Jason Joyce
May 31, 2013 | Chalk Talk | Jason Joyce

The Secret Life Of Grapevines

      In a previous life,  music was my all encompassing passion.  Although a terrible musician, I loved listening to as many different sounds as possible.  I was the music director at my college radio station.  I hung out at the local record store almost daily, asking the clerks for things to listen to.  I was a constant volunteer to DJ parties, wedding, or any event people would let me dictate the music at.  This also meant stopping at any thirft store I ever passed by, and digging trought the stacks of old vinyl.  You can't listen to a record at a thrift store, so you buy things based on the design of the sleeve, the year produced, the name of the record label, or just based on knowing something about the artists.  Finding a copy of Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants by Stevie Wonder was considered a coup even though I knew nothing about the album. But a double LP soundtrack by Stevie, from 1979, for a documentary about plants, this was obviously a gold mine.

      While there were some great songs on the record,  it also got me interested enough to track down a VHS of the movie. (Youtube has made life much easier).  This coincided with the release of the the Michael Pollan book the Botany of Desire, a book that was being passed around at the coffee shop I worked at.  My eyes and mind were suddenly looking at plants in a different way.  Plants were suddenly much more alive to me, I became fascinated in learning about the ways they interact with each other and the environment.  I didn't know it at the time, but this little journey was another building block in creating a knowledge base for winemaking.

     The idea of the importance of vintage, the year of a wine's production, is a whole hearted endorsement of the idea that plants interact with their environment in a pro-active way.  It is not just a simple wet years make watery wines, dry years make concentrated wines.  The vineyard reacts in much more varried ways.  Experience has shown me that the wines we produce from our lands are fundamentally dictated by how the vines adapt to changes in weather for the year. And based on that experience, I could not be more excited for the 2013 vintage.

    A fascinating read on the current state of plant intelligence was released last year, What A Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz. This inspired me to watch the 2013 vintage in the vineyard in a different way.  I decided to start noting the weather more closely and watch how the vines reacted this year.  The end of 2012 saw above normal rainfall, which was a perfect environment for their dormant stage.  Since January though, there was very little rainfall.  The ground was rather dry as the vine awoke and went through their bud break, shoot growth, and flowering stages.  In reaction to this, the vines are producing very small, dense clusters.  The berries I imagine are going to be smaller and have thicker skins than ususal, which will help prevent evaporative loss.  These are the grapes you dream of making wine from.  The increased ratio of skin to juice is what leads to the production of wine with the perfect levels of extraction and fruit.  The job of the winemaker becomes when to decide enough is enough, as opposed to wishing you could get more out of the fruit.  

    This will probably lead to yeilds being be a bit lower this year, but quality is of the biggest concern for a small winery like Calcareous.  And if things contiune as they have so far this year, the quality may be the best of I have ever experienced.  This of course is all in thanks to those smart vines behind the winery figuring out how to get by in a warm, dry year.

     Bonus: Spring in our step Cellar Music For 2013


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