2001: THE ODDYSSEY THAT WOULD NOT DIE:
Stop Me If You’ve Heard this Before
I drove over 1200 miles this past week. I’m not sure which is longer, the story or the drive. But the result of all the driving is that the first grapes of the season are now in the winery, and there’s more on the way, soon. As was true last year, the first grapes have come from the marvelous Rozet Vineyard, in Paso Robles.
One difference from last year is that the Marsanne planting at Rozet produced its first crop, and for reasons complicated enough to confuse practically anyone, they were picked the same morning as the Viognier.
Last year the first grapes came August 15th, and it looked for awhile like it might be even earlier this year, but July was exceptionally cool, after the 4th. (For those of you with good memories, you know my back went out three days after the bell, in 2000, right before the birthday weekend getaway we’d planned. We managed to get in the birthday weekend this year without either grapes or serious back trouble.)
Figuring out how much fruit is hanging in a really large, new vineyard is not an easy matter. Because there’d been significant loss from frost this Spring, the estimate was for a really small crop in both Viognier and Marsanne. Yet, when they were picked, and loaded into bins, there was 75-80% more than the estimate. One of the great lessons life seems to be forever trying to teach me is to be infinitely adaptable. Come on; what choice do I have? We spent Wednesday the 22nd ferrying bins (with and without grapes) between the Rozet Vineyard and John Alban’s winery, where we’d arranged to whole cluster press the grapes. Instead of the one press load I’d anticipated, we now had two. So, instead of heading back to Berkeley in the mid-to-late afternoon, we finally got out of Paso for the last time (that day) at around 9:30 pm.
There’s reasons for everything, But one reason it was quite so late when we took off is that it’d been a mighty long and busy day, and we needed some grub, and — well, doggone — I can’t just drive out of Paso without a few sips of my favorite pilsener at Villa Creek. We’d eaten there the night before, actually; I’d had such great ceviche there in July, I just had to try it again. Tuesday night’s meal had been preceded by a walk through the Rozet Vineyard, with Lois Rozet, and Aaron Nevarez, the very fine vineyard foreman at Rozet.
I’d already pretty well decided Wednesday was picking day, but I wanted a last chance to taste the fruit, for my own satisfaction. As expected, it tasted great; the Viognier showed the typical apricot and jasmine-like spice flavors, and the Marsanne tasted of honey, cinnamon, and fresh corn (an unusual, but typical-for-Marsanne characteristic). The walk, after that, right at sunset, became a kind of luxury, especially after all the miles driven getting there.
There’s a lot to notice in a vineyard, and I kept finding reminders of a kind of life that was probably the norm for this landscape, long before vines grew here. There were ground squirrel holes to be seen from nearly any spot in the vineyard. Lizards skittered here and there, at the periphery of sight. I spotted raccoon scat bearing partially digested grapeskins and seeds. A jackrabbit exploded into motion and disappeared into a neighboring vineyard, much to the disappointment of our canine companions from the ranch. Out in the Grenache block we almost walked by the lower leg from a deer, hoof intact. The only way we could explain it to ourselves was that the unforunate deer had fallen prey to a mountain lion, apparently rather recently. I found it oddly comforting to consider that the wine from this vineyard came from a place that still held its share of wildness.
After the aforementioned pilgrimage to Villa Creek Wednesday evening, we made for home. I’ve been driving for almost 40 years, now, (37 of them legally)largely without mishap, so all this driving was, more than anything else, just long and slow. The adventure came when we got back to the winery at a bit past 1:30 on Thursday morning, with our truckload of Marsanne and Viognier juices. The winery building has, of course, an electronic security system, and requires the punching in of a 5 digit code. The net effect of so many hours on the road being partial brain-death, I naturally reversed the last two digits, and set off the bells of calamity. Then, in my largely stupefied state, it was all I could do to restrain myself from walking out into the street with my hands up in surrender, ready to beg Berkeley’s finest not to shoot. Cooler heads prevailed, thankfully, and after a few minutes on the phone, all was aright.
Every vintage offers something different, and this one seems to be off to a very quick start. Monday the 27th the Syrah from Rozet arrived, Wednesday the 29th most of the Mourvèdre from Rozet came in, before the Grenache, for God’s sake (what the heck is going on here, anyway?). After that, I’d be crazy to predict what happens next. Stay tuned.