The other morning, as the sun was changing the color of the sky, I got up, padded outside, and as I took my first sip of hot tea, I felt it… that first kiss of fall. Yes, I know, it’s still hot. Yes, I know that it’s still officially summer, but trust me, you could feel it in the air.
If you’re in agriculture, specifically grapes, you can feel and smell harvest. There’s a cooling in the morning air, and a sweet smell as those beautiful grapes soak up the sun and water, ripening on the vine and hanging below the leaf line. They’re dazzling in the morning light and a treat to watch as they ready themselves for fall.
Harvest is exciting. For farmers, it’s the culmination of a year’s worth of work, and once those grapes are off the vine, we breathe a sigh of relief, and then begin the work of preparing for the next season. But for vintners, it’s the beginning of an intriguing, beguiling and even daunting ride. Once those grapes are in their hands, figuratively and literally, the artistic endeavor begins… creating an exceptional bottle of wine that will be shared, savored and enjoyed.
Grape harvest for méthode champenoise sparkling wine [also known as French-style champagne] begins significantly earlier than those grapes harvested for still wines. Sparkling wine grapes must be harvested when sugar levels are low [sweetness comes from sucrose in the grapes and is measured in Brix], and acidity is high. This ensures that that crisp acidity is maintained in the finished wine.
Our winemaker began sampling grapes at the end of June. Early in the morning, often before the sun rose, he headed out into the vineyard and collected sample grapes, then tested the sugar levels in order to monitor their progress. Not only did he randomly select grapes for testing, but he tasted them, often stating that although the sugar level may indicate that the grapes were ready, “The taste isn’t there yet.”
A grape can be sweet, but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily ripe. Ripeness means that the seeds, skin and stems are ripe. The seeds will taste less bitter and the color changes, which results in the grapes deemed to be “ripe” for harvesting. A skilled winemaker is a true artisan and can walk down a row and know whether those grapes are ready. When the taste is there, harvest begins.
Grapes are generally harvested at night here in Lodi. This is because the fruit is cooler, the sugar levels are stable, and winemakers can maintain better control over the primary fermentation process. Daytime temperatures during this time of year can change the sugar composition of the grapes, so the lower nighttime temperatures result in a better wine, lower energy costs and provide for greater efficiency.
To go one further, keeping grapes cooler protects the delicate flavors, skins and pulp. Heat can, in effect, “cook” the fruit and make the resulting wine flabby, destroying the important acidity needed for our bubbles. But when harvested under ideal conditions, the result are grapes that remain clean and fresh. You can taste the difference in the juice even before it’s made into wine.
Once the grapes are harvested, they’ll quickly be transported to the winery, where they’ll be pressed, not crushed, to limit the contact between the skin and juice. A pneumatic press, which has a large, plastic balloon will gradually inflate and gently break the grape skins. Juice will slowly drain into a pan beneath the press, rotating to get every drop of juice. The press turns, inflates again and again, ultimately leaving a pile of dry skins and seeds. The Chardonnay juice, free run, will retain the pure, Chardonnay characteristics, allowing our winemakers to create an exceptional wine.
If you ever get the chance to visit a winery during crush, the smell permeating the air is heavenly. The juice running off those perfect Chardonnay grapes is crisp, rich and dances across your tongue. It’s a delightful experience for your senses. Did I mention that harvest is exciting?!?
Now that the school year has ended, and families have begun their vacation plans, vineyards are ramping up their summer season with a lengthy list of tasks that must be performed—now—in order to keep the vines healthy and ensure a robust harvest.
The vines are now producing vigorous growth, and this often requires canopy management to balance that vine growth with the healthy opportunity for ripening those grapes. Some vineyards will hedge or trim shoots and leaves to prevent overshading of the grape clusters, ensuring that the vines’ energy isn’t wasted on the canopy. For many vineyards, most of this hedging or leaf pulling is done by hand. Lest you think that this is easy, it’s not. The goal is to pull the less productive leaves, allowing for better ventilation of those bunches of grapes on the north or east side of the row. On the west or south side, it’s important to maintain adequate leaf cover to minimize sunburn on the grapes.
Suckers are another distraction for the vines, which take nutrition away without producing any grapes. This process, too, is carried out by hand. Much like we pull off stray shoots on our trees, we travel up ‘n down the rows, pulling off shoots that grow out from the vine, generally around the base. Known as suckers, these are removed in late spring, early summer, and often must be done twice during the season, depending upon how proliferate the vines are during the growth season.
Of course, there are weeds, always, and depending upon the type, they too can take nourishment away from the vines. Generally, we avoid chemical products and simply mow in between the rows. This allows the plant matter to decompose and return nutritional elements back into the soil. Weeds and grasses directly under the vines can draw moisture and nutrition away from the fruit, so they have to be removed. If left uncontrolled, these weeds and grasses can complicate harvest efforts. For those weeds and grasses next to the vines, they must be removed by hand, using a good old-fashioned hoe.
