Winemaking can really be tough on clothes, especially pants, so finding good work clothes has been more of a challenge than I ever expected. The mix of vineyard and cellar work, hot dry conditions followed by wet and cold on a never ending cycle really tests garment quality. My first few months working I just assumed that a pair of random denim jeans is all I’d ever need. I learned quickly that cheap blue jeans, those on the Ross clearance rack, are not really up to the task. Blown out seams and fabric rips give them a working life of maybe a month or so. By my second harvest I had moved on to the ranch classics, Levis 501s and Wrangler 13 WMZs. While these were a definite step in the right direction, they still only gave me a shelf life of a couple months before some type of integrity fail reared its ugly head.
I eventually decided to trial some of the tougher work wear classics like Dickies, Carhartt and Ben Davis. The Dickies performed much like the hardier jeans, falling apart after a promising start. During testing, the Ben Davis held up great, lasting a whole harvest of wearing 4-5 times a week. But the fit wasn’t the most comfortable. They are a bit baggy which can lead to snagging on things like drip lines, barrel racks, and tank valves, no good! Carhartt became my go to work pants during the 2009-2011 harvests. Overall, they gave the best performance and comfort at work. Plus Carhartt was based in my hometown of Detroit, well Dearborn is kind of Detroit. I thought I'd never have to think about work pants again.
Sadly, something changed. The Made in USA tag on Carhartts disappeared and was replaced with Made in China or Mexico. Call me crazy, but the crotch seams started failing after a few months. I started to get fabric tears and the fit was not what it used to be. Then I started to notice that not a single pair of work pants I had been trying were made in America. This got me thinking, does anyone make sturdy work clothes in this country anymore? A little research led me to discovering probably the world’s best pair pants. The Filson Oil Finish Double Tin Pants have no equal. When the first 2 customer reviews I read were 5 stars from a logger talking about the pants handling a whip from a broken chain saw and a Canadian Railway engineer who’s had a single pair for 8 years, I knew I had moved in the right direction. They are not as cheap as other pants I'd tried, but not crazy expensive for quality clothing. I mean, they are cheaper than most women's denim pants these days! Plus, I don’t think it is physically possible to damage these things. Everyone should own a pair of Double Tine Cloth pants, just to feel the sensation of what a truly well crafted piece of work clothing feels like. It was like the time I was shopping for my wedding suit and my friend took me to a shop in San Francisco that only sold hand-made Italians. Everything else just plain feels wrong and cheap once you wear the real deal.
The only problem with the Big Boy Filson’s is that they are a bit too heavy duty. In August, when it’s 112 degrees in the vineyard, they can get a bit sweaty walking around. Plus, the oil finish has a strict no washing allowed rule. Things can get a bit funky! So in searching for something a bit more daily practical, I came across my current favorite work pants, Earl’s Gung Ho Camp Trouser. These are darn near a perfect pair of work pants. Sturdy 12oz duck cloth, button fly, a unique cut, made in Texas, affordable…etc. I think, after all these years, I’ve found my daily work pants. Sadly there are rumors that Earl's may be going out of business, so stock up while you can. But of course, the experiment never ends. I have pair of these coming in for testing during this year’s harvest. And I’m always open to suggestions, so if you have a pair of pants you think can handle the work, I’m all ears.
I don't know why, but one of the most beautiful sights of harvest for me are the streaks left on the press after a full cycle:
It's probably just the fact it is right in my aesthetic wheelhouse. Simple image of two colors, wine and stainless steel, all produced by random chance. But I also love how each press load produces a unique image. Each varietal really shows itself off. This is our Carver Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the bright yet deep pink tint is as unmistakable as the spicy earthy aroma from the drip pan. I'll try to capture all the different varietals during harvest so you can see all this for yourself.
