Remember when wine used to be made by stomping on the grapes with your bare feet? I am certainly glad those days are over, but what you might not realize is that winemaking does not start with the grapes being pressed. It starts way before that. Let us take a walk through the vines themselves where the delicious grapes are grown…
Jason Robideaux, our expert winemaker here at Clos LaChance, let me in on a few special gems of information about the grapes on the vines. Here is what he had to say:
Winemaking starts in the vineyard. If as a winemaker, you are not in tune with what is happening in the vineyard then you are already behind. A lot of early decisions can be made by just walking through the vineyard and popping a couple of grapes in your mouth.
Processing decisions, like whole cluster pressing or destemming a white grape first can be determined by the look of the stems, the thickness of the skins and the health of the overall cluster.
Fermentation and aging decisions start in the vineyard as well, whether the grapes are very small and will have low juice to skin ratios, or things like sunburn or mold that may affect the health of the fermentation. Grapes with thicker skins than usual may be too tannic or astringent, so managing the fermentation and aging regimen can start right there in the vineyard.
Sometimes winemakers will have clusters of grapes removed during the ripening process so that the vine can re-focus its energy on helping the remaining clusters produce the best, most fruitful, juice there can be. Jason has more to say on this subject too. I’ll let him take it away:
Yes, there are certain times where we have to drop some grapes on the ground. There are a variety of reasons we would do this, the crop load is too heavy to guarantee ripeness, sometimes we do this in better blocks to really increase the quality and have the vines focus on a smaller load and sometimes we do what’s called a “color drop”, where we go through right at the end of Veraison and drop all of the clusters that are still majority green when most of the clusters are already purple. This gives us an even ripening of the whole crop.
We do not anticipate dropping any clusters this year unless we see a drastic uneven ripening at Veraison. Mainly the reason for the excellent crop is the great weather last spring giving us very fruitful renewal buds that gave us a lot of clusters this year. We also had perfect weather at bloom, so the set was great with little to no shatter.
You see shelves of wine stacked in stores, and the supplies seem unending. When one bottle or three get put into a cart, others come to take their place. It seems like a pretty easy Science, doesn’t it? But I wonder what actually goes into making each bottle. How does it go from vine to wine?
I sat down with winemaker, Jason Robideaux, to pick his brain a bit about the bottling process. New to the winery business, but not to loving wine, I was curious, and when I’m curious, I ask lots of questions to solve the mysteries that have me wandering the aisles in wonder.
For this particular post, I want to focus on the bottling line itself, after the grapes have already been picked. Let’s save learning more about harvesting the grapes for closer to harvest time, usually by the end of the summer between August and October for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere of the world.
According to Jason, our Clos LaChance expert in wine bottling and winemaking, our bottling line here at the winery came all the way to us from the leading bottling line manufacturer in the wine industry, GAI. Not only that, the line itself came to us all the way from Italy!
The line we use is known as a low DO, which stands for dissolved oxygen, and has three separate points of nitrogen sparging and deaeration. What in the world does that mean? It means that it helps to create a wine in bottle that is preserved in the most ideal way, promoting the shelf life and age ability of the wine by ensuring no added oxygen is picked up during the bottling process.
How many people does it take to operate the DO line and get all the bottles packaged and ready to ship?
Jason explained that the line is typically a 2-man operation inside, with a 5-man crew and forklift driver, dumping empty glass, packing cases, and stacking pallets.
It sounds like a well-oiled machine if you ask me! But, how many bottles can one machine fill and package per day?
Well, the answer is 2,000 cases per day, and with 12 bottles in every case, you are looking at 24,000 bottles filled in a single day! That’s a lot of wine for any machine to produce, but with Jason and his team, it is done with flawless precision. They manage to get 3,300 bottles/275 cases done in each hour that the line is running full steam ahead.
The bottles go through a nitrogen gas bottle rinse prior to filling.
After the bottles’ quick nitrogen gas bath, here is a quick line up going from empty bottle to fully corked.
