cheer!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah to all of our family and friends!

Wishing you all the best in 2008!!

- Jeff and Karl

Friday, December 7, 2007


December 5th marked a very special day for Vellum Wine Craft!!

December 5th was Winemaker Karl Lehmann's birthday!!

We celebrated the day with a chicken tikka curry dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Sonoma - A Taste of the Himalayas. And then it was off to our other hang-out across the Sonoma Plaza, the Girl and The Fig.

Over a couple of Manhattans, Karl and I got into a bar-wide discussion about the repeal of prohibition in 1933.

We were pleased to learn from James (voted best Barkeep in Sonoma) that the 21st Amendment abolishing prohibition was ratified on December 5th, Karl's birthday!!

So the right to drink wine was granted on the same day that Vellum's winemaker was born to make it.

Coincidence? We think not.

- Jeff

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Secondary fermentation.

The thing about making wine is that you are never really done with it until it lands in the bottle. Then, of course, you have to distribute and sell the wine. So, I guess you're never done!

Yes, the 2007 harvest is over for us and we can get a decent night's sleep. The growers are happy that the vines are going dormant. The cellar crew is happy that they can cut back their work hours. And we are happy because we have been gifted this year with over 40 barrels of outstanding wine. Now, the watching and the waiting begins - but as it is seemingly unavoidable - the work continues.

When the sugar from our grapes is consumed by yeast and converted to alcohol, wine has been made...but not completely. Many would claim, "Woohoo its done!"..."Let's Party!" but unfortunately many holidays have been canceled because of the next step - the wine needs to finish yet another fermentation!

So, around Christmastime last year I found myself tending to barrels like a shepherd tends to his flock. The secondary fermentation was taking an extraordinarily long time to complete and I could not let the wine out of my care for a second...I worked in the cellar all through the holidays.

However, this year will be different and the '07 Vellum will cooperate because I want to get home to Pittsburgh for Christmas and some German sauerbraten and dumplings with blackened butter! Errr...I digress... but I hope my mom is reading this!

So...Anyway, we have taken care of the sugar but now we need to deal with the acid - in particular the malic acid.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with malic acid, try to think about what you are tasting the next time you bite into an apple. A large portion of that tangy sensation is malic acid.

In grapes, it is available in large quantities as well but it gradually decreases as the grapes reach maturity. Unfortunately though, the acid never completely disappears. Herein lies a winemaker's problem. A spontaneous secondary fermentation is looming because the malic acid is a delicious food for naturally occurring lactic bacteria. It is easily metabolized (consumed) by this bacteria and converted into lactic acid and carbon dioxide gas.

Lactic acid is an acid found in milk products. It is stable and hardly noticeable in milk and it has a similar effect in wine. But here's the rub (and there always seems to be one with wine!) - if the wrong bacteria starts eating the malic acid...spoilage occurs and the bacteria release a potpourri of odorous waste into the wine! This can ruin your wine and make it nearly undrinkable.

But if you introduce a beneficial bacteria (Oenococcus Oeni) to feast on the malic can considerably improve the wine's quality by lowering the overall acidity. This makes the wine more supple and stable.

It also adds an extra bit of security at bottling. In essence, if there's a yeast or bacteria cell that sneaks into the bottle after it is won't ruin the wine...

With no residual sugar and no malic acid - there is no food for the yeast or bacteria to consume and no negative effects will occur.

The 2007 Vellum has been inoculated with Oenococcus Oeni at 68 degrees Fahrenheit to start the secondary fermentation and it is on pace to be finished late next week. When it is finished, the wine's heavy sediment will be removed, the barrels will be topped off and I can keep my appointment for Christmas dinner!

Oh and if there's anyone who can successfully pair sauerbraten with a wine, please give me a shout - yet another mystery to unravel!

Merry Christmas everyone!

~ Karl

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dark ruby.

Yesterday afternoon Karl and I tasted wine from our smaller block of Cabernet harvested on October 4th from Napa's Chile's Valley. I was taken aback by the intensity and depth of the wine's color.

Dark ruby is a fair description...however the brilliant magenta edge of the wine as it thinned near the glass provided so much contrast with body of the wine that it looked black - deep, dark, endless, bottom-of-a-crevasse black!

A few sips later I knew we had a winner - the wine fell broadly on the palate and unfolded gently across my tongue. The tannins were firm but not overbearing. It was superbly balanced with slight favor leaning toward the alcohol, normal for a wine given ample time to mature on the vine.

It will partner well with our other blocks of wine, especially the other Cabernet.

We'll taste it again in the new year...

More to come!!

- Jeff

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Getting ready for bed.

