Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vellum is throwing a party!

You are cordially invited to Vellum Wine Craft's inaugural wine release!

Please join us for an afternoon of wine tasting with Vellum's Winemaker Karl Lehmann as we uncork Vellum Wine Craft's premier vintage - the 2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon.

Due to popular demand - we are hosting two release parties to accommodate our patrons in both Northern and Southern California.

**Sunday, May 3rd from 2pm-5pm
(Location: A Taste of the Himalayas Restaurant, 464 1st Street East
Sonoma, CA 95476)

**Sunday, May 17th from 2pm-5pm
(Location: Mathy Family House, 2054 Smokewood Avenue, Fullerton, CA 92831)

All are welcome to attend!

Please let us know that you will be joining us by emailing

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Milliliters, Milligrams and Millimeters - Part II of the "Joy of Bottling"

Today, on Saint Patrick's Day our very first unfined and unfilitered wine made its final journey and is now sealed in glass. I cannot impress enough upon everyone how exceedingly difficult it is to make truly great wine much less to get it past the final hurdle and into bottle. We have put everything we know and everything we have into Vellum and yet our success is measured by milliliters, milligrams and millimeters.

Putting a cork into a bottle of wine properly requires an understanding of temperature, vacuum, and very close consistent tolerances in the head-space between the wine and the cork. The temperature of the wine cannot be too cold. If there is too great a difference between the wine and the ambient temperature, it will expand in the bottle when it warms up and quite possibly push up the cork even under a vacuum.

Being the mindful types we are; the wine came out of the tank at 58-60 degrees F and went into the bottle at about the same temperature. We maintained a head-space between 12-14mm in each bottle, giving the wine a chance to move if the worst should happen (exposure to heat)...Let's hope not. I like to think that everyone stores their wine responsibly!

It is also worth considering the amount of dissolved oxygen is the wine. This measurement is important to protect the wine from any infection that could happen in the bottle. At Vellum we will not fine or filter our wines. Fining is a process by which undesirable constituents are removed from a wine during the winemaking process. The other side of this process is that fining agents do not discriminate and they will remove the good stuff too! Filtering, while making a wine more biologically stable and microbe free can also strip out a wine very quickly leaving it listless. In most cases may take months afterward for it to re-integrate (if at all) to its former state.

So, our only weapons to make sure that Vellum goes into and develops in bottle infection-free, is impeccable hygiene and good numbers. We keep everything sanitized from our barrels to our equipment but also it is the nature of our wine that keeps any yeast or bacteria from growing in it. The wine is dry (no sugar in it) and virtually free of malic acid. Both of these can be food sources for yeast and bacteria respectively.

Also, Vellum has a comparatively low pH by Napa Valley standards. Not only does this contribute greatly to sensory properties but it is an inhibitor of infection. As mentioned, the dissolved oxygen level has been brought down below 1 mg/L where normally it can range from 4 to 6 mg/L . So, when the wine hits the bottle anything in it that requires oxygen to live (aerobic yeast or bacteria)- will not thrive.

As a reminder, when you can no longer resist the temptation to drink the wine, please let the bottle breath upon opening. It needs oxygen to "wake it up" and you will find that your drinking experience will be much more pleasurable.

Finally, for aesthetic purposes, once we have finished corking the wine we needed to put the capsule on it and have the labels strategically placed. The package for Vellum has become a reflection of what is in the bottle but unfortunately getting it right can be an exacting task. So, the labels have to be placed with tolerances of 1-2mm and the foils have to go on with the right amount of torque without breaking or even stressing the bottles. There also should be no folds during the process and this perhaps is the most tedious task and requiring many eyes as the bottles come off the line and into their cases.

Which reminds me... I want to take this opportunity to thank all twelve? (I think I counted correctly) people involved in the bottling of the 2007 Vellum vintage. They demonstrated great skill and professionalism over the two days and they met our needs without hesitation. When working with solid people like this, it makes a seemingly trying event much more bearable and gratifying. Again, my thanks to everyone involved and to everyone who purchased futures of our first vintage, we are eagerly anticipating the release as much as all of you are in May.

- Karl Lehmann

The bottling line in live action...

Thank you to our family and guests who documented the bottling of the 2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

A day of bottling has come and gone...and now the celebrations begin.

So many green bottles must mean good luck on St. Patrick's Day.

- Jeff Mathy

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Springtime in the Vineyards

Yesterday Karl and I spent the day among the vines. We paid special attention to the water-retention of the soil...and did an inspection of vines after their winter pruning.

The vines must be pruned during their dormancy (in the winter months). If the vines are not trimmed back to the main cordons (arm-like branches), then the vine will continue to grow larger until it looks like a bush.

Our vineyard managers prune the vines to maintain only the necessary amount of vegetation on the vine during the growing season. Less vegetation means that more energy/sugar is transferred to the grape clusters. Plus, it makes the vines easier to monitor and harvest.

Spring showers have also brought us seas of mustard plants. Their bright yellow flowers make the vineyards a major attraction for naturalists and photographers during the vines' dormant season. But one benefit that the mustard brings to the vineyards is the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is a vital component in healthy soil...and mustard is a great cover crop to provide the soil this "nutrient boost".

