UPDATE: VINTAGE TWO-TRIPLENAUGHT:
Read ‘Em and Weep!
Maybe it’s all the CO2 in the winery during crush–it feels like there’s a different kind of energy that runs me at this time of year, and I’m surprised I haven’t noticed it before. Then again, human beings often seem to be exceptionally good at not seeing what’s right under their noses. (I think what got my attention this time around was when I made a post on a wine chat site that was meant to be humorous, and ended up just ticking some people right off.) But it’s definitely not the right time for being sedate and dreamy. It’s more like Bacchus has commandeered my body and begun to dance, and I just have to keep moving. (It’s good, though; that old guy really knows how to move!)
I’m sitting beside my press at this moment as the last liquid from a few tons of Paso Robles Grenache drains from the skins inside the great machine, a Bucher 27hl membrane press, that, when it’s inflating or deflating, can wake the dead with its noise. (There have been nights of pressing multiple loads of white grapes that took us into the bleak hours when that sound was all that kept us from sleep, if indeed we weren’t asleep on our feet, zombies that we’d become.)
This Grenache began its transformation to wine as pure Grenache but when its sugar had been converted by roughly half, to alcohol and CO2, I fed it, over two days, the Syrah from the same vineyard, which we’d pressed 8 days before. That Syrah had come in at extremely high sugar, and, in the course of fermenting, some of it had gotten too warm, I think, and tried to STOP fermenting. I’d been able to resuscitate it enough to see the remaining sugar drop by almost half, but I couldn’t afford to have it not finish.
Since my original idea with the fruit from this vineyard (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Counoise) was to make a red wine blended from all four varieties, the opportunity to save the Syrah, by re-fermenting it with the Grenache, was too good to pass up. It’s not the ideal method for blending, in my estimation; I didn’t get to choose the proportions in the blend. But something was whispering in my ear that this was a really good idea, and from tasting over the last few days, as the wine fermented to dryness, I’m getting more and more excited about the decision.
Last Saturday, the 9th, I drove back down to Paso Robles for another visit to the grapes. Troy had called with statistics on the Roussanne, which seemed to be approaching a time when it needed to be picked. I parked along the driveway when I arrived, and walked out into the Roussanne block.
Roussanne is such a weird grape. The bunches are very tight, and the grapes swell as they grow, until they are too large to all fit together in such a tight bunch, and some of them break. The breaking can easily precipitate the growth of botrytis, and John Alban told me that he suspects that perhaps the honey aroma and flavor in many Roussanne wines is the result of that tendency in the variety. I’m a rookie with this stuff, so I’ll take his word for it.
The grape seems to take on a reddish-brown cast on the sunny side of the clusters, and there is a lot of tendency to raisin, if appearances are indicative. All in all, a kind of sorry-looking grape. I’m flying blind, here, though, so I guess I’ll try to keep faith with the observations of my predecessors. This seems to be THE YEAR OF FLYING BLIND for me. I can’t even get a real certain sense, yet, with Roussanne, of whether it tastes ripe. The seeds are brown, there is a preponderance of flavors that could not be called unripe. The numbers suggest that it’s ripe. GO WITH THE FLOW. We’ll pick Monday.
The walk from the Roussanne to the Mourvèdre passes through the Counoise, at least on the route I choose, and I’m delighted to see these plump berries looking good and dark, and tasting quite sweet. There are so few of these grapes here, they’ll have to be picked at the same time as the Mourvèdre, if only to justify picking them at all. Because they may well be just a bit riper than the Mourvèdre, their character may be slightly magnified in a blend. (Flying blind here again; never been there, never done that. Counoise is just one more mystery of the season.)
The Mourvèdre is a sight to behold. I’ve never been in Bandol at harvest, but the time I’ve spent there inhabits some important internal real estate in me, and Gail Skoff’s pictures from harvest at Tempier go through me like wind through chicken wire, and there’s something in the sight of these grapes on these vines, on this hill, that’s saying,”read ’em and weep!” They are heart-stopping. Is it the color? The light on this September afternoon in Paso? These babies are singing!
Back in January of 1998 I visited this property with John Alban, before any vines were planted, and I had a feeling about the place–something was nudging me, making me think “I need to pay attention here! This could be something special!” It;s a big leap of faith, looking at bare ground and thinking about betting a lot of money on whether that ground will give you something special in a wine. If it was 30 unplanted acres next to Clos des Papes, I’d be fairly quick to put my money down, but there’s nobody close by with much to brag about yet, so it would have been easy to play down the voices whispering to me. But I’m not exactly a normal person, so I got excited, and I had to kind of contain that for awhile. And I still do. We haven’t even picked the Mourvèdre, yet!
That night I had dinner at Paso Robles’ newest entry in the fine restaurant category: Alloro (I hope I spelled it right.). It’s Italian, southern-style. I found everything my friend and I ordered to be delicious and exceptionally well-prepared. This is really first-rate, right now; a lot of attention is being paid to detail in the kitchen, and the customers should be counting their blessings. There were also some really nice older bottles of good Italian wines available, also a treat. As Joe Bob used to say, “check it out.”