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