UPDATE: VINTAGE TWO-TRIPLENAUGHT:
Good to the Last Drop
“Ain’t it funny how nothin’ ever turns out just the way you had it planned?”
–Bob Dylan, “Brownsville Girl”
After the Syrah from Fenaughty vineyard came in on October 25, the weather was dismal. It rained the night those grapes arrived, and all the next day. The grapes that remained in the vineyard, growing on a section that was situated at the bottom of a north-facing slope, and shaded by tall pines so that hours of sunlight at this part of the season were precious few, and not particularly warm, had little to no hope of ripening adequately, and Ron Mansfield and I both abandoned hope for them rather quickly.
The only other grapes I’d been waiting for at that point were a couple of tons of Nebbiolo from around Los Alamos, in Santa Barbara County. I wanted them because I’d made a very small amount of rose from them last year, and really like that fruit for rose. They tend toward naturally high acidity, so that even after malolactic fermentation the wine tends to have really bright, lean structure which keeps it lively in the company of food — the best way for a rose to be. But with the weather the way it was, I began to worry; so I called some colleagues and friends in the area close to where the Nebbiolo was growing to see how the weather was in that neighborhood. The reports were not encouraging. Lots of rain. It had been that way for a couple of days. Expected to stay that way most of the next week. Since I was buying the grapes through a third party, my ability to negotiate in this situation was precarious (to non-existent). I called my third party and said I felt like I wanted to cancel my order. He seemed sympathetic, but I know him well enough to know that this would not be our last conversation about these grapes.
I got a call a few days later from somebody who worked for my friend (the third party) and his message was that they planned to pick Wednesday, November 1. I called him back and explained that I’d cancelled my order. The weather, meanwhile, had not improved. Still, I knew I would hear from Peter, my friend, the third party.
He called on Hallowe’en day. “You’re putting me in kind of a difficult position,” he said. “You know, L—- L—- (the grower) has been monitoring that fruit really carefully, and he says he hasn’t seen ANY sign of rot out there.” (the most common problem that arises in ripening fruit after rain is rot.) I know L—- really well, and I trust him implicitly,” Peter went on. “I think you’re really gonna be happy with this fruit.”
Now, Peter’s from New York, and he’s got a pretty good sense about what’s B.S. and what isn’t, and I’ve known him a long time, and we’ve been through a lot of stuff over the years, and have a good deal of respect for one another, and I think we both know really well that it’s not in the best interests of either of us to try to take advantage of the other, so I said: “Peter, I will be really happy to be getting this fruit if it’s in good shape. Really happy. And, if it’s not, I’m gonna tell you!”
So he picked up four of my bins on Wednesday, and took them to his processing site in Hayward, and at 7AM Thursday morning I was at a truck rental place in West Oakland, procuring wheels to haul the destemmed, crushed Nebbiolo back to Berkeley. Somehow I managed to pass the High St. exit on 880 South just before a major accident involving two big-rigs blocked 880 South altogether for about an hour and a half.
The processing took place under the A Street bridge in a part of Hayward composed of warehouses and low income neighborhoods. The grapes, in 1/2 ton bins, were dumped into a chute that fed them into a (tiny) Zambelli Manta stemmer/crusher. I pulled leaves (and rot-infested bunches) out as fast as I could, as the augur rolled the fruit into the machine. Mostly (but not entirely) the fruit seemed fine. The grapes had been picked in benign weather (sunny, mid-70s) the day before, and, because Peter didn’t know how the weather would be and had booked a closed van as a precaution, the fruit had stayed pretty warm overnight. So when it was crushed, the must was already fairly deeply colored. It would be important to get this stuff into the press as quickly as possible.
The trip back to Berkeley was on the slow side because traffic on Norhtbound 880 was slowed by rubberneckers checking out the aforementioned wreck on the opposite side of the highway, but eventually it broke up and I got back to the winery about 10. Then, after returning the truck, I put my rubber boots on, got the press set up, and, one bucket at a time, I loaded the last two tons of the 2000 harvest into the press. The last of the four bins exhibited a distinctively moldy smell — not strong, but noticeable enough to trigger my worry. The biggest problem would likely be that the mold inhibits the ability of the enzymes that are normally active in fermentation to metabolize the nutrients in the juice, the upshot of which is, most often, the production of hydrogen sulfide. Never a dull moment. Still, I feel optimistic — mostly the flavor in the juice is quite good; the grapes seem much better than I feared they might be.
On Tuesday the 7th, we’ll press out the Syrah from Fenaughty, and the entire 2000 harvest will at last be in barrel, and I will begin to shift gears — one of the most challenging parts of my job. Ah, but that’s a story for another time. You know, it could rain now, and I wouldn’t worry too much. Snow? Heck, yeah, why not? let it snow. I’ve got other things to worry about. A little snow just might be fine.