David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery Winemaker's Diary

Week 1
January 3, 1999 to January 9, 1999 
January 3, 1999

On Saturday and Sunday, I spent most of my time on the computer getting caught up with paying bills, but also thoroughly enjoying the NFL playoffs. Since my beloved Raiders were out of it, I could relax and enjoy the mistakes of other teams. Even though since I am a Raiders fan and should "hate" the 49er's, I was thrilled to see them win (sorry about that Duane). 

January 4, 1999

Within the last couple of weeks, we've had many people stop by to taste the new '98 vintage. Since we blended for the first time on December 9th, our wines are starting to show the potential for final blending and bottling in July. The most together wine right now is the Neighbors' Zinfandel, showing great strawberry/raspberry flavors. It is more drinkable now than any of the other wines at this stage. The Estate Zin is showing much darker fruit flavors, say more like blackberry jam, but also very spicy. It is definitely not as round as the 1997 at this stage. The Carignan is probably still my favorite at this stage (as usual). It tastes more like the grape when freshly picked than any other wine. The Petite Sirah, which is unfortunately sold out, is very intense and well-balanced. The Neighbors' Cuvee is probably the most complex at this time, and every time I taste it, it changes its character. The Estate Cuvee seems very fruity and concentrated. The Aca Modot is by far the most concentrated and intense, with the longest finish of any wine I've made. I think of a charcoal-broiled steak every time I taste it. The dry Sauvignon Blanc is actually surprising me right now. I have 4 barrels, which will produce 100 cases of wine. One is a Demptos American oak barrel, which is my favorite barrel at this time, producing very sweet and spicy flavors. The other three are older barrels, which should contribute no oak flavors to the wine. Within the last week, I've started giving people a taste of a combination of all four barrels. I think the balance is getting close to what I really want. At first, I was concerned that the new barrel would depart too much oak flavor, but it seems to be integrating well. The Pinot Noir barrels are becoming more interesting as the days go on. On New Year's Eve, I provided 7 bottles of local Pinot Noir priced under $20 each. Everyone here, including me, was very unimpressed with these 7 wines. I'm looking for some Pinot to use to top off my three barrels, but it appears that I may have trouble finding some good, reasonably-priced Pinot to use. Does anyone have any suggestions? 

January 5, 1999

This day is the beginning of a new experiment for me. Since I started the winery in 1994, I have spent less and less time out in the vineyard and more and more time in front of the computer. Each year, I try to eat less. I think I give up more fattening foods and try to change my eating habits. I've tried counting calories in the past and when I was younger, it worked well. At this time in my life, I have given up on changing my eating habits to lower my weight. I am going to try something drastic for 28 days. Between now and the Super Bowl, I am going to try to eat as little as possible. On this first day, I did not count calories but I probably will and will probably aim for 1500 calories a day. I know I had less than 2000 calories today. My diet consisted of a little leftovers from yesterday, a granola bar, a very little amount of pasta with parmesean cheese, and one bottle of 1997 David Coffaro Zinfandel. I call this the "David Coffaro Wine Diet." For the next 27 days, I plan on starting off the evening with one bottle of wine and very little else. That will probably be about 600 calories (if I drink the whole bottle) - that leaves about 900 calories for me to play around with during the day! The other restrictions are no desserts and very little fat! I'll keep you posted. If it works, I may write a book about it. 

January 6, 1999

As you some of you know, every two weeks I travel about 30 miles and place myself at the doors of Costco. Today Pat and I went down to Santa Rosa together. This is always a trying experience for both of us, but mostly for me because I have to be careful in what I buy. You see I love to spend money; Pat is very practical and *tries* to keep me in line. After looking at the NFL football playoffs this weekend on a television in my office that is almost 20 years old, I sort of got the approval from the family to buy a small replacement t.v. So I was pretty confident I could get that out the door of Costco. I had other things in mind, but never thought I would get away with as much as I did today. First of all, the family is really against me buying any more DVD's, but I got sort of an encouragement from Kate (the thriftiest person in the family) that she was in favor of seeing the movie Armageddon. Some of you know that I have one of the best theatre rooms in the country (well, at least in a winery). This theatre rivals some movie theatres, in my opinion, but very few know that I must really work hard to persuade the whole family to look at a movie out in the winery. Therefore, over the past few months I have had to sneak a few video goodies into my living room in the house, and it has actually become a halfway decent home theatre. What I am leading up to is that I refuse to look at a movie nowadays unless it is DVD, so that when I found Armageddon was coming out on DVD, I knew I had to make my run to Costco. But as I said earlier, my wife Pat unfortunately asked to tag along. I could go on and on but to make this story short, I was also having trouble with my printer this week and my mother needed a new television too (her birthday is coming up), so when I got to the checkout stand, the cashier rang up a total of $1288.83 and asked "would you like to charge that?" and I said I hope it goes through! I know a lot of you are Costco shoppers. Do any of you have stories to top this one? 

