Sustainability and Balance with Life

Continuation of “The First of It’s Kind” Blog Post

Sustainability and Balance with Life

If you’ve spent any time with winery owners and winemakers, they’ll often tell you that making wine is the easy part. Selling wine is the hard part. But if we are being truly honest, the most difficult part of owning a winery is balance.

The fact is that with such a diverse and fully-integrated business (where we know how to do every single job from growing the grape, fixing the bottling equipment, to reading a cash-flow statement), we literally could be working 24 hours a day and not get it all done. It’s true that we prioritize, but there are certain jobs that cannot be postponed.

What ends up happening is that in order to get enough done to make a great wine and keep everyone paid, we work longer hours. But unlike when we were younger (when our time and energy levels seemed endless), life is more complicated. And when we worked longer hours, it essentially means less time at home with the kids.

Thus the dilemma—time with family versus getting all the necessary winery things done. (The joke is that Maggie and I have three kids. We have a 12-year-old daughter, a 15-year-old daughter, and a 40-year-old winery, and only one them can’t seem to take care of themselves.)

So for years we’ve been seeing this amazing filtration system at the vineyard and winery equipment shows. Although expensive, a crossflow filter seemed to have some wonderful benefits even for a small winery like our own. But we had to figure out how it could pay for itself.

Now here’s a bit of the wine geek part of our sustainability point. For 40 years, we’ve been using a plate and frame filtration system, choosing a set of pads to filter a given wine. When I filter with this system, I arrive just before 5am to prepare the filter frame. I choose porosity of the pads, choose the number of pads, and then stack them in the frame alternating the orientation back and forth.

In order to sterilize the pads and hopefully take any “cardboard” flavor out of them, I run 180 degree water through the filter for 30 minutes. After that, it takes about 20 minutes of running cool water through them to cool down the filter frame. Add another 20 minutes to drain it of water, and I’m ready to start conditioning the pads.

I now take a conditioning wine (usually Zin for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites) and continuously pump the same 15 gallons through the filter for 20 more minutes to make sure there is no “cardboard” characters possible from the pads (to get into my wine). I drain the conditioning wine to use again and I can now start my filtration.

All in all, this takes about 3 hours of my time. If I’ve chosen the porosity and number of pads correctly, I can filter about 400 gallons an hour. If I’ve chosen incorrectly (it’s not an exact science), then the filtration does very little to clean up the wine or it plugs. Either way, I will need to filter again with the same setup time essentially having lost the time. Conservatively, I’d say this happens 20% of the time.

Now, if my filtration takes 6 hours, I need to be at the winery the entire time checking in on the filtration pressures. There have been filtrations that we’re slowly plugging but eked through late into the night.

Lastly, put into the mix that each wine may take 2-3 filtrations before bottling. That’s a lot of time and stress for me.

Now the crossflow filter. I arrive about 15 minutes before I want to start filtering. I rinse the filter with water, hook up my lines with wine in them, and press start. The technology of this filter (read the Wine Geek section) means that it will not plug. I can even program it to filter at a certain rate and tell it when to finish. (In fact, I did this with the 2014 Zinfandel. I set the filter up at 5pm and told it to finish at 8am. Then I went home. I came back the next morning and it had just finished.)

So what does this have to do with sustainability? We figure I’m spending some 75+ hours a year sterilizing my old filter frame. Add to this the stressful time of filtering that I have to be at the winery, and hours of pinned-down time. This is all time that I could be home with my family!

And that’s the crux of it all. To have the energy and enthusiasm to work and run a small winery, we need to balance our time at work with our time with family. This new crossflow filter frees up so much time and reduces my stress that time at home becomes a reality. And that in turn makes owning a winery sustainable!

The Crossflow Special

To make this happen, Maggie asked me how I planned to pay for the majority of the $50,000 price tag. With the success of our pump sale a couple of years ago, we found out that the greater Madroña family (you all) had an interest in being a part of helping get specific pieces of equipment for the winery. There’s a sense of ownership as well as the thought that with each sip of the special wine, people have made something possible that maybe would not have happened.

I intentionally hold several wines back for rerelease later in their lives knowing that 1): the additional cellaring will only improve the wine, and 2): we have the responsibility of cellaring the wine (since most people don’t hold onto wines once purchased).

The wine of choice for me for this crossflow purchase is our 2009 Signature Collection Zinfandel. A warmer year produced a big, full-bodied Zinfandel with plenty of ripeness and wonderful structure. The purpose of a few more years of age on this wine is toning down the ripe fruit characters (allowing the subtleties of spice and earthiness to come through) while showcasing the suppleness and luscious texture of a great Zin (with cellaring).

To entice you, our greatest tasters, to support this effort, we are offering our employee discount (50%) to all of you on purchases of full cases of this Zin. Normally, at the $26 pricepoint, a case of this Zinfandel (non-aged) is $312. With the Crossflow Special, you’re looking at $156/case (+tax, of course).

Although I didn’t hold onto enough of the 2009 Signature Collection Zinfandel to pay for the entire crossflow filter, we can get most of the way with your help. We started showcasing this special (and tasting the wine) about three weeks ago in the tasting room. With only that exposure, we’ve already sold through half of my inventory. So time is short and we’d love your support.

Thank you for being a part of the Madroña community!

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