Toasted Toad CellarsToasted Toad Cellars

2010

November 3, 2010 - Better Late Than Never

 

It has been a very interesting harvest to say the least. So overwhelming, in fact, that I have not been able to get back here and post. This has been the harvest from hell, but with results that promise to be heaven. Here I am, sitting at the computer, with temperatures in the high 70's in November with clear and sunny skies. What is up with that? The weather this year has played havok with growers and winemakers alike. First, there was a lack of degree days to ripen grapes like we are used to seeing and then rain before many people had grapes ripe enough to harvest. Some growers did leaf thinning to open up the canopy to get the grapes more sun only to be hit with that heat wave, resulting in sunburned grapes and crop loss and damage. Only one word to describe it. CRAZY!!! Okay, wait, two words: crazy and stressful.

 

For us, harvest started out fairly normal with numerous trips to our growers' vineyards to look at and test the brix (sugar level) in the grapes, trying to figure out when picking should be scheduled. Some grapes looked like they were two to three weeks behind normal and some grapes looked even further out. This late ripening puts the scare of Mother Nature into you because you know that the rain will certainly come at some point and cause rot, lower sugars and who knows what else. On the positive side, the slow ripening suggested that the grapes would be fully ripened, but have lower brix than typical, resulting in lower alcohol wines more similar to those from the European growing regions.

 

As we got closer to starting to harvest, things got condensed. Grapes that were way out, started ripening quickly and grapes that were almost ripe kept moving ahead all to collide in a torrent of phone calls, text messages and emails, in an attempt to only need to be in one place at a time. Now, you have to realize that we do not work in a vacuum and that oru situation was not particular to us, but impacted virtually everyone. This means that  you have to try to get pickers when you need them and make sure your grapes are at the top of the list for when they hit the winery so they don't sit. Then, there is the issue of making sure you have tank space and fermentors which, because everything is coming in at once, means you need a combination of more tanks, more fermentors and more creativity. Grapes wait for no one, not even the Toasted Toad.

 

Our first grapes in were the Zinfandel which were about two to three weeks later than normal (September 29th), but looked even better than last year's with no red grape, no rot and few raisins. The morning of the pick was cool and clear and the grapes were in the iwnery by just after 8:00 AM, still nice and cold before the heat of the day oculd warm them, perfect for sorting and destemming and off to a nice cold soak for a few days before starting the fermentation. Well, by the time the cold soak was over, the grapes had soaked up and now the brix was bordering on being too high to ferment to dry. Not really at all what was expected based on the growing season and the condition of the grapes when picked. With a massively big heap of positive thinking, we went ahead with fermentation unwilling to do a bleed off and add water to reduce the brix. A gamble that has paid off so far, producing a huge Zinfandel that is tremendously full of flavor and yes, dry.

 

Next, it was off to the Alexander Valley to pick our Merlot. The Merlot this year had looser bunches than last year with smaller grapes compared to last year's full bunches with large juicy grapes. It was a very early morning drive to Sonoma to meet the pickers who never cease to amaze me with their speed and skill. As usual, they made short work of our tonnage and then it was off for the long drive back to Lodi to sort and destem.

 

This year has also required a lot more work when moving grapes to make sure we do not have, or spread the European Grapevine Moth, which can ruin an entire vineyard. Althoug the pest has spread from some parts of Napa to parts of Sonoma and now to areas of Lodi and other grape regions, the efforts to control them are paying off with a very significant decrease in the overall population.

 

After a few days without picking, it was off to Calistoga for this year's new addition to the Toasted Toad menu. We added a Petite Sirah from a vineyard that we used last year with my home winemaking buddies. The vineyard is from an area well known for its Petite Sirah and the vines were heavy with fruit despite heavy dropping of the large, luscious tight clusters. After picking, there was another long drive back to Lodi and then a workout on the sorting table to deal with some rot that resulted from the tight clustering and cooler weather. More work than expected but so far the efforts are paying off with a deep, inky wine with lots of structure and great flavors. I expect this to be a favorite with those who like big, full-bodied wines with lots of backbone, structure and fruit.

