A True Day

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.

Taking the Lid Off

I saw Sergio Traverso, one of the legendary Livermore Valley winemakers, up on the catwalk above the 5000 gallon fermentors at the Wente small-lot winery the other day. He was watching one of the guys pump over Syrah (takiing the pumped juice from the bottom of the fermentor and spraying it over the top of the cap).

I asked what he was doing, and he answered that some times you just need to see the potcookingfermentation process at another angle, to gauge progress by taking the lid off. The reference was to lifting the cover of a pot that you are cooking to gauge the food’s done-ness, and in that way was completely relevant to what I do on a daily basis.

As I write this on a fold-up chair overlooking a pressful of Syrah, it is difficult to contemplate the process of winemaking without the reality of getting your hands dirty. In fact, every sense comes into play when you are converting grapes into nectar. stevenwritingpressRight now, a pump is running, taking the pressed-off wine from the press pan to a tank, and as its frequency changes you realize that the press pan is nearly empty. As you turn the press to mix up the cap, you can tell by the thwack, thwack that the cap is still very wet. I spend part of each morning digging my hands into the cap of fermenting wine to feel the texture of the skins, and as I bring the cap to my nose, another sense is used to determine the “health” of those skins.

As each press fraction comes off the press, I lift the lid on my wine again to see how much more time is required until that dish is “cooked” to perfection. Growth might have to be an inevitable need in the marketplace that we are in, but I can guarantee that we will never be so big that we can’t lift the lid to make sure the wines we make are the best they can be.

Taking the Livermore Valley to the Next Level

I have never been so excited to be part of the wine and food scene in the Livermore Valley. In my 17 years here, there have never been more people displaying a passion (both in their demeanor and in their wines and cuisine) for excellence as there are now.

Livermore-Valley-Wine-MapThe Livermore Valley is going through a tremendous renaissance, but there is still a long way for all of us who work to bring enjoyment to peoples’ lives to get to a level commensurate with the quality of the place we work and live.

And as someone who intends to be part of this excitement here until they pry my cold, dead hands from around the wine barrel, I am intensely interested in learning what it is we could be doing to improve the Livermore Valley experience.

So, shoot me a comment or suggestion, and let’s see what we can do!

Hamlet in the Vines

hamletWith apologies to T.S. Eliot, April is not the cruelest month. The cruelest month is any month we have to make a picking decision in the vineyard. This is one of those zero-sum moments in the wine life. You can’t staple clusters back to the vine…once you make the decision to pick, you’ve stuck a pin fast into the timeline, and every hope and dream you have for that wine proceeds from that point forever. THERE IS NO GOING BACK!

It would be a lot less heartburn-inducing if every row (even every block) in a vineyard were the same. You go into a section of the block, taste berries, satisfy yourself that everything is ripe (the seeds are brown, the skins have the right texture and tannin content, and the flavors are spot on) and then pick it out and get on with it. Would that it were.

With every minute change in soil type, water-holding capacity, elevation, aspect of rows, and a million other things, the fundamental nature of the grape from section to section is slightly different. Some of that fruit has the potential to make you swoon…some will not quite reach that height. Then when you factor in outside influences – like a chance of rain a few days down the road – the reality of potential compromises (and the psychic pain those bring) start the waffling machine (to pick or not to pick?).

I’m out right now this morning in our clone 30 block of Cabernet; this is without doubt the most important fruit that we have. I made the decision a few days ago to pick part of the block because I thought the flavors were perfect; the textures of the skins and the seeds were right where they needed to be, so we picked about 20 of the 69 rows.  Right now that fruit is in fermentation bins about to get inoculated with yeasts that I’ve chosen, but the rest of the block, in fact, the vast majority of that block is still left to be picked (and subject, still, to all the vagaries of Mother Nature). The fruit from this block will make up the base of LINEAGE | Livermore Valley, and consequently, it needs to be perfect. So, with rain in the forecast, fermentation space at a premium, other varieties to pick, and the knowledge that my most important wine’s forever rests upon the decision I make right now, I dare say that

Clone 30 Cabernet at crush pad

Clone 30 Cabernet at crush pad

the agonizing can reach Shakespearean proportions.

Postscript: I did pull the picking trigger on another small portion of the block, and at the crush pad, at least, the fruit looked and tasted great. We won’t know for a while, though, whether I was blinded by surface beauty to flaws hidden beneath the skin.