The Fugitive/The One-Armed Man
I’d like to settle down, but they won’t let me–
A fugitive must be a rolling stone.
Down every road there’s always one more city;
I’m on the run, the highway is my home.
The Fugitive (Merle Haggard)
Sometimes we’re not who we think we are,
When things come tumbling down.
First Bird (Steve Edmunds)
I keep thinking about David Janssen, a.k.a. Richard Kimble, these days, as I watch the Salinas Valley glide by, through the windshield of this rental truck, on a blindingly sunny late August afternoon, hauling bins to the Rozet Vineyard. I’m trying to keep to some approximation of the truck speed limit to avoid attracting the attention of the Highway Patrol. Trying, too, to stay awake; it’s the hour when my biorhythms sag, and I’d give my right arm for a nap, or a decent espresso.
That, of course, is just the kind of remark that would rivet the attention of the beleaguered Dr. Kimble. I can see him, clearing his throat, and turning away to hide the pain in the irony-laden half-grin that would surely steal into his eyes and across his face. A one-armed man was not a casual conceit to The Fugitive.
And since paradox is so often at the heart of things, I should confess right here, that a one-armed man has become something pretty close to the bone for this winemaker. At this point, I’d give a lot more than an espresso, or a good nap, for my right arm. I managed to do a pretty thorough job of injuring it in a very short and grievous tug of war with a stuck window, while I was vacationing in Oregon a few weeks back, and my timing was just as unfortunate as the injury, coming, as it did, on the virtual eve of harvest.
I knew from the sound it made, and the alarming intensity of the pain that accompanied the sound, that I’d torn something loose inside my arm. So, almost as surprising as the injurious event itself, I felt a kind of calmness, and mental clarity, as the first-hand observer of that event, that I don’t think I’d ever known in myself before. I took inventory, and decided that, even if I were no longer quite whole, I would live through the night, and know, perhaps, a bit more the next day. With an ice-pack wrapped in a towel around my elbow, and a couple of aspirin down the hatch, I slept.
I managed to enjoy a truly glorious hike up the southern rim of the Columbia River Gorge that next day, and began to think the arm would just heal up over the course of a few weeks. When, a few days later, I saw a bodyworker who’s done some really helpful work on me when my back has given me trouble, she concurred. Just to be on the safe side, though, I also consulted with a physical therapist I’ve occasionally seen, who happens to like my wines, and he sent me straight to the doctor’s office, with the admonition that I was probably going to need a surgical repair before I’d ever get the strength back in the arm.
The subsequent visit to the orthopedist, the x-rays, and an MRI that followed, all pointed to that same scenario. So yesterday, the 28th of August, I scheduled surgery for the 28th of October, giving myself two months to bring in my grapes. And bringing even closer the question: what kind of harvest will this be?
In my own experience, as I have grown into middle age, I’ve become more and more interested in considering the possibility that events such as my impasse with the window don’t happen by accident. In much the same way, I’m inclined to pay attention to the likelihood that Life has many lessons to teach us, and that It will. (And, probably, if I don’t learn a lesson the first time, the lesson may be a bit more difficult the next time. And there will be a next time.)
A one-armed man can always use a little help (one of the first lessons, don’t you think?), so if you’re reading this and always wanted to find out what it would be like to stare down four or five tons of Syrah, or shovel out a fermenter, or clean up a really big mess in a winery, or maybe just hold a hose for a couple of hours, perhaps this is an instance of life offering you the opportunity to explore that impulse a bit further. I’ll make sure you don’t get too hungry, or too thirsty, or too tired. If you just send me good vibes that’ll help, too.
Right after I scheduled the surgery, I headed over to the winery, where the season’s first grapes awaited me, some 4+ tons of Viognier from Rozet Vineyard, looking glorious in the Berkeley sunshine. This is the fourth year that the vineyard has produced fruit, and the Viognier has never looked better. The flavor in the juice is really marvelous, a joyous burst of apricot and lime-blossom. Underneath, there is the brightness, and minerality from grapes grown in limestone, picked at the best possible moment. Already, I’m feeling better.
My foray into vinifying Sangiovese was cut short by the conflicting currents in the wine business. Frank Matagrano planted Sangiovese in a reasonably good site, and, over the 4-year period during which I worked with them, the quality of his grapes improved each year, impressively. The last year we took in Sangiovese from Matagrano was 1999, and the wine from those grapes is the best of the four. (On the Edmunds St. John homepage, there’s a picture of me, traipsing through the Matagrano vineyard just a few days before this wine was picked.) It took a long time to come to a point in its development when I felt ready to release it, but that moment has, at last arrived.
The 1999 Matagrano Vineyard Sangiovese is a deep, garnet red in color. The nose, somewhat brooding, smells of pepper, fresh blood, pencil-shavings, tobacco-leaf, cherry, and just a whisper of nutmeg and allspice. It’s medium-bodied, lean and firm on the palate, with great depth and mouth-watering acidity. Flavors include ripe raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate, leading into a long, clean finish, marked by very fine, juicy tannins.
Production, alas, was quite small, roughly 165 cases. The suggested retail is $17.00.
Buon Giorno, Bassetti!
Long-time visitors to our website, or readers of the Organolepticians, will remember my enthusiasm for the Bassetti Vineyard, and at last, good people, there will be wine to bear testimony to the source of the enthusiasm.
The 2001 Bassetti Vineyard Syrah is a crystal-clear, yet almost opaque dark purple-red. Profound aromas include raspberry, blackberry, smoke, menthol, mocha, black pepper, meat, incense, spice and earth. It’s silky in the mouth, with gorgeous, deep flavors that unfold and persist, with glorious, fine tannins. This is a wine that will not be ignored.
Again, production is very limited, approximately 180 cases. Suggested retail: $40.00.
Peays for itself!
We took a stab, in 2001, at making Syrah from the famously “cool-climate” Sonoma Coast. The grapes, farmed beautifully at the Peay Vineyard, in the high hills above and to the East of Annapolis, CA, ripened to sugar levels never anticipated in the region. Is this global warming, or is the Sonoma Coast not quite so cool as one might think? At any rate, lovers of really big Syrah will find much to like, here.
The 2001 Peay Vineyard Syrah, Sonoma Coast, is a very dark purple red. The nose is powerful, with aromas of super-ripe plum and black raspberry confit, a suggestion of cocoa, a whiff of black pepper, smoke, and a torrefaction note sometimes encountered in Hermitage from a ripe year. It’s very full in the mouth, with sweet flavors echoing the plums and berries in the smell, wrapped in completely velvety tannins. Finishes with considerable length, a bit of heat from alcohol not yet fully reintegrated after bottling.
Roughly 240 cases produced. Suggested retail is $25.00.
The three wines listed above are in the process of being labelled, and will be available by mid-September, if not a bit sooner.
Watch this space for further updates on Harvest 2003, and for the imminent release of a very special little wine with a funny name.