Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New web site

Just wanted to let everyone know that we finally have a web site,

I'll probably be moving over the content of this blog over there, or may be simply pushing content from facebook/blog/forum (yet to be developed) everywhere.

It's getting exciting that we nearly have something to sell. It seems like both the middle of the road and the beginning of the road at the same time. I mean, we've been making wine, it seems, forever. We really started planning the winery in spring of 2007. We looked for space and decided on using my basement, which was unfinished (and by unfinished, I mean a hillside of dirt underneath our house). So, the summer of 2007 was spent digging out 55,000 lbs of clay, in 5-gallon buckets, from under our house to expand our basement. We then put back 28,000 pounds of concrete in the form of thick walls and floors. By the time the shell was complete (letting along the fact that we at that time had no water, sewer, or electric) it was into fall of 2007, and we hadn't gotten any of our licenses yet, because we had to have a finished place to make wine to get a license.

So, in 2007 we made another year of hobby wine in my garage, and also discovered that there was no way we were going to fit into our basement, it was simply too small for the amount of wine we wanted to produce. Plan B - locate a facility to make our wine.

In 2008 we looked in earnest, checking with some of the AP (Alternating Proprietorship) facilities out there to see if there was room for us. An AP is the formal way where many winemakers get together and share a common facility, where each winery makes its own wine, but in different areas of the AP. Each person has access to the crusher/destemmer and other equipment on a given day, and everyone uses their own barrels. Although some of the APs we visited had room for us, none of them were convenient. The closest one was many miles from our house. On to Plan C.

Finally, in spring of 2008, our friend Dan bought a building that had a "perfect" place for us - notwithstanding the fact that it was in a basement (which is very inconvenient for getting thousands of pounds of grapes into and finished product out of). We spent the summer making it into a facility that would work for us, applied for our licenses, and waited. We were in a race against time because we were afraid that some of the early-ripening fruit, merlot, would be ready before our license was granted. Strangely, our federal license came through rather quickly, but our state license was held up by the city's requirement that a "warning" notice be placed on the door of the site where alcohol is to be produced, to give the public a "comment period" where neighbors could object. Fortunately, none of our neighbors objected (one even wrote a "yes, we want them here" note), but there was simply no way for the comment period to be shortened - we had to wait the full 30 days.

Our merlot landed about 20 days into the 30 day period. Crap. We were under contract to buy 4000 lbs of merlot and had no use for it. If you leave it on the vine, it rots, and we were prohibited, by state law, from making it into alcohol. We researched quite a bit and found that we could put it in "cold storage," at 35 degrees to buy us a few days. We picked up the fruit, put dry ice in the bins to protect it from rot (and to start cooling it down) and drove it directly into the cold storage facility. Each day was torture. I checked email and phone every day for the license and figured that our fruit was rotting, slowly, at the cold storage facility. Everyone at the city and state was nice about the process, trying to help me along, but there is really no way to rush a mandatory waiting period.

Finally, on October 9, 2008, our license was granted. I picked up the phone, called Jill and Bob, and literally, we began crushing fruit the same day. To our suprise the fruit looked almost perfect, there had been very little change to it from the date we put it in storage. On the next day we drove to Walla-Walla and picked up our next set, which was also ready by then, and the winery, legally, was off and running.

Sometimes I've wondered if anyone ever would have known had we simply crushed the fruit and began making wine without a license. There's really no way they could have, although I suppose the state was free to inspect the facility whever it wanted to (and still can). Then it occured to me that I derive a great deal of satisfaction that I'm in partnership with 2 other people who all wanted to do things the "right" way, and wait for the license even though everything else was ready to go.

Ok, this post has gone on a wild tangent. Let me end with this. It's been a long journey to get here, I'm completely happy with who I'm in partnership with and the quality wine that we are all committed to make.

I can't wait for everyone to taste it.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Radio Interview

I realize it's been forever since updating the blog, but it's because we've moved to "faster" media - primarily Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook: - search for "Seven Bridges Wines"
Twitter: - follow "7BridgesWines"

Also, Bob and I were guests on an internet radio show called "Savor Portland," talking about the beginnings of the winery and making quality wine. The show is available as a free download at: We are Episode "10." The direct link to the .mp3 file is here ---> (you probably want to right click and "Save as" this file, as it's pretty big, otherwise it downloads and plays in your browser).