 

Another couple of days without picking grapes and now it was time for hell week. After spending time working on some of the home winemaking group's picking along with the normal winery stuff it was time for Cabernet. Now, consider this is after two 12 to 14 hour days. Hop in the Suburban with the trailer at 11:30 at night and drive to Rutherford where at about 12:30 AM, you pull into the vineyard, lay down in the back of the Suburban and wait for 3:30 AM (yeah, that's right, the dark part of the morning) when the pickers show up. By 4:00 AM, kives are flying and grapes are hitting the picking bins. At 6:30 AM, back on the road with the load strapped and tarped to prevent the spread of those pesky moths and off to Lodi. Sort and destem the fruit and get it ready for cold soaking. Clean the macro bins and reload them on the trailer to drop them off in Lodi for the Viognier in the morning. Check on the other wines already in cold soak that are starting to ferment and taste and smell each tank or bin. Look at lab results including daily brix and temperature readings to make sure everything is progressing as expected. Continue to have faith in the Zinfandel, despite everyone else being worried that we will have a stuck fermentation. Finally, head to the Viognier vineyard to drop off the bins and then go home to rest. Haha.

 

Six hours of sleep and off to get the first load of Viognier. After the great sales success we have seen and all of the positive feedback (even from predominantly red wine drinkers) for the '09 Viognier, we increased this year's production. This required two trips to get the grapes. The arrival of the first load of Viognier went to the sorting table and then into the press for whole cluster pressing just like last year. Once sorted and in the press, it was back to the vineyards to pick up the other half of the grapes and back to the winery to sort and press them. The juice then went into the tanks for cold settling after pressing and then a first racking and inoculation with the yeast to start the cold fermentation. This is a long, slow process that takes much more time to complete than a typical red wine fermentation. This year's Viognier looks to be every bit as good as last year's filled with those wonderful tropical and citrus flavors. This is a tough one not to just drink as it is fermenting in the tank. Oh yeah, the end of the day included washing the macro bins, loading the trailer and heading to the Souzão vineyard in Lodi to drop off the bins for the next pick.

 

Souzão you say? This year we switched it up for the TLW, now being called Toadilly Lickable Wine, using another traditional port grape instead of the Touriga Nacional. Now, if you are wondering why we switched, it is due to a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, our Touriga Nacional grapes disappeared from the vineyard before we go them which was a result of the confusion of this year's harvest. The other reason we switched is because we do like to try new things and this is a wonderful grape that produces and inky black juice that makes a tremendous port style wine. It has fantastic dark berry (black fruit - lol a wine reviewing term) flavors and a good acid balance. It was also cold fermented to extend the maceration and extraction from the skins before being doused with high proof grape spirits to halt fermentation and maintain some residual sugar.

 

So, that was harvest. A laid back, casual, no stress journey through the vineyard to the winery. Thank goodness for good wine to drink to help keep the momentum going and also for the great home brewed beers from Brian (the Cellar Toad). Thanks to all our growers and the staff at the winery for their hard work, patience and perserverance through another interesting year.

 

Most of the primary fermentations are done and malolactic fermentation have been started where intended. The Cabernet, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel are now going through their secondary fermentation (malolactic fermentation) in barrels. The Souzão is still in a tank finishing cold fermentation which should be over shortly and then it will be off to the barrels. The Viognier is happily hanging out in the tanks cold fermenting, but tasting seriously more like a tropical paradise than something living in cold stainless steel. So, time to kick back and relax. Yeah, sorry, not happening.

