the rising tide

by crushed & stirred

I’ve spent the greater part of my time in Margaret River thinking of never leaving. After a slightly rocky start, Margs has knocked me off my feet in the way that Sonoma did. It’s given me a ramshackle house that occasionally feels like a youth hostel. Homes and roads and places that feel like my own. A winery where I’ve found my stride after two short years in the industry – the first vintage where I’ve felt like I was riding the waves rather than getting smashed around by them. The first vintage where I’ve felt – despite moments of second-guessing or frustration or resenting myself for stupid mistakes – a rising tide of comfort.

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roommate

So what do you do with that one-year, non-renewable visa? It turns out you spend 5 months threatening to not leave and then accept a vintage job in California that you can’t resist. But all in time. I’m still here.

As are our last 3 batches of cabernet, which are enjoying extended macerations in tank – the fermentation equivalent of a long soak in the tub – their tannins lengthening and softening. Meanwhile, we’re barreling down dry pressings, shepherding malolactic fermentations, sulphuring our dry whites in barrel, and even blending up our first finished wines. It makes my head spin that we are fining and preparing to filter a dozen or so wines already – various iterations of roses, sweet moscato, dry muscat, our least-aged (obviously) sauvignon blancs, and even a sparkling sweet zinfandel (yep) – that will go to bottle in June.

We’ve dismantled the winery’s vintage equipment, begun pressure cleaning the ceilings and resumed normal winery business. In vintages past, there have always been moments where everyone feels like they’re underwater; that moment never came this year. There was a stretch of 2 weeks without a day off – there always is. But it never felt like drowning. Harvests are funny – different versions of similar problems from year to year can produce a wide variety of results.The season leading up to vintage was cool and wet, like California in 2011 and NZ in 2012, setting off isolated pockets of concern about green flavors, low sugars, and mushy fruit. Then came the intermittent heat waves – the kind of thing to set off concerns about dehydration, sugar spikes, and sunburn. But for the most part, crises just failed to materialize.

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extra hoses all strung up from the rafters for the season

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shining like the top of the Chrysler building

We didn’t have the volume to induce massive days or the pressure to turn tanks over. We also didn’t pump our tanks over more than once a day; it’s often repeating this process multiple times a day that stretches the shifts out beyond daylight hours.We didn’t have the extremes of weather to prompt pressure picks – picks called in advance of potentially destructive weather, when winemakers sometimes choose low sugars over rot or green tannins over higher alcohol. Pressure picks bring you in early and keep you working late, as the fruit comes in when it has to, and can lead to high maintenance ferments needing specific treatment to attenuate various shortcomings. Sometimes it all works out fine. Fruit picked a little earlier or later or under different conditions than usual just works out – even for the better, occasionally. The gamble is always informed by every shred of information that comes before and after, but it is always a gamble.

And how do we feel about the reasonable pacing of this vintage? Do we feel understimulated or bored? Do we feel antsy? Do we ache for more work? I could have used the hours and the adrenaline rush but on the whole – mostly no. Vintages have personalities. It’s the people and wine work itself that make the hours feel well spent.

So yes, I’m California-bound sometime in the next couple of months. Rest assured I will be tearing myself away.

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