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Dawnine Dyer
October 22, 2012 | Dawnine Dyer

The Art of the Cold Soak

Looking out the window this morning at our rather soggy vineyard, we’re so grateful that our harvest is over and the grapes are safely in the barn, so to speak.

The fruit is so amazingly clean this year - with very few raisins, no sunburn, no mold and uniformly brown (mature) seeds - that we can do a nice, long cold soak. This technique is a favorite among the tricks in our bag that helps us get a jump start on the extraction of color, flavor and the right kinds of tannins – the supple ones from the grape skins.

You can think of the cold soak as sun tea vs. tea made with hot water. You get the full flavor without the bitter tannins. For us, different phenolic compounds (tannin is a polyphenol) are extracted from the skins and seeds at different temperatures and different alcoholic concentrations. 

So, as the grapes were destemmed, we blanketed them with dry ice (the solid form of carbon dioxide) to get them cooled down to below 50 degrees. This creates a very inhospitable environment for yeast and delays the onset of fermentation (it also protects the fresh juice from oxidation.) And, the low temperature and lack of alcohol in the solution allows us to get a lovely extraction of everything we want - color, flavor and texture - and virtually nothing we don’t want.

So, we're off to a great start and just loving the 2012 vintage! It seems to be one of those rare years when we can have it all! Next up, we’ll take a walk on the wild side and talk a little about yeast, wild yeast and mixed cultures. Cheers!

Time Posted: Oct 22, 2012 at 10:14 AM
Dawnine Dyer
October 11, 2012 | Dawnine Dyer

Very Happy Winemakers at Dyer Vineyard!


Just look at that big smile on my face! A happy winemaker, indeed, with a bumper crop of beautiful fruit! Vintage of the decade? Century? Who knows?

As I said in the last post, the whole season has been stress free for the grapes - and for us - weeks and months of temperate, dry conditions so it’s an amazingly clean harvest with almost no raisining. 

These pictures are from Monday, actually, the day we harvested. We started at 5:30 in the morning, picking by the light of headlamps and the tractor. It was a chilly 46 degrees in the vineyard, a sure sign that the season is coming to an end. But, cold grapes got us off to a good start. They traveled from the vineyard to the sorting table without juicing and are just right for beginning a good “cold soak.”

We carefully sorted the grapes before they were de-stemmed and crushed. I should add that saying we crushed the grapes sounds like we're smashing and mashing them, which is the last thing we want. The stemmer-crusher gently breaks the skins open to release the juice. 

The term "cold soak" is literal. It means we simply delay the onset of fermentation by keeping the fruit cool (yeast likes warm temperatures), so Mother Nature has played right into our hands. 

We’re greedy winemakers – we want to coax out as much color, flavor and texture from the skins as we can without picking up too much tannin along the way. The cold soak is the best trick in our bag to extract those goodies and the supple tannins from the skins up front, before there's any alcohol in the solution, without pulling out bitter seed tannins (alcohol is a solvent).

We can be extra greedy this year and allow for a good, long cold soak without fear of molding or off flavors because the fruit is so clean!

So, that’s where it stands at this point. 2012 has been so generous to us that I’ve realized I need to order another barrel, which is very happy news.

I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to reach the end of the growing season and know that all our work has been rewarded AND that there is nothing more to worry about until pruning time and the advent of the 2013 vintage!

This was also the perfect way to celebrate Bill’s birthday and, after sharing a few glasses of wine and some cheese when day was done, needless to say, we slept very well!


Dawnine Dyer
October 3, 2012 | Dawnine Dyer

It's Looking Like a Classic Napa Valley Vintage

Just look at these beauties! We’re on the count down – about a week away from harvest, maybe less. The sugars are at about 23.5 Brix (23.5%) and you should see the smile on my face!

This is one of those years when winemaking is really FUN! After the stress and low crop yields of the last couple of vintages Mother Nature is treating us to what feels like a magical growing season.

Such a season is made up of warm, sunny days and cool, foggy nights and months without rainfall. In fact, when it comes to the weather, there really hasn’t been anything to talk about other than to say how even tempered and great it is! So, it means we sailed through the spring frost season, May flowering and August veraison (the color change) and, now, maturation with nary a blip – a stress-free year for the vines.

They’ve rewarded us with an ample crop, which is a nice change! We thinned quite a bit to help the clusters to ripen evenly and to avoid crowding. Now we’re just waiting for absolute peak flavors and just a little more sugar.

Everything you read about growing conditions in Napa Valley, this year, describes them as “normal” and crop yields as “average” and I guess that’s right. It’s just that we appreciate this blissfully boring weather all the more after coming through the challenges of last few seasons.

These are the classic conditions that have made Napa Valley famous and Bill and I can hardly wait to get these grapes into the winery and make the most of what looks like a great vintage! Cheers!