How Long Will You Live?

January 7, 2015 § 1 Comment


At our recent staff holiday party I decided to open up a bunch of our library wines.  It was very interesting to me to find which wines were aging gracefully and still had life left, and which wines are on their way out and seemed a little dull.

I often get the question “how long will a wine age?”  The two main components for aging a wine are tannin and acidity.  But just like in our lives, I feel like one of the main factors for a long healthy life is balance.  The overall favorite wine of all the ones we opened happened to be the very first Pinot Noir that I ever made.  It was completely unfiltered, un-fined and a beautiful example of what balance is.  Although Pinot Noirs do not have much tannin to give, their acidity is typically what helps them to age gracefully.

Young wines are typically more flashy, full of fruit, and screaming for attention right out of the glass; whereas, these beautifully aged wines need to be appreciated in a deeper and more intricate way.  Their aromatics tend to be more earth and spice related, as opposed to the fresh fruit of a younger wine.  But what I truly admire about these mature wines is the gracefulness on the palate.  Because wine is a living thing, it changes with every passing year in the bottle.  The effect this time has on the palate is to soften the tannins, mellow the acidity, and harmonize the mouth feel into a silky, seamless balance that can only be attained with age.

I will always maintain a library of the wines we make.  As their father, I believe it is a critical step in appreciating everything they have to give.


November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

chardonnay grapes

I often get asked about malo-lactic fermentation and how it plays into the character of a wine.  Right now in my cellar most of our wines are going through malo-lactic (“ML” for short) fermentation.  The easiest way to explain this type of fermentation is that instead of a yeast, it is a bacteria that is doing the work.  Instead of converting sugar to alcohol (primary fermentation), it is converting malic acid into lactic acid.  Malic acid can best be described as a green apple tart acidity found in wines.  Lactic acid can best be described as a softer, richer mouth feel that in Chardonnay is referred to as “buttery.”  The only wines we make that forego malo-lactic fermentation are our Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Rosé, Muscat Blanc, and our Sparkling.

Wines will typically go through malo-lactic fermentation on their own if not inoculated because this bacteria is in our winery and in our barrels.  I choose to inoculate for ML so we have more control over the process, and more importantly, control over when the process is completed.  Tasting our 2014 red wines that we just made can be very scary this time of year.  When the wine is going through ML the aromatics put off are definitely a little funky. But as an experienced winemaker, I have learned that patience is a virtue.  I am still tasting through these wines for the character of the vintage, and most times I am able to tell if they are through ML just by aromatics.  It is an extended part of harvest that most people don’t think about, but I cannot fully rest until all of my barrels are topped and protected, and this will not happen until ML is completed.

2014 Vintage in a Nutshell

November 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

Erik in tank

We picked the first grapes of the season on August 27th.  It was Chardonnay from Peter’s Vineyard, which is what we will be making our third vintage of sparkling wine from.  Grenache Rosé and Muscat Blanc followed the next day, on August 28th.

Overall, the 2014 season was early and very compressed, but the quality is outstanding.  By the time we brought in the Zinfandel, it was pretty much on target with a normal year, but the hang time was extended due to an early bloom.

Our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast were the earliest they have ever been.  We started bringing in Pinot on Sept 14th, and Chardonnay on Sept 16th.  Usually Peter’s Vineyard doesn’t get ripe until the beginning or middle of October, because of its close proximity to the coast.

The yields were average this year after two big years in 2012 and 2013.  We had great color and flavors, but the acids seemed to be low across the board.

Fermentations were healthy and steady, with huge aromatics and lower than normal yields per ton.  Some of this was expected because of the drought year; we knew we would have big intensity, lower acids and overall less juice per ton, but I think the final outcome is going to be some really yummy wines.

Rain was not a big factor this year, although we did see two small showers in September, which didn’t amount to much and didn’t affect the quality of the vintage.

We brought in the last of our fruit on Oct 11th, which was Cabernet Sauvignon from Ruth’s Vineyard in Alexander Valley, making it the earliest finish that we’ve had.

Although every year is uniquely different, the 2014 vintage can be summed up by this:  it came quickly, early, and the intensity of the fruit was exceptional.

Thoughts on the upcoming harvest

August 25, 2014 § 1 Comment


The 2014 growing season started off fast and furious, with early bud break, which led to early bloom that put us two weeks ahead of schedule of a normal year. But what truly is normal anymore?  I personally feel like the month of August is one of the most important months as it pertains to the quality of the vintage.  If there is a large crop or a small crop, early or late year, I feel that the most important factor is that when the grapes are hanging and in their final stretch of maturity, this is when flavors and hang time really matter the most.  For instance, if we have a very hot month of August, the grapes start to ripen quickly, primarily due to dehydration.  What we are looking for, as winemakers, is a slow ripening season where we attain physiological ripeness as opposed to ripeness through dehydration. 

