Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back at it.

It's been a while (seems to be a theme in the beginning of my last few postings).
I'm back in California to work yet another harvest. #Harvest2012 was calling my name and I figured it was time for me to get back in the cellar. All irresponsibly and impulsively, I quit my retail job in Minneapolis and made the move back out to the West Coast at the invite of an old friend.
I'm living in Santa Rosa, working for Ryan Zepaltas helping manage all the projects he has his winemaking hands involved in. We call it the 'executive style' harvest as I'll be doing a lot more managing and coordinating than tank and drain cleaning. Hopefully I'll still get a chance to get in there and get my hands dirty once and a while. From what I hear, the weather this season has been relatively 'normal,' especially compared to a number of difficult vintages prior. Pending some terrible terrible change of events, it looks like things could turn out quite sanely.

I've already had a breadth of experiences in the few weeks I've been here. Last week I was in PA representing our wine at a couple trade tastings in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The weekend before I helped a friend pour his wines in the WineLands tent at the Outsidelands music festival and got to see a heap of great bands for free (a Stevie Wonder sound check at 10am and Jack White guerilla concert in the woods to name a few). The food was amazing too. The weekend before that I was again representing Zepaltas, this time at the West of the West festival. It was a gathering of small producers promoting the authenticity of the far Western reaches of the Sonoma Coast AVA. There were some surreal moments when I had to quell my inner excitement as I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with winemaking giants, this time as a peer and not a distant admirer (see: high school girl backstage at boyband concert).

Most recently, I've spent the majority of my time logging hundreds of miles on my trusty Subaru as I drive from vineyard to vineyard collecting grape samples. We have no 'estate vineyards,' no bucolic setting. Our winery is in a business park, a winemaking ghetto. So much for any romance. Strictly business, tasty tasty business. I guess we could be called Negociants. We leave the grape growing to the farmers. It's our duty, as winemakers to take the quality grapes they give us and not mess anything up. As many people, especially those in Burgundy say, 'great wine is made in the vineyards.' That being said, I'm excited to spend so much time out in the vines as it's something I've really never had a chance to do.

Now and the coming weeks leading up to picking are quite exciting as the grapes really start to change. They develop all their color and start to mature towards optimal ripeness (Veraison). With the juice collected from each sample we can analyze the acid and sugar content (among other things) to tell us how long it will be before we will pick. We can also gain a general idea for how the winemaking process will transpire. The focus of our winemaking is Pinot Noir, however, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc all get serious attention. I'm excited to be on board. The wines have a very distinct signature of higher acidity, lower alcohol, finesse and food friendliness that help them stand apart from many others. They're wines I would buy to drink on my own; it's so much more enjoyable to get behind a brand you believe in. Ryan is doing it right.

I'm going to try to post more as harvest starts up again, but I've proven in the past that it could be difficult. Stay tuned.