To celebrate our first red wine completing primary fermentation, I was saving some refreshies in the back of the fridge:
Anchor has only been making this beer for a few years. I got initially excited about this because a friend of mine bought me the Arion Press printing of Moby Dick, or The Whale (the trade edition, I'm no fat cat yet!) and it made me obsessed with everything Melville. Seriously, that book is really really good. It was something you were "supposed" to read, so my contrarian spirit forced me to avoid it until my schooling days were over. I guess sometimes those English professors know of what they speak. Wait, where am I going with this. Oh, yeah, Humming Ale is one of those anitquated beer styles that has a chapter in a classic Melville biography named after it. So life came all full circle for me as my favorite brewery made a beer connecting to my favorite author of the time, and it lived up to expectation.
Things have been just beautiful here at the vineyard. Warm days and the nights now getting that little sting of real cold. Things could not be going better harvest wise. So to top off the cheers, here is a beautiful little jam.
Contest Alert! First person to answer in the comments what classic ag logo inspired the hat designed by the band from whom I stole today's title from wins a free bottle of unreleased 2009 Tres Violet. Sorry for the complicated nature of that sentence, I never realized how dificult it is to make a question that is not simply answered with a single google search.
Anyway, harvest keeps marching along here and the last of our Carver Vineyard Pinot Noir came in. I tend to get a bit tired of all the talk about how beautiful and graceful Pinot is. I always think to myself, "You know, there are a ton of varietals that can produce beautiful wines if farmed and cellared properly." But while working with the fruit on the sorting table I realized that there IS something unique about Pinot's grace. The cluster itself just might be my favorite. The Rhones like Syrah, Mourvedre, and especially Grenache can be these huge footballs of grapes. The Bordeauxs are a bit thin and lacy looking, a lot of empty space. Pinot on the other hand just looks perfect.
Each cluster fits perfectly in the hand, usually not much bigger than a pear. Each berry is tucked perfectly in place. It is one of those designs in nature where you start to think about what way you can steal the idea and apply it to some other field. Maybe all this love for the Pinot is just due to the fact that we got fruite that is simply much more beautiful than normal. We actually harvesed with reasonable sugar and acid levels this year as well. For an area not know for producing decent Pinot (or rarely even acceptable pinot at that), this vintage is looking spectacular.
In celebration of Paso Robles doing things right, we ended the day with the present we recieved from the tasting room:
While the Double Barrel Ale is the Firestone beer that is all over this town, this is my personal favorite from our local brew house. It's not an over the top California IPA where its all about maximum hops and power. This is a bit more restrained and appropriate for relaxing during these days where the heat just will not stop. In the spirit of relaxing and another hint towards today's contest, here is today's headphone special. Perhaps my favorite little protest song of all time, which helped lead me down the path to having an old timey job like making wine.
Today was a legitimate day of harvest. We run a small operation so when 8 tons of Chardonnay shows up in the morning, that's a big day for this crew. Add in one of our custom crush clients popping up with a ton of Viognier, and you've got your day's work cut out for you.
One exciting thing about those 8 tons of Chardonnay was that for the first time ever, Calcareous brought in some machine picked fruit. I've only worked at small artisanal wineries, so I've never gotten to work with machine fruit. It is always one of those things I get to say, "All our fruit is handpicked", which sounds cool but I didn't have actual experience of the difference. So just for fun, we decided to try our hand at it.
I'd heard horror stories from friends who worked at wine factories overseas about the "bonus" material that comes along with machine fruit, so I knew we weren't just going to go straight to the press like we do with our Estate Chardonnay. We hand sorted through all 8 tons, pulling out anything and everything that didn't belong. It was quite an eye opener. I won't go into the details here, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to stomach a $3 bottle of wine quite as much ever again. In order to make that cheaply, you don't take the time and expense to hand sort all the fruit. At the end of the day, the fruit was quite beautiful. I'm excited to see how it turns out. There really wasn't much of a difference quality wise, just a matter of sorting out all the junk in the vineyard of in the winery.
So the press ran all day long, and the barrage of fruit was answered with a barrage of beers. We had some pizza delivered out into the country (by my wife, no pizza guy's coming way out here) and enjoyed these boys.
Some Dutch treats I picked up to test out:
Some German Pale
And the Hipster Pub Standard:
I think I'm gonna go with the kids on this one. Pabst just has a bit more flavor and slight "enjoyability", though the Oranjeboom was a close second. Beck's was pretty much Bud Light with lederhosen. Luckily, the tasting room showed mercy on me and all the rough stuff I've been drinking and deliverd a couple of six packs of higher caliber hops and malt. The future looks bright.