 

It is time to get thinking about labels, bottles and corks. We have work to do with the '09 reds to get them ready for bottling early next year and will be performing blending trials to see what, if any, blending is required. And, of course, there is the day to day stuff of running a winery and being a business like taxes, taxes and more taxes. But, Halloween is over and Turkey day is near so grab a bottle or two of Viognier to go with your bird and some TLW for dessert. Oh yeah, my personal rant - use your biggest wine glass or buy some of ours so you can truly enjoy the full impact of Toasted Toad wines. As always, give us a call or send us an email with questions, comments or inquiries. Cheers! - Jeff

 

August 24, 2010 - A Toadilly Luscious Day

 

In the early morning hours of Friday, we received a call from our label printers that the Toadilly Luscious Wine (TLW) labels were done and ready for pickup about a week early. This was exciting news that required our schedule to be rearranged for a quick run to Napa to see the fruits of another stressful part of our labor for this scrumptious dessert wine. As noted in previous entries, nothing about the packaging for this wine has been straightforward. So, off I went with a sample bottle hand-dipped with the silver wax that we apply to the top of each bottle to see the results of our decisions and efforts because this was too exciting to wait until Monday to see.

 

Armed with the infamous bottle, which we just had to use and that requires hand bottling and can't use a standard capsule, I went to pick up the labels which can't be applied with a standard labeler and require more hand work. The label process started with our consideration of the shape of the bottle and our thoughts about the final look and feel for the packaging. We wanted a somewhat traditional port style look for the label, suggestive of a fine vintage year bottling. The size and the shape of the bottle, combined with the legal requirements for the information required by the government, presented some challenges. Not only are you required to have certain information on the label, but the font has to be a minimum size.

 

After our initial meeting with Stephanie and Mark, our label printing experts, we decided to see if we could make this work with a standard label die size. It became apparent that we just couldn't get the look we wanted, so after deciding that we intend to use this bottle for future vintages, we bit the bullet and spent the time and money to have a custom die made. We also had several discussions on how we were going to print the labels and the printing options. We went through three iterations of draft labels to address all of the legal requirements and finally got approval from the "man" that the labels met all of the requirements and approval to print was given.

 

Upon arrival, armed with the bottle sample, I was met by Stephanie and Mark to see the results of the team's effort. Mark peeled off a set of labels from the roll and applied them to the bottle. The moment of truth, as they say, was at hand. All of our efforts were about to be unveiled to see if we had hit the mark or if we had somehow missed. So, now the question is left to be answered by you - our toadies. Did we hit the mark or did we miss?

 

A few facts about the TLW. This is a fortified dessert wine made with a Portuguese grape called Touriga Nacional. It contains 18% alcohol and 6% residual sugar. The flavors are of rich, dark fruits like blackberry and dark cherries with hints of rasberry and blueberry. There are rich tones of chocolate, vanilla and coconut contained in a full bodied extravaganza that fills the palate and makes your brain scream YUM! It is dessert in a bottle and calls for hot fudge pudding cake or a chocolate souffle and the company of great friends or the love of your life. It is also perfect with a great cigar and a deck chair in the last hour of a warm summer sunset or a hot tub at midnight or a bubble bath with candles and that someone special.

 

Check out the webstore and pre-order TLW and we will ship it as soon as it is ready to drink - estimated to be September 30th. And now that the heat of summer has finally arrived, grab a few extra bottles of Viognier to enjoy with your summer meals or an afternoon around the pool. Don't forget to pick up some GoVino unbreakable glasses for around the pool or hot tub to avoid broken glass. Cheers! - Jeff

 

August 11, 2010 - Mothra and the Vineyard Attacks

 

Our precious vineyards and their pearls of juiciness are under attack from the evil forces of Europe or more accurately, the European Grapevine Moth a.k.a. EGVM or in Latinese, Lobesia botrana. These invasive pesky little critters were found last year in Napa and now seem to be popping up in most all of the major wine grape growing areas. Last year, they wiped out the entire crop in at least one vineyard in Napa. Most growers have been spraying to kill and control them and that cost will be passed on to the grape buyers this year.

 

We met yesterday with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to obtain the necessary paperwork to complete our Compliance Agreement so that we can legally move grapes from the vineyard to the winemaking facility. More important than being legal is making sure we do our part to help control the population of this pest and to control its spread.

 

On a happier note, we received our approval from COLA on the label for Toadilly Luscious Wine (TLW) which is currently adjusting to its new home in the very cool bottles. The labels should be printed in the next couple of weeks and we will then apply them by hand (both a front and a back label) to each bottle. Each bottle will be topped with a hand dipped application of silver wax to finish off the presentation and protect the scrumptious contents contained within. You will want to make sure and have a few bottles around for the holidays to top off your food coma meals.

