Although this wasn't a drought-year for winegrowers in Southern California, I let the late harvest Zinfandel hang a little too long, yielding a mere 350 lbs. My reaction was, is that all? I was expecting close to 1,000 lbs. But, perhaps it was a nice miss? Because with all those concentrated raisins, I could try to replicate the legendary Elixir of Love I had heard about, and, go one step further by fortifying the sweet wine with barrel-aged brandy salvaged from the remnants of the Bootlegger's Express.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it's reprinted here, with permission from the publisher, from the forthcoming novel About That Wine I Gave You.
"Paul’s strategy for making good wine in the vineyard during the time of drought was to allow grapes to ripen quickly and harvest early, unlike “normal” years when he tried to lengthen gestation by irrigating to lower acids, keep sugars from rising too high, and prevent grapes from shriveling during a heat wave. In theory, harvesting early was a good approach for less acidic grapes with higher pHs, such as his Tempranillo, but not with the Zinfandel and Aglianico, which had high acid and needed a longer ripening period (and irrigation) to bring the acids down. To ration his water, Paul sacrificed the Zin, diverting their water to other varietals. The Zin harvest was a meager 200 lbs. and only produced ten gallons of wine – forty-eight bottles of the sweetest elixir and worth its weight in gold, considering all the expense he incurred producing it. He named it Jayne’s Port, because he would travel 3,000 miles for a taste of this wine as he would for a taste of her lips, and whenever he returned home from his travels, he poured himself a dram as a welcome-home libation. He sent Jayne a bottle with this letter:
I just returned from Seattle where it rained every day and I feared my dried-out bones would melt in that Emerald City, suffering the fate of the Wicked Witch who liquidated faster than Tillamook cheese squeezed between bread in a searing panini grill. I walked along Lake Union’s docks admiring the yachts, taking notes for the time we visit together, rent one for the weekend, and putter up Puget Sound.
As the waters open, you slip into a wetsuit and into the waves and into skis and the boat accelerates pulling you up and you crisscross the wake of Orcas who clear a path for you through the sea. You pull yourself onto the boat and we cruise further north, threading the needle between Whidbey and Camano Islands into Skagit Bay and into La Conner where we dock, debark, and dine with Tom Robbins, with whom we discuss the adventures of two star-crossed water molecules as they travel through the circulatory system of a vine, become separated, end up in different grapes, then, are reunited in the wine, separated again when the wine is poured into different glasses (why can’t they just hang onto each other?), and through a miraculous kiss, are rejoined when our lips meet.
The next morning we return to Seattle, filling our ice chest with salmon we catch from trolling lines, pass through the Ballard Locks where you toss a fish to the Sea Lion barking louder than Bluey, on to Lake Union, and return to port, where we share a special wine, aptly named port, to commemorate the journey.
About that wine I gave you … grown in the time of drought, vinted from concentrated Zinfandel grapes dying of thirst, when crushed, extracting juice was harder than squeezing blood from a stone. We let the sugars in the grapes rise over 36 brix, a preponderance them wrinkling, many into full-fledged raisins. During the coldsoak bath after picking, the brix of the must, assaulted by an onslaught of raisin sugar bombs, rose above the scale, off the charts, through the stratosphere, over 40 brix, resulting in the darkest, most concentrated, luscious, thick, chewy, syrupy, elixir ever. I’m not allowed to name it after the sweet wines of the Iberian peninsula, but I shall call it port, because when returning to my home base after so many travels, this is my go-to welcome-home beverage, a tender taste on my lips, I imagine as sweet as yours, and, to honor my muse for all your encouragement, I’ve christened it with your precious name, Jayne, and in the fullness of time, may my home-base be called the same as this wine, the Port of Jayne.
Behold, a bottle of Jayne’s Port. May it please you and fill you with fond memories of our times together in the past and in the future.
(C) Copywrite 2020, Craig Justice, All Rights Reserved