I got sidetracked yesterday cleaning up my "Wine Business Monthly" magazines for the last few years. I am sure most, if not all of you, have never heard of this publication. As the title implies, it is about our business. They have a website at http://smartwine.com (no www. - why is that?). They send this to me as a courtesy every month and occasionally, I glance through it. Since I had had two years' worth of issues to look at, I started throwing  them out at random, but one caught my eye. The front page story was "Premium Wine Prices Soar with Economy--No Glut at High End of Market." It just happened to be the most recent issue, January 1999. I glanced through it and found statements that I had to respond to. Now you must understand, I have a lot of income tax work that needs to be taken care of this month, but this was so outrageous to me that it took precedence over the tax work. As many of you know, I feel wine prices are way too high and most of the owners of these wineries are probably already very wealthy. It is perhaps prestigious for them to sell wine at high prices and gain a certain reputation and recognition. What follows is a copy of the letter I sent to this publication. 

January 6, 1999 

Abigail Sawyer 
Wine Business Monthly 
867 W. Napa St 
Sonoma, CA  95476 

Dear Abigail, 

Shame, shame on you. I was very disappointed in your article "Premium Wine Prices Soar with Economy". I have grown grapes as my only livelihood until 1994 when I started my 3000 case winery on Dry Creek Rd in Sonoma County Ė maybe you have heard of me. I am a maverickóI am unconventional---I only sell "futures". I could sell my wine for much higher prices, but will not do it as do Bill McIver and Al Brounstein. As far as I am concerned they are ripping off the public and apparently you. 

In your section titled "Higher costs a factor in Higher Prices" you state that wine grapes are coming in at $1500 to $1800 a ton. Where have you been?? Those prices have not existed for years. As a matter of fact prices are more like $3000 a ton. Now, you may say well that is another reason for the high prices of wine!! Well they sure have you fooled!! $3000 a ton equates to $4 a bottle. Mondavi years ago tried to relate their Sauv Blanc to the price of grapes. Every $100 in the price of grapes was suggested to equate to $1 per bottle. I think every winery charging high prices has conveniently forgotten that (Mondavi is one of them).  Letís see, that would equate to $10,000 per ton. 

 Now letís break this down! One ton of grapes produces about 62.5 cases of wine. Or 750 bottles. Or $75,000 gross at $100 a bottle. If you assume they are paying $10,000 a ton for their grapes (I am sure they are paying more like $3000 to $4000 a ton), that leaves $65,000. It costs them no more than $150 (20 cents / btl) to bottle. If they are using 200% new French oak (I use 20%--I donít want my wine to taste like a 2X4), that would amount to $4000. They could be paying as much as 10 cents per labelóanother $75. Gee letís see? I guess they could be paying as much as 12 cents for their capsules--$90. Gosh could they be paying $2 for their glass ( I pay 50 cents and the most expensive bottles are about $1.50)ó$1500 more. If we total this up it amounts to $15,815. That leaves them with $59,185. I am sure I forgot something? Maybe it takes many employees to handle this bottle? Maybe their distributor is making a bundle. Maybe they need a new Ferrari, or jet? 

Letís be realistic, their costs are probably well under $15 a bottle including replanting and all the other overblown expenses ( I would love to go into more detail with you). If they sell all their wine through a distributor at $50 per bottle and none at retail, they are still making a profit of over $35 per bottle. 

Sincerely, 
David Coffaro 

January 7, 1999

We might have mentioned Brad before. Brad is one of our favorite people right now. Sometimes we don't understand everything he says, and I'm sure he doesn't understand everything I say, but I definitely have a great deal of respect for him. He has said that he is amazed that I am taking an interest in personally uploading  my order form and diary notes on this site, but he is the the brains behind the scenes. He is the person responsible for maintaining our web site. Brad's wife Dri has taken it upon herself to encourage me to post notes as often as possible on this site. Brad and Dri have a personal interest in the diary since they are also futures customers of ours. With this encouragement and with the help of my wife Pat (my editor), I will make an effort to make a posting almost everyday. It may be mundane and boring or it could be controversial, but if you are willing to take the time, you'll be hearing lots from me this year. 

