Tools of the Cellar Trade

#WVHARVEST2017 – NOVEMBER 13, 2017

It takes more than great grapes to make great wine. From must plungers to tri-clamps, we break down the tools of the trade.. Read full article

Tools of the Cellar Trade

Tools of the Cellar Trade

As winemaking transitions from the vineyard to the winery, here are a few tools that winemakers and vintners can’t live without.

Most are aware of the towering vats, neat stacks of barrels and trusty forklifts that keep a winery ticking. With the fruit all in and November in full swing, a new cast of tools is called upon to expedite the evolution of a wine. Here are a few most vintners and cellar workers would rather not live without.

Lees Stirrer

Assuming the shape of a narrow golf putter, the lees stirrer offers an arm-extension of sorts. The narrow body fits through a barrel’s bunghole, allowing the loose foot of the stirrer to push around the settled lees – or, dead yeast cells – at the bottom. Lees stirring is known as bâtonnage in the Old World and is more common in white winemaking, although it can benefit certain reds as well.

The Must Plunger

Well-known as it may be within wine circles, this glorified plunger is to the harvest worker as a chef’s knife is to the cook. Outfitted with holes in its rubber head, this devices allows the cap of fermentations to be punched down, distributing flavors, tannin and all kinds of other microbiology evenly throughout the lot. Moreover, it allows for some temperature regulation, a welcome introduction of oxygen and yields pronounced triceps for the lucky soul in command of the punchdowns.

Bulldog Pup

A good old fashioned large-scale siphon can do the trick, but nothing beats the ease and speed of the Bulldog. This pressure racking wand can empty a 55-gallon barrel in just a few minutes, making it quite suitable for larger wine blends or simply moving product whenever necessary. The deep exhale the device takes after it empties a barrel is a sound that startles even the hardiest of winemakers.


Flashlights likely lead the list of objects found at the bottom of tanks when a wine is ultimately drained. Access to hands-free light in a dark cellar is paramount and the headlamp covers all bases. From eyeing fill-levels while barreling down wine to identifying lots in dimly-lit, tightly-stacked rows, the headlamp is your savior.

Barrel Washer

Sanitizing a barrel requires a clever tool that can turn out both the pressure and range needed. Enter the barrel washer, a hose attachment with an L-shaped head that fits neatly inside of an inverted barrel and boasts a small but complex nozzle to ensure that every square inch of the barrel’s interior is washed clean.

Topping Gun

The topping gun is used to add wine to barrels to keep levels high and oxidation at bay. Often hooked up to inert gas to fight gravity’s pull, the gun is fit with a simple lever for dispensing and a crooked, narrow mouth to get into barrels. Equally important is enough hose length to get you up to the fourth of fifth story of barrels with some wiggle room to spare.

Boxed Wine

Every lab needs a control. There’s little more manufactured and chemically reliable than a box of Franzia or a jug of Carlo Rossi, wine you can essentially set your watch to. What these wines lack in character they make up for in scientific flawlessness. Winemakers use the basic chemistry of these wines as a reference point for analyzing samples as well as calibrating much-needed equipment.

The Tri-Clamp

A carpenter never enters a job without a hammer. A vintner’s functional cellar is never out of tri-clamps. These clamps offer the glue to just about everything in winemaking, from connectivity between pumps and tanks to adapters, valves, hoses and an infinite number of specialty pieces. In short, it is the tri-camp that can move the entirety of your largest production wine from one end of the winery to the other, without so much as losing more than a few drops.

Story and illustrations by Mark A. Stock |
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He’s written for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.

Two Vintners on Blending


Blending a wine is a bit like mixing paint to create the perfect color. That color reflects the winemakers interpretation both of the site the fruit came from and his or her idea of what a wine should be.. Read full article

Two Vintners on Blending

Two Vintners on Blending

Blending a wine is a bit like mixing paint to create the perfect color. That color reflects the winemakers interpretation both of the site the fruit came from and his or her idea of what a wine should be. It’s one of many steps along the winemaking trail that make the final product so interesting and incredibly expressive. Basic principles aside, blending is about as subjective as the resulting releases. Here are two takes from a pair of gifted Willamette Valley winemakers – John Grochau of Grochau Cellars and Tracy Kendall of Nicolas-Jay.

Q. What is the basic objective when blending a wine?

JC: It depends, but usually it’s to create an accurate reflection of the growing area and the vintage, as translated by the vineyards represented.

TK: When blending we are always seeking balance in wine. You want the fruit, acidity, alcohol, weight and tannins to come into harmony and blending really gives you that opportunity. You can drive the wine to express itself more clearly when blending rather than limiting yourself to the expression of one site or one clone. We’re always working with Pinot Noir exclusively, so when we talk about blending we’re talking about blending from different sites throughout the Northern Willamette Valley, different oak profiles and different clones to make the best expression of Willamette Valley pinot noir possible.

Q. What is your approach to blending? Are you running numerous trials and test blends? Is there a certain time of year you’re typically doing so?

