it comes but once a year

by crushed & stirred

What can I say? I’ve been busy writing other things? I’ve been making wine and memories? I’ve been living and being and not blogging? Yes and thrice yes.

I won’t pretend to properly catch you up on the last, er, five-ish months. Wines in barrels, wines get bottled, vineyards push buds, then flower, then set berries and ripen. The time from budbreak to harvest seems, from the outset, like soooooo long. Looking back on it, it seems like forever ago. But it isn’t; the growing season breaks down into distinctive stages that last just a short couple of weeks, marking the passage of time as they go. One minute we were checking flowering, the next we were doing our crop estimations, the next we were checking for veraison, and suddenly we are staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

A fast track through the growing season:

20140327_161705buds pushing way back when

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flowering

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“pressure bombs”  measure water stress in late spring 

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Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge AVA

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Veraison at Devoto Vinyards, Sebastopol Hills

This harvest is upon us faster than we could even have fathomed. We’ve been tracking our vineyards all along, and the numbers all check out – vineyards that flower at a certain date go through veraison at a closely corresponding date and can be mapped onto harvest date at a closely corresponding date. Still, it is the middle of August and all of the pre-harvest work we normally would be starting now has already been checked off the list.

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Running analysis on grape samples collected in the vineyards

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A hefty batch of samples, a small-scale version of what our winery will look like in a couple of weeks

Just a minute ago, it seems, I would wake up for work with the sun already warm on the windows. Suddenly, I’m beating the day to its rays and California’s extreme drought is creating a mock autumn in ordinarily green foliage. Fall feels farther than it should, and closer than I’m sure it does for kids still running through sprinklers the world over (anywhere but here in Drought-topia).

20140811_100210Obsidian Vineyard from the top, through the wild oats

As I drove home from work one night recently, after dark for some reason that escapes me now, I had a visit from ghosts of harvests pasts. Remember the time at midnight after three pressloads of Chardonnay when I was driving home and Joe called because he couldn’t find his car keys and thought he’d have to sleep at the winery? Remember the times I’ve called my parents from the car just to stay awake behind the wheel, arms still tacky with grapes? Remember the time the bottom fell out of my takeout burger into your lap while you steered with french-fry fingers onto the 101, heading northbound, heading home?

I pulled off the highway and onto the split-up asphalt of these, our varicose country roads, listening to the same radio station I’ve been playing since the first day I stumbled into town like a tumbleweed in a dust storm. The moonlight was amplified by the night’s thin fog creeping in and it illuminated the white water tower over a vast Sonoma vineyard that rose and fell like surf. I felt harvest waking from its slumber – the way you can feel the first snow brewing in a certain kind of cloudcover.

Harvest time seems to occupy its own plane of existence, somewhere between sleeping and waking, time stretches out and compresses. As I look ahead at it – less romantically, I must admit, as the vintages accumulate – it seems downright unpleasant. The loss of sleep and schedule. The struggle to find time to be with your loved ones, your friends, to call your family and handle your affairs. But when it’s happening, it’s happening, right there in front of your face, nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, nowhere you’d rather be.

The 2014 vintage still hangs very much in the balance. Will sugars skyrocket with dehydration through all this fitful heatwaves? Will vines shut down immaturely under water stress? Will acids drop reasonably given the shorter-than-normal season? Will acids plummet suddenly and make the sugars seem too high? Will everything work out beautifully?

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