dispatch from the last weekend

by crushed & stirred

Just when I thought I knew the cellar, I’ve entered a new dimension. Structure. Logistics. Organization. Planning. Joe and I seem to spend a good deal of time just talking. Looking at the weeks and days and hours ahead. Scheduling wine work, cleaning, vineyard visits, blending trials, maintenance, deliveries, and working out how to train our interns in a way that is both educational to them and also productive in terms of our short and long term needs. Every calendar grows cluttered with each passing hour and every list seems to sprout its own appendages and appendices. We are going hard and going into harvest feeling like it’s already been harvest for a couple of weeks.


moving fast down long rows at Lazy W Ranch on Westside Road


Lazy W chardonnay

The first two weeks flew by as Joe and I got back into our rhythm. We took care of all the non-bottling-related, pre-harvest wine work: topping and racking-and-returning the 2011 Richards syrah and the 2012 pinot. The pinot racking was our biggest day yet, since the 12 pinot is Donelan’s biggest single lot of wine to date: 50 barrels, racked, cleaned and refilled in a tidy 10 hour day that concluded in beers, burgers, and peace of mind.


Our good teamwork has us on schedule after what felt like falling behind, given the early harvest and the mountain of wine to bottle.

And it is a mountain.


Skyscrapers worth of empty glass 

The sustained warm temperatures, with only brief breaks of cooler weather, are moving everything along. We have a great number of properties sitting at the 20 Brix point –requiring a lot of sampling, lab analysis, discussion and thinking about our choices. Meanwhile, we are racking what feels like all the wine in the barrel room (it isn’t), trying to get everything into final position for bottling, by which time we will also have a couple of batches of chardonnay and pinot in. It’s all happening, all at the same time. It’s challenging, slightly stress-inducing, and extremely motivating and engaging.

Despite all these things that we’re juggling, the interns are also forcing us to focus on the immediate: what do we need from them now? What do they need from us now? I won’t pretend not to feel a little, existential tear well up in me: 2 years ago I was, as they are, first setting my dry toes into a winery, shocked by all the cleaning of things I’d never seen and overwhelmed by all the language and materials I’d never encountered. I was wearing Urban Outfitters shoes with the cheap soles taped together.

I’d forgotten how many questions there can be when you start at the ground floor, and being able to answer them has turned my world upside down. How recently was I the one cleaning Macro bins and being told to scrub faster! How recently was I being told to sanitize something or reminded of how to use equipment properly or simply waiting to be told what to do. My mind is constantly working over how best to instruct, correct, and encourage.



New barrels seem to arrive every day



A pre-harvest soak, even though they get cleaned everyday, before and after we use them,  everyday

The easy part: the interns are nice guys who want to learn, which is a good starting point that I know better than to take for granted.

This is it, already, the last weekend. This is the first time I haven’t had a lot of lead-in time to vintage, either from starting early or having a slightly delayed season. Everyone I know is picking their first fruit or about to. It’s here. My list of duties is longer and more challenging than it has ever been – especially as I have to simultaneously accomplish all those things while also keeping the interns on task and forging ahead in constructive ways. I want them to get things done but I also want them to love their jobs, and ideally those can go hand in hand.

Meanwhile, I’m back in the mines and vines I started in and feel a fondness for. There are redwoods and oaks at the edges of vineyards now, instead of kangaroos and stands of gum trees. I find I also feel a fondness for the roos and the gums. Australia feels like it only just happened, like it’s still happening, coursing through me, a heartbeat.


This Oceanic sky over these Juniper vines are still in my mind’s eye

I’m celebrating these last, solid 48 hours to myself with sunshine, sleep, the farmer’s market, my friends under the late stars, reading on the porch, and anything else I want. Down we go.