Also some new jams showed up in the mail yesterday, which always helps.
The first pick of the vintage is always a time of celebration. Most years we pick our Estate Chardonnay first, and 2012 was no exception. The usual practice is to get all the employees from the vineyard, cellar, tasting room and office, along with families and hand harvest the fruit. Combining a big crew with just one acre of Chardonnay adds up to finishing early and a big communal breakfast. The fresh pressings are blended in with some bubbly for a very special mimosa.
You can't drink Champagne all harvest long though. The long hot days leading into working nights leads the winemaker to beer. Having a lower proof drink avoids the embarrassment of waking up on the cellar floor or crush pad the next morning. For this harvest I'm going to document all the beers that pass through the cellar fridge. From top to bottom, good and bad. The obvious choice for starting off the vintage in celebratory mood was of course The Champagne of Beers!
Miller High Life, while no critical darling, is a wonderful easy drinking beer. The key here is extremely light flavors and nothing obviously off putting. A beer that you can't really say anything bad about, but then again, you can't say anything really good about it either. After cleaning the press and racking the chard must to a settling tank, the refreshment was palpable. Overall, this was not a horrible way to start the beers of 2012 harvest.
It has been talked about for a couple of years, usually during harvest breakfasts. "We should get some chickens out here in the vineyard. It'd make this meal way better." Then the return to working the grapes would make sure that was as far as the chicken talk ever got, just talk.
Well, it finally happened this spring. The new born chicks at the vineyard supply shop were just too cute to pass up. So we brought home a baker's dozen and turned a harvest bin into a nursery. After a month or so of living in the cellar, the ladies were released into the wild. Well, not the real wild. Out here in the western hills of Paso Robles live coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, hawks and eagles. Not the type of place to just let them enjoy free range living. We built a huge coop for them and fenced in to huge area in an oak grove on top of the property. And now that they are old enough, they are allowed to roam about during the day, just make sure everyone is back inside come sun down. Nobody could be happier, and we are all anxiously waiting that first fresh egg breakfast come fall.
The most basic survival advice I adhere to when out in the backcountry or on city streets is this: Stay on the trail, keep hydrated, take care of your feet. Much of this applies to the winery cellar too. Well, at least 66% of it, because who cares about the trail. In fact, get off the trail when making wine, but that's another post. Since talking about drinking water is not a very exciting topic, I wanted to briefly mention feet.
Finding a good pair of shoes for working in the wine cellar is kind of a never ending quest (here's video of my last shopping trip) for the wine worker . It is all important, and you constantly think of ways to improve. Whereas companies make specific shoes for things like discus and javelin, nobody targets the wine maker, so we are on our own on this decision. And before you comment, no, I've never made wine in Australia so Blundies don't count.
So after 5 years of searching and improving, here is where I am on the quest right now:
Behold the Tretorn Vinter. This pair is on month 5 of constant use and just about at the end of the rope. This being January, those 5 months included harvest, so that is about a full years use on a rubber shoe and it is still water tight.*
Besides being fairly tough, having a Euro pedigree, and a psuedo wine related name, what may you ask do I like about this shoe? It is easy to get in and out of for a work boot. Being the California Central Coast, you need to quickly get your boots off and unto a pair of sandals after work. The above the ankle size is perfect too as it keeps from rubbing on your calf like a rain boot, but is high up enough so they don't flood when someone dumps a garbage can of citric acid solution at you. Also, and you can see this better on the Tretorn website, is the fuzzy slipper like lining. Keeps you feeling oh so cozy when walking on cold wet concrete all day long. And finally, they have a sweet action grip on the bottom so you can hike the vineyard or shoot some hoops during lunch without changing shoes.
Sure, this may have little to do with the wine we produce here, but t is an insight into what us wine makers are thinking about all the time. The little obsessions that any job will create when you strive to perfect your experience. Also just a question to other cellar types, "What's your foot gear?", I'm still looking for something to beat the vinter.
