CRUSHING IT AT CANYON WIND CELLARS
Harvest is the busiest season at Canyon Wind Cellars, and our main harvest months are September and October. My previous blog entry detailed the work that goes into determining when the grapes are ready to harvest, including taking samples and performing tests in our winery’s lab. Once winemakers Jay and Jennifer Christianson give the green light to harvest a particular part of the vineyard based on grape chemistry and taste, they communicate with our vineyard manager, Juan Adan Diaz, to schedule the harvest crew. Juan has been the steward of Canyon Wind Cellars vines for nearly 20 years now!
Canyon Wind Cellars Vineyard Manager, Juan, overseeing Syrah harvest in 2015 (left). The harvest crew picking grapes in our Cliffiside Vineyard in 2015 (right).
Grape harvest in our vineyard is done entirely by hand, and it is hard work. Harvesting the grapes requires a lot of bending and reaching because the fruiting zone of the vines is about waist height, by the old vine growth that remains year-round. From my experience helping harvest one day, here is the process: work your way from one end of a row to the other, identify where the grape clusters are on the vine, grasp a cluster, cut the top stem with small pruners (or sometimes you can twist the cluster off), put the grapes in a 5-gallon bucket you have on hand, repeat. Usually there is someone working on each side of a vine row, with a harvest crew of up to a few dozen people working at once. As buckets fill with grapes, they are gathered by a crew member who empties the buckets into a bin on a trailer pulled by our tractor. Once that bin is full, he drives the tractor to the crush pad (the covered area between our winery and warehouse buildings). Being an estate winery and using our own grapes grown on site, we are able to immediately crush the grapes after harvest.
Emptying 5-gallon buckets of Syrah grapes into bins, ready to be moved to the crush pad (left). CWC Owner/Winemaker Jennifer Christianson preparing to crush Chardonnay in the wine press (right).
We have 35 acres of grapevines planted, which can give us about 125-150 tons of grapes each year. Some grapes we sell in bulk to other wineries, but we keep most to make our wine. Believe it or not, we do not crush over 100 tons of grapes with our feet! Winemakers have been using much more efficient tools to crush wine grapes for thousands of years now. Our crush pad houses modern tools of choice: our wine press and our destemmer-crusher (see pictures).
White wine is the product of the process used to make it rather than the color of the grapes. For example, Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Pinot Grigio) is a dark grayish purple grape. Crushing for white wine involves dumping the whole grape clusters into our wine press. Inside the press are “bladders” that are remote-control operated to move in from the sides of the cylindrical tank and gently press the grape clusters like giant hands. Then the juice alone is drained out of the tank and pumped into stainless steel fermentation tanks.
The wine press in action with Owners/Winemakers Jay and Jennifer Christianson (left). The Christiansons hard at work with the destemmer-crusher (middle). Close-up of the destemmer-crusher used for our red wines, rosés, and some white wines (right).
Grape clusters for our red wines are emptied into a hopper that funnels them into the destemmer-crusher. A spinning rod with smaller perpendicular rods causes the grape berries to separate from the stems, which are spat out into a separate receptacle. The grapes then fall down between two rollers that crush them and into another receptacle with a pump and large hose hooked up to it. The resulting must (slurry of juice, skins, seeds, and pulp) is pumped into fermentation tanks. Red wine gets its color and many elements of its flavor from extended contact with skins during fermentation.
The next blog will get into fermentation, pressing red wines, oak, and racking!
This is a continuation of my earlier post on preparing for wine bottling at Canyon Wind Cellars. Now to describe the process of putting wine in bottles for ease of use. As enjoyable as it is to pull wine from a barrel with a thief, it’s not exactly convenient when you’re sitting down to a meal!