 

And now for the weather report. Well, as much as I am enjoying this cooler summer, it is not helping the grapes to ripen. Reports, and our own personal observations, have the grapes running 2 to 4 weeks behind schedule which could produce some fantastic fruit, provided we do not have rain before the grapes are ready. The likelihood of rain before the grapes are ready to harvest is high, but given the weird weather patterns we are experiencing, who knows. A streak of really hot weather could help catch the grapes up and all might end well. It is up to Mother Nature now, so we will keep our fingers crossed and our eyes on the sky. All we ask is ripe fruit, no rot, no mildew, no moths and a perfect harvest - come on is that so much to ask for?

 

And just a reminder, if you have not tried a bottle of the Viognier and checked out our online store, please do. If you have any questions, shoot us an email or give us a call. Our contact information is on the Contact Us page and please follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Also, sign up on the email list if you have not already done so, for news of special offers and new releases. We promise not to pester you.

 

August 3, 2010 - Finally Something to Drink

 

I get a lot of grief from some of the followers on this page about a lack of frequent updates. I have to admit, they should be more frequent, but making the wine comes first and foremost followed by the business side of making sure we have everything ready and legal to keep this going. Both of these are substantial tasks that take a tremendous amount of time, effort and money. If you want to be most up to date on the things going on, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

 

The Viognier has been bottled, gone through bottle shock and is now available for purchase in the webstore which was recently launched and where you can also purchase Toasted Toad Cellars logo products. We highly recommend that if you do not have some large wine glasses, that you order a couple of ours to truly get the most out of Toasted Toad Cellars wines. All of our wines are consistently tasted in these glasses and really shine their best in a glass of similar shape and size. When it comes to wine, size and shape of the glass really does matter. As an example, the wrong size or shape of glass can make the wine taste bitter and you can lose all of the wonderful aromas. There is no perfect wine glass for all wines, but a glass similar in size and shape to the ones we sell will certainly make our wines taste and smell the way we intended since these are the glasses used throughout the entire winemaking process. The webstore is a secure site, offering you the opportunity to use all major credit cards for your purchases or feel free to call or email us and we can take your order and arrange shipping, pickup or possibly delivery depending on your location.

 

We had a launch party for the Viognier on the 10th of July with some friends and family and it was met with many happy sippers and positive reviews and comments. We also provided some early barrel samples of the other wiens so that attendees could get an idea of what to look forward to in the future. We also tasted our homemade Tempranillo and Malbec, which we made as part of our trials program for future commercial offerings. We want to thank all of you that made it to our launch and hope that you enjoyed the wine and food pairings and look forward to any comments you have regarding the wines or the event.

 

The Touriga Nacional Toadilly Luscious Wine (TLW) was bottled on the 27th of July and will now enjoy some time in the bottle to aclimate to its new environment. As mentioned in a recent tweet, the TLW was bottled in a bottle requiring hand bottling and corking. Because of the bottle shape, we have have had to get a special label die made to cut the label shape and we will also be hand dipping the bottles in wax because our normal capsules will not work with the bottles, and besides, we like the way it looks. Hopefully, our labels will be approved shortly by the government and we can get them printed and start the hand labeling process of the 500+ bottles of TLW. With any luck, bottleshock will end soon and you will get a chance to enjoy some of the sensuous juice which is bursting with chocolate, caramel, berry and coconut.

 

We visited our Cabernet vineyard in Napa last week to see how things are progressing. The grapes are coming along nicely although, like the grapes in all of Northern California, they are running a few weeks behind the normal schedule because of the cooler than normal weather. Hopefully, we will see later than normal rains so the grapes get a chance to fully ripen and get harvested before getting wet. All of our other grapes are in the same boat and we are currently planning to add a Petite Sirah to this year's production. The Petite Sirah is from Calistoga which is one of our favorite areas for this varietal and an area we consider to be one of the best.

 

Now, don't forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook and to check out the cool stuff in the webstore.