During the warm summer months, insects can likewise become a problem, especially sucking insects that can damage the grapes and/or carry infectious diseases to the vines, in some instances killing the entire vineyard. Most vineyard managers are out in the vineyard daily, checking vines and observing areas that could quickly become a site of infestation. A good viticulturist knows their vineyard and can easily tell you where problem areas are located and what they watch for throughout the season. This comes from walking the rows, checking the vines and becoming familiar with all aspects of their field.
And as temperatures soar, keeping those vines properly irrigated is critical to not only the harvest, but the long-term health of the vines. Most vineyards today are equipped with drip irrigation systems. This allows the precious water to only penetrate the soil next to the vine, minimizing evaporative loss, yet allowing the water to seep down directly to the roots.
Fail to provide enough water to a thirsty vine, and the result will be unbalanced vine growth, reduced yield and poor fruit quality. Depending upon the varietal, the leaves may droop or curl, canopy growth will certainly slow, and in some varieties, the fruit may begin to shrivel. And when the temperatures hit 95 degrees or higher, the grapes tend to shut down, and go into survival mode. The vine effectively shuts down the grape’s photosynthesis, which causes the fruit to stop ripening. At this point, it becomes critical to keep those vines hydrated by watering.
Vineyard managers closely watch the temperature shifts during the summer months, anticipating upcoming hot spells, monitoring the health of the vines and checking on the ripening fruit. Temperature and light play a key role in fruit development. Once the grapes hit veraison [or the ripening phase], the grape berries will become softer, accumulate sugar, acids decline, and the color appears in red or purple fruit. Studies have shown that very high temperatures during the ripening phase reduce the key enzymes responsible for the coloration of fruit; thus, the need for those beautiful canopies—protecting those grape bunches during the summer heat.
So, while you’re out enjoying any number of great summer activities, there will be folks in and around Lodi toiling out among the vines—watching, protecting and ensuring that when it’s time for this year’s harvest, those grapes will be at their peak, and the vines will remain healthy for another year. Remember to raise a glass and thank those folks for helping to create that beautiful wine that you’re about to sip ‘n savor. Salute!
If you’re new to wine tasting, the time is perfect to venture out and visit one of Lodi’s many wine tasting rooms and sample a flight. It’s getting warm, and it’s the perfect weather to enjoy a beautiful white wine—chilled, crisp and, a delightful surprise for your palate!
Wine tasting is a sensory experience. It involves sight, smell, mouth feel and taste. And each of your senses plays a significant role in how you not only perceive the wine, but whether you wind up taking that second taste, or even buying a bottle to take home. So, if you’re ready, here are a few tips.
• Call ahead. While many local wineries accept drop in visitors, it’s always best to call ahead and book a reservation. This allows the winery to let you know if they have any policies that you might not be aware of and ensures that you’ll have a good visit. If a winery is booked at a particular time, you may not get the level of educational service that you’d like, and quite honestly, most tasting room staff know the wines on site and can provide you with a wealth of information.
• Ask questions. Tasting room staff will be happy to share insights regarding the wines that they’re pouring—as well as they’re favorite(s) and why. Many have been into the production facility or even the vineyards and can tell you about harvest or even what it’s like during bottling.
Our staff have hand-picked grapes, worked the bottling line and tasted right out of the barrel and/or tanks during fermentation. They’ve become a part of our family and can speak with pride regarding a particular varietal or vintage.
• Tasting conditions. You’ll gain the most from your wine tasting experience if you set the stage for success. Pick a table or location where you can concentrate and there aren’t any competing aromas or distractions. *Don’t wear perfume or cologne. Perfumes, strong food smells, etc., will hamper your ability to get a good sense of what the wine’s aroma is, and isn’t. Likewise, make sure that your glass is clean. If you’re sampling more than one wine. You need to condition your glass by giving it a quick rinse with a small amount of wine, not water, swirling it around to cover all sides of the glass.
• Enjoy the color. Hold your glass up to the light and notice the color. A wine that looks clear and brilliant is a good sign. A white wine that looks tawny or has a tinge of brown may be older, not necessarily bad, but something that you should be aware of before you purchase a case. White wines range in color from pale yellow [straw] to light gold, all the way to deep gold.
• Smell. Each wine has a distinct aroma, and that aroma is specific not only to the varietal, but the specific wine in your glass. I enjoy taking a sniff before I swirl the wine for the first time. Just hover over the glass and take a short sniff. Think about what flavors you smell based upon your knowledge of what you’re familiar with—citrus [lemon, lime, orange], grass [herbs], grapefruit, stone fruit [peach, pear, nectarine, apricot, apple], tropical fruit [pineapple, mango kiwi, passion fruit], honey, minerals [think wet earth, wet asphalt], or floral [flower smells from light white flowers to fragrant roses].