Bottling Days: Jay, Jennifer, and their faithful dog Finley arrive at the winery at about 5:30 AM on bottling days. For the record, Finley is not a morning dog! So Finley goes up to his office to sleep in a little more, while Jay and Jennifer spend two and a half hours sanitizing the bottling line and hoses with extra-hot water, making sure all the bottling materials are ready to go, and doing a final check of bottling line functionality. We usually start bottling at 8:00 AM, so employees and volunteers arrive then.
Pallets of empty 47-Ten Red case boxes that are labeled and ready for bottling.
Everyone finds a place to work—we have people labeling case boxes, loading bottles onto the start of the bottling line, putting foils on each bottle, removing bottles from the end of the line, putting bottles back into case boxes and taping them shut, moving the full cases onto pallets, moving the full pallets into the warehouse, and moving pallets of empty and labeled cases into the winery for bottling. This is done cyclically throughout the day until all the wine is bottled. As I said in Part 1, our winemakers like to say that winemaking is 80% cleaning, 19% moving heavy things, and 1% drinking cold beer. Now maybe you’re seeing where some of that 19% heavy lifting comes in? The winery becomes a somewhat Zen-like factory on bottling days. A very delicious-smelling factory.
Meanwhile Jay and Jennifer are running around checking and refilling the cork hopper, monitoring gas levels, making sure the negative pressure in bottles is right, bringing in new boxes of foils as needed, changing out label rolls, moving pallets of wine, and trouble-shooting the bottling line.
The Bottling Line: Here is a rundown of the steps each bottle of wine goes through in the bottling line: the bottle is fed into the machine, carbon dioxide gas is used to sparge the bottle to displace any oxygen there, wine is pumped to the machine and passes through a final membrane filter, the bottle is filled with wine, nitrogen gas is shot into the top of the bottle to level the wine and again remove oxygen, a cork drops down from a hopper and is popped into the top of the bottle under vacuum, a foil is put onto the top of the bottle, the foil is stretched onto the top of the bottle with rapidly spinning rollers, the label is applied to the bottle from a spool that spins at a rate in time with the rate the bottles are passing through the machine, and then the bottle is removed from the end of the line by people who package them in case boxes. Whew!
A bottling crew hard at work on the line! Bottles ready to be filled.
For each wine bottled, random bottles are pulled from the line and sent to a lab for testing to ensure that the wine was sterile bottled and for the wine’s final chemical analysis. This is not required, but our winemakers consider it an important step to ensure quality control with all of our wine.
We bottle our wine a total of about 6 to 8 days over the course of each year. In 2014 we bottled about 6000 cases of wine. This year we expect to be our biggest production year yet, with 7000 or more cases planned. We recently bottled our 2014 47-Ten Red, 2013 Petit Verdot, and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (not yet released). And now you will know how they came to be in their bottles!
To volunteer during a bottling day at Canyon Wind, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to our volunteer list! You will then receive emails when volunteers are needed!
Since grape harvest doesn’t happen until September at Canyon Wind Cellars in the Grand Valley of Colorado, my blog series on winemaking processes will not be sequential. Also, since we age wine in oak for various amounts of time (anywhere from four months to two years), our winemakers are constantly working on various stages of wine production throughout the year. There are so many steps to winemaking that I will address in future blog posts this year: lab work, harvest, crush, fermentation, pressing, cold stabilization, secondary fermentation, barrel aging, and racking. I last explained blending in February this year. We recently wrapped up two consecutive weeks of bottling, so now is as good a time as any to learn about this step in winemaking!
If you are now envisioning two solid weeks of bottling, think again. Several steps go into each bottling: obtaining the materials, settling, filtration, and the actual bottling. All of this happens once our winemakers, Jay and Jennifer Christianson, decide that a wine is ready to roll.