We bottled 60 cases of our Malbec blend and it is currently sitting in the winery waiting for the labels to be printed, as well as waiting for "bottle shock" to wear off. Bottle shock occurs when wine is initially bottled or sometimes when it is physically bounced around a lot, like during shipping. It's not a completely understood phenomenon (I suppose that's what makes it a phenomenon), but seems to be related to perceptible chemical changes in the wine that correct themselves about 30-45 days after the bottling.

We hope to be selling the Malbec plus futures of the rest of our 2008 in early summer.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Yeah - it's done. Now more racking

According to our tests, Ms. Merlot finally finished Malolactic Fermentation in March. Thanks for taking your sweet time, red.

Now we're racking again - moving the wine out of the barrels, cleaning the barrels, then putting it back. It's kind of time intensive, and I was able to skip out on this round by being extraordinarily busy at work. Jill and Bob took care of it. (thanks, guys).

We still need to do the lighting wiring (still pretty dark in our space), and a little water sealing. I think I have a plan for the sealing.

By the way, I will probably abandon this blog in view of making a Facebook page for the winery. If you're on facebook - search for "Seven Bridges Wines." If you're not on Facebook, you need to be. You can be as active or as silent as you want, but it makes communication ridiculously fast.

Things are going to be quiet at the winery for awhile, at least for the wine. If we had an '07 vintage we'd be bottling it now.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

STILL the Merlot

Got test results back this week (no, not that kind...)

Seriously, Ms. Merlot - I bought you heaters, I even placed you lovingly in front. Bob built a door to keep in the warmth so your little bacteria would be happy to reproduce, but you STILL WON'T FINISH.

Would you please HURRY UP?


Monday, February 2, 2009

Now I lay thee down to rest

Things are actually going pretty well right now.

The heaters did their job and the MLF fermentation is complete on everything except perhaps the Merlot. We ran tests on all the barrels about 10 days ago and 12 of them said MLF was finished (all the malo acid had been converted to lactic - see below), except for Merlot. We only have one barrel of Merlot, the reason which is sort of a funny story that illustrates the delicate balance of Kevin's optimism with Bob and Jill's less rosy outlook.

It is a lot of paperwork to establish a winery. First you need Federal approval to produce alcohol (they want their tax money) and State approval as well (they want to be sure that it is produced in a safe environment, and they want their money as well).

So, I probably should have applied a little earlier for the Federal License than I did, and definitely should have applied for the State license before I did. But, I was optimistic that we'd get the licenses before the grapes were ready, while my partners were a little less skeptical.

We got our Federal license on September 15 (woohoo!), but didn't get our State license until October 9th (less woo...). The problem is that the Merlot grapes were ready sometime in late September. I'm smart enough to not tick off the same agency from which we were seeking license, but we weren't sure what to do with 3000lbs of Merlot grapes that we had contracted for when they became ready before the State license came in.

Merlot jelly anyone? I've heard it goes well with the crow that Jill and Bob forced me to eat.

We decided to make half of the wine as "home" wine (meaning that we can never sell it), and put the other half into cold fruit storage until we were licensed. It was about 12 days or so between the time we got the Merlot and we got the license.

When we finally got the license we pulled the fruit out of storage and started to crush it, then learned why cold storage isn't a great idea. About 5-10 percent of the fruit had mold on it, so we threw away that part. (Moldy Merlot jelly anyone?).

The rest of the grapes were ready soon thereafter so everything then got fermented at the same time (although we keep all the different kinds of grapes separate -- we'll blend at the end).

After fermentation completed, we pressed the wine off the skins and put it into barrels, then added the MLF starter (it's really freeze dried bacteria, but I didn't really want to write that). So, after warming it up (see below), the MLF has completed. On everything but the Merlot.

It's always the friggin' Merlot.

Hopefully, by now, the Merlot has completed its MLF and now we can add the Sulfite (preservative), then put the barrels down to rest for the long barrel nap, during which it will hopefully acquire some of the oak taste that gives wine its depth.

We're using a mixture of French Oak and American Oak, and I'll write about that sometime later.

Anyway, pretty much there's not much going on at the winery. The wine will sit, we will clean and organize the winery, then plan how many grapes (and what varietals) we're going to get for 2009.

