Behind the Scenes at Côte West
Before the craziness of harvest begins around mid-August, we make sure everything in the winery is in working order. We fire up the press, sorting table, grape elevator, and destemmer, all of which haven’t been used in 10 months. We clear floor drains and source new tanks and barrels.
Meanwhile, we frequently check in with the vineyard managers to understand how the grapes are ripening and estimate when harvest will happen. Véraison, the onset of ripening, is the first sign that harvest is approaching.
By late summer, we are closely monitoring the local weather patterns. A series of hot days all in a row could mean the pick date is imminent. We collect grape samples for additional insight. We crush several clusters to take measurements. What’s left is perfectly delicious grape juice that Dillon and his buddy love.
Because our wine is more Old World style, we pick grapes earlier than usual. This results in higher acid, lower alcohol, and we believe, more enjoyable wines. Choosing the exact right day to pick is a mix between art and science. We do rely on analyses like Brix (sugar content), pH, and acids, but ultimately every vineyard site has its own unique quirks which inform the decision.
The night before harvest days, we drive to our vineyard sites in Sonoma or Napa and leave behind big sturdy bins which hold about ½ ton freshly picked wine grapes each.
The picking crew usually starts before dawn so that the grapes are cold.
We load the freshly picked clusters into a truck and drive them to the winery in Oakland early in the morning.
The white wine grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are pressed right away. We slowly ferment the juice in glycol-jacketed tanks at low temperatures. We treat the Counoise, red grapes being used for rosé, similarly.
For red wines, the still-cold grapes which were just harvested are gently dumped onto a sorting table.
We sort through the clusters to remove anything that might have come in from the vineyard that we don’t want in the fermentation (like snails or other creatures! and mold). From there, the clusters move on to the destemmer which does just that - removes the grapes from the stems.
The red wine grapes like Pinot Noir ferment on their skins. Over the course of the two weeks that it takes for the sugars to completely convert to alcohol, we do punchdowns on the wine three times daily. This action releases built up heat and CO2, and it moistens the cap of grape skins which starts to dry out at the top of the fermentation.
Once the red wine fermentation is nearly complete, we rack the free run wine to barrels. We then press the wine out of the cap and rack it to barrel.
Even though we’re big fans of using minimal intervention in the winery, we still closely monitor the chemistry of the wines.
Like the decision of when to pick, the decision of when to bottle is based on inputs that are both objective (science) and subjective (how the wine looks, smells, tastes). This happens anywhere from four to six months (for the Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc) to 22 months (for the Cabernet Sauvignon) after harvest.
On bottling day there is a lot of action all at once, so we try to keep things fun.
We load about 500 corks in a hopper above the bottling line. Our bottling machine applies our labels at the same time.
Once the wine is bottled, labeled, and packed in cases, we load it up for shipment to our distribution center, where it patiently awaits your order ;)