Vineyard management is a tricky business - every vineyard has different needs.

We strive to direct each vine's resources into the grape clusters, while simultaneously stressing the vine enough to minimize vigor and overcropping.

Small berries in small clusters always bring greater complexity and depth to a red wine. As winemakers, we work tirelessly with our vineyard managers to find an equilibrium for each vine that produces the finest quality grapes. Our foremost goal is to maintain the integrity and health of the vine and its entire ecosystem.

Sustainability - a buzz word in many respects - is something we take very seriously.

- Jeff Mathy

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wine Study Group

On behalf of Vellum, I would like to thank our good friend Rick for helping to organize a small study group of young wine professionals who meet about once per week to taste and discuss wines from all over the world.

While we don't usually taste more than about 15 wines per night, we occasionally bring all of the half-bottle samplers out for a parade of sorts.

In order to keep the tasting unbiased, our friend Patrick chooses which wines will be opened on any given night. Patrick's lack of bias is firmly rooted in his inability to tell wines apart. So as most of us do, he judges the wines based on their labels. Whichever labels look interesting that night - that is what we taste.

Along the way, we keep up a continuing education in wine, winemaking, wine styles, yeasts, blending and more...

It is rare to come across a wine we all universally love - which is a testament to our belief that everyone has a unique tasting palate.

And while there are many wines I have found unpalatable or even downright offensive - it seems that I am always happier when there is wine in my glass. It doesn't matter what kind of wine it is...I always seem to learn something from it and about it.

- Jeff Mathy

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Karl's "Joy of Bottling", Part I

When I was a boy I read this ancient Chinese saying, "Give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime."

I loved this piece of wisdom and the lesson it taught me, but when I grew up I faced reality and learned another saying, "Teach a man to fish and he has to buy bamboo rods, graphite reels, mono-filament lines, neoprene waders, tackle boxes, lures, flies, spinners, worm rigs, slip sinkers, offset hooks, gore-tex hats, 20-pocket vests, fish finders, boats, trailers and SIX PACKS!!!"

The long lost lessons are not forgotten but I think I'll opt for the adult take on life.


For the past weeks Jeff has been showing the world all of the components it takes to get wine into a bottle - and there are a lot:

- Bottles in standard size, half-size, 1.5 Liter, 3 Liter and 6 Liter.

- Four different size corks.

- Tin capsules.

- Labels front and back.

- Boxes, cardboard and wooden.

- Pallets, shrink wrap and twine.

- Bottling line, crew, truck, fork-lift.

- And a bonded cold storage warehouse.

...Oh and...WINE!!!


So now that's out of the way, I thought I would go through the process of the "JOY" that is bottling.

We are scheduled to put the 2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon into bottle on March 17th. It's a day reserved for a certain St. Patrick, the lurid but endearing Kelly green, Leprechauns...?...and a worldwide timed event where people practice the custom of taking alcohol OUT of bottle, not putting it back in!!

...Part II of this post coming soon...

- Karl Lehmann

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Branding the Cork.

Today I had the pleasure of spending the morning with my friends at Ganau, Vellum's cork producer.

Ganau has a superb staff and maintains an extremely high level of quality throughout the cork preparation process.

The raw cork is first washed with hydrogen peroxide to provide a uniform color. The corks are also screened for imperfections, by hand, multiple times before arriving at the processing facility.

Once the cork bales are approved by the winemaker (see Monday's Blog), they are loaded into a fire-branding machine that rolls each cork against a flame-heated metal brand. The brand burns its image into the cork as it rolls by. Again, corks are sorted at this point so that only the highest quality corks make it to the bottle.

Next the cork is loaded into a tumbler that applies a very thin layer of paraffin to the exterior. This allows the cork to be uncorked with very little resistance. It also prevents the cork from breaking.

After the tumbler, the corks go through a final baking/curing process right before shipment to the winery.

I hope you enjoy the photos...

And thank you again to Ganau for a great morning,

- Jeff Mathy

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sample Capsules.

Yesterday we approved the final samples of Vellum's capsule. The custom tin capsules are being produced in Europe and will be flown over to the US next week...just in time for bottling.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cork cork cork.

This morning we inspected the nearly 10,000 corks to be paired with our 2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon.

As a quality-centric winery, we chose corks of the highest possible quality - sourced from sustainably grown and harvested groves in Italy.

They are 54mm in length - perfect for the long neck of our bottle. A longer cork will create a better oxygen barrier during the wine's lifespan. While some air exchange is important during the aging process, too much air will eventually oxidize the wine beyond a pleasurable measure.

We also have a small selection of 44mm corks for our half-bottle size (very limited production).

During the inspection, we checked for uniform quality and the absence of off-putting aromas. Musty and mildewy smells from raw cork can sometimes be a sign of infection. No bad smells were coming from these corks. In fact, the scent was reminiscent of fresh popcorn.

This week, the corks will be fire-branded with Vellum's name and website (see the brands in the images above). Then they will go through a final polishing process that adds a very thin layer of wax to the exterior, allowing for a smooth uncorking from the bottle.

Counting down to bottling...