Saturday, September 20, 2014

Winemaker's Notebook

Today there is no harvest. No pressing. No ice change. No bottling. No heat wave. Just an easy punch down for the last batch of fermenting Aglianico grapes. For a moment, I don't know what to do. What is this? Free time?

Is the fog in my head from being a Zombie Winemaker lifting? During my zombiehood last week I watched Netflix videos of Himalayan expeditions to relax. Winemaking = Climbing Mt. Everest.

Today is irrigation day. The last big drip for the vines. Two hours of water yesterday blended with a cocktail of organic nutrients and enzymes to promote healthy roots. Another two hours this morning - which became three hours since I started writing this. That's it for water - no more - except for the baby vines who will get one final drink before bedtime.  The deep deep watering we did last Fall helped the vines get through this year's drought. Same strategy again next year. Already taking steps to make next year's harvest fruitful. Must order compost.

Our water bill for August was $150. I cut the water to raise the Tempranillo sugars.  My neighbor, who has no vines, no agriculture, has a bill over $200. Just sayin' ... yes, we're using water, but ....

As I walk by vines with fading and fallen leaves, canes emerge from once thick foliage. I lift my fingers as clippers and make practice air-cuts that will be made five months from now in February when we prune. I bend a long cane imagining it as a new cordon arm next year and begin stretching it down along the wire.

For weeks, I've been doing everything to keep the winery - a converted garage - cool during the heat wave where temperatures topped 100 degrees outside last week. Who invented the phrase "It's only dry heat"?  I'd like to employee that person outside here. The winery has an air conditioner. The house - and our cars - do not. Today, the morning temperature in the winery is 62 degrees from the natural cool air outside. I begin thinking "Hmm, I better let it warm up to 70 degrees today in the winery to encourage malolatic fermentation" of the new wine.

Yesterday, the spray guy came to do an injection into the irrigation line. I showed him how to cut off water from the new backflow device when he finished so I could head off to my daytime job to earn money to pay him.  "Is that the one you replaced after the building contractor broke it?" he asked. I nodded.  "And he charged you for a new one after breaking your old back flow device?"
"Some people."
"What would you have done?"
"Make him pay."
I remained silent for a moment and said, "It reminds me of the story of a man responsible for spraying a vineyard and he missed some spots and mildew grew.  The vineyard owner summoned the man to show him where he had missed and where there was a mildew infestation.  The spray guy went and bought some materials and came back and resprayed the area - charging the vineyard owner for his mistake." Silence..... I saved his life again by not strangling him on the spot.

Three generations from 82 to 5 years old helped pick the Petit Sirah, The patriarch accomplished something never before seen in this vineyard: with one motion he did a double-click and cut his hand with clippers in two places. Not a good idea for a Coumadin patient.  He survived and in two years we'll be drinking the blood of the vine at communion. Thank goodness I'm not a chip off the old finger.

All nephew Luke could say when he visited was "Uncle Craig, I hope we see a snake" and "Uncle Craig, where are the snakes?" She finally appeared the day after he left. A mathuesula. An 8-footer with over a dozen bands around the rattle cooling off under a Grenache vine the day we were planning to start picking our loveliest grapes. It guess it takes leviathan snakes a while to travel when called. She sure took her time leaving the Grenache as she sauntered into the riparian canyon next to our vineyard. My 1,000 year old cultivated snake friend from China, no doubt, who wished a few words with me.

This is the year we implemented night time harvests - at 6pm as the heat from the day passed we started picking grapes. The advantage to this was to get a headstart on the next morning's work - and - to give us a chance to photograph and pick some vines before the mad rush of the harvest and looking after the guests.  Do you know how hard it is to pick your own grapes while managing a harvest? We brought the grapes down the hill and let them cool overnight outside - or if the temperatures were not dropping that evening brought them into the winery and let the air conditioner run all night.  After the harvest and crush, my job was to drive into town to fetch blocks of dry ice - up to 20 lbs. - to cool down the grapes.  After the dry ice treatment, the next day and for a few days thereafter we added blocks of ice from the freezer - in water jugs. One of the daily routines is to change the ice in the morning and the evening. Could an ice bath be the secret to great wine?

Bottling wine is sure going faster this year - from not having to trip over the dog. Still, we miss him. During the harvest, we encouraged his ghost to eat all the grapes he wanted. Do dogs dream of eating grapes?

My vineyardmobile is approaching 300,000 miles and she says when it goes she wants to buy a truck. "I thought you wanted a Jaguar."
"No one will buy me a Jaguar."
"I bought your teeth." Her dentist bills cost more than a Jaguar. Unfortunately, he doesn't work for wine.

Did you hear about the winery in California being sued by the state for using unpaid volunteers? It seems wineries that pay their people complained about wineries that use volunteers because of an unfair cost advantage. Both the state and the wage paying wineries have it wrong. There's an old saying "there's nothing more expensive than free" and we've proven it in our vineyard. When we total the cost of food we prepare for people who help us at harvest - not to mention the time preparing it - we would save so much money hiring day laborers. For the record, if anyone from the state is reading this, we do pay our help. They work for wine.

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