 

May 7, 2010 - Romantic Misconceptions of Winemaking

 

Step into the time machine and project yourself to late July 2010 (estimate release date for the 2009 Toasted Toad Cellars Viognier). Now, you are sitting in a lounge chair on the patio in the backyard sipping a delightfully refreshing glass of our 2009 Toasted Toad Cellars Viognier, with your dog quietly sleeping at your feet and your favorite music playing softly in the background, thinking WOW this is really incredible wine, what a cool, kicked back life this winemaking thing must be. And in response to that, you better have another glass of wine before facing the realities of how winemaking truly is. Winemaking is work, very hard physical work at times, mentally hard work much of the time, financially risky work and emotionally hard work most of the time. And if it is your true passion, as it is ours, then it is a gut-wrenching roller coaster all of the time.

 

That beautiful golden glass of nectar that you are so enjoying did not just magically happen. It required hard work, commitment and passion from the moment the vines were planted until you popped the painstakingly designed and selected cork, from the equally painstakingly designed and selected bottle, label and capsule. As winemakers, we start our process by looking for the best vineyards we can find for the varietals we choose to make. This requires research on the internet and using other sources to find those varietals of grapes we are seeking. Then, there are trips to vineyards and discussions with growers about the grapes including root stock, clone type, growing practices and pricing and contract terms (yes, business stuff). This is followed by visits and tasting at other wineries that have made wines from the vineyards' grapes whenever possible to help finalize the selection.

 

Now that you have selected your varietal and found your grower, you must watch and wait to see what Mother Nature does to your precious fruit. Will she be kind and provide those perfectly warm days and cool evenings or will she blast you with blazingly hot days blistering your precious pearls of desire like newborns without sunscreen, or try to drown them like the citizens of Louisiana during a hurricane and make them rot? There are numerous trips to each of the vineyards you have chosen during the growing season collecting samples of grapes and checking their sugar levels and tasting them for flavor and ripeness. And then, second, third and fourth guessing yourself about whether you chose the best vineyard and when to schedule a picking. No stress, just a romantic day in the vineyard right?

 

Well, the time has come and you have decided to pick tomorrow. Only one more night of hand wringing and fretting over the weather and then the hard part and uncertainty is over right? WRONG!!! There is now that little detail of getting the grapes picked and delivered to the winery for the making part. Will the pickers show up and will the tractor and the forklift work? Will the bins of grapes stay safely secured to the trailer on their way to the winery and will the journey be without incident?

 

Okay, time to take a deep breath because you and the grapes have arrived at the winery safely and all is well, right? Now all you have to do is smash them into juice and wait, right? Not exactly. In fact, not even close. If you planned and things went well, you have all of the supplies you need. That special yeast you wanted was not on backorder or was not lost in shipping and all of the equipment at the winery is happy and working perfectly. Your additives, enzymes and nutrients that you have spent hours discussing and debating and the addition rates and protocol are in place and perfect. Well you hope and think they are, but one never knows since winemaking is only part science. There is some art, preference and a whole lot of luck involved.

 

Off to the destemmer for the reds and the press for the whites. The reds go off to cold soak for a while. But how long of a cold soak is another decision. You get your firest lab results back and you study the numbers and now you must make decisions about acid, pH adjustments and nutrient additions. Each of these decisions will impact the final wine and there is no exact formula and no exact way to know what the end result will be. No pressure or stress so far...this is just an easy, romantic trip in the land of winemaking.

 

Acid and pH adjusted, nutrients good to go and time to inoculate the must with yeast and let fermentation happen. Wait, did I pick the right yeast since it will impact the flavor profile? Will the fermentation go too fast or too slow or worse yet, get stuck? No stress, just romance, right? Everyday we must check the brix and temperature to track fermentation progress. If the wine is a red then smashing the cap or doing a pumpover a few times a day is required. If it is white, we have to make sure the chiller is working and check that the temperature in the fermentation tank is correct and stable.