Obtaining the Materials: When planning bottling, materials must be ordered and shipped to us. We need bottles (which come in case boxes of 12), corks, foils, labels, and gases. Sometimes obtaining these things is harder than you would think due to West Coast port strikes and such. The bottling line, purchased in 2000, is already in place at Canyon Wind Cellars. Also already on site is the pump and the plate and frame filter. Of course, our winemakers have to ensure that all of this equipment is in good working order before a bottling. However, the bottling line manages to keep Jay and Jennifer on their toes every bottling day, and improvisation is a necessity. During a recent bottling, we found ourselves hand-labeling a couple of pallets of the 2014 47-Ten Red when the machine’s labeler was not cooperating for a while.
Some of our huge stainless steel tanks used for settling and storage before bottling. Our tanks range in capacity from 1500 to 4500 gallons.
Settling: About 10 days before a planned bottling, we pump the wine out of the barrels in our underground cellar and into stainless steel tanks. And then it just sits there. The wine comes out of the barrels with some sediment (called lees), and it helps to let that settle to the bottom of a tank ahead of time. This makes filtration faster and easier.
Overhead view from the winery catwalk of our plate and frame filter (upper left) and pump (lower right) in action.
Filtration: Our winemakers like to say that winemaking is 80% cleaning, 19% moving heavy things, and 1% drinking cold beer. So the bottling process really starts with cleaning. Before filtering the wine, they must sanitize the filters and the tanks into which they will be moving the wine. The filter is sterilized with hot water (180 degrees minimum) for at least 20 minutes. Pre-bottling filtering is a two-day process. At this point, the wine does not necessarily have large particles in it, but particles can be present from the time the wine was in the cellar. Filtering is also a safeguard against any possible spoilage organisms, ensuring high quality and tasty wine in every bottle. Day one is for coarse filtering, during which the wine is pumped out of a tank, through a plate and frame filter, and through filter pads that are rated to remove particles less than 1.5 microns. Afterwards, the filter and the tank are sanitized again. Day two is fine filtering. The winemakers go through the same process with the cleaning, filtering, and cleaning, this time with filter pads rated to remove 0.45 microns or less (smaller than any spoilage organisms) from the wine. This filtration needs to happen just before bottling day, within 48 hours. Also, Jay and Jennifer check the bottling line functionality on filtration day two.
Stay tuned for Bottling Up Canyon Wind Cellars' Wines: Part 2, in which I will describe the actual bottling process on bottling days!
Bob Pepi (left) tasting varietals and blends with Canyon Wind Cellars owner/winemaker Jay Christianson (right).
My Canyon Wind Cellars blog theme for 2015 will be delving into the winemaking processes and behind-the-scenes operations at our Western Colorado estate winery. There is a story behind every bottle that you purchase from our winery. You might think that every wine starts at the vine, but I would argue that it starts with human thoughts. Winemakers conjure visions for a winery and certain lines of wines they want to produce. These visions will influence what grape varietals the winemakers purchase and plant; and even before that, it can influence what land they choose to nurture their vines. And extensive consideration is put into the winemaking process itself.
When Norman and Ellen Christianson first started Canyon Wind Cellars, Norman was confident in his geological expertise to guide him to find the right vineyard location (which has certainly proven true!), and they were both passionate enough about wine to take on the enormous endeavor of starting a winery. But they recognized the need for some experienced help in setting up the winery and beginning winemaking. Norman had been working with viticulturist Rich Thomas during Canyon Wind Cellars’ inception, and he asked if he would be willing to help him with winemaking. Rich said no, but he knew that renowned Napa Valley winemaker Bob Pepi had just sold his winery, Robert Pepi Winery, in 1994 and he might have some time to help.
Norman called Bob and asked if he would be willing to consult for him, and Bob said that he had just retired and was no longer in the wine business. However, in January 1995, Norman unexpectedly ran into Bob at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium trade show in California (it seems Bob was not as retired as he had implied!). They ended up planning out the future of Canyon Wind Cellars together while writing on a napkin, and that is when Bob Pepi became our consultant wine maker.