Now swirl the wine in the glass and take additional short sniffs as your nose hovers over the glass. You’ll notice a difference in that first sniff and the sniff that you take after you swirl the wine. Swirling the wine releases different aroma compounds found within that wine. These compounds are so small that they literally float on the evaporating alcohol directly into our noses. The aroma is a large part of wine enjoyment, don’t believe me, plug your nose and taste the wine. All the aromas of fruit will disappear and the true taste [sour, bitter, sweet, and salty], as well as the texture of the wine will remain in isolation from the aromas. Not the same experience!
• Taste, it’s fun. Take a small sip, not a large swallow, of wine into your mouth and try sucking on it as if you’re pulling it through a straw. This aerates the wine and circulates it throughout your mouth. You’ll get a better sense of the wine as will the taste buds on your tongue. Now you’re using your taste to determine if the wine is balanced, complex, evolved and complete. A balanced wine should have an even mix of flavors.
If a wine is too sour, too sugary, too astringent, too hot [alcoholic], too bitter, or too flabby [lack of acidity], then it’s not a well-balanced wine.
And when you hear folks talking about complexity, these are the wines that have layers. They change with each sip. The more you sip them [tiny sips], the more there is to taste; basically, layer upon layer of flavors.
Pause and notice how long the flavor lingers in your mouth after you swallow. As beginners, we tend to move on too quickly to the next sip or the next wine. Don’t. Take the time to sit with the wine, swirl, smell ‘n sip. Don’t hurry a complex wine, otherwise you’ll miss out on the layers of beautiful surprises that await your palate.
• Spit. Really, it’s okay. Quite honestly, if you’re serious about tasting the wines, then you can’t drink every drop of every wine in the flight and get anything from the experience. *Most wineries will have spittoons available so that you can pour the wine out. Remember, tasting wine is a sensory experience, not a competition. Do it at your own pace, taste what you like, and don’t force it. If you don’t like a particular wine, that’s fine, it’s your unique palate. But do give that varietal another try at a later date, you might be surprised.
• Eat. Don’t go to two or three wineries and taste without eating food. Some wineries offer snacks, others will let you bring outside food into your tasting to elevate your experience. Charcuterie [shar-KOO-ta-REE-] boards or boxes are a delicious way to enhance your experience and may include any combination of cured meats, cheese, crackers, nuts, dried or fresh fruits and dipping sauces.
Beginning July 1, guests at Nostra Vita Family Winery will have the option of ordering a charcuterie box when they make a reservation for a tasting flight. We truly believe that the charcuterie food items will serve to enhance the flavors of the wines on our flight menus. Order one and determine for yourself as to how they add to your tasting experience!
Many people take wine tasting seriously, and I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t, but I know that there are those of us who are intimidated by the entire tasting process. What if I ask the wrong question? What if I don’t smell or taste what everyone else is smelling and tasting? What if I don’t like what everyone else is loving?
Your unique sense of taste and smell are what make each of us individuals, and winemakers often tailor wines to a broad range of palates, and sometimes, they miss. This means that if you consider yourself uninformed or a beginner, this is great news! Now is the perfect time to grab a friend, or two, and check out a winery right here in the Lodi area.
Wineries want you to feel comfortable. We want you to look at the color of the wine, take in the aroma, swirl, sniff, taste, and if you don’t like it on that first taste, give it one more chance. But life is too short to drink something that you don’t like, or don’t want. Do be willing to try different wines, more than once before you write it off. Like everything else in life, your tastes will change over time, and maybe even with the season, so be open, but never feel that you should like a wine simply because someone else does.
This month, we decided to poll our colleagues in arms here at Nostra Vita Family Winery, and asked them, “Which is your favorite NV wine and why?” Then we queried, “Where’s your favorite place to sip ‘n savor?” Here’s what those who make and serve the wine had to say.
• Robert Indelicato [vice president, winemaker]: “My favorite NV wine changes throughout the year. One wine that I’m really liking is our 2020 Chardonnay. It has gotten some rest in the bottle, and it’s showing layers of fruit and complexity.”
“I enjoy drinking wines on the patio along with some prosciutto and melon. Hmmm!”
• Tim Cook [asst. cellar door manager]: “Blanc de Blanc. I have the best memories drinking it with friends, and now every time that I drink it, the fun times that I had come to mind.”
“Outside on the patio at home, where I can watch the creek, enjoy the flowers and hummingbirds. And I always share with friends.”
• Jan Klevan [cellar door guide]: “Right now it’s our Cabernet Sauvignon. It is so silky and smooth. I enjoy every sip!”
“And my perfect place to sip is the beach. Any type of weather, but at the beach.”