Rest well, my little vino.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The heaters REALLY heat!

So, if you've been following along, it was really cold in the winery and we installed some heaters last week. They did a pretty quick job of raising the temperature from 54 to about 60 degrees, but the temperature stopped rising.

Maybe it's becuase we didn't have a door separating the cold area from the area we aren't heating. I had hung a blanket across the doorway, but it didn't even cover the entire doorway, so it wasn't doing much good.

On Saturday Bob built and installed a "door." It's in quotes because really it's just two pieces of plywood coupled together and attached to a pair of wheels. It actually operates pretty well by just sliding it across the opening.

What it lacks in elegance is made up for by its function - the room is now a blissfully warm 71 degrees - warm enough to encourage our little bacteria to convert all the malic acid into lactic acid, which should give our wine a "rounder, less sharp" taste. Malic acid is a main acid of apples, while lactic acid is a main acid of milk. If we were making a white wine, we'd leave the malic acid in the mix, but we think red wines taste better with it out. After MaloLactic Fermentation (MLF) completes, we can sulfite our wine, lower the temperature (that should be easy to do), and start planning for our 2009 harvest.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Basking in the RADIENT GLOW!!


Soft glowing rays are, this very instant, warming up our fermentation room. Temperature is a chilly 54 degrees, but I'm hoping it warms up quite a bit over the next few days. 70 would be great, but there's lots of thermal mass in our room (8" concrete floors, walls, and ceilings, not to mention 14 barrels of beautiful purple liquid) so it may take awhile to take the chill off.

I'm not going to say too much about the spark show other than 3-phase electrical panels can be confusing...

Thankfully Cam knows his stuff and sorted it all out for us.

Monday, January 5, 2009

It's always something...

January 5, 2009. No heat yet.

The heaters were delayed in Portland's Blizzard '08 and we finally got them about a week ago. I've been busy with end of year stuff at work and we also had to do a complete inventory for the Feds so much of our winery time was spent doing paperwork. Also, the state had a paperwork snafu and did not give us notice that we had to fill out more paperwork for them (and pay the annual fee for 2009) by 12/31/08. So, I took a few hours off work, met Jill and Bob at the winery (who were doing the end of year inventory) and went down to the state office to pay the fee on time. The good news is that we're still in compliance with all the proper agencies - federal, state, and local.

The bad news is that it took away time from getting the heaters installed.

Bob got everything installed and wired this past weekend, by himself because I wasn't feeling well. On Saturday night he called me (sick on the couch) to help him track down the correct breaker that supplies the winery sub-panel.

I helped him locate the correct one, and he double-checked that all his wiring was correct and that all the breakers were off. This was the first time we were energizing the sub-panel from the main panel. He then slid the switch to ON...


Yes, our luck continues into 2009! The main wires from the main power feed to the breaker have a short in them, and, when Bob energized the breaker, he got a bonus free spark show!

Bob was spent so he just left everything off and went home. I went over the next day with a meter and determined that one of the hot 240 volt wires is connected to ground somewhere, and that we'll have to have someone pull new lines for us.

I don't really have the heart to write about the 3000 gallon lake that appeared in our pit Thursday night into Friday morning. It has been raining here like it's Portland and our outside pit drain was clogged. The upside is that we have an increadible friend who happens to be our landlord who helped us unclog the drains and pump out the water. Dan has reached superstar status in our book.

If it continues like this, 2009 is going to be an exciting year for us!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Still cold - no heat yet

So, the heaters have been ordered but haven't arrived. It's been very cold in Portland for the last week, many days in the low 20s. Today the kids have been home from school for the 4th straight day - Jill is calling it "day 4 of the hostage crisis," and it looks like tomorrow isn't going to get any better, weather-wise.

Hopefully the heaters will arrive on Friday so that we can install them this weekend. We decided to go with electric quartz heaters - like those you see at a bus stop or at a restaurant. We quickly decided against gas or propane, even though we have gas in the building, because we'd have to run a supply pipe (somewhat expensive) and also an exhaust pipe. Since the fermentation room is a large concrete box, it's not easy to run anything of large diameter into or out of it, so running a vent (minimum 3 inches) would have been a pain. Plus we worried about the heater producing "off" odors from the burning gas. For all these reasons, we quickly abandoned the thought of using gas heat.