 

Fermentation is now complete and all of the lab results have been coming back good. It is time to press the reds and rack the whites. Hopefully, you have enough barrels based on your desired flavor profile and based on the final volumes because you never know how much liquid those dang little grapes will actually give up when pressed. And of course you have to decide if you are going to do malolactic fermentation and if so, using what strain of malolactic bacteria. Ahhhh, the romance of it all.

 

Finally, all fermentation is done and the wines are happily resting, aging, maturing and developing in their tanks or barrels. Make no mistake about it, these wines are alive and they have sneaky little minds of their own. You do frequent tastings to see how they are developing. Sometimes you walk away with a big smile on your face and all is well and sometimes you walk away wondering if you are going to dump lots of money down the drain or sell it off on the bulk market because you would never allow it to have the Toasted Toad Cellars label put on it. But experience has shown not to panic too much at this point and you keep remembering the wine is alive and in its teenage years and oh so moody.

 

After a very long adventure the time is getting near to consider bottling. It has been a year or so for the whites and so much more for the reds. This is great! We are out of the woods! Now all we have to do is put it in a bottle, slap a label on it, put a cork in it and that little foil on top and call it good. Yeah, right. Each of these items is an adventure of its own. You have been thinking about it and discussing these choices since you decided on what varietals to make. There are so many choices and if you are passionate then those choices are challenging because they represent your efforts. The bottles and the cork choices are monumental as there are hundreds of bottle shapes, colors and weights and corks are no different as there are many grades of corks as well as other types of closures. The label says it all including the legal things required by the government and must be approved before applying to the bottle. This takes time for approval and then printing must be scheduled and delays considered. Can we do all this by the bottling date?

 

And then there is that little capsule to cap it all off. This should be no big deal, right? Well, for some reason, most likely relating to our emotional investment and passion for what we do, this has been an incredible challenge that no one will probably appreciate more than us. What we wanted seemed to push the capabilities of manufacturers. Imagine, a micro winery like us, pushing the industry. We found we had only one choice of suppliers and to say it has been a test would be an immense understatement. After a journey I hope to never repeat, all was well and the capsules were scheduled to arrive before our bottling date. Surprise! Let's have a volcanic eruption that causes disruption of flights from Europe including Spain where the capsules were made. Yes, the capsules are flown here from Europe, so appreciate them.

 

So guess what. We had to bottle the 2009 Viognier without capsules and now when the capsules arrive, and if they are what we hope they will be, then we will cut the tape from each case, take each bottle out of the case, apply each capsule by hand and return each bottle to the case and re-tape it. A big pain in the rear - yes!!! Worth it? If the capsules look as we designed them, then yes. Why? The answer is very simple. We are passionate about the wines we make at Toasted Toad Cellars beyond explanation or understanding. Every single detail from the vineyard selection to the capsule is of utmost importance to us because when you choose a bottle of our wine to enjoy, we want you to feel our passion for what we created and to know that by enjoying our wines, you have become a part of the Toasted Toad family.

 

One other detail in this journey, not mentioned above, was bottling was delayed a day at the very last moment causing our schedules to require rearranging. See, no hard work, no pressure and no stress, just romance. And yes, it is the best time of our lives and we hope to be doing it for a very long time and yes, it is romantic. It is the kind of romance that knows boundless passion and requires incredible effort that for some reason never seems like work and in the end, we feel it is worth it all. We hope you do too.

 

2009 Viognier

 

We are incredibly excited to say that our first commercial wine ever at Toasted Toad Cellars, the 2009 Viognier, is in the bottle! It will now sit in the bottle for a couple of months to go through bottleshock. Yes, bottleshock is more than a movie and, to put it simply, is stressing of the wine resulting from the rigors of the bottling process and a change in environment. Before we will let you enjoy the Viognier, it has to get used to living in its new digs and feel comfortable in its stunning new blue bottle.

 

We did a preview tasting with some close friends and industry colleagues right after bottling (you know the kind of people that know wine and the best kinds of friends that are willing to be straight with you and tell you the truth). The comments were extremely positive, which when considering they are mostly red wine drinkers, makes it even more rewarding. The general consensus was that they can see themselves drinking this on a warm summer day, will pair well with spicy food, has a great tropical nose and the flavors of peaches, limes and dried apricots. It is crisp and acidic with great balance and just a hint of sweetness.