• Sergio Hurtado-Arroyo [asst. cellar master]: “I really enjoy the Red Envy. It’s a well put together blend with great taste on the palate.”
“I enjoy sipping out on the loggia with friends and food.”
• John White [sales]: “My favorite is our Blanc de Blanc. It’s elegant and drinkable anytime, anywhere, especially paired with our favorite dishes.”
“I enjoy sipping it with my wife in our backyard on a warm evening.”
• Hayden Sparks [sales}: “Carignane, because of its ability to be consumed with ease in any situation.”
• Anisa Keyser [cellar door manager]: “My favorite Nostra Vita wine is the 2018 Blanc de Blanc. It’s a perfect balance between crisp and creamy. It does well with any meal of the day: breakfast, lunch or dinner!”
“My favorite place to sip is wrapped in a blanket in bed watching movies.”
• Mia King [social media/event coordinator]: “Sparkling rosé! Because it’s beautiful in the glass, it smells divine, and tastes like a summer day. I always find a reason to celebrate when I’m drinking sparkling rosé.”
“My favorite place to taste is on the beach.”
• Kyle Bloudoff-Indelicato [asst. winemaker]: “My favorite wine is the Blanc de Noir. It’s austere, clean, and mineral, a lot like the Blanc de Blanc, but with a fuller mouthfeel and supple stone fruit aroma.”
“I love tasting on the Nostra Vita patio. It’s very calm and relaxing, a home away from home. Otherwise, I do my tasting in my backyard with my family while we barbecue some vegetables and salmon filets.”
• Chad Osborne [cellar door guide]: “Blanc de Blanc! It’s dry and creamy, and the bubbly finish is what I love about it. I always thought of it as if the bubbles were pop-rocks on the palate. I also love the Bella Blanca for its lighter and sweeter taste. Anything that has hints of citrus is a plus for me. It makes me feel like I’m by the beach or poolside.”
“I love sipping at our winery. A nice sunset makes me feel at home.”
• Katie Bloudoff-Indelicato [sales manager]: “I love the Nostra Vita Petite Sirah. I bring it to every dinner party, and I have three friends that wait anxiously for the release every year. It’s got beautiful fruit, and a wonderful balance of tannin and oak aging. It literally goes with every meat dish. My last dinner was lamb cutlets with Nostra Vita Petite Sirah, and it was a huge hit.”
“I don’t have a specific place I enjoy tasting but tasting with friends is the best!”
• Leslie Bloudoff: “As for what I favor, it varies from season to season, what I’m eating, who I’m drinking with, or even what I’m doing. Right now, this spring, I think our 2020 Viognier is delicious—both for the aroma and the taste. Take a deep whiff and enjoy the citrusy aroma with notes of apricot and pear. The taste—vibrant, rich, well rounded and quite honestly, the perfect addition to any meal, or simply on its own.”
“I love sipping wine outdoors, relaxing out in the middle of nowhere, or, tucked into a chair, reading a book, or listening to the wind ‘n the birds. A perfect way to spend an afternoon.”
We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows… someone opens a bottle of sparkling wine by popping the cork, sending it flying into the air, while those beautiful bubbles spout forth like a geyser. Not what you should do or even want. Think about it, you’ve spent some cash on that bottle, and the more that spews out onto the ground, or your drinking partner, the less that you have to share and enjoy. Then there’s the safety issue. Seriously.
Depending upon which source you use, the pressure in a champagne bottle is somewhere between five and six atmospheres, or 70 to 90 pounds per square inch. To put this in perspective, that’s about two to three times the amount of pressure in your car’s tire. When opened carelessly, that cork could fly out of the bottle at a speed approximating 60 mph, causing a great deal of damage to people, glassware, windows or walls.
But if you take a few steps, opening a bottle of sparkling wine isn’t hard, and you’ll easily be able to master it on the first try. First, chill your champagne to about 45°F. At room temperature, the carbon dioxide [remember, that’s what creates those effervescent bubbles] pressure in the bottle builds up, causing the cork to burst quickly and a geyser to follow. A cold bottle of champagne is less likely to pop, plus a chilled bottle of bubbly is exquisite.
Now let’s open that bottle with a whisper, not a POP!
Sparkling wines have a tab to help open the foil on the bottle, but often the tab fails to make its way around the bottle, so you can use a wine key to cut the foil evenly, creating a clean line about the bottle. Once the foil is removed, then the cage covering the cork is exposed.
Use a napkin or a towel. First make sure the bottle is dry, so that it doesn’t slip in your hands. Turn away from people, glassware and windows. Place the towel loosely over the cage and cork, then untwist the cage counterclockwise. While you’re untwisting the cage, keep the towel and your hand over the cork to keep it from popping out prematurely.
