Some times it is the simplest things that make the largest difference. A walk in the waning light with the one you love, your dogs at your feet, and a good glass of wine in the hand that’s not holding onto your beloved’s. There is nothing simpler and truer.
June and I have been able to settle into this rhythm as we also settle (somewhat) into the house at Steven Kent’s estate vineyard in the Livermore Valley. The natural beauty of this place is mind-altering and life-changing, and it is a constant reminder of my belief that beauty exists everyday…even if it is sometimes buried beneath heartache.
Harvest time is the most beautiful kind of hell. It is grueling; it is full of moments of clenching indecision; it takes you away from your family for 18 hours a day, and leaves the remaining moments that aren’t devoted to a tidbit of sleep, full of self-recrimination and self-loathing. But…in the end, you get this beautiful thing…this liquid treasure that carries all your best hopes and prayers for purity. That’s if you didn’t screw things up. If you paid attention. If you curried the favor of the right gods. And also, most importantly, if you worked with the right people.
Like me, Craig Ploof learned about winemaking by doing winemaking. I met Craig first as a member of the Steven Kent wineclub years ago, we became friends, he wanted to learn to make wine and I wanted to make better wine. A few years ago, he started helping me while he had a full-time gig. And knowing a good and dedicated thing, I hired him to help me full-time. It takes a particularly morbid and self-aware person to plan ahead for the worst possible scenarios, and being only partially morbid (and only under the influence of too much Scotch), I didn’t plan for the love of my life to get sick and for our lives to change forever.
The grapes don’t know the troubles of men and come in when they are ready. And thankfully for us, Craig was ready too. Even more than normal, he has worked like a dog, putting in an ungodly number of hours, and making some really nice wine. More than these things – important as they are – he has allowed me to be with my wife and kids, charting our course through these fucked-up waters.
I will never be able to repay him for this.
The 2014 harvest was always going to be a special one. It was the year of changing our relationship with the winemaking facility in which we worked, Craig Ploof’s first vintage as a full-time assistant winemaker for Steven Kent, the year we actually bought a forklift of our own.
The season itself was also a special one…3 weeks early to start and a compacted rush of fruit within a week to end it very early as well.
Those “new” and “special” things were nothing though, when we found out on September 23rd that my wife, June, had been diagnosed with a grade 4 Glioblastoma…a particularly nasty kind of brain tumor.
A lot of what seemed sure has come tumbling down, and it is taking time to wrap my mind around our new life. Most of what I thought I knew, I don’t anymore. Except the most important things: we are surrounded by many people who love us and who can never be adequately repaid for all the kindness they have shown us in the last month, and June Mirassou, the woman I first met 32 years ago in our Freshman dorm, is the Best person I have ever known.
There will be much more to come in these pages about June’s courage, and her feistiness, and my love and admiration for her, but suffice it to say that getting back on the blogging horse is a many-stepped process.
If you want to read really excellent writing, check out June’s blog here.
Grapes don’t give a fig if we make wine from them. Like every other species they are only concerned about spreading their DNA hither and yon. Man comes along many millenia after Nature has solved the problem and names the turning of baby green to ripe red – veraison.
The use of color to signify ripeness is manifold in the animal and plant kingdoms. For grapes, the point at which little green berries start to turn into the gorgeous red grapes that lead to gorgeous red wines is, in many ways, the turning point of the season.
In six weeks or so, we will harvest. In between today and then, grapes have already developed the number of cells they will have and those cells will now expand. Skins will start to soften, sugar content will increase, various acids will decrease, and a couple of weeks after the birds have gotten their fill, we will pick for the wines that will sit upon your table three years hence.
Thus the season proceeds, and thus the magic and beauty and hope that is the greatest part of this crazy business.
I was able to sneak away from the winery yesterday and head down with June to Capitola, one of our favorite places.
Home to Pizza My Heart’s original location along the beach and this day, playing host to what seemed like a million kids at Life Guard Camp, Capitola shone (even in the intermittent sun).
The town itself is tiny and when you look at from the end of the pier it resembles – in its multi-colored buildings rising up away from the water – like a kid’s exuberant and temporary block sculpture. There are nice shops and decent beach food and the weather always seems ideal, sun or not. Capitola is the same as a lot of beach towns in California in all these regards, but there is just something about how it has all come together that makes every experience a little more heightened. A little more perfect.
This is the way the wine experience at a winery ought to be. You are as close to the source as you can be. As close to the grapes hanging pendulously in the vineyard, as close to the crush pad where that fruit is started on its way to vinous glory, as close to the hospitality and the stories that make that one winery different than any other. That’s the way it should be.
And just as a slice on the beach will never taste better, that glass of wine (in that setting with the winery’s folks’ careful attention to helping create your extraordinary experience), will be this close to perfection.