UPDATE: VINTAGE TWO-TRIPLENAUGHT:
First Stirrings of Harvest
Late July: While vacationing in Western Massachusetts, I retrieved a phone message from Paso Robles that had an urgent quality. The Viognier grapes planted at a new vineyard source for us were rapidly gaining in sugar. (JULY!) It was impossible not to be skeptical: new growers. First harvest. Probably inaccurate sampling.
After I’d been back a couple of days there was another call. Again I felt some impatience. It’s the beginning of August, for God’s sake — it’s too early for these grapes to be getting ripe! I called the viticulturist who’s consulting on the project (who happens to be one of the country’s premier growers of Rhône varieties, particularly Viognier.) who succeeded in allaying my anxiety. Then I got a couple more phone calls. This thing was not going to go away.
So I drove down to Paso on Saturday (8/12) to take a look, and to taste the fruit. (This is a vineyard I mentioned in my last communique, one I’m excited about, that’s planted to Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Counoise.) It’s a three hour drive from Berkeley, with no traffic. Saturday it took 4 plus. I kept myself alert by counting the Toyota Previa vans (like mine) that I saw on the road. It was a good day — by the time I got back home, I’d counted 93.
It was hot when I got there, but there was a strong and persistent wind blowing through the “Templeton Gap” that made the hours between 3 and 5 quite tolerable. I walked four or five rows in the Viognier block, and tasted grapes. I’d already been getting numerous reports of sugar percentages, no doubt fairly accurate, and even some reliable reports of acidity and pH. But none of that amounts to anything if you can’t put some grapes in your mouth, and find out if they have any flavor, and what the flavor’s like.
Evaluating the flavor is not a simple matter, and I don’t know if there’s a systematic way to do it that is reliable and accurate. I’ve found, over the last dozen years, that what I need to do is just start walking and tasting grapes, and keep going, and keep tasting, until I have a convincing sense that critical mass has been achieved, and I actually feel like I have a sense of where things are “at.” I know it doesn’t sound scientific, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s not. And, it’s the only method I feel comfortable with. (If you read our wine labels, you’ll notice the wording: “Produced and Bottled by Intuition and Blind Luck.” Perhaps now you can imagine where that came from.)
Well, it looks like we’re going to pick Viognier the 16th of August, which will mark the earliest beginning of harvest in our (short) 16 year history. These grapes taste good, too. Really good.