With the cage loosened, you can begin to extract the cork by keeping one hand on top of the cork, and slowly twisting the bottle from the bottom. Do NOT twist the cork. You’ll begin to feel the cork pushing out naturally as you continue to twist the bottle from the bottom. Keep your hand on top of the cork, so that it doesn’t release too quickly.
Here’s the challenge [and it’s fun]. The slower the cork separates itself from the bottle, the more gently the hiss that escapes. Your goal is to make the softest sound possible—barely a whisper. Winemakers will tell you that a great bottle of champagne should only whisper when it opens!
Using a towel and going slowly make all the difference and will distinguish you as a true sparkling wine opening afficionado. Give it a try!
Once the cork is removed, wipe the lip of the bottle, use one of your white wine glasses, pour, and really look at the liquid in your glass. There are an estimated 5 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne. The smaller the bubbles, the higher the quality. Those bubbles mark life’s celebrations, large and small. Bubbles just make you happy.
Americans still consider sparkling wine to be solely for special occasions, but honestly, isn’t every day a cause for celebration. You don’t have to wait for an occasion, make one. A minor victory at work, a tough commute, maybe even a rough day. That bottle of sparkling wine chilling in your fridge might just be what you need to make your mouth happy, and you!
When last we left our bottles of méthode champenoise, they were hanging suspended in the air on a gyropalette arm, allowing the lees to settle into the neck of each bottle. Remember, méthode champenoise is the process whereby secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, creating those beautiful bubbles.
Bottle fermentation is the main reason that the bubbles are finer, last longer, and you get the wonderful flavors from the yeast. The longer you leave the wine in contact with the “yeast lees” the better, up to a point. This gives méthode champenoise, French style Champagne, the depth and complexity that sparkling wine created in large vats or tanks lacks. Or, as many champagne lovers exclaim, “A sip of heaven for your palate!”
Champagne has two distinct lives. The first is the slow development, dependent upon the presence of yeast during lees maturation [which occurs pre-disgorgement]. Yeast has the unique ability to absorb oxygen for an extended period [in some instances more than 50 years], which means that champagne kept on the lees will remain fresh for years and develop layers of complexity and flavor.
The second is post-disgorgement, when the yeast is no longer protecting the champagne from oxygen. During the disgorgement process, a small amount of oxygen will inevitably enter the bottle. Once this oxygen enters the bottle during disgorgement, along with the oxygen that will enter through the cork over time, champagne begins the slow ageing process.
So, what is disgorgement? The purpose is to expel the deposit of sediment that has collected in the neck of the bottle as a result of the remuage, or the riddling process. Often the neck of the bottle is submerged into a refrigerating solution at -25°F. The sediment is then ejected under pressure and is released in the form of an ice plug. This allows for a minimum loss of wine.
In lieu of submerging the neck of the bottle into a refrigerant, a skilled disgorger will lift the bottle, bottle top down, and quickly and cautiously place the bottle, still upside down, into the arm of the disgorging unit. As the arm begins to lift the bottle upright, the crown cap is popped, and the sediment plug is released. This is the same principle but requires much more care on the part of the line operator.
*If the operator inadvertently lifts the bottle too soon, the sediment will be released and mixed with the wine, necessitating that the bottle be returned to a cage and begin the riddling process once again.
Disgorgement is a critical point in the life of méthode champenoise sparkling wine, the grand finale after many months and sometimes years of peaceful slumber on the lees.
Before the disgorged wine is fitted with a cork and wire hood, the bottle is topped to its prior fill level with liqueur d’expedition, a mixture of wine and sugar. The amount of sugar determines the sweetness of the wine and balances the acidity. The acidity is essential to keep the wine fresh and the balance is a fine line determined by the winemaker.
If the winemaker is satisfied with the wine as it stands, the liqueur d’expedition will simply consist of a mixture of sugar and the same wine as the bottle holds. But the winemaker may also create the liqueur d’expedition utilizing a reserve wine. This adds an extra dimension to the winemaker’s palette of flavors, perfecting the finishing touch to an exceptional bottle of méthode champenoise sparkling wine.
The role of dosage, or liqueur d’expedition, adds to the wine’s sensory development and varies from winemaker to winemaker and according to the style of champagne.
Immediately after, the cork is squeezed into the neck of the bottle under pressure, then held in place with a muselet [wire cage] to make an airtight seal. This new cork does allow for some exchange with the outside air, which is why the wine continues to age over the years. The champagne, or méthode champenoise sparkling wine, is then returned to the cellar to relax and begin the ageing process in the bottle.
What’s left… hmm, well, chill a bottle, remove the muselet, turn the bottle and remove the cork. Careful, despite what you see in the movies, you should never let the cork pop or blow off and release any of that exquisite wine. Pour, swirl ‘n sip. Do it again and taste the wine. Slowly. Taste again. With each small sip, you’ll begin to feel that creamy, soft, rich texture on your palate. Let those tiny bubbles burst across your tongue. Smell the brioche, green apple, or nutty yeastiness, even citrus. Swallow and begin to appreciate the layers of complexity that delight your palate with each sip.
