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Thursday, December 3, 2015

GUEST BLOG: "Why Being A Winemaker Is Awesome - Or Not" by Lori of Dracaena Wines

One of the wine blogs that I read every single post of is the blog for Dracaena Wines ( and I highly suggest that you do too. Lori has a way of combining humor, valuable information and personal experiences in her posts and nails it every time. She's clearly passionate in her love of wine and winemaking. When the thought of having guest bloggers on this site popped into my head I immediately thought of Lori, and she was awesome enough to accept.

We have similar approaches in our writing, with the exceptions of my occasional inappropriateness and her insight into something that I cannot give you: being a winemaker.

Along with this guest blog, she's also offering 10% off any sales of their 2013 Cabernet Franc on their website with the promocode WINESTALKER!

So please enjoy this guest blog from Lori of Dracaena Wines. And thank you to Lori for writing it! Please follow her at @DraceanaWines on Twitter.

Why being a winemaker is awesome- or not
by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines

What the heck were we thinking?

Since the running joke in the wine industry is “Do you know how to make a small fortune in the wine industry? You start with a large one!” Bud bum bump! We get asked this question a lot. Not only is it a difficult business to get into, we  wanted to add another degree of difficulty and run a winery from 3,000 miles away. What we were thinking? It's easy, we wanted to Pursue our Passion! We decided in 2013 it was time to grab that bull by the horns and take a step in making our future one that we would enjoy. There are some pretty awesome and not so awesome things about owning a winery.

The United people know us well.

Each trip is 6,000 miles round trip. This is both an awesome thing and a very bad thing. Frequent flying has some type of glamorous cloak over it. On the outside, it seems so cool. “Ooh, I wish I could fly that much!” But once you are the one doing it, the magic bubble is burst rather quickly. The delays, the weather, the layovers. Let's not forget that being a winemaker means that you are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Example, we were scheduled to pick our fruit for the 2015 harvest. All was well. The temperature was steady in the 90’s and there was no rain in the forecast. Three days before we were going to fly to California, the temperature dropped into the low 80’s and rain, heavy rain, was potentially coming. A winemaker’s nightmare! We cancelled our flights and prayed to the wine gods to hold the rain off a bit and increase the temperatures. Our prayers were answered, the sun stayed out and warmed up the fruit and one week later we harvested some outrageously amazing fruit.. However, that one week delay caused us to have flight cancellation fees, the rental car went up and my favorite hotel was booked solid, so we had to stay someplace else. Plus, since we were technically booking a flight three days before getting on the plane, we spent the flights middle seat back of the plane. Not so glamorous anymore, is it?

We do drink a lot of wine.

It seems like almost every night is a business night. Obviously we like wine. I mean honestly, who would start a winery if they didn't? Prior to starting Dracaena Wines there was always wine in the cellar. We typically would settle in for a bottle with dinner on some Friday nights and almost all Saturday evenings. Once we entered the world of the wine industry, there seemed to be so many more opportunities to enjoy some vino and of course we feel obligated to participate. Let’s start off with #WineWednesday. Every Wednesday is now a reason to drink wine. Social media rules the universe and there is so much happening on Wednesday in the wine world you have to have a glass [or two, three]so you don't feel left out. Yep, that's it! I'm sticking to the peer pressure thing!  Nobody wants to be an outsider looking in and what would you do if people were asking you #WIYG [what’s in your glass] and you didn't respond with an answer of wine? Oh no, the world may implode! Ok, maybe not implode, but people will definitely think are insane. Ok, again, maybe not, but it does give us a reason to open a bottle and enjoy.  In addition to Wednesdays, there are wine holidays. You know what I'm talking about. National Sauvignon Blanc Day, Merlot Day [heck, that gets a whole month] and of course the one near and dear to my heart, Cabernet Franc Day, which is December 4th (TOMORROW!). Where there is a reason, it doesn't take too much to twist our arms to twist a cap or pull a cork.

For the love of science.

I am a science geek. I readily admit it.  I love the stuff, well the Biology stuff.  I have a tougher time with the Chemistry, however, both are extremely important in the winemaking process.  There is a saying that you can't make good wine from bad grapes but you can make bad wine from good grapes.  That's where the science comes in.  Unfortunately, it is a lot of chemistry.  There are some concepts that you must be able to understand and correlate to each other if you are going to make wine [good wine]. You can ignore these concepts and maybe get lucky or maybe end up with a wine that smells like barnyard and mold.  How much of a gambler are you?  I'm a huge gambler. You can find me at a craps table on a somewhat regular basis, but I make sure chemistry is applied during the process.  I don't know about you but I much prefer aromas of blackberry, and tobacco over wet dog, burnt beans and mouse cage. 

In very basic terms, the key chemical analysis we pay most attention to  are:

1- Brix: named after some German science dude named Brix.  By definition it is the measure of the soluble solids in a solution. Related to wine, generally speaking, it is the sugar content in grapes and correlates to the ripeness of the grapes. As the growing season develops, the fruit ripens. The sugar levels increase.  There is a "sweet spot" for picking the grapes. For our Cabernet Franc this Brix level is around 28. This number varies depending on the vineyard. For our vineyard site, this Brix level provides the best flavor profile for the wine we choose to make. 

2- T.A. (titratable acidity) and pH - Titratable acidity is the measure of all the available Hydrogen ions within the fruit/wine. Acidity is extremely important to a wine's character.  It provides the crisp and slightly tart taste you can sense on your tongue.  Too little, and the wine is "flabby" while too much make your taste buds stand up on your tongue and scream at you. It is important the acids are in balance.  There are two main acids in wine; tartaric and malic. As the grape matures, malic acid levels decline due to metabolization, while the tartaric levels remain somewhat constant. We pay attention to the levels through sampling and become concerned if the acid level is too high or low.  If the levels are low, we need to be concerned with microbial growth and taste, while the side of the spectrum the wine will be out of balance.  There is nothing we can do physically to change the natural acid levels within the grapes other than picking earlier, which then impacts the Brix level and flavor.  Once picked, we can do some behind the scenes pH modification by adding acid[too low] or precipitate it out by adding a base [too high].

obtained from UC Davis 
It's a small world after all.

This is by far the most amazing thing about being a winemaker and entering this industry.  People in the industry, care about other people in the industry.  You would think it was a cut throat world, but in reality, most everyone wants to see the industry do well, so we look out for each other.  Honestly, at this stage of our business, there are more people looking out for us than we are for them, but we will always pay it forward.  

obtained on
There is a sense of belonging to this amazing industry. We have asked other winemakers questions about their barrel programs, their picking decisions, and their wine making process and they are willing to sit down and talk to us and help.  Do you believe that?! For a Jersey girl who trusts no one and is use to keeping her guard up this was a tough one to swallow.  The people are incredible. We can walk into any winery in Paso [and most other regions] and have a conversation about the process of winemaking with no holds barred, everything on the table. What do they expect in return? Nothing really other than making the region a better place for wine. 

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