Opening Day Approaches...
My desire to post more regularly on the blog has been thwarted by the abundance of tasks we’ve been tackling leading up to our targeted opening date of Friday, May 3. From filtering and our first round of bottling, to refurbishing the tasting room, to getting all of the necessary back-end systems in place to let us start selling wines, it has been an exceptionally busy winter and spring. But each day has brought new progress toward getting our doors open and welcoming customers!
The first not-entirely-metaphorical iceberg with which we had to contend was the ferocious late burst of winter in Walla Walla. After a relatively mild December and January, February decided to unleash havoc, and we saw close to 30” of snow fall in a never-ending series of storms. All told, we shoveled the crushpad in its entirety 13 times! In our tight quarters, we’re often forced to roll barrels or equipment outside to make space to maneuver or operate indoors, so it was important to keep things as clear as possible for operations. You haven’t lived until you’ve moved a 3-high stack of full barrels (weighing over 1.5 tons and containing over $75,000 worth of wine) by hand with a pallet jack across icy concrete! On one particularly memorable night we were out on the crushpad nearly until midnight in single-digit temperatures rinsing and cleaning barrels after racking wines to tank — every drop of water that hit the ground was freezing immediately, and no amount of rock salt was helping in the least.
Add to that some dicey forklift operations and hauling heavy trailer loads of wine to and from our bottling site, and it made for an adventurous lead-up to our first bottling. But we did, and will always do, whatever is necessary to make the best possible wines for the Prospice community to enjoy!
We elected to filter our Viognier and our Rosé for a couple of reasons. First, the visual impact of these wines in the glass is maximized when they’re filtered. I thought our wines looked pretty darn good to start with, but it was stunning to see how they look after being filtered. (I wish I’d had the foresight to do a before-and-after photo in a glass!). Second, these wines don’t go through malolactic fermentation, so there is malic acid left in the wine. Malic acid is a potential food for some microbes, so wines containing malic acid are typically run through a sterile filter on the bottling line to make sure the wine is as stable and long-lived as possible in bottle. The tiny pores on a sterile filter can clog very quickly if you haven’t done a preliminary filtration before hitting the bottling line.
We used a crossflow filter to accomplish this initial filtration step on the Viognier and Rosé. The use of crossflow filtration has become increasingly common in the wine industry, as it’s relatively gentle. Conventional filtration (also called perpendicular filtration or dead-end filtration) gives the liquid you’re filtering one choice: go through the membrane or not. It’s like a coffee filter — when you fill it up, there’s only one way for the liquid to go: through. And the more the coffee grounds accumulate on the membrane, the slower and slower the process goes. As the filter membrane clogs up, you need to apply more and more pressure to force the liquid through, and we winemakers like to be as gentle as possible with wine.
In crossflow filtration (also called tangential filtration), the wine runs in a continuous, recycling loop parallel to the filter membrane — and a little bit at a time, your “good” wine will filter through to the clean side, while the unfiltered wine continues to circulate across the face of the membrane. This has the added benefit of helping to “wash” particulates off the face of the filter membrane, keeping it clear and efficient for the "clean” wine to flow through. This is a highly condensed explanation of the process — if you really want to geek out about crossflow filtration, there are some videos on YouTube that talk more about it.
Getting ready to bottle wine is an exercise in logistics, adaptability, and a not-insignificant dose of freaking out. You’re trying to get all your pieces (wine, bottles, corks, capsules, labels, pallets, gas, and people) to the right place at the right time. Certain things can’t be done in advance — for example, you don’t want your wine sitting in tanks exposed to air for any longer than necessary (you can ‘blanket’ the surface of the wine with an inert gas such as argon to help protect the wine while it is in tank), and bottles take up a ton of space, so you don’t want them arriving too early.
When you’re bottling for the first time, you’re also finalizing all your decisions on each of these components — what bottles, corks, capsules, etc. to use; ensuring they all work well together; checking that they work on the bottling line (different bottle shapes require different parts on the bottling line). You’re dealing with different vendors, getting printing dies set up for labels and corks, double-checking label proofs, making sure the feds have signed off on the label, and on and on it goes. We were fortunate to be working with great vendors, and special recognition goes to Brandon Kubrock for his work scrambling to find the flint (clear) glass for our Rosé. Rising glass tariffs have led to all kinds of supply constraints, and we found out late in the game that our flint glass was backordered until well after our bottling date. Brandon worked with another supplier to scrape together enough glass to meet our needs and made sure we got what we needed when we needed it.
Our labels were the source of some excitement as well — the winter weather caused supply problems for printers in the PNW, so everything was running really close to the deadline. The long and short of it was that my alarm was set for 4AM on bottling day to get up and figure out at which FedEx depot I needed to intercept our labels — Spokane or Pasco. (Luckily it turned out to be Pasco.)
Special thanks to Brett and Denise Isenhower of Isenhower Cellars, who were kind enough to help us run our initial bottling on their bottling line. With a relatively small quantity to bottle, a bottling truck didn’t make sense financially — and the wintry weather would have presented extra challenges on that front as well. With the help of John Philips, Amy & Andy Myers, and of course my significantly better half Christy Krutulis, we made our way through the bottling day, figuring out each challenge with labels, capsules, or bottles as it came.
We successfully got our four spring release wines into bottle:
2018 Breezy Slope Vineyard Rosé
2018 Gamache Vineyard Viognier
2017 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah
2017 Resurgent Vineyard Syrah
We’ll be excited to share these wines with you in the very near future! Stay tuned to the website for technical information and tasting notes!
Demolition, Construction, and Back-end Work
Immediately following bottling, our attention turned to everything else we needed to finalize in order to open the tasting room and begin selling wine. In the tasting room, we’ve removed a wall to open up the space and bring in abundant natural light. It has already transformed the room, and we haven’t even finished sweeping up the plaster dust yet. Tomorrow begins construction on a new tasting bar with the much-valued assistance of George Smith (if you’ve been to any plays at the Little Theatre, you’ve seen a lot of George’s handiwork, as he is the master set builder).
In between spurts of demolition and construction, hours are filled with back-office minutiae — getting the point-of-sale solution and credit card processing in place, developing website and online store content, finalizing wine club structures, establishing fulfillment channels, dotting regulatory i’s and t’s — the list doesn’t seem to get any shorter! For every one item checked off, two more take its place.
The important thing is that the work is ceaselessly enjoyable and gratifying. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to ‘flip the switch’ on this next phase of the Prospice story.
Thanks to all who have joined the email list — our email list functionality is on that list of things that we’re working to get in place, so you will hear from us soon with more updates. But keep Friday, May 3 penciled in on your calendar, as that’s our target date for throwing the doors open!
Thanks for reading, and we look forward to pouring Prospice wines for you soon.