The 2007 Vellum is getting ready to go to bed. All of our primary fermentations were successful - the wines are dry!

We pressed off the skins of our nine ton Cabernet Sauvignon lot from the Linstad vineyard to great success! With a gentle but constant pressure, we did not exceed one atmosphere during the cycle.

The pressing stage of winemaking can present itself as a mystery. Sometimes it is difficult to discern what will be extracted at the prescribed pressure and when to stop the process. It is usually a guess based on the quality and age of the grapes, the type and performance of the press and most of the all ability to taste and say, "Enough!".

We did not reach that point this year as the skins produced dense but not overextracted wine until they were almost dry. Thus, all of what was pressed out was not kept separate from the main lot (as is the usual practice). The wine is sound. We measured it to be quite dry before pressing and it had very little malic acid so it was mixed with the free run wine for immmediate integration.

We felt that the wine's aromatic and tannic elements did more for the overall composition of the free run than if it was kept as an individual lot. We are happy to declare that the wine is whole and balanced from the beginning!

This expression of the Linstad vineyard is the best compliment Vellum could provide to the land and its meticulous grower Jerry Linstad.

Up next...Secondary fermentation with the introduction of Oenococcus Oeni!

What's that?!? ;)

...More to Come!

- Karl

Friday, November 16, 2007

Email is working now.

Hi All,

Thank you to everyone who called to let me know that Vellum emails were coming back undeliverable. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Our email hosting service has fixed the problem and apologized for the downtime. Feel free to drop me a line!

Thanks again,

- Jeff

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More from Vellum Winemaker Karl Lehmann

Coming soon...

Keep checking back - now that harvest has slowed down a bit, Karl will have more updates about Vellum as it begins to age in barrel.

A Sturdy Foundation

The last of the Cabernet grapes for 2007 are in tank. Our Linstad Cabernet weathered the rain with no effect on the quality of the fruit. I tasted the juice after 64 hours of cold-soaking the "must", or crushed grapes, prior to fermentation. When I held it in my mouth the wine hesitated and hovered before it fell in the middle of my palate and spread out. I knew then that with a few winemaking adjustments to bring up the "foundation" of the must we would have a great wine.

Now two weeks have passed and the ferment is almost done. The wine is already beautiful! The alcohol mends well with the tannin. And the acid provides a sound framework desired for longevity.

The Cabernet floats and falls gracefully as the juice and the tannins are dense and fine but well-knit in their infancy. This is exactly the type of wine that we want Vellum to be. I realize that sometimes it is difficult to judge this early on but we are off to a very encouraging start.

A very wise man once told me that drinking young Cabernet is like sleeping on the cold hard ground and eating raw Brussel sprouts! Not very inviting imagery but it subscribes to the idea that young wine needs to taste bad now in order for it to be great later. Though these are sound assessments, I am not in complete agreement with the idea. A wine does need alcohol, acid, tannin and extraction but these things need to co-exist. One component cannot stand out from the others. For example, the alcohol should not be noticed above the rest of the wine. One would only then think about a burning sensation in the throat and nothing else. With an unintentionally high alcohol wine, the only hope is that aging will lessen this effect and balance it with the tannin. The odds however are against this. An ill conceived wine may never integrate well.

A wine needs a frame - the acid.
It needs warmth and support - the alcohol.
And it needs padding - the tannin.

These are the essentials that carry the aromas and flavors to your palate. They must be sound and must rise and fall together.

I like to think that drinking young Cabernet, when new and sampling of rich dark fruit, should be like sleeping in a sturdy bed that yields and breaks-in slowly over time. Each night you are welcomed back and the more it is slept on the better it gets!

This is the '07 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon.

- Karl

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fruit is picked!

Hello All,

Saturday was yet another fantastic day of harvest as Vellum's friends and family gathered in Napa to pick our last vineyard of the season -- 9 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon.

We started at 7:00 am, gathered around a campfire, with Karl instructing the crew on which clusters to harvest and which to leave on the vine. A full week of sunshine had dried out the grapes, concentrating the sugars and intensifying the flavors. Karl guided the harvest by removing clusters ahead of the crew - he pulled all of the grapes that had dried out or been snacked on by wildlife.

A slight dew was present on the grapes while we were picking, which made them look white in the flash of the cameras. And I was proud to clip the first cluster of the day with my Dad!

Thank you to everyone who joined us: Jerry and Marsha Linstad, Bill and Robyn Mathy, Mary and Ralph Burklow, Kate Olbrantz, Ashley Humann, Pam Linstad and family, and Michael and Barbara Hirst.

The Cabernet is now crushed and in its fermentation tank. We will inoculate with yeast today to begin the winemaking process.

