UPDATE: VINTAGE TWO-TRIPLENAUGHT:
The Wheels Come Off
There was a car manufactured in Germany years ago, called the Borgward. It was a solidly constructed car, as sturdy, surely, as a Mercedes, and capable of cruising on the highways and autobahns at speeds upwards of 100 mph, yet so smoothly that you never noticed until you saw a red light in your rear-view mirror, and began to realize that whining sound you’d been dimly aware of was, in fact, a siren, on a police car.
My first wife had a Borgward, a ’58 or ’59, I don’t remember which, anymore. And we took it east from San Francisco in 1972 (long after the ill-fated Borgward company had ceased production) on a trip to visit family and friends in various places around the US who we’d known in our earlier incarnations (read: the ’60s). We were expecting our first child in ’72, and thought of the trip as a last outing before settling down to the responsibilities of parenthood and general “grown-up-ness.” (Life is sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, and then you have children.)
This Borgward of my wife’s had had some problems — not too long before this Transcontinental Oddyssey, we’d tried to re-build the carburetor and when we started the motor after re-installation, I was afraid the flames emanating from this old German bucket of bolts might end up incinerating the entire Outer Mission district. But eventually it was properly repaired, (we were certain) and we packed up nearly half our worldly possessions and headed east for our big adventure. It was to be a two-month trip. On the eve of Easter Sunday, on the last mountain pass in Nevada the generator went out. We coasted downhill, and tailed a VW bug all the way across the Bonneville flats into Salt Lake City, where we spent Easter Sunday, waiting for Monday morning, when the auto repair shops would be open. Monday night I drove out of Wyoming and all across Nebraska while my very tired pregnant wife slept. At about sunrise she took over at the wheel, and I fell asleep. About 40 minutes later we came abruptly to a halt. We were just outside of Adair, Iowa, scene of the country’s first train robbery, perpetrated by the outlaw, Jesse James. There was smoke coming out from under the hood. It was probably 25 degrees, Fahrenheit outside the car. The engine had seized up. It was over; that sucker was dead in its tracks, like some running deer, shot through the brain.
Now, with just a little imagination, and a couple of minor modifications, that could have been a description of the 2000 harvest. One modification would be that I could see the end of this growing season coming, but I didn’t quite want to believe it. I’d been waiting for appropriate signs of ripeness in the Syrah at Fenaughty vineyard in Placerville’s Apple Hill district. Fenaughty is nearly always the last fruit we bring in each year. The vineyard is at high elevation (2800 feet) and it’s on a hillside facing to the north, so the season begins and ends late there, and, in most every year the fruit does get nice and ripe. But the wait can be unnerving some years.
I drove up last Saturday morning for a look. It was a bright, very clear morning, and the northerly wind in the Sacramento Valley was becoming fierce. This was the first time the offshore winds had blown this season; they’re usually a somewhat frightening presence at least once or twice during harvest. Heading into the foothills I could see what appeared to be threatening clouds in close proximity to my destination. Oddly, it turned out to be fog in a ribbon that stretched between Greenstone and Shingle Springs. When I got close to Placerville I was out from under it. But by the time I’d been out among the vines at Fenaughty for 40 minutes or so, it had blown east and engulfed Apple Hill. It was eery — like the nebbia in Piemonte (Northern Italy). Beautiful, but a little ominous. This didn’t feel like the warmth of Autumn. I hoped for maybe two or three days in the 80s to sweeten tannins and add a bit of strength to the wine. The fruit had nice flavor, on the lean side, typical of this site; there was a bit more of a hard edge to the tannin than I’m used to. At this point the forecasts were pointing to another week or so of mild, sunny weather, but the temperatures predicted were ten degrees cooler than I’d like. And there was something about standing in that fog, in the cold, with those grapes that inevitably, it seemed, left me discouraged about the prospects for a warm end to the season. Still, the sun was out, and the wind was up. (I passed a stupendous plume of smoke from a wildfire near El Dorado Hills, on my way back to Berkeley, and via radio, heard reports of a huge fire in Lake County. And Sunday, the anniversary Sunday of the Oakland Hills Fire in ’91, I got a call from a friend who lives only 1/2 mile from the spot where a frightening fire was underway amid 40-70 mile per hour winds, and she was afraid they’d have to evacuate.) The wind can aid in dehydrating grapes sufficiently to cause a significant increase in sugar levels. So, perhaps even in the cooler temperatures things would work out ok.
But the Weather Channel had different ideas. I spotted showers on the horizon, maybe Wednesday or Thursday. I called Ron Mansfield, who farms the Fenaughty fruit, and let him know I was worried. He said his weather information didn’t show those showers, but he’d try to stay abreast of any changes, and we made a contingency plan to pick Wednesday if it didn’t look good.
Tuesday morning he called and said we’d better pick Wednesday. So all the arrangements were made and because he had other grapes to try to snatch off the vine at the same time, he had to divide up his crews, which meant picking took longer, and finished up late, and ultimately it meant that Ron himself, looking weary and none too pleased with the new weather, showed up at about 7:30pm under a light rain, with 3 and1/4 tons of Syrah from Fenaughty. They’d picked really attentively, and the fruit was in good condition, given the circumstances. How good? Time will tell, of course.
These may have been the last grapes of the 2000 harvest for me. It’s raining everywhere. There’s still lots of Cabernet out there. There is, apparently, still some Chardonnay out there. (Not a happy thought) I drove to Sonoma yesterday afternoon and I saw some Syrah still hanging. But it looks like rain for much, if not all, of the next week. All up and down the coast. This harvest season, which burst on the scene so abruptly, and built up such a head of steam over the course of what has become 72 days, for me, is suddenly broke-down by the side of the road, completely, it would seem, out of gas. I wonder if Triple-A can handle this?