An exceptional champagne will surprise and delight you. It’s a sensory experience that is meant to be shared. We hope that you’ll visit and join us for a tasting of our Serendipity: Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Rosé, SeREDipity, and Demí-Sec. We think that each is unique in their own right. Explore their varietal differences and pick your favorite!
Once the secondary fermentation is complete, and our winemaker deems the sparkling wine, “Champagne,” those beautiful bottles are pulled from their slumber. This takes place anywhere from a minimum of 18 months to 36 months +, as the wine ages in a temperature and light controlled environment. During this time period, these bottles lie horizontally in wooden crates allowing the yeast cells to maintain contact with the wine. It is the yeast that imparts a complex, brioche [or yeasty] flavor to the wine. Those yeast cells eat the sugar in the wine, and give off carbon dioxide and alcohol, creating the tiny bubbles that Champagne drinkers know and love.
But as the yeast cells complete their work inside each individual bottle, they die, leaving a
sediment, which is known as lees. During their extended time in the cellar, the lees settles down to the full length of the side of each bottle. Once the wines have reached perfect maturity, the bottles must be turned to displace this sediment. While the lees itself isn’t harmful, it would leave the wine, cloudy looking, hence visually unappealing, and could alter the exquisite taste.
Thus, the need to riddle the bottles, also known by the French term, “remuage.”
In the time-honored traditional method, Champagne bottles are placed into wooden racks, known as pupitres, with the neck tilted downward, allowing gravity to push the sediment toward the cork. Every day, the bottle is riddled [twisted] in both directions and tilted at a more severe angle until all of the lees is collected in the neck of the bottle at the very top next to the crown cap. Remuage proceeds by carefully orchestrated rotations of the bottle, right and left, a quarter turn, an eighth of a turn, or a sixteenth of a turn. This effect combines the lees in suspension, slowly descending in stages towards the neck. Riddling is critical for obtaining a perfectly clear wine.
A person who is responsible for manually turning each bottle is known as a “riddler,” and the best riddlers can riddle as many as 40,000 bottles a day. However, many wineries, including Nostra Vita, now utilize machines to perform the riddling process, or automated remuage.
The advent of the gyropalette [an automated rotating cage for the riddling of Champagne bottles] has revolutionized the riddling of all sparkling wines. It is a now widely accepted and a seriously used tool in the rigorous quality-control processes applied by Champagne houses throughout France, Europe and the United States.
At our production facility, each Champagne bottle is removed from its wooden crate and hand loaded into stainless steel cages, 504 bottles per cage. Each cage is then loaded onto the gyropalette and the cages are suspended in air. This machine performs the same task as the riddler, but on many more bottles at the same time, and in a much shorter time frame. At specific intervals, the loaded cage twists, slightly shakes and progressively moves the bottles to a vertical position, again, ultimately with the neck of the bottle pointing downward. While an experienced riddler can complete the remuage process in 6-8 weeks, the gyropalette takes 7-10 days, a fraction of the time, in a much smaller space.
Overall, not only has the invention of the gyropalette made the remuage process far more efficient, it has also made labor easier for the cellar workers, many of whom suffered health problems due to the repetitive nature of their task. To watch a gyropalette at work, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMy8j3IblZ4
Next up: Once the bottles have completed the remuage process, we then prepare for disgorging the lees plug formed in neck of the bottle.
I’m not a fan of New Year’s, mostly because I spend the days ‘n hours leading up to that ball drop reviewing, reflecting and ruminating about what I’ve done, where I’ve been, what I’ve accomplished, and how many “oops” moments I’ve had over the past year. Yep, it does often tend to send me into a tailspin.
After much consideration, my conclusion is that 2022 will be the year of “curiosity.” The background for this is that I select a word or phrase, something that sticks with me that I pick up during the current year, then I make a valiant effort to apply it to the upcoming year. Curiosity seems appropriate, so for 2022, I pledge to be curious, not judgmental.
But my takeaway stems from this year’s holiday luncheon. As I looked on at all the familiar faces gathered around the table, I thought, “I am so lucky.” I work with an outstanding group of people, and we all share a passion for creating exceptional wines. Every person gathered that day brings a variety of strengths, and quite honestly, I cannot imagine doing what we do without each member of this team.
If you’re ‘curious,’ I’m going to take this opportunity to briefly share with you a little something about each of these individuals, who I have dubbed extended family.
Eloy Arroyo, Ranch Manager. But honestly, that really doesn’t describe all that Eloy does. He has the innate ability to look at any problem, walk away, and then return with a solution, and that solution is one that no one else discovered. He’s wise, thoughtful, hardworking, responsible, intelligent, and we are so lucky to have him work with us.
