(Another) Year in the Vineyard Wine Blog, Week #23 with Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe

Year in the Vineyard

With Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines

Welcome once again to the Year in the Vineyard Blog.  We continue with our new High Def video blogs, to give you as much visual input as possible.  There’s times when the written word can describe what’s happening in a vineyard, but I’m a big believer in getting out in the vines when I have visitors and getting them to see, touch, smell and understand what’s going on here.

With this in mind, I would like to continue posting blogs each week from the vineyard and the winery so you can get an intimate view and understanding of my job as a vineyard manager and winemaker for Clos Pepe.  This week we post part 2 of the barrel tasting: the Pinot Noir, and a ‘Walk in the Fog’—my take on how the fruit and the 2010 vintage is maturing.

This week we are preparing for a very busy period that begins next Monday.  We will be assembling all the wines from the 2009 vintage in tank, giving them all a light filtration, checking dissolved oxygen and SO2 levels, putting some nitrogen gas through the wine and over the wine to protect it in tank, and then putting the entire production, all five wines, into bottle on Friday, August 27th.  At that point the winery will have no wine in barrel for about two or three weeks, which is a very (oddly) relaxing time for me.  We can steam sanitize the floor, organize barrels, get everything squeaky clean and reset our brains to start harvest, at which time we’ll fill the barrels back up for another year.

The sheep are sheared, but we’re not done with them!  Today we’ll catch them one by one, and I’ll wrestle them on their butts so they have a comfy seat so we can trim all of their hooves.  It’s a smelly job: dusty and strenuous, but it really keeps the little woolly beasts healthy and happy.

The intern, Adrien Gautherin, is becoming a valuable and hard-working cog in the machine that is Clos Pepe.  He has provided some wonderful insight into my viticultural practices and he knows more about Chardonnay than perhaps anyone I’ve ever met.  There is certainly some of the French attitude about his knowledge—sort of the d’accord attitude—that when I say something he agrees with it’s obvious, and when he suggests something it is a simple fact—hammered home by the extra 7 generations of Chardomnnay winemaking that is part of his blood.  To balance the new and the old, I’m considering allowing Adrien to make a few barrels/stainless casks of his own wine this year—with his methods, and seeing the impact of his production methods.  He has some different ideas about settling juice, yeasts, etc., and although I want to keep my Chardonnay style within the parameters of our house style, I don’t want to lose an opportunity to extend my craft and learn something new.  I’m really looking forward to our banter during harvest, and at least I can be proud knowing I know more about Pinot Noir than he does.  We’re enjoying his presence here very much, and even our regular field crew says he’s a machine in the field.  When I saw the D&G watch and the $300 shoes, I wondered…but he has no problem knocking out 8-9 hour days in the field, which is impressive and deserving of respect.

Otherwise, the weather has stayed mostly cool with a few days in the upper 70’s.  We are back in a relatively cool cycle again, and I expect to be picking some grapes for sparkling wine in the next two weeks, and we will likely be in real harvest by mid-September.  That means we need to start cleaning and moving fermenters into the winery after bottling next week, double checking supplies, doing some barrel maintenance, and in the vineyard we need to start testing fruit and sending updates to our ten producers.  We are also organizing harvest labor, checking papers, making sure we have ample labor to get the fruit out in good time, especially if we have a heat spell and have to gogogo!  I do believe that because of such small berries this year that ripeness may be a little accelerated once we get some heat, and I don’t want to be caught unprepared.  We only have one harvest of grapes per year, and we have to make sure the fruit for the 2010 harvest comes out perfect, clean, delicious and balanced.  And we have to fit those criteria for 11 different winemakers, including myself.  A small production, a small vineyard, but a lot to balance and consider!

Hope all is well where you are!  Make sure to drink a lot of pinot noir this Fall/Winter, because I’ll have enough to fill your cellar back up when I release our awesome 2009’s this coming February!

Something about wine you probably didn’t know:

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson spent $3000 on wine (or about $60,000 in modern value, for his own cellar/consumption), and was also the wine consultant who stocked the wine cellar for the first 5 US Presidents.  His choices were heavy on Bordeaux and Madeira.