march madness

by crushed & stirred

My absence here embarrasses me. It’s like the longer you go without flossing, the harder it is to get back on the floss-horse. Soon, the guilt becomes so powerful you would rather dread that your teeth are going to fuse together than even dare trying. And then you begin to question whether you should even really be a flosser. What’s it all about. Do you just want to be another one of those flossers in the bottomless pitt of other flossers?

Yes, I do.

My last post promised of secret locations in wintry cities. Well, it’s true. Donelan Wines whisked me off to New York City for a snowy weekend to pour at a benefit where we were the wine sponsor. It was my first business trip. It was also the first snow I’d seen in three years, after two winters dodged for the balmy coasts of New Zealand and Australia. It was a great experience – the event and the snow and the reunions with my East Coast life.

sledding in Central Park

sledding in Central Park

Also a great experience: my first spring in three years, after two springtimes traded for two extra autums. And I’m obsessed with the spring. When I last wrote, there was still no water. If there were only water, we stalked around muttering, with lips poetically chapped and mouths parched. Eyes short on tears. Not a drop of sweat to spare.

Then it rained. Not enough. But it rained. About half as much as we need. But everything went green, all the mustard came out in the vineyards. The poppies and irises are filling the garden beds. The asparagus sprang up like bamboo, seemingly overnight. The dogwood and cherry blossoms have exploded into perfect colors and allergic nightmares. The roses are in full leaf and the buds are not far off.

Russian River Valley, looking west, in mustard glory

Russian River Valley, looking west, in mustard glory

And then there’s the winery. The last six weeks have been some of the most productive since before harvest, but not in a sexy way. Months-old lists worth of scheduled analysis, blending trials and decisions, rack-and-returns, and odd jobs have been dispensed with. We are now in full-fledged bottling prep. Last Friday, I racked and blended the 2013 rosé. Today, Joe and I racked the 2012 Two Brothers Pinot – 63 barrels and 8 puncheons, now resting in 4 full tanks – and the 2011 Richards Family Syrah. Tomorrow, we attack the 2012 Cuvée Moriah Grenache. Next week, we bottle.

Big Grenache berries with their thick skins are forever eluding us. These survivors made it a 16 months in barrel. Until I hosed them down the drain.

Big Grenache berries with their thick skins are forever eluding us. These survivors made it a whole 16 months in barrel. Until I hosed them down the drain.

Puncheons are big barrels - 500 liters (132 gallons). I choose to stand on top of them while racking. Check out the pretty magenta Grenache illuminated by my torch.

Puncheons are big barrels – 500 liters (132 gallons). I choose to stand on top of them while racking. Check out the pretty magenta Grenache illuminated by my torch.

We’ve been warming up for these two-plus weeks of slam-packed work for ages now. It’s awesome to watch our choices come to fruition – our plans and decisions, things we’ve mulled and labored over. It’s huge for me to have been an active part of all of these blends, and to experience the nuances of accomplishment, satisfaction, and a specific kind of apprehension. I stand by our process of eliminating impossibilities, replicating our preferences, and identifying the best solution; still, there’s a healthy sense of questioning, because there’s no going back once it’s in the bottle. It renews for me what this industry has always represented: material immediacy. Abstract concepts and thoughts become physical movements and chemical reactions and profound alterations in state.

More barrels than winery. Final taste before final blending.

More barrels than winery. Final taste before final blending.

 

After cleaning four tanks in 45 minutes this morning, it reminded me that on the busiest day of the 2013 vintage I did the same work in half the time. That’s what being in harvest shape is. And adrenaline and twice the caffeine. But the muscles are stirring in there, as they are in vineyards all over the county. Budburst is a new one for me, the winter-dodger and spring-misser.

Baby green leaves popping out of spring vines.

Baby green leaves popping out of spring vines.

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