Gallo del Cielo was a warrior born in heaven so the legends say -Tom Russell
When we decided to put in the chicken coop in spring, I was adamant about no roosters. Didn't want the crowing or the "cocky" attitude. But as fate would have it, of our 14 chicks, on developed into this king of the coop:
My early fears were put to rest as he quickly won me over. He seems to rule the roost with a positive attitude. And with the coyote yelps in the distance, I'm sure his pressence lends a calming influence at night. Also I think he has been a bit of a good luck charm for my Hotspurs. It can be no coincidence he first started crowing about the time the pride of Nacogdoches arrived in North London. I have to say there is a bit of a resemblance:
So yes, from Casa Grandes to San Diego, from the Rio Grande all the way north to Little Rock, the legend of Gallo del Cielo lives on. I mean, what a good looking dude.
The miracle sight today!
Two little brown eggs signified that all our work with the chickens this spring is coming home to roost, so to speak. Funny what a magical feeling it is to see suddenly an egg sitting in the nest box. Once a few more are collected, the big first omelette of harvest will be created.
We also pressed out our first Syrah fermentation today. So I guess it is time to continue my series of press photos. We pressed some Grenache Blanc before this but for some reason clear juice makes for a much more boring photo! Anyway, here is the creative outlet of our Block 6 Syrah:
One thing interesting to notice is the incresed amount of solid material streaked with the wine as compared to the pinot photo below. The Syrah spent over 20 days on skins and macerated at negative brix which means a high ethanol percentage in the must. This ethanolic maceration is much rougher on the grape material. The pinot on the other hand was pressed out at 6 brix and only spent 12 days on skins. There was obviously a lot less breakdown of the skin in the pinot which indicates a less heavy extraction.
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.
The grapes keep rolling in, and I conitnue to be amazed at how well everything is handling this unrelenting heat. Since the start of August it seems like it has been at least 95 every day. I keep looking at forecasts and feeling doomed as the high temps slam shut the ever narrowing windows of optimal ripening. But so far the worrying has been for naught. Everytime we run the numbers after cold soaks and settlings, we get beautiful balanced sugars and acids. So far a magical harvest and the Block 6 Syrah that is going to press tomorrow is probably the best tasting Syrah we've ever made here. Full of richness, depth and power without even the slightest hint of over ripe jam. Simply amazing.
In honor of our first red ferment coming to completion, cracked open a bottle of ESB:
During a summer trip this year, I stopped by Woodinville Washington to check out what was happening there. I was pretty ingnorant of the scene but lucked out on reccomendation from my cousin in Seattle to check out Januik Winery. An extremely impressive line up. Right in the neighborhood, and I mean right in the neighborhood as in next door were Chateau Ste. Michelle, Coumbia and lo and behold the Red Hook Brewery. Not a bad place to put a bunch of wineries. Stopped by the brewery and was reminded how much I enjoy their ESB. A good, rich, tasty brew that usually comes a real reasonable price. I wish more brewers would produce a lower priced session beer like that. A perfect way to toast some Syrah that I'm feeling is sky's the limit right now.
For that, here's a song with the word sky in it.
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.
An old but true adage. So much so that the good people up in Santa Rosa even produced a beer in it's honor. Well, actually they claim it takes "great beer" to make great wine. I hope that's not true, because Rory and Nacho brought in a twelver of these today:
This is the old standby of harvest. Mainly because you can buy it the same time you are filling propane tanks, getting tractor diesel, or grabbing some tri-tip sandwhiches down at Cregor's. I'm not a fan of this, actually I'm quite anti- this beer. Although I'll tip my hat to the Budweiser Don Draper types who thought up the "Superior Drinkability" tag line, I'd put "Marketing You Can Taste" myself. It did at least remind me of a wonderful aspect of harvest though, the time of year. The NFL logo tells you that harvest coincides with high school, college, and pro football kicking into gear. But best of all, the pennant races and playoffs (Are we in store for another epic harvest like 2010?) of America's pastime. This all helps create the context of the harvest. And so be it if I have to drink a few nasty BL's to realize fall is on the way.
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.
Il vino è la luce del sole tenuta insieme dall'acqua - Galileo Galilei
The light. It always comes back to the light with me. When I think of California, be it in the Sierras, in Joshua Tree, Big Sur, Stockton....., the color of our light is the giveaway. It may be the filtering effects of ionized air coming from the vast Pacific. Perhaps that band of latitude from 32Â° 30' N to 42Â° N sits at a perfect angle to the sun. Whatever it may be, it is impossible to go outside and not feel that there is a rich softness to the light in this state. Beyond any viticultural or enological decision, this is what makes our wine taste the way it does.
The term "New World Style" is often derisively thrown around to describe the full bodied wines produced in California. Our wines are criticized as unsophisticated or disingenuous due to the flavors that are emphasized. I have always contended though that there is little choice in the m atter. The wine tastes of its place. I love the color and feel of this land and I taste those same parameters in the wine produced here. As a winemaker, my conscious decisions about style are vastly secondary to the impact of the land.
Driving on a trip up to Napa last week I decided to take the long route, California 25. This is one of those magical roads that show the side of California no one outside of here knows exists. Gently rolling hills of oak and golden tanned grasses. And as always, framed by the gorgeous blue sky.
When I think California, those are the colors that come to mind, blue and gold. There is a reason the colleges here embrace the colors they do. Be it the southern softness of UCLA's True Blue and Gold or the richer cool hues of Berkeley's Yale Blue and California Gold, these colors surround us here. What is color but the specific spectral bands of the light that bathes us. A light of such abundance and beauty, the wine produced here has no choice but to mirror.
As presents became more grown-up, Christmas lost its place atop the pantheon of Holidays. When my insatiable appetite for M&M's and Snicker Bars eventually was filled and I no longer attended college costume parties, Halloween fell down a bit. In a few years, once my children grow old enough to truly grasp the magic of those days, they will return to the top. For now though, Thanksgiving is the King of Holidays for me. A day dedicated to the simplistic perfection of meal and family. Brining the wine that I produce to the table, celebrating the harvest that my life is so intertwined with now adds even more to the special feeling. Sadly, cool years in 2010 and 2011 have made Thanksgiving Day a working day each of the past few years. Imagine my joy today when I got confirmation that this year would be different.
It was August 12th last year when I posted a similar photo. Veraison is the changing of color of the grape skin. It is the beginning of the ripening process. A very loose rule of thumb is that six weeks from now, we will pick this Pinot Noir. Harvest, which did not begin in earnest until late September last year, is looking to come much earlier this year. The timetable jumped on us and now the preparations must begin. All the trappings of the harvest start to take shape. The new barrels start to arrive. The destemmer, sorting table, and press all get cleaned and greased up. Discussions begin on new trial ideas.
I've wanted to try some really short macerations to emphasize fruit in a couple wines. Our assistant winemaker told me excitedly he wants to try some really long ferments, probably in a barrel. You won't really know until you try. We messed around with a new technique for our Chardonnay last year. It's going to bottle in a few weeks, and I'd have to say our new little trick had a positive outcome. A couple more idea will probably come, especially as sleep deprivation induced creativity sets in.
I love harvest. It is probably my favorite aspect to the whole wine making lifestyle. Once a year, one chance, all or nothing, the special mix of creativity under pressure makes for such a uniquely thrilling work experience. You can't really ask for much more. Well, maybe except for vintages like this one, when you do get more. You get it all wrapped up in time to completely enjoy that November meal with the family.