UPDATE: VINTAGE TWO-TRIPLENAUGHT:
Maybe it was the Full Moon
In my walk through the Viognier Saturday, there were highly practical considerations to be addressed. Viognier wine tastes the way it does because that flavor is in the grapes, when they’re ripe, on the vine. Some grapes just taste like grapes. Viognier, if it’s grown properly, tastes, unmistakably, like Viognier. That flavor was becoming prominent in the grapes when I tasted on Saturday. In an ideal scenario, I would say to myself: “self — let’s taste them again in…” and then try to divine the correct number of days, out of thin air, taking into account what I know in my front-brain, and what I feel, in my bones. Then, X number of days later, I’d come back and taste again. But, it was, as I mentioned before, hot. Really hot. The sugar readings, taken a few days earlier, suggested a daily increase of about 1%. But then the reading Saturday morning (23.1%) had been identical to the one from the day before. Now, being in that heat, it was really clear to me that the sugar was likely to resume its rapid ascent. So my ideal scenario strategy wasn’t going to work. Mother Nature was forcing the issue. I couldn’t just camp in the vineyard and wait for the right moment. (Time to drop back and punt? NAH!) So what I had to divine, now was the right day to pick. By the time I got back to Berkeley, I’d pretty much decided on Wednesday (the 16th), though I kept going back and forth from Thursday.
Then, Monday morning, I got another call, reporting a sugar reading of 25%. I chose Tuesday, and decided that it would be ok.
The Viognier arrived yesterday afternoon (Tuesday, if you’re keeping track here,) and we began loading the grapes, which had been picked into half-ton molded plastic bins, into my press. This is a somewhat tricky task, involving the use of a bin dumper, attached to a fork lift. The dumper gradually rotates the bin into a position from which the grapes will fall, or can be raked or scooped by hand through two openings in the press. The openings are perhaps 25″ wide by 20″ front to back, separated by a bar. The body of the press itself is a horizontal cylinder, the diameter of which is maybe three and a half feet. The fork lift driver maneuvers the bin dumper into position, following the directions I yell out to him (UP!, IN!, ROLL!, DOWN!, STOP!) while standing atop the press, straddling one of the openings. I’m wearing rubber boots, so there’s a bit of traction, but generally my perch, six and one-half feet above the floor, feels precarious. Ten years ago this felt like fun, but ten years ago I felt, well…ten years younger. I have to do a lot of stooping and squatting to manipulate all the grapes into the press effectively, without spilling half of them onto the floor or into the press pan. (I devised a backboard, when we set this press up ten years ago, so that the grapes didn’t just spill out over the back of the press, but the backboard also really limits my work space up there.)
“six and one-half feet above the floor”
1999 crush, Audubon Cellars, Berkeley, California
When the first grapes of the season come in, one of the things your body tells you is that you haven’t done this for a year, and you need to dust off the checklist in the back of your mind to make sure you remember all the things you need to remember to work through this process safely and effectively. The earliness of the season caught me feeling somewhat unready, mentally, and I found myself, more than once last night, feeling uncertain about whether I really knew what I was doing. Some of it, on the other hand, is like riding a bicycle, or putting on a t-shirt; the body doesn’t think about it — it knows what to do.
I must’ve been doing something right; we were loaded and ready to press in good time, and began to have a chance to evaluate the juice. Here are the numbers for all the statistically inclined: Sugar% (brix): 25.56, Titratable Acidity: .742, pH: 3.51.
The flavor in the juice is very nice. Bright, from the healthy acidity. Exhibiting the apricot and blossom characteristics typical of the variety, and a nervy, minerally side, as well, that suggests seashells and salt air. (But heck — it’s still just grape juice. Let’s not jump the gun, here! Yes, I’m excited!)
I ended up, later in the evening,, at Rivoli restaurant (one of the best) with a plate of pappardelle, drinking Bandol, and offering thanks to the Universe, whispering to the full moon.