REMINDER TO VELLUM INVESTORS: Vellum's Harvest Party is this Saturday, Nov. 3rd. Call Jeff to R.S.V.P. at 714.726.4369.

Enjoy the photos!

- Jeff

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Final day of harvest - This Saturday!

Stay tuned...we will have a new round of photos and blog entries after our prized Cabernet is harvested and crushed this weekend.

If you would like to join us on Saturday at the vineyard (7:00am) or the winery (Noon) then email or call 714.726.4369 for directions and details.

Latest news on the other fermentations:

The Merlot was pressed off last week and is in barrel.
The Petit Verdot was pressed off last week and is in barrel.
The first lot of Cabernet Sauvignon is completely dry (no sugar left to ferment) and will be pressed off today.

And on a side note, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have been affected and/or displaced by the California fires. On behalf of Vellum Wine Craft - thank you to the fire and emergency service crews who are risking their lives for the safety and security of those in danger. We salute you.

- Jeff

Friday, October 19, 2007

A well-deserved celebration!

On Wednesday evening Karl and I took a break from Vellum's harvest to attend the Wine & Spirits Top 100 celebration to honor Karl's contribution in creating a stunning 95 point wine from the 2005 vintage. The event took place at the The Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco with over 400 winemakers and trade professionals in attendance.

The highlight of the evening was the opportunity to sample many of the Top 100 wines with our personal #1 pick going to Morey-Blanc's Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru ($175). This Burgundian chardonnay is quite possibly the best white wine we have ever tasted! We were lucky enough to sample the 2004 vintage which received a score of 92 points from Wine & Spirits. The best way to describe this wine is - minerality and stoniness. With additional scents of chamomile and jasmine, the chalky limestone mouth feel brings this chardonnay to the top of our list! Well done!

And congratulations Karl!!

- Jeff

Monday, October 15, 2007

Waiting out the rain.

This year we have already had two sets of rain and the forecast suggests that another is to follow. But we will weather the storm and harvest on one of the many successive sunny days that follow. No good can come from picking early. Our Linstad Cabernet in the Tulocay area of Napa is still out there but it is simply not ready yet. The area is known for unusually long hang time, slow maturity and good concentration without excessive sugars. We selected this site for these reasons and we have full confidence that it will perform as such, despite the weather.

So, I don't believe in knee jerk reactions, I don't believe in crisis management and I don't believe in changing my nature because I cannot change mother nature. Around Napa Valley when people see rain in October blood pressure goes up, trucks scramble around the valley and wineries end up working even longer days and nights. Moods take a sharp nosedive and that translates directly to the wine. Here's my solution: Don't panic! When cooler heads prevail better wine will be had. This is to be a joyous time of year for all of us! We are giving of ourselves to give life to something we dearly believe in. What ever we do and feel - the wine knows!

- Karl

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Go yeasts, go!

Hi All,

The fermentations are going very well with the brix levels approaching -1.5 quickly. We will probably press off the Merlot on Tuesday and then perhaps the Petit Verdot by Friday.

The three harvest days we've had over the past two weeks have kept us on the move - at the winery taking samples, back at the lab analyzing the juice, walking the rows of the last vineyard still hanging.

The first day of Harvest, pulling the Merlot on September 29th, was a whirlwind day filled with great memories. Friends from Fullerton and San Francisco drove up to help us bring in the grapes. Andy, Sam, Guru - thanks guys for hanging out with us and supporting Vellum. My nephew William was the most excited of us all! He found his way INSIDE one of the harvesting bins and we found him eating as many grapes as he could fit in his mouth. One word was all he could say in between mouthfuls - GOOD. GOOD. GOOD. See the slide show below for a photo recap!

We still have Cabernet on the vine, holding tight at around 23 brix. Karl and I are waiting for the sugars to rise just a little more before pulling the fruit. It will probably be another 10+ days before we are ready to bring it in. All the while the grapes continue to gain maturity and complexity!

Karl's going to be adding more about the fermentations tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

- Jeff

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Message from Brian Mathy

Yesterday we harvested the first lot of Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 tons from Napa's Chiles Valley. After transporting the grapes to the winery, the grapes were destemmed and pumped into large stainless steel tanks. The fermentation in the tanks is only the first phase of winemaking, an 18 month exercise in patience and restraint.

We've put a great deal of effort into assuring ultra-premium quality by choosing the finest grapes and careful methodology.

I look forward to the day friends and family are able to enjoy the Vellum 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, our first vintage, and I'll reflect on the harvest with fond memories.