Bob began by helping plan building arrangements and equipment placement as the winery structures were being built during this time. Norman and Ellen had begun planting the vineyard in 1991, but the winery building was completed in 1995, and the warehouse and underground barrel cellar were later added in 2000. Initially, Bob was making frequent trips from California to advise the Christiansons on all elements of viticulture (the growing of wine grapes) and winemaking. Eventually Bob’s trips to Canyon Wind became less frequent as Norman and Ellen became more proficient. After Jay and Jennifer Christianson took over ownership and winemaking in 2009, Bob Pepi started making an annual visit to the winery for what I like to call their annual blending jam session, usually in January or February.
Wine Blending Chemistry Set: Beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, graduated cylinders, and wine of course!
I sat in on part of their time together last week, and it involves a lot of wine, Erlenmeyer flasks, graduated cylinders, stemware, deep concentration, and repetition. Bob is friendly, soft-spoken, unassuming, a little scatter-brained (perhaps a symptom of being semi-retired?), tanned, and sports salt-and-pepper hair and a beard. Jay, Jennifer, and Bob take samples of all of the wines from our barrels, talk about how much they have of each varietal (or blends, in the case of co-fermentations) and how they have been oaked, talk about the flavors and aromas present, evaluate how growing conditions and seasonal variations may have influenced them, and compare opinions of the wines and what they may do with them this year. Bob starts pouring different percentages of different varietals into graduated cylinders, pours the resulting blend into a glass, passes it around for tasting, and opinions are voiced. Sometimes he makes two different blends at a time, keeps the blends secret, and just labels them #1 and #2. He gives them to Jay and Jennifer and asks if they prefer #1 or #2—it amused me to think it was like an eye doctor asking which lens is clearer, and sometimes the difference between two blends is that small.
Jay and Jennifer are skilled winemakers, but it helps to have an additional resource of sage wisdom with decades of winemaking experience like Bob. During his annual visit, they also walk the vineyard and discuss how the vines are developing, future vineyard plans, and any proactive changes that should be made. During the rest of the year, Jay and Jennifer always have the option of calling Bob for a third opinion of when to harvest a particular varietal or to evaluate lab results from a wine sample. Bob Pepi has likely influenced almost every Canyon Wind Cellars wine that you have enjoyed.
Click here for additional information about Bob, Jay, Jennifer, Norman, and Ellen.
Tis the season for holiday feasts, and many people struggle with what wines may best complement their culinary creations. The simple answer: pair whatever wine you like best, or the wine that you first picture in hand when eating [insert holiday dish here]. Many of you may have family visiting from out-of-state, or you may be traveling to them. Either way, you can make a contribution to the meal and show your state pride with Colorado estate wine from Canyon Wind Cellars and Anemoi Wines.
For those of you who aren’t content with winging your wine selection, or perhaps you relish the idea of harmonizing the meal’s flavors with your favorite vino, you want to pair wine that has similar flavors to those that will be in your main dishes. This can be a challenge if you are serving very different dishes together, such as savory turkey or pot roast with sweet potato casserole. It is nearly impossible to say that one wine will go with everything in your holiday spread, but our most adaptable, crowd-pleasing wines are our 47-Ten Wines—bring some wine altitude to the table!
Here are pairing recommendations of our wines for some common holiday dishes:
- Turkey: Chardonnay, 47-Ten Rose, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, 47-Ten Red
- Ham: Chardonnay, 47-Ten Red, Merlot, Lips, Boreas
- Prime Rib or Roast Beef: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot (If you still have some!), Apeliotes, Boreas, Zephyrus, IV
- Lamb: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Lips, Zephyrus
- Roast Duck or Goose: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
- Root Vegetables (Potatoes, Carrots, Parsnips, Beets, Etc.): Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot
- Pie (Pumpkin, Fruit, Chess, Crack): Iapyx
- Chocolate Desserts, Cheesecake: Port
The award for best pairing with cold weather goes to mulled wine, made with most any dry red wine. I recommend using our 47-Ten Red. If you stop in our tasting room in Palisade, Colorado during the winter months on a weekend, you will usually find that we’ve made some for you to sample. We even sell mulled wine by the glass now! If you aren’t familiar with mulled wine, it is heated and spiced wine that is sweetened to taste. It will warm you up and make your house smell amazing on a cold day. Pro tip: for a little extra pizazz, add a splash of port and/or an orange slice to your mulled wine.