Here the wine bottles are being run through and filled with wine using the “low DO (dissolved oxygen) line with 3 separate points of nitrogen sparging and deaeration,” as winemaker, Jason, mentioned before. It is so important to keep as little air from hitting the wine as possible before it gets put through the next step in the bottling process.
Once the wine is put in and the bottles are ready to cork, there’s a machine for that too! This machine can handle screw tops and corks, as well as any size bottle between 375mL to 1.5L. To give you an idea, your standard wine bottle holds 750mL.
The labels are on a roll that looks oddly like a film roll, where they will be glued onto the bottles as they take their trip down the line.
Here are the bottles, newly clothed in their finest Hayes Valley 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon labels, sailing their way down to the packaging line.
The wine is packaged into cases. The standard is to have 12, 750mL bottles of wine per case and 56 cases per pallet. Pallets are stored at a temperature-controlled warehouse before they make their way into stores and onto shelves where you will in turn, grab one from off the shelf and place it in your basket for a nice drink to have with dinner.
And there you have it. We have come full circle, and now I’d say it’s high time to pop a cork and pour a glass of vino, with all the knowledge that we’ve gained of how that delicious juice got there in the first place.
The important thing that we value at Clos LaChance is our history, our passion, our consistent evolution to the changing industry and ultimately, all the blood sweat and tears that go into every finished bottle of wine (figuratively of course!). Making wine is our life, it is our calling, and we are proud of what we produce. But there are some key points that separate us from the rest of the wine world, here are the top seven things that you should know about the company behind the bottle.
Owner’s Bill and Brenda Murphy decided to plant a few rows of Chardonnay in their backyard in Saratoga, CA, largely to help with erosion control on the sloped hillside and for the beautiful aesthetics. Bill worked in Sales at HP, which was one of the top companies in the Silicon Valley at the time. Brenda was a retired schoolteacher focused on raising their two daughters. The thought was they could create a few bottles of wine a year as a hobby to give as gifts and to enjoy on a warm sunny day – however, once they started down the rabbit hole, their hobby quickly transformed into a passion and the idea of creating a winery began. First order of business, what to name the winery and where to build it!
The foundation of the name comes from owner, Brenda Murphy, whose maiden name is “LaChance”. Her ancestors, the Pipins, moved from France to Canada in the 1600’s. Their ship barely made it to Canada due to a terrible storm. Once they arrived, the name “Pipin” was changed to “LaChance” because it meant “good luck.” Brenda’s grandparents moved to New England in the early 1900’s. Brenda’s parents were first generation US citizens. Brenda, herself, was also born and raised in New England. Her family name is very important to her and it is honored in the creating and naming of the company. “Clos” is a French word which translates to mean “enclosure.” Historically, a “clos” was a walled vineyard which protected the grapes from theft and harm, but as time went on and the literal walls no longer existed, the term “clos” continued and is used today by a variety of wineries.
“The first time we came out here, we stood on this grassy hill surrounded by rolling hills and thought, ‘God smiled when he made this place.’” – Bill Murphy
In San Martin, a small town roughly 30 minutes south of San Jose CA, Bill and Brenda found the perfect location to start their dream. The land is owned by CordeValle, a 5-star golf and spa resort that is today adjacent to the Clos LaChance Winery. The land surrounding CordeValle is zoned for agriculture / open space and the owners were trying to find the right partners to purchase the land and create something truly magical. Once they learned of the Murphy’s dream to build a winery with 150 acres of surrounding vineyards, the decision was made.
Not only was the partnership between CordeValle and Clos LaChance ideal, the location is part of the Santa Clara Valley Appellation, which has a long history with wine. First accounts date back to 1802 when the Franciscan monks first brought viticulture to the Mission Santa Clara. The region then flourished when French, Italian and German pioneers brought a wide range of grape varietals with them during the gold rush. It became evident that California was the ideal New World home for these European grape varietals, as the soil and climate mirror the Mediterranean and thus the grapes thrive. However, in the 1920’s, all of the grapevines were destroyed during prohibition and this historic grape growing region had to start anew. Fast-forward to today; the Santa Clara Valley is home to hundreds of wineries, and more continue to develop regularly.