 

The specifics of the Viognier:

 

Production: 44 cases

 

% alcohol by volume: 14.9%

 

TA: 6.3

 

pH: 3.19

 

RS: 1.5

 

We will be launching our web store soon (estimated at beginning of July) at which time the wine will be available for sale along with some of our shameless marketing including T-shirts, hats, logo glasses, etc. Actually, if you want to be one of the first to get a T-shirt, etc. just shoot me an email or call (info on our Contact Us page) since we have them for sale now.

 

We are also in the works of trying to set up some pouring events for the Viognier that we will post on the website and contact those of you on the mailing list (this is a hint for you to sign up if you have not already done so). We promise not to send you endless emails, but only ones announcing things like wine releases, pouring events and special events.

 

Happy Mother's Day to all of you Moms. I miss you Mom and I hope you are proud of us. - Jeff

 

March 30, 2010 - So, it's been a while...

 

Well is has been too long since we updated you on the happenings here at Toasted Toad Cellars so we apologize. It has not been for a lack of activity, but really more the result of too much happening. Most of it has been related to the business and not as much to the wine. We have been very involved with the Federal, State and Local government agencies making sure that all of the requirements to be a legal operating winery have been met and that we will be completely ready to sell wine once it is finished.

 

As an example, those wine labels that you see on the bottle don't just get printed and slapped on to the bottle. There are very specific legal requirements that must be met and adhered to for each label. Part of it is "truth in labeling" that keeps someone from selling you a wine with grapes from one place and claiming they were grown somewhere else. Another is alcohol content which must be accurate and is the basis on which the tax rate is determined for payment to the government. There are certain words and representations that are not allowed on commercial wines. There is the all important "Government Warning" that must appear and be present in a minimum font size. Each label proof for each wine must be approved before it is mass printed and applied.

 

But yes, the time is getting closer for you all to be able to sit down on a warm summer day and uncork a bottle, or preferably a bunch of bottles, of our first release. The first wine that you will be able to get into your glass will be the 2009 Viognier, which will be bottled on April 21st or 22nd and released for sale sometime around the end of July. Why the wait, you ask? Well, when you take wine out of a barrel or a tank and send it through the bottling process it stresses out just as we do when making a big move from one houseto another or one job to another. For wines, this is known as bottleshock.

 

The time that is takes for the wine to return to tasting the way it should varies depending on all kinds of factors, but in general white wines recover faster than red wines. Each wine is different just as each of us is different when dealing with stress. It is always good to remember that wine is a living, breathing thing. It is constantly changing over time and those changes are in part dependent on the conditions it is subjected to when awaiting consumption.

 

In general, a storage temperature of approximately 55-57˚F with a humidity of 60% is considered ideal for most wines. Another key factor is darkness which is why most wines are sold in dark bottles. Ultraviolet rays oxidize the tannins in wine which is not good. At a minimum, try to find a dark place in your house to store the wine where the temperature does not significantly over the course of a day or go to a local big box home improvement store and pop for a small wine fridge. They don't typically control humidity, but they are dark and temperature consistent. An inexpensive way to help deal with humidity is to place a small tub of water in the wine fridge with a brick partially submerged in the water or get a piece of the foam used in floral displays and saturate it so it does not just float and place it in the tub of water. Both of these act as wicks and will help maintain a healthy humidity for your wine.

 

I know what you really want to know is "how is the wine tasting?" Well, the reds are all progressing great. We take tasting notes each time we taste and typically taste each barrel type of each varietal. It is interesting to note the impact of the different barrels on the same wines. We occasionally do some blends from the different barrels when tasting to help our imaginations consider the possibilities for the final blend before bottling.

 

Here are a few quick notes on each of the wines:

 

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: Like a true Napa Cab, this wine is taking its time aging to perfection. It currently has notes of spice and berries on the nose and is exhibiting flavors of dark fruit. This Cab is full-bodied, rich and luscious.