JC: We blend wines a few times a year, but usually in the spring and summer. We assess every barrel on its own, making detailed notes on every single barrel. Based on those notes, we come up with ideas for blends that we then trial. Based on the results on those trials, we fine-tune as needed, adding or subtracting barrels until we find the balance we were looking for.

TK: Blending begins the moment the fruit arrives at the winery and doesn’t end until the wine is blended in anticipation of bottling. We start tasting when the eventual wine is still in it’s juice stage, before fermentation, and start thinking through it’s potential and ultimate destination. We taste all throughout fermentation and élevage when the wines are aging in barrel. We really begin blending in earnest in the late spring and early summer once when wines have started to come into their own and have developed more of their eventual personality. I begin by tasting each barrel from each lot and making notes – delicious, needs time, very fruit driven, earthy, etc. – from these notes I pull composite blends of each lot and begin working them together to see how they integrate. It’s a long process done over many weeks to achieve the final blend.

Every vintage is different but are certain clones or sites you work with pretty reliable from year to year, in terms of what they’ll bring to the blending table?

JC: Definitely yes. For example, Bjornson Vineyard always brings power, intensity and a mineral quality every year, no matter the vintage, whereas Lia’s Vineyard has a consistently plush and round palate, with very powdery tannin. We can always pick these vineyards out in a blind tasting.

TK: Definitely. One of the exciting things about winemaking is really intimately getting to know a site. We’re a newer winery so we’ve only worked with most of our sites for four years now. That being said, we’re starting to know what to expect from certain vineyards and what role they’ll play in the eventual blend. Some are characteristically fruit-driven and provide that beautiful cherry note, others bring the backbone of tannin, and some provide elevation and purity. Getting to know your sites like this allows you to shepherd the wine in a way that highlights the strengths of the vineyards while still respecting vintage variation.

Q. How do barrel regimens factor into your blending?

JC: Barrel regimens matter quite a bit. Our goal is to produce a wine where oak is a seasoning, not a major flavor component. We always have a majority of neutral barrels, but sometimes include newer barrels in the mix to bring more richness to the table.

TK: Even thought the vast majority of our wine ends up in one final blend the oak regime for each site is still really important. You want the best match of each barrel with each lot, as well matched oak can do incredible things to highlight a wine’s strengths. Subsequently, the wrong match can stand out in a blend.

Q. Pinot Noir is so often a stand-alone in Willamette Valley wine. Do you think it or other varietals like it have more blending potential than we give them credit for in Oregon?

JC: I think Gamay has great potential for blending in the Willamette Valley. I got more Gamay in 2017 and I look forward to the blending exercise, blending a Willamette Valley cuvée and making some single vineyard ones, too.

TK: I truly believe that Pinot Noir is the Willamette Valley’s highest calling. We are seeing some incredible things with Chardonnay lately and I believe Chardonnay will soon we thought of as usual to Pinot Noir when it comes to quality in the valley, a very exciting prospect and one I welcome. Outside of those two varietals I enjoy many of the Gamays that are being produced and some of the fun white blends but I prefer to focus on Pinot Noir.

by Mark A. Stock |
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He’s written for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.

Tests, Trials and Tabulations

#WVHARVEST2017 – OCTOBER 24, 2017

Adelsheim Vineyard’s Associate Winemaker, Gina Hennen, explains how winemaking “scratches both sides of her brain”.. Read full article

Tests, Trials and Tabulations

Tests, Trials and Tabulations

Lab work amid harvest is often tedious, thankless and behind the scenes. Yet, the tests and results that reveal the chemistry and microbiology of growing wines are quite important. It’s the seemingly invisible stuff of microscopes and vials from the onset, but a steady scientific approach almost always leads to problem-free wines down the line.

Gina Hennen knows this too well. Adelsheim Vineyard’s Associate Winemaker spends a good portion of every fall analyzing the inner-workings of fruit as it progresses from cluster to wine. And while the numbers indicate a lot, there’s a hands-on, sensory side to it all as well.

“Winemaking manages to scratch both sides of my brain — the logical and emotional,” Hennen says, a decade on working at one of the Willamette Valley’s most established labels. “Getting into this industry was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Hennen helped fabricate semiconductors before switching gears to enology. Her previous work provided plenty of fascination but Hennen longed for the spark of excitement that comes from rolling up your sleeves, grabbing a must plunger and getting your hands on some wine.

Testing is important, Hennen admits, but observations and experience are crucial too. “Two grape samples may give you nearly identical juice panel numbers,” she warns. “But if one comes from a vineyard that is defoliating or has significant damage then those numbers aren’t providing you with the most useful pieces of data.”

There is no single magic test, but instead more of a loose portrait of a wine’s chemistry. She offers glucose/fructose, VA, SO2 and pH as some of the baseline indicators. “I’m personally interested in learning more about some of the more esoteric tests certain labs have on offer, like berry water content as an indicator of when to saignee, so long as the numbers provide a tangible and actionable result.”

