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Brandon Lapides is winemaker at Armida Winery in the Russian River Valley wine region.
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Ask the Winemaker
What is ML Fermentation, Malolactic Fermentation, Secondary Fermentation?
Why do wines get better with age?
How do you pair wines with dessert?
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 1-2
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 3-4
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 5-7
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 - Finale
What’s so special about Syrah?
Harvest 2009, First Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Second Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Third Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Fourth Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Final Interview with Winemaker B
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 1-2 Why don’t you start out by giving us a quick update on how you got the winery ready for harvest?
Winemaker B: Just a couple weeks ago we finished bottling our last barrels. We then cleaned out those barrels, and got everything organized in the cellar. We got all of the open top tanks ready, and basically by Labor Day weekend we were ready for the craziness to begin on Tuesday 9/2.

I came to work Tuesday morning and found out that due to a ten-day heat spike in the Russian River Valley with no fog to save us, with temperature lows only in the mid 60s, and highs in the upper 90s, the first grapes finished ripening all at once. So we got bombarded with grapes!

VV: So the heat wave didn't only affect the grapes that you have already picked, but will also affect the grapes that are still on the vine and won’t be picked for another month?
WB: I believe so. This will likely cause an earlier picking year for all the varietals. I believe that the late harvested grapes like Syrah, Zinfandel and Cabernet can still have a stellar year, especially if we continue to have this cool down, as they can hang there until almost November and have full flavor.

VV: What grape varietals normally come in first during harvest?
WB: Pinot Noir is the earliest red grape ripener. Sauvignon Blanc is an earlier white grape ripener, and winemakers like to keep it a low alcohol wine, so it could be the first grape picked in mid to late August. We have also brought in some Chardonnay. All of our Rued Vineyard Chardonnay came in last Friday. Viognier is a tricky little beast. The pH and acid creep up on you with this grape. But the earlier you harvest it the less of the peach sweetness you get. Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are usually picked rather late; we’ll get into that in the next few weeks.
VV: Tell us what has happened at Dutton Goldfield Winery since harvest began.
WB: We have brought in over 220 tons into our facility, which is about 1/3 of our production, within 8 working days. (Dutton Goldfield uses the Balletto Vineyards winery facilities, so these numbers are the totals for Balletto, Dutton Goldfield and the handful of other small labels that use that facility.) By 9/13 we will have every open top [fermenter tank] filled. A lot of the fruit is cold soaking. (Refer to our blog on cold soaking.) We are punching down each tank 3 times a day and by Saturday we will have 34 of our open top tanks filled with Pinot Noir. Also we will have 5 tanks filled with Chardonnay, 1 tank with Gewürztraminer and 1 tank with Pinot Gris. Tomorrow, September 10th, we will begin barrel fermenting the Chardonnays. What we do is we press the Chardonnay, whole cluster (stems and all). The stems act like a filter bed and help to squeeze more juice out of the grapes without squeezing more out of the stems. We will put it into a tank and chill it for a couple days, then we rack off the solids, which includes the stems and dirt etc., and put the juice into another tank. We then add some yeast and wait a couple days at 50 degrees and let the yeast get acclimated, then you can see the yeast starting to perk. Next we barrel down and add a little bit of nutrients. For the next 14 days the Chardonnay will be fermenting in a closed barrel with a vent at the top for the CO2 to escape. In the next update we'll talk about what’s next for the Chardonnay.

VV: OK, that is how the Chardonnay is handled in the beginning; now tell us how the Pinot Noir is handled.
WB: Pinot is first de-stemmed then put into the open tops. It stays in there for 12-16 days. Usually a 4-day cold-soak followed by an 8-day fermentation, where you give the grapes some yeast. As they start warming up they start to ferment. We punch it down 3 times a day. They then get drained and pressed.

VV: Why do you de-stem the Pinot Noir before cold soaking and fermenting?
WB: Actually, that's decided from year to year. Stems, when they are still green, will add a lot of vegetable and unripe flavors to the wine. Pinot Noir from years with long (for Pinot) growing seasons, is often harvested with brown stems. The stems can add a lot of beneficial flavor when they are brown. But when they are green you can end up with something more like an under-ripe Cabernet, where you taste a lot more bell pepper, or fresh grass.

VV: What is a typical day for you during harvest?
WB: The first thing I do is go smell all the tanks from the top. Then everything goes through its first day punch down. Then the brix (sugar) levels are read. I’ll go and look at the temperatures of all the tanks, make sure everything is set to what it should be. A lot of my job is temperature management. An intern will record what the temperatures of the day are in each tank and see how far along things are moving. This will help us to know if the grapes need certain nutrients (yeast or acid) and when.

VV: What are your hours during harvest?
WB: It depends on the day and how many grapes come in. I usually get here by 6 a.m. and leave around 8 or 9 p.m. Yesterday was our biggest and longest day yet this season, we did 59 tons of wine and I worked 17 hours! That was the Rued Vineyard Chardonnay I was talking about earlier. The juice tasted so good! It was pretty amazing. It’s going to be a great year for grapes like that. That vineyard is dry farmed and it had a really good balance of the acid and sugar in the fruit.

VV: Brandon, we appreciate you doing this interview with us. We know that our readers will really enjoy reading all about the harvest and are looking forward to following you through a whole harvest. By the way, did you shave your head and face like you usually do at the beginning of harvest?

WB: Yes, I shaved last Monday before it all began. (See photo.) Thanks for letting me share all the excitement of harvest with your readers.
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