I’ve been referring to the month of August as the month of “Fogust.”  We have been experiencing cooler than normal temperatures, and every morning we have a blanket of fog that doesn’t burn off until midday.  Although this brings more moisture to the grapes that could lead to mold or botrytis, it also gives these grapes a chance to slowly build flavors and become physiologically ripe.  We are seeing stems and seeds starting to lignify and sugars staying flat, which is allowing these grapes to continue their journey into becoming what this vintage will be known for.  Happy Harvest!

Harvest is on its way

August 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

photo (10)

This is the time of the year when I always get that pit in my stomach of excitement and anticipation for the upcoming vintage. This year will be particularly special because it marks the 10th anniversary of our first vintage at Kokomo. That first vintage was a single varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon. Now I’m looking at producing 13 different varietals and up to 20 individual lots of wine.

My main objective in preparing for the upcoming harvest is to start with a clean slate. That means everything in the winery gets a complete and thorough cleaning. It is very important that we don’t have random yeast, bacteria, or any other microbiological debris in our winery or on our equipment. Producing so many varietals makes it even more difficult to isolate each vineyard, each clone, and each block for optimal complexity in our final wines.  When we do native fermentation, meaning no added yeast, we like to know that what is fermenting our grapes is actually native from the vineyard and not from a neighboring fermentation.

This will also be the first time that we’ve used our equipment such as our press, de-stemmer, and open top fermenters since last year. We do a thorough sanitation, but also look at all moving parts. We make sure we have greased bearings and have checked the electrical components to make certain everything is flawless, because when grapes are coming in by the tons there will be no time for maintenance issues. Can you imagine being a commercial chef and only opening up your kitchen for two months out of the year? This is no doubt my favorite time of the year and I am very much looking forward to “camping” in my cellar for two months.

Cheers to a safe and flavorful 2014!

To Rack or Not

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment


In winemaking, the process of moving wine from one vessel to another is called racking. This process can happen several times throughout a wine’s life, or as little as once when the wine is being prepared to bottle. The way in which the wine is moved is an important part of racking, and at Kokomo we choose to move our wine with inert gas (nitrogen), instead of using a pump. Being a small producer allows us to do this, thereby eliminating the risk of bruising the wine by running it through a pump.

Racking wine throughout the winemaking process is a stylistic choice of the winemaker, which changes depending on what type of wines he or she is trying to create. In the past, I would rack our wines more often than I do now because it is a safer route. But now, after ten years of winemaking experience, I feel more confident with where our wines are at throughout their aging process, and less inclined to rack as frequently.

The sediment at the bottom of the barrel is referred to as lees. It is made up of dead yeast cells pecked in from the grapes, and other particles that precipitate to the bottom of the barrel. The lees can be useful in the winemaking process, but it can also harbor bacteria and other spoilages. Although it is sometimes dicey to age wine on its lees, it can also be very beneficial because of its reductive qualities. It allows me to use less SO2 on our wines, and shows more of the esoteric characteristic that derive from the vineyards.

The process of sur lee is even more aggressive, as it calls for actually stirring up the lees inside the barrel and allowing it to resettle. This is done to achieve a fuller, richer mouth feel in the wine, and the frequency of repeating this process is stylistically different amongst winemakers. At Kokomo, we use this technique primarily on our Chardonnay, but I also experiment with other varietals as well. I am definitely developing a more experienced style with each vintage, and it will be interesting to see how my winemaking style evolves over time.

2014 Another Big Year??

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Grape pic for blog

After the 2010-2011 vintage, we were all hopeful for a bigger crop come 2012. The 2012 vintage delivered, not only quantity but in quality as well, and was backed up by an equally good 2013. So going into 2014, growers and winemakers alike, all felt like the vines needed a break and that it certainly would be a below average crop.  While a big crop can be a blessing, it can also put pressure on a boutique winery like ours to make sure we have a place to put the surplus of grapes for fermentation, additional barrels to store the wine in, bigger bottling costs, and longer hours during harvest.

However, after going through the vineyards the last couple weeks and looking at the fruit set, we are all very surprised and pleased to find that it looks like once again we will have another above average crop.

As we know from 2010, anything is still possible, and there is a lot of growing season still left. We lost 60 percent of the Zinfandel at the beginning of August in 2010, due to the extreme heat and sunburn, but that was very unusual. As a winemaker, my mind goes to nutrient levels in the vineyard after producing back-to-back big vintages. Nutrients are very important in fermentation because the yeast rely on nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus for food to maintain health fermentation. I feel blessed to work with a fourth-generation farmer who puts his money back into the vineyards by planting winter crops, putting compost in the vineyard, and keeping a close eye on the soils for maximum fertility.

Cheers to a beautiful and bountiful 2014 vintage, which marks Kokomo’s 10th Anniversary!