Hennen runs an increasing number of trials every harvest as well, which offer stepping stones for future vintages. Adelsheim tends to experiment with whole cluster versus destemmed fruit, wild versus native fermentations, rates of dry ice inclusion at destem and varying cold soak lengths. It’s the slow and steady hands of science at work, which unveil the best method after tried and true research.

Lately, Hennen says a particular focus has been on cap management, the layer of grape solids that forms at the top of a ferment over time. Two of the most common approaches include pump-overs — pumping the naturally pressed wine at the base of the ferment over the top of the cap, thereby circulating things — and punchdowns, the highly Instagram-able act of manually pushing the solids down into the must (and gaining a fair bit of muscle mass en route). The different styles can offer dramatic shifts in the resulting tannins, the byproduct of all those skins, stems and seeds.

Where there are trials, there are sometimes errors. Hennen says reduction had a stranglehold on one particular wine years back but reverse osmosis allowed the wine to achieve a state that was at least blend-able. It’s not perfect, but winemaking rarely is. “I’d still call it a win though,” she adds.

As for 2017, there’s deserved excitement. Hennen says the wines are fresh and naturally balanced, with a cooler fruit profile. “More raspberry, less plum,” she clarifies.

by Mark A. Stock |
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He’s written for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.


#WVHARVEST2017 – OCTOBER 19, 2017

Dick Ponzi, who started his career as a mechanical engineer, has brought many of his inventions to his winery. Read full article

Ever Innovative


When you’ve been in the winemaking game as long as Ponzi Vineyards has, you accrue some stories. The pioneering Oregon label got its start in 1970 when you could count the number of Willamette Valley producers on a single hand.

One of its founders, Dick Ponzi, came to Oregon with a background in mechanical engineering. He lent a hand in the creation of famed Disneyland ride Splash Mountain in California before heading north. As his daughter and label president Maria Ponzi points out, Dick is still milling about the estate, fixing things here and tweaking things there.

“He’s really proud of his Tesla,” Ponzi says. “The trunk is completely full of tools.” She has trouble keeping track of the ways the family managed to innovate, especially early on when there was no money. The vinification process offers ripe grounds for the inventor.

To solve the dilemma of bringing a ton-and-a-half fermenter to temperature, Dick Ponzi created his own temperature-controlled unit from something he bought from a supplier. He removed the stainless steel casing from one tank and retrofitted it with intakes for glycol. Relatively portable, it can be forklifted or craned around other ferments in need of some cooling to slow down or some heat to pick things up. Winemakers take their relatively technical sleeves and jackets for granted today. In the 70’s, there was hardly a market for such thing so it practically needed to be invented on site.

Another crafty idea came in the form of beer. In the early 1980‘s, the Ponzi family was still trying to establish the winery name, a long process given the many delays involved. Cuttings have to grow up, the resulting wines need to age and, ultimately, they had convince an unconvinced public to consume the stuff. Why not beer in the meantime?

“If my memory serves, Nancy [Maria’s mom and Dick’s wife] said, ‘Hey Dick, if we made beer we could make one batch and throw it down the drain the same day, and make another one with the same recipe! We would’t have to wait an entire year!’”

Beer’s relative straightforward nature, coupled with the fact that it could be made year-round, proved too attractive. The Ponzi’s started Bridgeport Brewing in 1984, Oregon’s oldest microbrewery. It was officially ten years since the winery’s first vintage in 1974 and there was still not much income to speak of, according to Ponzi. “The brewery was a way to survive,” she says.

Success ultimately came and the Ponzi’s could afford the occasional frivolity, provided it was a creative one. During the particularly wet 2007 vintage, the family went the way of the aviator. “Luisa [Ponzi’s winemaker and Maria’s sister] had worked with winemakers in New Zealand who shared a story about using helicopters in the vineyard,” Maria recalls. “I remember her thinking, ‘this sounds silly and expensive, but let’s try it.’”

The next day, they hired a helicopter from Evergreen in McMinnville to hover over some older vineyard blocks. The propellers fanned the moist fruit mostly dry and disease pressure lessened. “It was pretty effective,” Ponzi recalls. “Local news got ahold of it and local helicopters were booked for the rest of the week.”

Ponzi recalls how fun it was to have a chopper on the property and the sheer wind power the mechanical bird was able to produce. The family has enlisted pilots a few times since, including the 2011 harvest, one of the latest and wettest in recent history.

Having grown up on a vineyard and witnessed the industry’s colossal rise firsthand, Ponzi is admittedly overwhelmed. “We were horrified to tell our friends we worked on a vineyard back then,” she says. She laughs about the original Oregon winemaking pioneers scoffing at buying expensive new barrels as they compared ultra-cloudy wines. What she didn’t understand as a kid working on winery chores that she fully understands now is that it’s all about the lifestyle, money or not.

And if you’re a determined innovator, chances are that lifestyle will be all the better.

by Mark A. Stock |
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He’s written for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.