the last big push

by crushed & stirred

Most vintages seem to follow a trend. 2011 was late, wet, and occasionally heartbreaking. 2012 in New Zealand was later, wetter, and occasionally excruciating; 12 hours of pumpovers in the rain, every day, forever. 2012 in Sonoma was The Big Vintage. 2013 in Margaret River was long and easy. So far, 2013 in Sonoma is giant, early, hot, and erratic.

After a couple of weeks of tearing our hair out, we pressed off every ferment, one by one, stacking up as many in a day as were ready to go. All the pinot, done and dusted. The Obsidian syrah is sitting in barrel, uncharacteristically early. The hours I spent pulling empty barrels turned into hours filling barrels, then hours moving full barrels around and into their warm, temporary homes.

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a pumpover sheet

As I seem to lament every year, there came the lull. We power washed the floors. We topped finished wines. We sampled vineyards, waiting for those last flavors, sugars, and acids to dial in. Even after all that heat and sun, still the syrah and grenache took their time, coming in at a manageable pace. We dragged Kobler syrah in, kicking and screaming. Richards vineyard rolled in with a big, awesome crop. The grenache shook free in all its pink-lemonade glory.

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Grenache juice before the extraction kicks in

But the ultimate pick was still out there – the one pick to rule them all. After one last day of 88 degree heat, Joe said, “I’m inducing labor.”

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scoping out Walker Vine Hill vineyard from the top of Talon’s Hill. Notice the patches of darker green, vigorous vines that drift in and out of the slope of lower vigor vines

Every year, Walker Vine Hill Vineyard gets all of our bins. All of em. As I loaded the truck, I contemplated the potential outcomes. Our 42 bins would certainly be filled. At a vineyard yielding 20 tons in a standard year, we were prepared for 30 tons based on vintage trending and, in hushed tones, anxious about the possibility of a double crop, which we’ve seen in just a few cases. 40 tons would be a serious problem with regard to tanks, man hours, available barrels, and winemaking. Suspense would be one word for what we were feeling.

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All our bins, disappearing onto two trucks

On Monday, we were all out in the vineyard before the sun, riding the tractors, slapping tape on rows, bins, and each other, yelling ourselves hoarse, trying to keep the bins clear of leaves and the blocks clearly separate. By 9 oclock, the first truck was loaded with 24 bins and I raced it back to the winery to weigh out and turn the truck around. Soon, a second truck brought us up to 48 bins. And with a little help from the vineyard’s neighbors on Laguna Road, a third truck brought us to 63 bins. It takes a village sometimes – at least a village worth of picking bins.

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One million hours later, every berry was in its place. I’m glossing over the details because that’s how I remember it – lost in a haze of forklifting and crushing. The fruit was in excellent shape and required minimal to no sorting, so we were able to conserve our energy for running the crush pad efficiently, even though it felt like playing catch up from the first bin to the last squeegee.

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It was full speed ahead from the first ray of light and still the best adrenaline rush around. It’s powerful stuff, that kind of exhilaration. Who knew I could clean 5 tanks in 25 minutes? And all that on one cup of coffee. By the time we paused for dinner, I devoured my takeout burger so viciously I couldn’t taste it. Then we cleaned the place down and went home.

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