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October 12, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest — Days 3-6 at Alpha Omega Winery

The glorious moments of "Cold-Soak."

It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2011. I’ve been ordered by the town Doc in St. Helena to “take off” 10/11, 10/12 & 10/13 and then some. Apparently, I’ve been… overdoing it. A slight case of Vertigo and the ailments that follow have set me back. And I’m happy to have been knocked down into a chair for a few days because I realized I haven’t had a day off since June 8, 2011. Well, one day off, but I hiked Mt. St. Helena with Amanda Wells – the same Amanda Wells that happens to be married to me. Okay, listen: It’s Harvest, can you smell it? The salt air? I brought you to — wait, wrong movie. The fermentation in the air? I’ve brought you to Napa Valley!

Harvest work ain’t easy work and the hours are not for us, good-natured humans, to decide when the grapes are ready to come on down! Just as an example you can see what Ram’s Gate Winery went through for the harvest of their first ton of Chardonnay grapes. At Alpha Omega, we experienced a day where 23 tons of grapes had to be pressed with the juice of whites going into stainless steel tanks and the reds going into barrels for an extended cold-soak maceration. Now, what in the good name of Grape Juice is “cold-soak” and “maceration?” Good questions. After spending three days doing punch-downs of the cold-soaking macerated juice and grapes I asked winemaker Jean Hoefligger what this “nonsense” is all about. I said “nonsense” and here’s what he said more or less:

Jean: We cold-soak for an extended period of time because when the grapes are not fermenting and with the absence of alcohol, the tannin extraction, fruit and flavor extraction works best. We can make a wine with more concentrated, nicer flavor and aroma characteristics when the exchange of flavor and aroma profiles happens in the absence of alcohol.

Alcohol can inhibit and effect flavor and aroma, and so before the yeasts even think about turning sugar to booze, cold-soak is the way of this wayward winemaker. What that means for me and the rest of the cellar team hour and hours of punch-downs:

Punch-downs - juice is bubbling from the dry ice we add to keep the temperature down and hence prohibit fermentation.

We'll spend 5 minutes on each barrel, punching down the caps. That's 5 minutes per barrel on all these barrels, and apparently, I'm told , "This ain't nothin'." Well, I'd love to see what "something" is because this "nothing" is pretty intense. About 5-6 hours of work if alone.


Wine Connoisseur: “This wine has a nose of graham cracker and toast!”

Me: “Who’re you fooling buddy? It’s grapes! Grapes! Ain’t no toast or crackers in that!”

Wine Connoisseur: “I tell you, Jonny, there’s graham cracker.”

Me: “Prove it.”

Wine Connoisseur: “Surely, take a look at the photo below…”

Inside of a new Oak Barrel -- looky that toast!

If you were to stick your head into that barrel, as I did just after snapping this shot, you’d smell, so help me bloody merry, graham cracker and toast. And what a delightful smell too! But you see, good wino, that’s a reality and in a red you might just find that the aromas blend in such a way that you think you’re drinking a glass full o’ s’mores.


The Rain has been a’comin.’ On lunch break just last week (10/5) sunny, cook skies gave way to an instantaneous rain storm that looked like this:


Not sure what this means for many growers, but as they say, we’ll find out. And I’ll let you know. So, we spent time inside recording the temperatures of the cold-soaking goodness.

13.1 degrees in the Celsius. Stable and good. Carry on! (Tastes great! Sweet!)

The forecast calls for more sunny days though. I’ll pick up cellar work next week. In the meantime, tune back in tomorrow as I’ll write about a dinner party hosted with Tim West of in a mansion at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco, a Harvest dinner at Quintessa, and a partridge in a pair…


February 21, 2011 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

White House Wines: A Glass For The President

Thomas Jefferson bottles. Photo copywright of William Koch. Sourced from:

In 1787 President Thomas Jefferson, then Minister to France, traveled to France and northern Italy. Jefferson was on a mission of diplomacy and also had a personal obligation to fulfill. Destination: Bordeaux.

“Jefferson drank France in with guzzling intemperance,” writes Benjamin Wallace in The Billionaire’s Vinegar – a book so incredibly fascinating and thorough in its investigation into the Jefferson bottles sold at auction in 1985 that you’ll want to read it through in one sitting.

Jefferson took extensive notes on the vineyards he visited, the vintages, the climate, etc., and when it came to wine, delineated quality with five categories:

  • Sweet
  • Acid
  • Dry
  • Silky
  • Astringent

Wallace states that Jefferson’s 1787 writings were incredibly important as his inquiries and note-taking positioned him as the, “greatest wine connoisseur writing in any language at the time.” And who might be the modern day equivalent? Perhaps: Michael Broadbent, Robert Parker, Jonny Cigar, Hugh Hefner Johnson.

“Before leaving France in 1789,” writes Wallace, “Jefferson shipped Sauternes, Burgundy, and still Champagne to New York for the cellars of newly elected President George Washington. As secretary of state, Jefferson placed another large order for Washington, Madison and Monroe – on what wines to serve at state dinners. When Monroe was elected, Jefferson’s congratulatory letter spent three sentences on the election and the remainder on what wines the White House cellar should stock.”

The chapter further explains that Jefferson even lobbied for lower tariffs, “not only for selfish reasons, but ostensibly because he believed in its healthful and even moderation qualities.” Apparently he drank “three to four and a half glasses of wine a day.” And thanks to this prohibition-era chart below we know that wine strengthens, nourishes and raises cheerfulness…

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s “Moral and Physical Thermometer.” From An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors (Boston: Thomas & Andrews, 1790). Photo of page 15 from “From Demon to Darling: A Legal History of Wine in America” by Richard Mendelson.

And I feel I can relate to the man, for he was intent on convincing Americans “one palate at a time” to transition from the abuses of spirits (whiskey especially) to drinking the pleasant, sophisticated wines he had come to love. The famous Jefferson quote rings i’th’ear: “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and non sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.”

And so, what were the Presidents drinking (thanks to Jefferson)? Nothing but the best:

  • Chateau d’Yquem
  • Mouton
  • Lafite
  • Haut-Brion
  • Latour
  • Margaux
  • Many a Burgundy and many a bottle of Champagne

So good reader, today on President’s Day, you are encouraged to strengthen your senses, nourish your blood and be cheerful, while indulging in a wine worthy of a President. I’ll be drinking the 1982 Mouton-Rothschild that’s been sitting in my imaginary-future wine cellar deep within the mountain of St. Helena, CA. Oh how lovely it will taste, I assume.

Self-Elected President-Elect,

Jonny Cigar

January 15, 2010 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Why Wine and Complain?

In fact, faithful wino, opportunity knocked—or rather, it Googled.

No, there is no wine to speak of in this post, however I felt it necessary to add a post titled, “Why Wine and Complain?” for the simple fact that I’ve wanted to for some time. A quick Google search yields thrilling revelations: no one else in the entire Googlesphere has typed these words, in this order, intentionally. If you plug, with quotation marks, exactly as so into Google’s search bar: “Why Wine and Complain,” only one entry appears. See here. The good chap who wrote this blog entry was upset with his family and was nowhere near a bottle or glass of wine. He was looking for a different kind of wine. One that looks like this: whine.

Ya know, it’s funny. A lot of people want to spell my name with an “h” and I try to stop them whenever possible: the laundry mat, the bank, Western Union, the old pool hall, the OTB, the firehouse. Finally, I said to myself, “Johnny, why whine and complain?” And then I said to myself, “Jonny, wy wine and complain?” See wat I mean?

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