From the second you turn onto our private road and drive the 1.5 miles to the winery, all the way until you hold a bottle of Clos LaChance wine, you will see a consistent theme sprinkled throughout your journey, our hummingbird logo. Why a hummingbird? Brenda has always loved hummingbirds and planted many flowers in her garden to encourage them to visit. But even with their authentic beauty and grace, they also serve a functional role too, hummingbirds are extremely territorial animals by nature. As such, hummingbirds are ideal birds to have around a vineyard as they will scare off other birds that would eat or damage the developing grapes – a perfect animal to honor as our logo.
Beyond our core Clos LaChance Brand, we strive to diversify and meet the needs of different target markets and as such, we produce many others with their own history and backstories.
One of the largest distributed brands is Hayes Valley and the lore of the Valley extends back to the 1800’s. After the acquisition of independence from Spain, Mexico divided the Santa Clara Valley into ranchos in 1821. The Clos LaChance property was a part of Rancho San Francisco de las Llagas, which was owned by Carlos Antonio Castro in 1828. Castro planted over 500 acres of vineyards and orchards. In the late 1800’s, a pioneer named Marin Murphy purchased a 9,000-acre parcel from Castro and named the area, San Martin, after patron Saint Martin. When Murphy died, the property was inherited by his family and later purchased by Lazard Lion. It wasn’t until 1921 when the property was sold to Lion’s business partner, Frank Hayes, that the area adapted the name “Hayes Valley.”
Another brands of ours is 22 Pirates which we deem, “a global adventure in a bottle.” Traveling the Rhone region in France to California’s Central Coast. Famous for producing award-winning wines, the Rhone Region celebrates 22 different varieties of grapes. Several pioneers brought Rhone grapes to California, where they flourished. We developed the 22 Pirates Brand to represents one pirate for each of the Rhone varieties. 22 Pirates is an exciting Red Rhone Blend that will stay the course – vintage to vintage. “What’s the blend?”, you ask. Sorry, pirates never tell! Only our swashbuckling winemaker has the creative liberty to craft his treasure.
We couldn’t develop additional brands without bringing it back to our first love, the hummingbird! “Colibri” is French for “hummingbird” and this brand was developed when the Murphy family took a family trip to Paris. While enjoying the Parisian life during a typical French summer heatwave, the Murphy’s gained a newfound appreciation for French style Rose’s. Stylistically they are lighter in color, extremely dry wines that are refreshing and crisp on the palate. Once they returned home, they got to work with our winemaker to develop Colibri Rose in true French style wine.
Bill and Brenda’s dream was to build the winery and share their wines with the world. As their dream became a reality and they started to learn everything involved with becoming responsible winemakers, their dreams quickly evolved.
Their first alteration – to become a family-owned and operated winery. “The heart and soul of the wine industry are family-owned wineries. There are fewer and fewer in California, they are gobbled up by conglomerates, that is not what we want to do because when that happens, you might still have the name, but you will lose the soul and the passion.” – Bill Murphy
Bill and Brenda’s daughters, Kristin and Cheryl, became integral in the development of Clos LaChance. Kristin runs the entire Direct to Consumer side of the business, which includes the Tasting Room and Events held on property. Cheryl managed the Distribution side of the company and was responsible for selling Clos LaChance wines nationally and internationally. Since 2016, Cheryl has opened her own distribution company, “Liberation Distribution” but she is still highly involved with the family business.
When Bill and Brenda’s daughters came aboard, it became abundantly clear that they needed to do their part to keep this beautiful location intact and even better for future generations. “This is a beautiful place, it is a beautiful place today, it was a beautiful place yesterday, and it’s our job to make sure it is as beautiful of a place tomorrow.” – Bill Murphy
Quickly the Murphy’s learned the term “sustainability” and became one of the first wineries in California to be certified sustainable. To be deemed “sustainable” per this certification requires three parts; be economically sound, environmentally responsible and to educate/contribute to the community. We achieved this certification starting in 2009 and continue to hold that certification today. “Everything we do is with the idea that this place will be as good, if not better, 10 years, 20 years or even 100 years from now.” – Bill Murphy