this must be the place

by crushed & stirred

…………and we’re back. The last love letter I wrote was from the road, where I’ve frequently found myself of late, and occasionally some company as well. I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those bloggers (or someone who calls themselves a blogger) who lets dead air accumulate while busy living blog-worthy experiences. But then it happened and now it’s over.

And I’m in Sonoma.

afternoon fog beginning to creep into the Russian River from the Pacific

But before that: I seen some things. I’ve watched endless chateaux in Bordeaux stream past a car window. I’ve watched dusk invade a field of wheat from atop the barracks in a Yorkshire village. I’ve watched the stars from a sleeping bag by the side of the road in Burgundy. I’ve watched the sun set and come back up again in the space of three hours over the Rhine river. And scorpions skitter in crop circle formations on Italian walls. And thunderstorms throttle New England’s river valleys. And I’ve seen some wines. White rosé of Saint Tropez, Alpine ice wine grown at 3800 metres, biodynamic Beaujolais, pitcher upon sweaty pitcher of Marchesan Verdicchio, Madeleine Angevine in Northern England… And now I have no money.

Alpine ice wine

Verdicchio in Staffola – Le Marche, Italy

But now I’m home. And everything is the same and different.

Things that are the same:

  • the eons of produce gushing from people’s farms and gardens and markets and into my trunk and my arms and my face. The endless festivals for vegetables and beers and smoked meats. This is living.
  • the clowns I call my friends whose scruffy little faces I couldn’t be happier to see again
  • the potholed, hair-pinned roads that wrap around vineyards and forests and farms and meth towns
  • the way a barrel feels under your palm
  • the way you feel harvest coming in the wind

But there are some notable differences already.

  • The vintage:

This vintage is already so obviously a different ballgame from the last two that I have weathered. After two harvests that were all but rained out, depleting yields, forcing tough calls, trapping alcohol levels and flavor concentration below the desirable threshold, etc – after two of those nail-biters, California’s vineyards are looking fat and happy. After some jitters around a slightly cool bud-break, the summer has warmed to a glow. The sun has been shining, the days have been hot, the nights have been cool – to quote a friend, “good for people and grapes.”

It’s a funny and nice change to see all these winemakers so cheerful. The only thing they have to worry about now is a last minute heat spike.

  • The cellar:

I am working in what most in the industry would consider a ship of dreams – gleaming floors that slope towards sparkling drains, no corner left sloppy and dusty and unattended, an immaculate barrel room stacked high with well kept oak, not a trace of mold or VA or brett in sight or smell. The tanks are all variable capacity with glycol controls, temperature probes, and lightweight, easily maneuvered lids. The pneumatic punch-down arms are on a serpentine track that reaches to all the tanks. We use argon for almost everything – as an inert (and expensive) gas, it is highly effective in protecting the wine from oxidation. There are air pumps – which shut themselves on and off when the valves are opened and closed. There are hoses and outlets every 16 inches. The place will surely take a beating during harvest. Nonetheless, this is unprecedented.

the first of many cellar shots; do you SEE those floors?

And yet. And yet. Even on the ship of dreams, gaskets break under pressure. There’s still good reason to fiddle with wrenches and mallets and tape and tap into reserves of patience and heft and precision – force & finesse, my two little birds, sitting one atop each of my shoulders, whispering sweet nothings in my ears. Telling me to shape up and work faster and have good form and be efficient and don’t lose wine and don’t break anything and have a good time.

We’re about two weeks out on fruit here in the Russian River. No twiddling our thumbs this time. On the one hand, it feels like there won’t have been enough of a warm up – not enough time to get to know the cellar, not enough playtime before we’re all flat out.

But. I also can’t wait. Nothing straps your game face on for you like fruit does.

And look who’s already all ready:

building back up to fighting shape