Frank Simko, Electrical Engineer. To know Frank, is to love Frank. He’s filled with stories, advice, and can solve any problem, electrical or otherwise. He’s the type of person that will stay longer and not charge you, just because he’s interested to see how it will all work out in the end. Loving, kind, generous, he’ll tackle any problem head on, smile while he’s doing it, and never utter an unkind word.
Anisa Keyser, Cellar Door Manager. She has been guiding, influencing, and keeping us on track since the beginning of NV. Kind, gentle, thoughtful, wise, insightful ‘n dedicated, she is the voice of reason in every situation, and always has our best interests at heart. Anisa is thorough, remembers every detail, and strives to ensure that our wine club members’ orders are correctly filled. She only relaxes once everything is done, and every individual is content.
Tim Cook, Asst. Cellar Door Manager. He’s the face that you’ll most likely encounter when you walk through the door. He’s inquisitive, friendly, knowledgeable, and easy to chat with, and knows everyone, even if they’ve only visited once. He has a ‘can do’ attitude that we all respect and appreciate.
Jan Klevan, Wine Guide. This woman understands wine, pays attention to the details, and has a razor-sharp wit. She’s the type of person that has the expertise that you need in any situation and will gladly share her prior experiences with the team. *That, and the array of delicious treats that she brings in to share keep us all happy ‘n well fed.
Chad Osborne, Wine Guide. This gentleman is charming, witty, and articulate. He is a master at keeping us all entertained and ensuring that your order is delivered in a timely manner. A connoisseur of all things delicious ‘n tasty, he loves wine and has developed quite a palate over this past year.
Katie Bloudoff-Indelicato, Sales Manager. Ahh, dedicated, driven, meticulous, personable, computer savvy, there is almost nothing that this young woman can’t do. She’s often the one that we turn to with issues, and she generally has a solution. Together with her team, she’s pushed sales up ‘n up ‘n up over the past year.
Kyle Bloudoff-Indelicato, Asst. Winemaker. We have had the privilege of watching this enterprising young man develop into quite an accomplished winemaker and manager over the past couple of years. Turns out, he is also mechanically inclined, which is a plus to a small business when your various pieces of equipment tend to take break during the workday.
John White, Sales. He is the wise voice that parses every conversation or sales pitch and always produces a superior presentation. Never one to anger, or lose his patience, he has valuable insights to share and inspire the rest of us.
Sergio Hurtado-Arroyo, Cellar Worker. Hard working, intelligent, he has keen insights, isn’t afraid to ask questions, and never ceases to amaze the production team. He never gets flustered, can look at problems as opportunities to create solutions, and has a delightful sense of humor.
Dee Mayfield, Bookkeeper. Dee came in at a time when the owners were drowning in paperwork, and calmly, patiently, learned their system, then made it better. She never loses her cool, always asks the relevant question, and brings the most delicious bread to share.
Hayden Sparks, Sales. One of the newest members of our team, he is finding his way, quickly. Recently, he has demonstrated his dedication, determination, reliability and, willingness to take on additional responsibilities. As he begins to reach and conquer his monthly milestones, we’re excited to see where this takes him.
Miguel Fernandes, Vineyard Worker. Hard working, responsible, and dedicated to ensuring that the vineyards receive the love ‘n attention that are needed to create those exceptional wines. Quiet, Miguel is kind, gentle and knowledgeable when it comes to repairs and keeping our fields healthy.
Maria Gutierrez, Winery Worker. This young woman is ambitious and is always early for each shift that she works. She never seems to tire, and her sense of humor and laughter are infectious. She keeps us on our toes.
Leticia Fernandes, Vineyard Worker. This young woman has a dual role. She is often out in the vineyard, but when the bottling line is going, you will see her running parts of the line with a sense of calm and authority. If there is any downtime, Lettie will grab a broom, shears, and proceed to keep busy, always filling a need.
Chris Campos, Electrician, Handyman Extraordinaire. When Chris retired, he became busier than ever, because his woodworking skills are legendary, and because he’s old school—if he tells you that something will be done on a certain day, it is, and beyond your expectations. He’ll ponder any task, go home and research a solution on his time, then astound you with the results the next time his truck pulls up into the parking lot, usually long before you arrive.
May 2022 bring you the gift of curiosity, so that you, too, are reminded as to just how lucky you are to be surrounded by people who share your love ‘n passion. Happy New Year!
Mise En Place:
Whisk the egg mixture into the melted chocolate in 3 additions until combined. (The mixture may get very thick.) Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture in 3 additions until it is fully incorporated. It is important that the chocolate mixture is not warm to ensure that it combines smoothly with the whipped cream without seizing up.