My editor says it's time for me to talk about wine. Yesterday and today, I spent some time gathering wine samples to send to our local wine laboratory, Vinquiry. I hope to get the final results, which will include acid levels, alcohol levels and much more, within the next two days. This will give me enough information to present our new labels to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or more commonly referred to as "the ATF." As many of you know, I have decided to order my own personal, automatic bottling line for many reasons that you may have read about in past diary entries. 

To start the process, I had to gather a lot of information. This included ordering all the different types of bottles I will be using, the labels for each of the wines I will be making, and new capsules to match the various bottles, in order to arrange to send them off to Italy where the equipment will be made and matched to my product. Just like a lot of other times in this business, I had to make sure all these materials were here at the right time. I also found out that each changeover on the automatic bottling line to a different size or style of bottle in the future will cost several thousand dollars, so I'm trying to choose the type of bottles that I will want to continue to use for many years to come. 
I have been thinking within the last six months that half bottles (or 375 ml) are a good size for a lot of reasons, and I am willing to make the investment. I know a lot of my customers have encouraged me to bottle 1.5 liter bottles, or magnums. Besides being a lot of trouble, I personally have never found any time that I would want to open a bottle that large. I would rather open four half bottles of different wines than one bottle of the same wine. I know there are theories out there that magnums age better, but I have never found that to be true in my experiences. Pat and I occasionally like to go out for dinner at local restaurants and find that we have to order 2 bottles of wine because we want to have both white and red wines, but then can't drink both bottles. I think both restaurants and retailers should have more half bottles for sale. So I have decided to use 750 ml and 375 ml claret bottles exclusively. I've never liked burgundy bottles, especially because of the way they store in a wine cellar, so I'm perfectly happy with what I've chosen. 

Now, we have previously mentioned a Pinot Noir experiment we are doing this year, and I've done a lot of thinking about which bottles to use for the 3 different wines. We (I) have made a decision to sell a 3-pack of the three wines in three different style 750 ml bottles. One bottle will be a claret clear bottle for the carbonic maceration fermentation; one bottle will be a smoke claret bottle for the cold soak fermentation; and the third bottle will be the same as we use for all our other reds, a champagne green claret bottle containing the hot fermentation. Every Pinot Noir wine that I've ever seen has been in a burgundy bottle, but as some of you know, I am unconventional and I know this is untraditional, but it is the most practical solution for me. 

January 8, 1999

Today I received the following lab results on six of my 1998 wines that I blended on December 9th. 

The Estate Zin:  alcohol 14.06, pH 3.61, TA .615, free SO2 21ppm, malic acid 11 mg, glucose+fructose 25 mg 
Neighbors' Zin:  alc 13.97, pH 3.62, TA .618, free SO2 15ppm, malic acid 7 mg, glucose+fructose 26 mg 
Petite Sirah:      alc 13.93, pH 3.57, TA .654, free SO2 21ppm, malic 9 mg, g+f 15 mg 
Carignan:          alc 14.12, pH 3.71, TA .594, free SO2 19ppm, malic 7 mg, g+f 42mg 
 Estate Cuvee:   alc 13.99, pH 3.63, TA .612, free SO2 22ppm, malic 10 mg, g+f 20 mg 
Neighbors' Cuvee:  alc 13.41, pH 3.83, TA .544, free SO2 18ppm, malic 7 mg, g+f 14 mg 

I'm very happy with these figures. My Estate Zin last year was 15.05 alc, so I am pleased that it's under 15 this year as I was trying to aim for between 14.3 and 14.7. The ATF charges 17 cents per gallon for alcohol levels 14.05 and under. If the alcohol is over 14.05, the cost goes to 67 cents a gallon. Since I will be producing approximately 7800 gallons of wine this year, the difference of 50 cents a gallon could amount to $3900.  I will definitely be re-testing the Carignan at 14.12 and the Estate Zin at 14.06 before bottling. 

I aim for pHs of between 3.6 and 3.7 and a TA of .6 to .65.  The pH of 3.83 on the Neighbors' Cuvee and a TA of .544 shows me lower acid than I would like. Since the alcohol is only 13.41, I may live with these figures. We are lucky to be in Sonoma County, where acid levels are usually in balance. I have added no acid to any of these 1998 wines at this time. Malic acid under 30 is very good, meaning the wine has gone through malolactic fermentation. I aim for between 15 and 20 parts per million of free SO2. Glucose plus fructose, which is a total sugar reading left in the wine, is read in mg. 100 mg equates to 0.1% sugar. Anything under 0.1% sugar is considered stable and very dry. Considering that these wines started at an average of 2400 mg, or 24%, I am very  happy with these results. 