From all of the staff at Canyon Wind Cellars (including Finley Santa), Happy Holidays to you and yours!
A layer cake is a staple of most weddings, whether it be vanilla or a more exotic flavor, enrobed in buttercream or fondant, bedecked in whimsical decorations or fruit or flowers. But what they all have in common is multiple layers, and you can enjoy one after another! Canyon Wind Cellars’ setting for a wedding also has layers—the dramatic backdrop of the Grand Mesa, a foreground of our established Cabernet Sauvignon vines, family and friends all around, cool green grass underfoot, and a glass of our estate Colorado wine in hand (and some of that cake in reserve).
We just hosted our final wedding of the 2014 season at Canyon Wind Cellars this past weekend, everyone enjoyed themselves, and there were a lot of oohs and aahs during the sunset when guests were torn between looking at the gorgeous Colorado sunset or looking at its reflection emblazoned in red, pink, and orange on the Grand Mesa. Some prefer looking at the sunset’s reflection in their glasses of wine, which is another great alternative!
Having Canyon Wind Cellars available as a wedding venue is a relatively new venture for us. As newly minted second-generation owners of Canyon Wind Cellars, Jay and Jen Christianson couldn’t think of a better place to host their family and friends for their own wedding in June of 2010. Believe it or not, they had their wedding in our parking lot, and it was still so lovely that they realized the potential for many future beautiful weddings in our Colorado vineyard.
So they removed some of the Cabernet Sauvignon vine rows south of the parking lot in our Riverside Vineyard and created a space reserved just for weddings and special events. Yes, you can host your birthday party, family reunion, college graduation party, or business meeting at Canyon Wind Cellars! If you have visited our tasting room in Palisade, then you are probably familiar with our stone-walled courtyard and our big mulberry shade tree in front of the tasting room. That area can also be reserved for smaller weddings, events, and rehearsal dinners.
Many people choose to rent tents to shelter their party from the sun or in case of inclement weather, but the weather in Palisade is often very cooperative, especially in May, June, September, and October. There can also be something magical about sitting down to dinner under the stars after sunset. Some great ideas we’ve seen at weddings in our venue: arranging shuttles to drop off and pick up guests, arranging for a limo to drop off the bride and her bridesmaids in style, luminarias along the drive into the vineyard, lanterns along the path to the venue, a wedding that included a variety show performed by guests, and releasing doves that dramatically fly away after the pronouncement.
If you or someone you know may be interested in more information about a wedding or event at Canyon Wind Cellars, you can learn more by:
- Checking out the Events Page on our website
- Visiting our Pinterest Page
- Sending an email to email@example.com or calling 970-464-0888
I would be happy to share the potential of our Colorado winery venue for your wedding or special event!
Wine and food pairing is fun, and I highly recommend it whenever possible! Many people (myself included) are intimidated by the idea of experimenting with wine and food pairing, thinking it solely the domain of sommeliers and winemakers. But you can do it! Do you enjoy food? Do you love wine? Do you have functional taste buds? If you answered “yes” to all three, then you’re qualified! I have educated myself a little, to avoid truly tragic pairings, and loved Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine, and Flavor by François Chartier. Main lesson learned: pairing like with like is a pretty fool-proof approach with wine and food, with only a few exceptions (i.e. pepper). For example, if a wine has hints of coconut and cocoa, then pair it with something with coconut and chocolate. Simple enough!