Divide the chocolate mousse among four 4-ounce ramekins and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
Whip the remaining 3/4 cup cold heavy cream to stiff peaks. Top each chocolate mousse with whipped cream and serve. (For a softer texture, allow the ramekins to sit at room temperature while you whip the cream.)
Enjoy with Nostra Vita's Serendipity Demi-Sec.
Ahh, it’s the most stressful time, I mean, most wonderful time of the year. As the holidays approach, we all grapple with what to get our boss, neighbor, co-worker, or that family member that has everything. So we’re here to help lessen your stress level with a few gift suggestions for the wine lover on your list, and hey, who isn’t?!?
Wine is a beverage meant to be shared. It’s a sensory experience and tends to bring people together to form a connection. Think of special holiday meals, family get-togethers, a quiet moment with a significant other, or a lively gathering with friends—wine ‘n food make any event extraordinary. This holiday season, here are a few gift suggestions that will make anyone on your gift list go, “Wow!” You can relax, and they can simply remove the cork, pour, swirl, sip, savor ‘n enjoy.
Red Wine Lover: 2018 Petite Sirah & 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon.
This Petite Sirah is big, bold and powerful, yet nicely balanced. Note the complexity as your palate savors the robust tannins. It has a rich, deep color, and full-bodied flavors of blackberries, spice, chocolate, and just a hint of black pepper.
Our Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its dark color, full body and ample tannins. This wine is dry, with medium acidity, and beautiful, complex flavors. Note the aromas of black currant, dark spices and a bit of spicy oak.
Our Clements Hills, Lodi AVA Chardonnay is nicely layered and creamy in texture. Dry with moderate acidity and alcohol, its flavors range from apple to lemon and pineapple with notes of vanilla. Crisp and sassy, this wine has a smooth and decadent finish.
This Viognier has a vibrant acidity and exotic aromas of citrus blossom, apricot, and pear. The taste is rich, round, and well balanced with intense flavors. It’s a versatile wine—pairing well with a variety of foods as well as standing alone.
Blanc de Blanc: Sourced from 100% Chardonnay grapes from our Clements Hills vineyard, this wine is dry and has a creamy texture. A toasty bouquet of yeast from aging in the bottle means that the suppleness mid-palate finishes with a bright, crisp impression.
Blanc de Noir: It has a rich, creamy texture with a vigorous mousse. Light peach in color, the aroma has distinct notes of hazelnut, cacao, and citrus zest. This wine’s viscosity is balanced with a sharp acidity that cleanses the palate.
Rosé: Smell the aromas of sweet jammy apricot, peach, hints of orange skin, and notes of butterscotch and yeast. Gently aged before its release, it offers a vibrant acidity, and the effervescence lingers on the tongue.
SeREDipity: A blend of French varietals Chardonnay and Alicante Bouschet. Distinct due to its deep, magenta-red color, vigorous mousse, and the delicious aromas of raspberry, chocolate, and strawberry. Luscious fruit, refreshing acidity, and smooth finish make this the perfect addition to any holiday meal.
Demi-Sec: A special addition to our Serendipity lineup, this sweeter, finely balanced sparkling wine has a smooth, creamy finish. Enjoy the crisp citrus notes with a lovely peach undertone.
Our Bella Blanca is seductively aromatic with pronounced floral and stone fruit aromas, and flavors of peach, apricot, and citrus. The sweetness is well balanced with acidity, making this wine flavorful and perfect for sipping in the afternoon.
Our Orange Muscat is aromatic with an orange blossom aroma and spicy notes. Taste the sweet orange finish with a hint of apricot. Slow fermentation allowed this wine to fully develop in flavor. Sweeter in profile, it has a bright, fresh flavor. Truly “gold” in a glass!
The gift that lasts throughout the year: 1-year Wine Club Membership.
Good wine brings people together to make lasting relationships and memories. We believe in the power of community and invite you to become a part of ours. There is no fee to join, and wine club releases are quarterly: March, June, September, December. Pick your club level: 3-bottle, 6-bottle or 12-bottle, and begin your wine journey!
Top of the Line: 1-year Serendipity Wine Club Membership.
Treat yourself, or someone you love, to the ultimate gift--Serendipity Sparkling Wine, our méthode champenoise, or French-style Champagne. Each bottle is lovingly handcrafted and requires both time and care to create a premium quality product known for its creamy flavor and effervescence. This is a 1-year commitment with no fee to join, and club release are quarterly.
For Club memberships, please visit our website: www.nostravitawinery.com to learn about the club levels and perks, give us a call at 209.334.0274, or stop by and we’ll be happy to tell you all about our wines and the wine club.
We would like to wish you, and yours, a very happy holiday season from all of us here at Nostra Vita Family Winery. Raise a glass and share a toast with someone special… we’ll be thinking of you.