 

Sonoma Merlot: This Merlot will not be wimpy by any means. It is full of color and body and has nice tannin structure. There are notes of fruit and bell pepper on the nose and lingering finish of butterscotch.

 

Lodi Zinfandel: There are hints of strawberries, cherries and cinnamon on the nose. The flavors that tickle your tongue are more spicy, with caramel, cinnamon and white pepper taking the lead.

 

Lodi Touriga Nacional (port style): This Toadilly Luscious Wine is developing nicely with sweet aromas of oranges. The nuance of orange carries through in the taste along with chocolate. YUM!

 

Lodi Touriga Nacional (dry): This dry version of the Touriga Nacional is still exhibiting aromas of oranges along with Chinese five spice. The orange carries through on the palate as well.

 

Lodi Viognier: This Viognier is a tropical citrus fruit bomb with flavors and aromas of pineapple, green apple and honeysuckle. It is clean, crisp and full of flavor. We could drink this white any day!

 

The Viognier has been moved from the stainless steel fermentation tank and has been placed into Neutral French Oak Cadus barrels for a couple of months while waiting for bottling. The idea behind this is to not add any oak characteristics but to allow the wine to react to the environment created by living in an oak barrel which, unlike the tank, allows for some very controlled air exchange. This helps the wine mellow slightly and open up allowing the fruit to become more evident in both the flavor and smell.

 

January 6, 2010 - Happy New Year from all of us at Toasted Toad Cellars

 

Hopefully everyone had a healthy, happy and wonderful holiday season spent with family, friends and loved ones. We spent today going through all of the wines and barrel combinations tasting and evaluating the progress of each. Everything is tasting better as time goes on and nothing is causing us any concern, so the new year is definitely starting off well. We will be running some analysis on the Viognier to make sure it is dry and fermentation is totally complete along with determining the free SO2 concentration. We will then empty the stainless stell tank where it has been undergoing cold fermentation since it was pressed and place it into neutral oak barrels for further aging.

 

Hopefully, come March, the Viognier will be ready for cold stabilization, filtration and bottling. We are in the process of selecting bottles, corks, capsules and finalizing the labels so that they can be submitted for government approval. The wine industry is very heavily regulated and each label for each wine must be approved before it can be used on wines for sale. There are specific laboratory tests that must be run so that the information on the label is correct such as alcohol content. It is, at times like these, that I wonder how many people realize all of the "non-romantic" work that goes into this whole process.

 

Our Viognier was made in a crisp style and not subjected for malolactic fermentation so that we could keep the clean, crisp palate that we are looking for to make this wine a delightful, refreshing experience to be enjoyed on a hot summer day. It is a citrusy explosion with strong peach, pineapple and grapefruit notes. With any luck, things will flow smoothly and we will have the 2009 Viognier ready for your tasting and purchase in late summer.

 

All of the reds are exhibiting great color and body. The Zinfandel, so far, is more fruity than spicy and truly continues to just get better and more full-bodied with time in the barrel. All of the craziness that occurred during malolactic fermentation with the Zinfandel is gone and we continue to be impressed and can't keep from smiling each time we have to do barrel sampling.

 

The Alexander Valley Merlot started off our harvest in 2009. Except for the challenge of harvesting the grapes while dodging rains, this wine had dont nothing but make us anxiously await each tasting. Merlot has taken a lot off guff in the last couple of years and has fallen in popularity, but so far this wine has done nothing but delight.

 

Our Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is nothing short of HUGE! It is a big, bold, luscious mouthful of deep, dark, rich fruit. It has full tannins and continues to enjoy its time in the barrel and improve in character and complexity. The value of great Napa Valley Cabernet fruit is clearly apparent. The worst part of this process is knowing that this wine has a long way to go until it will be ready to bottle and we can share it with all of you.

 

We are heavily involved in planning our 2010 harvest and determining what wines we will do this year. We hope to add more varietals this year including Primitivo, Petite Sirah and Tempranillo. We are already sourcing new barrels, additional racks, evaluating yeasts, expanding our knowledge of nutrients (you need happy and healthy yeast) and getting ready to attend the wine symposium to see what's new in the industry. - Jeff