A Tale of Two Harvests

I know you have been waiting for some updates, but there have been a couple of things contributing to my silence.  For one, I am living in a camp site with virtually no cell service, and, more importantly, this is a very confusing harvest, so I haven't exactly known what to tell you. I will shelve the camp thing for now with the promise that I will expand on that later (really, I promise, I want to explain), but I will concentrate on this crazy harvest.

The question for everyone is "how is your harvest going?" This year, there is a pronounced accent on "your" that has a different meaning.  Yes, every harvest is different and carries its own challenges, but this is "a year of extremes," according to one grower, who is convinced it can produce great wine, "if the wine maker knows what to do."The growers have worked with heavy rains and extreme heat, but with so many different microclimates, so grapes have been picked and are in barrel, and others have not yet been touched.

I have always been told that the magic happens in the vineyard, but for the first time, I am talking to the growers, and they are telling a slightly different story.   All of this suggest to me that growers appreciate wine makers as much as wine makers do the growers.  It is likely that my scope has been limited because I am most often in the winery.  My trip to France in the spring took me into the vineyards much more, and so on my return to Napa, I have been interested in talking to the growers, too.  My conclusion is that there is a shared respect between growers and wine makers, one that creates an interesting dance between the two--they expect a lot from each other.  Some vintages are easier than others, and this one is proving challenging.  The growers have done their best in this difficult vintage, heavy spring rains and extreme summer heat.  Many growers encouraged early picking, and I thought the same to avoid high alcohol levels, but what I am learning is that it is much more complicated than that. You have to consider Ph and acidity, but more than all of that, you have to know how it tastes.

I always go back to the analogy of cooking, and if your ingredients do not taste good, your food won't either.  This is where the fine line between growing and making wine is traversed because this is not as easy to see, but think about it this way, you don't want to cook with the same tomato that you want to put in a salad.  The fruit is different.  I think the same is true for grapes.  I may have made a mistake with my grenache, but it is too early to tell. (I can say that the 2016 is tasting pretty good, which makes me happy.) For now, the fermentation is still happening, and I have fingers crossed.  I decided to 100% whole cluster this year, to see what that will produce.  My hope is that the complexity of flavor will add to the fruitiness of the grenache.  Right now, it is time to press, alcoholic fermentation is nearly done and ML has begun...it tastes weird, can't lie, but we will see.  The grapes tasted juicy and delicious, with good balance of acid and some interesting lingering flavors on the back palate, but the skins were so light.  My wine looks like rose right now, which is okay, but I wasn't making a rose!

I was in a vineyard with a grower last week, she put some grapes in my hand and said, "taste my cabernet sauvignon."  I was confused, where's the wine, I joked, but no, for her that is her cabernet sauvignon.  I put the grapes in mouth, and she instructed me to chew for a while.  Taste the fruit, but then wait, chew on the skins and the seeds.  She asked me what I thought.  It was obvious, the burst of fruit was great, but there was nothing else.  "Exactly what the wine will taste like, if I pick now," she said.  So she is waiting, still.

So much to learn.  My grenache went to press, and it is...well, it is weird, but that does not mean bad.  I will wait and see, but I am learning that patience is necessary. And, with that new found skill, I will wait for the "second" harvest and see what that will give us, for me, it is only the best of times.