* To anyone who might use Tretorn shoes in the cellar, here's a pro-tip! All the sanitation solutions you use will wreak havoc on the rubber. They will dry out and crack quickly, so go buy some silicone oil and give them a little rub down one a month for optimal life.
Picking of fruit for 2011 is now done. Last week was a non-stop pick and process fest as a big storm was heading into town and things needed to get off the vine before the wet weather arrived.
Being a winemaker means you are obsesed with weather. This time of year, the weather you are most concerned with is rain. When rain will arrive, and how much will come down will make your picking decisions for you. So trying to predict what is on the way is of utmost importance.
In addition to basic weather reports, and the fancy wine grape based weather report we get from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, there are a couple of other inputs I use. The mostly I use the Pacific Surf Forecast. Whereas farmers are mostly concerned with what is happening right outside, surfers are more concerened with what is happening 1000's of miles away. If you read this stuff often enough, you start to see how weather, for example, off the coast of northern Japan can affect weather here in California. Understading the global trends and patterns of weather can often give you a good idea of what is comming your way well in advance.
Lastly, and most accurate, is this weather device for rain and cold:
Whenever these dudes start marching around the winery, I know something is up. I don't know if they are heading for high ground to stay dry or warm or what. But once I see a bunch of this kind of action, it's time to talk with the vineyard crew. This was the Saturday before last. I banked on this guy knowing what was up and called for 5 straight days of picking everything we had left on the vine. Worked out as we got done Thursday night and it poured all Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So thanks to my weather guy above for the heads up!
What a just plain fantastic time of year this is. Things are starting to warm up and the vines will be budding any moment now. And with that warm air comes some of my favorite American activities. Baseball and BBQ are starting to get going. And nothing goes better with those activities than Zinfandel. Well, I won’t get carried away here. A solid pint of beer goes down with those two perfectly as well. I’ve been enjoying some Pliny The Elder along with my usual Anchor Steam and local favorite Firestone Double Barrel. But the Paso Robles Zin fest is here this weekend and Paso Robles Adult Co-Ed softball season kicks off, so I’m sticking with Zin, Tri-Tip, and Bat and Glove for today.
Don’t know if you missed this, but Paso has a new attitude about its Zinfandel bona fides. Here is the ad the area pitched in to produce hyping up our Zinfandel production. Note the baseball reference in there as well.
When people talk of “food friendly” wine, it seems they are rarely talking about Central Coast BBQ. It may not be proper French cuisine, but it is food. And damn good food at that. And it pairs with big Paso Zins like nothing else. It reminds me of my basic pairing rule, pair flavors from the same region. Here in Paso, we like to cook big slabs of meat on top of oak fires with plentiful sauce. This produces a meal filled with richness, smoke, and decadence. If you want your wine to match up, put the German Riesling away and grab some Paso Zin. Our 2007 Zin will go on sale for the last time this weekend; it is the official drink of my backyard right now.
And for a final thought, I just want to hype up my trusty softball glove that I oiled up last night. Getting out the old leather after a few months just brings back all those great memories of getting excited for little league and pick up games as a kid. There really is nothing quite like the smell and feel of oiling a perfectly broken in mitt as an American ceremony for saying good riddance to winter. Perusing the local sporting good store recently though, I was a bit saddened at the condition of the baseball/softball mitt world. For one, nothing I could find in this area was made in America. And worse, all the leather felt thin and stiff, none of the life you want from a good glove. So if you play, or are in the market for something for a kid just starting out, do yourself a favor and check out Nokona. Nokona is the last company that hand makes gloves in America for America’s pastime. They are simply an amazing product that is in a class all by itself. They even have gloves made of bison if you want to get truly USA all the way. Like the wine I make, and the barrels I use, they strive to be hand made works of art.
There really is no way of describing the difference in feel between one of these gloves and the usual store bought one you find at Wal-Mart or wherever. It just feels right, heavier duty in everyway, but much more supple at the same time. You will want to just go play catch the second you put it on. So get out there, winter is receding and spring is in the air. Goodtimes!
Oh and how could I forget....