Thus, we knew we were going to install electric heaters, but didn't know what kind. A fan heater has a heating element and a fan that blows over it to carry the heat throughout the room. A quartz heater has no fan - instead it radiates infared heat, as well as a little light, directly onto a surface. Literally it heats just as the sun does - if you're directly in the sun you feel very warm, but the sun also warms up stuff it shines on, which radiates heat itself back into the room. The major benefit of all of this is that there is no fan, which is desirable for us. It doesn't matter so much while wine is in the barrel, but we're also going to use the heaters during primary fermentation. Since we ferment in open-top containers, we rely on the Carbon Dioxide blanket of gas that the yeast produce to protect the wine from oxidation. If we had a fan blowing in the room, it would disrupt the CO2 layer that protects the wine. Ergo, we're installing quartz heaters rather than fan heaters.

If they ever come. (Brrr)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Drat! (the -polite- way to say what I really mean)

So, we installed an electric sub-panel into the winery on Sunday. It's a 40 Amp service, which should provide enough power for us because lighting will be on a separate circuit.

We had to bring in more power because we need heat. Our barrels are colder than we'd like if we want MaloLactic Fermentation (MLF) to complete anytime soon. We want MLF to complete so we can protect the wine from spoilage by adding sulphite. (You know the "Contains Sulfites" notice on wine labels - it's on there because winemakers add sulphite to preserve the wine. Sulfite free wine is fine for those who want to drink wines right away, but those aren't the kind of wines we're trying to make). Anyway, we can't add sulphite yet because it will inhibit MLF.

Cold temperatures also inhibit MLF, which is why we want heat...which is why we needed to add the new electrical service.

So, to prepare the fermentation room to add the new heater, Jill was moving barrels around while I was helping with the wiring. Jill asked me to move a tank for her because she couldn't move it. I thought she couldn't get the pallet jack over the wood slat in the pallet holding the tank, so I did it for her. When I put the pallet jack in I accidentally hit the open/close valve on the bottom of the tank with the pallet jack. Drat. The tanks aren't that strong and I really didn't want to be banging it around.

I knelt down to inspect the valve to make sure I hadn't creased the tank or really caused any damage. Then, I wondered, "why is this valve on here anyway -- it's just sticking out being in the way. So I unclamped the valve.

AAARRRGGGHHHH!!! - wine spray everywhere! The tank was full! (well, it had about 50 gallons in it anyway). So, I'm trying to re-clamp the valve at the same time calling for help from Jill and Cam. We're sitting there trying to figure out what to do when I realize that we can try to pump it out before it spills out on the floor and is a complete waste.

Everyone scrambles to hook up the pump while I'm holding the valve with my hands, getting sprayed the whole time. Finally the pump is hooked up and we are able to empty the tank.

Whew, crises avoided.

We still lost several gallons of wine - certainly more than we should have had I been paying more attention. I felt like crap and for that matter still do.

We cleaned up the mess and I've taken a vow to never remove any clamp without twice inspecting that the tank is empty...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Racking Day

Sunday 11/30 was "racking" day. Basically, after you press the wine from the fermented grapes it isn't very clear. There is all kind of stuff still in it, like small bits of skins, pulp (grape guts) and various other things. A big component of the "stuff" (called "lees") is dead yeast cells, which are held in suspension during the pressing and carried by the pump after press. Most wineries have large tanks that they pump the wine into and the lees settles out. After a few days they pump it into barrels for the long aging process.

But, because we are a very small winery with a limited equipment budget we don't have settling tanks.

Thus, our only option is to pump directly to barrels including all the lees with the pressed wine. The only concern with this action is that, most winemakers believe (rightly so, in my experience), that if you leave the wine on the lees too long it can develop funky smells and tastes. So, pretty soon after we fill the barrels we have to empty them, leaving the lees behind, then clean out the barrels and return the clean wine to it. That process is called racking.

Typically, we will rack very early on, several days after pressing, then 3 or 4 times over the course of the barrel aging process. Each time we rack we sample the wine (woohoo!), determine how it is doing, and may make small adjustments. More on that later.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Press 2008

Our 2008 Vintage has turned to wine. Today we put it in barrels. Here are some pictures from the day, the whole family came out to help! (Photos by Jena Marks and Linda Nelson)