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In many ways the end of harvest can be just as surprising as the beginning. After running for months thinking day and night about grapes in various states of ripening and fermentation, the crushpad suddenly gets quieter, the days get shorter, and the seasons turn (as they always do) to a new phase. But each turn of the seasons has its unique attributes to look forward to. The surroundings change, as does the work, as does the weather. The end of harvest and the turning of Fall to Winter brings with it the most striking colors of the year. And not just in the vineyards where the leaves turn into a riot of reds and yellows, but even in the winery itself.
One of the things we need to keep an eye on after the wines have gone to barrel is the progress of the Malolactic Fermentations. Where the primary fermentations are generally completed in a matter of weeks, malolactic can last months before struggling to a finish. We test their progress using a technique called paper chromatography. The resulting patterns are both informative and beautiful. For the months ahead we will taste and test our new wines, thinking about what they want and how to coax the very best from what harvest has given us. As the leaves fall we will do more chromatography, watching the wines evolve and enjoying the beautiful mixture of art and science that is winemaking. In a world defined by rushing about, taking time to notice the profound beauty that surrounds us every day here in Amador is one of the best parts of living a life among the vines.
We take a lot of heat from fellow wine folks for two things – our sorting table and our commitment to making great Grenache. This picture is a perfect example of why the two go hand in hand. Grenache is notorious for ripening unevenly, meaning there is great variation from vine to vine and even cluster to cluster in how the grapes look, but more importantly, how ripe they are. In the picture above it's hard to believe those clusters are the same variety, never mind that they come from the same vineyard!!! Picked on the same day!!! The grapes on the left will make delicious Grenache, the grapes on the right we’d rather leave out.
To that end each and every harvest day, two to four of our cellar crew climb up on the back breaking, time consuming, torture device that we call the sorting table to dig through tons of grapes. This insures that only what we want makes it into the fermentation tanks. It seems at times tedious, until the end of days like this Grenache harvest, when you realize that sometimes what we do not put in the wine is just as important as what we do. Sure it’s tough (that’s why most wineries don’t do it), but, there are no shortcuts to delicious wine (Grenache especially!!).
A friend of ours was recently a guest of a Napa winery owner whose wines sell for well over $100 per bottle. When asked what the most important thing a winery can do to insure quality is, he answered without hesitation “Sort.” We don’t always agree with the Napa crowd, but, here we couldn’t agree more.
The 2012 harvest is starting to feel like the TWO harvests of 2012. There has been such a gap between the harvesting of the whites and the reds it feels like we started, stopped, and now get to start again. Not such a bad thing really, just another year with its own quirks.
While we continue to wait on the bulk of the reds, the whites we harvested a couple of weeks ago are beginning to complete their fermentations. Often fermentation ends when there is no more sugar to ferment, in other cases when we want to keep a little touch of sweetness in the wine we have to “arrest” the fermentation. There are a number of ways to do that, but the real trick is not how but when!! Because fermentation is a continuous process, choosing the right moment to stop it is like trying to hit a moving target. When it gets close, like we are with the Sauvignon Blanc today, we retest the brix (sugar levels) and taste the wine every couple of hours until we feel the balance is right. Then we chill it down rapidly and hope we got it right. We won’t know for several weeks after that if we got it just right but it does give us a reason to taste a lot of Sauvignon Blanc during that time. A touch stressful? Of course! Fun to drink wine at work? Most certainly!
Picked some incredible Cabernet Franc out of the Byecroft Vineyard in El Dorado County today. Literally some of the prettiest and most well cared for grapes I've seen in a long time. Margaret and Bill do an amazing job day in and day out all year long. They are the type of growers that when I pull up unannounced to walk the vineyard, I go out to the vineyard instead of up to the house, because I know more likely than not, that's where they will be. Every day, all day. A beautiful and challenging way to spend your life.
Sampled the Oakmont and Baartman Vineyards today. Seems like it is way too early in the season to be looking at Barbera, but every year is different and those two fields are coming on strong. The acids are a touch strong but my goodness grapes are tasting great this year.