- Brian

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Harvest - October 2, 2007

We brought in the Petit Verdot this morning - it took less time to pick the grapes than to drive them to the winery! Now that's efficiency!

One ton of Petit Verdot is not a large quantity in the scheme of things, but it will bring a wonderful deep blueberry color and flavor to our Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thank you to Mike and Kelly for taking such good care of their Gobbler Grove Vineyard. The fruit looked (and tasted) absolutely delicious!

It is now resting nicely at the winery, cold soaking for 48 hours before starting the fermentation.

Enjoy the photos!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Harvest - September 29, 2007

What a wonderful first day of harvest!! Thank you to everyone who made the day a success. And thank you to everyone who cheered us on from afar!

I will write more about the day's events later, but for now I wanted to get these photos posted for everyone to see.

- Jeff

Friday, September 28, 2007

All systems go!

Tomorrow is a big day for Vellum Wine Craft - many family and friends will gather to harvest our first 3 tons of grapes.

My family will be driving up from Fullerton this evening and friends from all over California are making their way to Sonoma for tomorrow's 6:30 am start.

We will meet at the vineyard for a quick lesson in picking and sorting the grapes. Then the day will move very quickly. The fruit is harvested in just a few short hours and we will make our way to the winery between 10 am and noon.

Feel free to join us on the crush pad if you hit the snooze button too many times. We will be there much of the afternoon!

See you all very soon,


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Cabernet

I just returned home after spending the afternoon sampling grapes and walking the vines of Vellum's largest Cabernet vineyard. A cool weather spell has maintained the brix at a moderate 22 which makes us think it might be another 2 or more weeks before the fruit is ready for harvest.

The longer it hangs - the better.

- Jeff

(Here are some photos from today's vineyard sampling.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Merlot vines - up close and personal

I wanted to share a few photos from my brother Brian's visit to our vineyards this week.

Take a look at the merlot vines - up close and personal in the first photo.

Sampling and tasting the grapes right from the vine is one of life's true pleasures.

Brian is wearing a very stylish Vellum baseball cap. Limited edition!

Harvest this week!!

After the heat wave earlier in the month we saw the brix jump to the 20's and it sparked a county-wide rush to bring in fruit. Growers from all over Napa and Sonoma have been bringing in grapes by the truckload. Seeing their haste, we waited...we re-evaluated...and did some deep analysis on our grapes to guide our harvest schedule.

Our decision to hold off has paid off. We have two vineyards ready to come in...both are at the right sugar level and the extra time on the vine has contributed superbly to the grapes' maturity. The tannins are ripe, supported by balanced acids in the flesh and the seeds are woody and crunchy. Perfect timing!

And though it has been a nail-biter...we are confident that our patience will be well-rewarded.

If you would like to join us during harvest please call to RSVP and get directions to our vineyards.

- Jeff

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A surprise gift

This was not the year we expected. The previous two years here in Napa Valley were wet in the Spring followed by long hot summers and leading to compressed harvests. This season however was a bit of a surprise. A temperate Spring allowed for almost full set in the clusters and the weather remained even but warm throughout the summer with no rainfall.

At the end of August we went through a heat spike bringing up the sugars quickly and dropping the acids in the fruit that ripened early. This led many to believe that once again all of the fruit would come in at once.

The first week of September proved different. The pressure system changed and everything slowed down again keeping with the trend of 2007.

It's the 12th now and our fruit is still on the vine. Consistent daily temperatures have provided for slow maturing of the grapes and concentrating flavors. The clusters look fine, tight, but fleshy with no rot. We are also pleased to know that the acids remain high, balanced, and will provide a terrific backbone for this year's vintage.

This may prove to be one of the finer years Napa Valley has seen in some time and we eagerly anticipate what this year will contribute to Vellum's first vintage.

- Karl

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Countdown to harvest

I will always look back on the 2007 growing season with a smile - having walked miles of vineyard rows inspecting clusters of grapes, sampling berries and pressing clumps of soil between my fingers. Spending time among the vines has been inspirational and grounding on many levels.

And now harvest is almost upon us! We are expecting our first grapes in the week of September 17th.

Karl and I were just out at our merlot vineyard last night, sampling grapes by flashlight and glow stick. We both remarked at how dense the wine from those berries will be. Deep and concentrated.

Of course, that's why we chose the vineyard in the first place. The merlot from this vineyard doesn't taste like merlot. It is inky, rich, dense...but still floats in the mouth as if it were weightless. A simply perfect blending compliment to our Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon.

But enough of the winespeak! Welcome to Vellum's very own blog...or as we like to call it...Vellum's Harvest Notes.

We hope that you connect with us often as we unveil the makings of Vellum's first vintage!