(Another) Year in the Vineyard
Week #24: August 20-26, 2010
With Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe
Summer Arrives Before It’s Over: Sparkling Harvest Soon!
A Week in the Winery: the Crew Comes Together!
Here’s the situation: it’s 7:33 on Thursday night and it’s very late to be starting my blog. Tomorrow at 6:00 am I need to open the winery up and get the bottling truck hooked up to water, gas and electricity, and then we plan to bottle almost 2000 cases of 2009 Clos Pepe Estate wine. Since Monday we’ve been racking, assembling and filtering our 2009’s—testing and making sure the S02, dissolved oxygen and filtration levels and clarity of all 5 lots of the wine are perfect.
We planned to do all this work from Monday to Wednesday, take Thursday off (or keep it as an ‘emergency day’, and when the 2009 Pinot Noir ended up taking longer to perfect than we imagined yesterday, we decided to do a ‘small day’ in the winery today, which ended up being 9 am until nearly 4:30. But in that time we also ghot the entire winery in the most organized fashion it’s ever been, made room for all the case goods that we’ll have at the end of bottling tomorrow, finishing barrel maintenance, bottling a bunch of magnums and half bottles, and getting all five lots perfectly ready for bottling.
But let me back up. The week started with a small heat wave that saw temps climb into the 90’s on Tuesday, and back to the high 70’s on Wednesday. It gave us a wonderful bump in ripeness and color, and now we are seeing almost 100% veraison in the vineyard: the pinot is almost completely black and lustrous, and the chardonnay is also starting to become golden and soft. We slightly increased the water in the vineyard and walked some field sin the late afternoon/evening to check on the heat’s impact on the crop—and what we saw was that this is exactly what we needed to get us to the next stage of 2010 harvest—a little bump of heat, perfectly timed and short in duration. A week of 90’s would have caused premature ripeness (‘I swear baby, this has never happened before!’), but this short duration of warm/hot weather just help us catch up a little bit to get the fruit to where it should be on the doorstep of September. Good moisture at root level kept the sugar from skyrocketing—and I will start doing some ripeness lab work (testing sugar and pH) early next week to see if we’re ready to pick some fruit for sparkling wine, and see how far off we are to hitting the level of ripeness we need to start harvest in earnest. Adrien, our formidable French intern, really wants to go to a Linkin Park concert on the 7th of September in LA (if you have a connection for that let me know!), and of course Chanda and I are celebrating out 10th wedding anniversary on September 9th, so we wouldn’t mind a little break between bottling and harvest, as we normally get. First day of harvest for pinot noir (to make a red wine), is usually around September 15th, and that sounds about right for this year, too.
But let me move forward. (Sorry if this blog is beginning to loom like the 5th season of Lost will all the time shifts.) Tonight Steve and Cathy helped us celebrate the Eve of Bottling by opening a number of very special wines with dinner. Steve grilled a sublime prok loin in a mustard glaze, we had corn on the cob, mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil, a cheese plate, peaches…great meal. But we also celebrated Burgundy in 1972 (Chanda’s birth year), with a 1972 Dujac Clos Saint Denis and a 1972 Remy Clos de la Roche, Grand Cru. But the wine that outshone them both was a 2006 Gautherin Grenouilles Grand Cru Chablis. I could wax poetic about flavors and references, but to be honest I don’t have the time or energy. They were all gorgeous wines that told profound tales of terroir and elegance and balance—but the youthfulness of the Chablis charmed me—a pert, youthful strumpet that spoke 6 languages next to a few mature, greying gentlemen taking a sauna in a jambon smokehouse.
But moving backwards: this week we broke in a new crew in the winery, and I’m so damn proud of the job they did. Jenny Ryan is our newest intern: a short but spunky gal out of Boston who is working a number of jobs right now: cooking tending bar. My only problem with her is that she’s a Celtics fan. I told her not to wear Boston paraphernalia at the winery, and of course she’s shown up in a Red Sox cap each day—but little did she know that I could give a shit about that boring, antiquated ‘sport’ of baseball—now if she shows up in a Celtics cap, I will tear off some tape to cover the logo…but the Red Sox…oh well, I guess they still play that game on a diamond, but it gets no reaction from me. Jenny is kicking some major ass in the cellar, and keeps herself moving, busy, and the cellar well organized and clean. Josh McCourt is back from Carlsbad and has taken the moniker: the Engineer. When numbers have to be crunched of a plan needs to be made, Chanda and he put their heads together and make magic. Kim and Alex Smith are a pair of up and coming winemakers in Lompoc that are interested in adding winemaking to their family businesses of roll-offs and recycling. Alex is 17, very smart and strong enough to be a big help in the winery, and Kim is his Mom—an Alan Hancock vit/enology student that is jumping right in this harvest with interning at Clos Pepe and making her first wines flying semi-solo. Kim has a palpable passion and intensity that shines through—it’s hard not to be enthusiastic around her. Tony Mendez continues his work in the winery after completing his vineyard internship. I met Tony five years ago online, and I’m stoked we’ve struck up both a professional relationship and a friendship—he’s learning very quickly to foresee what is needed in the winery and to start the process before I ask. I love that. Adrien Gautherin has become indispensible already. His skills with pumps, filters, anything mechanical is amazing. He taught me some things that my equipment can do this week that I had no idea. Our filtration has become much more efficient and light-handed as a result of his expertise and dedication. And of course my wife Chanda is my rock. She really is the soul of the operation. We make lists of what needs to be completed at the beginning fo every day, and when any of the employees free up, she guides them into new tasks to keep the cellar running like a well-oiled machine.
Well, that’s about as much as I have time for tonight. I need to get y ass in bed so I have the energy for a potential 12+ hour day of bottling. I hope all of you have the chance to taste some delicious (or even profound) wine this weekend, and when you do, think of the hands that crafted those vines to produce grapes, the grapes into fermentation, and those fermentations into bottle. It’s an arduous and beautiful process, and one that consumes one’s life and energy when done correctly. Cheers, my friends!