Many of you probably have Girl Scout cookies at home now or have some ordered and on the way from a friend or relative’s daughter. I will assume that you have some Colorado wine on hand, too. Pairing the two intimidated this former Girl Scout, but plates of cookies lured several other folks who work at the winery to assist me. For your enjoyment, I present to you the pairings that were most enjoyed (comments in parentheses describe the parties in our mouths when the cookie and each wine were combined):
- Savannah Smiles—zesty lemon cookies—complemented similarly citrusy 47-Ten White (lemon-lime) and 47-Ten Rosé (sunny pink grapefruit, lemon with raspberries). Winemaker Jay discovered a dark horse pairing of these lemon cookies with Lips, describing it as savory, fruity, and rocking!
- Trefoils—shortbread in the shape of the Girl Scout logo—paired best with our 2009 Port (dark fruit complemented cookie’s butter) and 47-Ten Rosé (strawberry shortcake or strawberries and cream).
- Thin Mints—peppermint and chocolate—with, wait for it, Cabernet Franc (mint mint)! I was skeptical of success with wine and this cookie, but we all truly enjoyed this pairing. Just try it!
- Samoas—caramel, toasted coconut, and dark chocolate—was a dream with Apeliotes, which is aged entirely in new American oak, giving it toasted coconut and cocoa flavors just right for this cookie. Runners-up were 47-Ten Rosé (tropical mouth party) and Iapyx (sugar addict throw down).
- Tagalongs—peanut butter and milk chocolate—gave us childish pleasure with Merlot and 47-Ten Rosé (peanut butter jelly time). Another strong one was Cabernet Sauvignon (grown up PB&J, with more chocolate influence).
We didn’t try pairings with all types of Girl Scout cookies, but believe me when I say this was enough for one day. Most of us had a serious sugar overdose after all of this. Maybe we should have literally followed the Girl Scout slogan of “Do a Good Turn Daily” and just tried one wine and cookie pairing a day. Well, I’m telling you now so you’ll know better, in the spirit of the Girl Scout motto “Be Prepared”! Now go grab your cookies and wine and tell us which wine you pair with your favorites!
Valentine’s Day is creeping up on us! Still considering what to do for your sweetie? The most obvious choice is chocolate with our wine. Port and chocolate is a classic combo, but you don’t want to gift your honey with just any port or chocolate. Treat them right: Canyon Wind Cellars Proprietor’s Reserve Port paired with Death by Chocolate Cupcakes (using a delectable recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, an awesome baking blog with reliable recipes).
I had you at chocolate, right? Trust me, this is a great combo and our winemakers Jay and Jen (both foodies) approve. These are some serious chocolate cupcakes—dark and bittersweet; and they are well balanced by the sweetness of the Proprietor’s Reserve Port with its cherry, fig, and coffee flavors. Use high quality cocoa powder for this recipe (I prefer Ghirardelli). I choose to top the cupcakes with mini chocolate chips or chocolate shavings, rather than the full-size chocolate chips shown in the recipe. Aerate your flour before measuring and don’t be tempted to add extra cocoa powder, otherwise you may end up with dry cupcakes. I added a little more cream to the frosting than what the recipe calls for to get a smoother texture. And if you want a cupcake for breakfast, I won’t judge—they go well with coffee, too!
A couple of other lovely ideas for Valentine’s Day gifts:
- 2012 Lips, because it is bold and classy like you, it has a lip print on the bottle, and it’s hand-dipped in red wax with love
- 2013 47-Ten Rosé, because it’s pink and sassy, which reminds you of your dearest when they get too cold this winter
- A Wine Club membership, for the Valentine’s gift that proves you’re not afraid of commitment. We have three clubs to choose from, and we promise to make your Valentine feel special.
- A beautifully prepared gift basket with Port or Lips and chocolate, a heart-themed bow, and a discounted package price—ready for you in our tasting room in lovely Palisade (call ahead for availability)
May you have a love-filled, chocolate-infused, wine-fueled Valentine’s Day. Cheers!
~Stacey Smith, Canyon Wind Cellars Sensory Tour Guide