January 9, 1999

(by Pat Coffaro) 

Just when I thought the shipping problems weíve had over the past few months were coming to an end, a fax message showed up on our machine two days ago which  made my blood boil. As some of you may know, Iím a pretty even-keeled, calm, patient person, not at all like the other half of this operation! But having had to deal with an outside company to handle our shipping has surely tested my patience this season. Beginning since about the first of September 1998, we have shipped approximately 50 cases of wine a week to various customers in certain parts of the U.S. And, after long and hard thought and much research, we made the decision to use an outside shipping business rather than doing it ourselves because they will send a temperature-controlled van to our winery as many as three times a week to pick up cases of wine, which they in turn take back to their warehouse, pack in styrofoam containers, label, and ship. And their cost for doing all of this in reciprocal states is only $3-$5 more than if we have UPS come pick up cases here and ship directly. And then of course if  we did it ourselves, we would have to have all the styrofoam packers on hand and I would have to do all the packing and labeling myself. 

BUT, now back to that fax that we just received. It was from our shipper of course. A very brief note indicating two shipments were returned to their warehouse. Now, as Iíve said, weíve been dealing with them since September and although Iíve had to call them numerous times to try to track down shipments or for other problems, they have NEVER in this time communicated by fax, so Iím anticipating that it must contain important information. In fact, they rarely return phone calls. Their voice mail messages always let you know that "Iím away from my deskÖÖ." (you know, youíve heard those too), but they apparently never get back to their desks, because Iíve always had to call again and again until I get a real person on the phone. Of course Dave thinks Iím not persistent enough (in other words, rude), but I had worked in offices for many years in my former heyday and I always found that the nicer you are, the better service you get. But I was beginning to wonderÖÖ.. 

Anyway, back to the fax. As I mentioned, it indicated that two shipments had been returned to their warehouse. The first noted "moved to Connecticut" and the second "bad address."  Well, right off, I know they havenít a clue whatís going on over there because  "the moved to Connecticut" shipment (which, incidentally had originally been shipped on October 12) had been located back in November through the efforts of our customer and my persistent (but not rude) phone calls and had finally been re-shipped to the customer sometime in December, arriving at its destination (left in the freezing temperatures out in the  snow, by the way) just after Christmas. 

Now, the second shipment is another long, involved story which I couldnít possibly give you every detail of here on this diary, but letís just say that this one really "flipped me out." With this customerís gentle concern at having not received his shipment for over two weeks (this was back in November), I had been trying to get tracking information from our shipper on this package for over a month when (after talking to the tracking department and the office manager on *several* occasions), they informed me that RPS had attempted delivery to this customerís address on three different occasions (they gave me the dates and times) and that having received no response, they had returned the package. So then I asked them the obvious question, "do you have the right address?" - and of course they did.  But then, when this fax arrives it notes "bad address" and gives the address to where they attempted shipment. Well, I guess you wonít be surprised by now to know that the address they had was in fact wrong - two numbers reversed. Arghhhhh!! But, in the meantime, I had been in email contact with our customer and he assured me that his mother was home at all times to receive any attempted delivery but on the other hand, we had "proof" that attempted delivery was made three times. So we eventually agreed with our customer that we would re-ship him a fresh case of wine at our expense, so long as he provided us a business address to insure that someone would be there to sign for this second package. This re-shipment was on hold pending confirmation of a new address from our customer, when we received this now "infamous" fax. There were more back and forth conversations that have occurred in the past day which I could relate, but the bottom line is that the shipper did make the mistake on the packing label and then on top of that, just discovered late yesterday (when someone actually went out to the warehouse to check the label) that the package was damaged during shipment and that two bottles were broken! Of course, weíll have to replace those bottles but they told us, "donít worry, weíll pay for the shipment and put in a claim for the two bottles." However, as many of you know, we donít have any extra bottles to replace them with except from our private winery stock (in other words, two less bottles for us to drink!!--this does not sit well with the other halfóheís fuming over this). 

These "difficulties" are only two of the issues Iíve had with our shipper this season. There are at least two more that I could relate (one really appalling mess in Idaho also with RPS), but I think Iíll ask all of you out there whoíve had any shipments from us or any other winery to drop us a note relating your experiences, good or bad. Iím anxious to know if the problems are as widespread as I suspect. Maybe I should write a letter of complaint to our shipper and start a whole new thread on our public forum, huh?......................pat 

 

Dave 

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