Having just recently returned from 10 days in France visiting wine producers in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, I have the somewhat unfortunate opportunity of being awake at 4AM due to the 9-hour time change I am now re-adjusting to. 10 days is just enough time to allow your body to be fully adjusted to the 9 zone time shift, only to whip yourself back 6,000 miles in the opposite direction. Even Bubbles, the dog, does not want to get out of bed at this hour. The questionable look I got from my wife at 5AM when she came into the kitchen to see what the early morning noises were was enough to challenge Medusa to a staring contest.
When we say we are going to France for 10 days to visit wineries most people think we will be slurping Cotes De Provence rosé by the gallon and having a picnic surrounded by fields of lavender. What it really turns out to be is 4-5 winery appointments per day, tasting 10-20 wines per appointment. Each day is only broken up by a lunch that leaves you craving for a vegetable and bean filled macrobiotic salad that will never come, instead it is escargots de Bourgogne and Charolais beef and innards followed by cheese AND desert. Ready to whip out the world’s smallest violin and play me song for my troubles?
These trips are previews to taste yet to be released wines that Amy’s employer, Veritas Imports, will bring to California to sell later in the year. Essentially the company must figure how much to purchase of each wine and how to sell them against an ever-weakening US dollar/Euro ratio. You have to be on your game each day and not get lost in the romanticism of tasting some of the greatest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world (while in a 200 hundred year old cellar).
The invigorating and refreshing part that I love about visiting the cellars of other producers (both in California and abroad) is the feeling of brothers in arms (no, not a Mark Knopfler reference). Attempting to make great wine and trying to operate a profitable business is virtually the same no matter what part of the world you are in. Of course there are regional differences in weather, winemaking styles and AOC laws (or lack there of in California). Ultimately as winemakers we are all facing somewhat similar challenges: growing conditions to get the vines to perform the way we want them to (man vs. nature,) making the wine in the style that you imagine in your head and not screwing it up (man vs. self) and then figuring out how to do it without losing money (man vs. society). This situation reminds me of a scene from the 1966 Bruce Browne surf film Endless Summer in which he says that if you are going to surf in sharky waters it’s best to not do it alone, that way it’s not so scary and if you get bitten it might not hurt so bad. It’s totally insane but remarkably true. There is great pleasure of tasting very good wines in barrel from some else’s cellar. It’s also just nice to know that they are right there beside you, knee deep in the struggle.
After the past 7-10 days of of a heat wave here in Southern California it has finally returned to normal with foggy mornings and mild days. It seems that this heat wave really caught a lot people off guard. Many vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills had Pinot Noir that was just about ready to pick before the heat. Some vineyards are just too large to pick in a day or two. Other winemakers though they would just wait out the heat. Needless to stay there are now many stories now circulating the neighborhood of winemakers bringing in de-hydrated Pinot noir in the range of 27-30 brix. This translates to must with a potential alcohol of 16% – 18%, YOWZERS! Hard to believe one can make drinkable wine out of these grapes, even with the help of “watering back” or de-alching the final blend.
It is a great relief that we got our Pinot at 23.5 brix, guess I’d rather be a bit early than late. As of today, 10/04/10 our Pinot has finally started to ferment after a 7 day cold soak.
We also picked 2.5 tons of Syrah from Watch Hill vineyard this past Saturday. The fruit looked really nice, very fresh bright fruit flavors, nice numbers, 23.7 brix, 3.56pH. It is now cold soaking in the cellar, will update as needed.
Yep it’s Autumn, which means hot in Southern California. It hit 115 degrees today in Santa Ynez, making me worry about our little crop of Roussanne out in Happy Canyon. Fortunately the clusters are well shaded and we can give them a little drink of water when the temperatures are extreme. The Roussanne is only about 18-19 brix, it is always one of the last varieties to ripen, so it should actually enjoy some heat (though this is a bit much).
We picked our Pinot Noir from Carneros on Friday of last week before it really warmed up. Amy and I processed the grapes and got them nice and cold (dry ice) and into the stainless steel fermentors. The numbers look good (as much as numbers can tell you), 23 brix (estimated alcohol 13.8%) and pH of 3.50. The Pinot will cold soak now until it starts fermenting on its own (what the natural wine movement calls a natural fermentation.
Still a few weeks away on the Syrah vineyards, but this heat definitely kick-starts things!
It’s true, harvest will start for Black Sheep Finds at the end of this week or sometime next week. Our Pinot Noir from Thomson Vineyard in Carneros, nearby Napa is just about ready to be picked, hurrah! I’m headed up there on Thursday to meet with Jennifer “the Farmer’s daughter” Thomson. Deciding when to pick is one of the most difficult decisions, especially when faced with a weather forecast predicting 90 degree temperatures starting on Friday.
Last year we picked on September 22, right around 23 brix. We’ll just have to see how things look on Thursday and whether or not to leave out there over the weekend.