Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harvest Interns arrive from Chile! and get put straight to work in the lab.

Lony & Pablo Measuring Grape Samples for Ripeness

Our long-awaited harvest interns arrived this week! Lony and Pablo are a young couple from Chile pursuing careers-slash-lives in Winemaking and Agrobusiness at the Universidad de la Frontera in Temuco. Funny how as an American, I automatically assume one’s ‘career’ and one’s ‘life’ are so inseparably connected. I look forward to getting to know Lony and Pablo and to trying to get a sense of how they view the importance of their ‘careers’ in their lives, what they hope to do with winemaking, and what winemaking means to them. Winemaking is such a rich field in which to pursue one’s ‘Career’ because it attracts people from so many different countries and cultures and experiences for some of the same, few, basic reasons.

Anyway, Lony and Pablo have migrated up to the Northern Hemisphere to work their second harvest of the year.  Another reason pursuing winemaking is so awesome is that it allows you (pretty much requires you) to move back and forth between hemispheres while learning the craft so as to maximize your number of harvest experiences in one year.  I’ll have to ask L & P how the 2011 harvest was in Chile this year, and how they feel about Californian wine! So much fun to talk with Wine People (yes, we are a People) of different countries about what they think of Californian wine, how our style differs from their winemaking traditions, and how the two may or may not be converging as with everything else in this globalizing world...

Squished Grape Samples from EVERY Vineyard Block We Have!
So today, they weighed grapes, noted the color of the ‘pips’ for ripeness (pips = the seeds in the grape berry, and they go from light green to brown as the berries ripen), and measured the sugar content, total acidity, and pH of the berries to see how close they are for the pickin’. Not terribly close apparently. But we’re hoping to bring in our first bit of Chardonnay tomorrow, and our first reds next week! Stay tuned!


Friday, September 23, 2011

Ariana Peju works Harvest 2011!

Ariana Peju's First Yeast Inoculation!
This year, Ariana, youngest of the two Peju daughters and a Proprietor of the company, will be spending two days per week with the Production team working harvest! Last year, it was big sister Lisa who tried her hand at the production side of the business. Now it’s Ariana’s turn to sort grapes, operate pumps, maneuver heavy hoses, sanitize equipment, pump-over the fermenting fruit, and perform all the other simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating harvest-time tasks. Today, she did her first yeast inoculation. From the puff-factor of the foam, we can see she made these yeast very happy.

Here's a quick summary of yeast inoculation: Yeast are delivered to us in dormant, powder form. By adding yeast to just the right amount of water at just the right temperature (between 100 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit), we wake them from their dormant state. At this point, little by little, we add grape juice from the tank they will be pitched into once they reach a close-enough temperature. (Remember, the yeast started at ~103 degrees, and the juice in the tank is around 55 for reds and colder for whites.) As the yeast start metabolizing the sugar in the juice, they become ‘happy’ (very technical winemaking term) and expand. Happy yeast mean a smoother fermentation process with less opportunity for unwanted organisms to find their way in. Ariana’s yeast are looking very happy! Congrats, Ariana, on a successful first inoculation!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It’s Gettin’ Hot Out Here, So Take Off All Your...

...nice clothes, put on your old rags and get ready to get pickin'!  

It’s been hot for 3 days now.  For a long time it was chilly or at least mildly cool in the mornings, hot around noon, and then cool again already by the time work let out in the early evening. For about a week before this current hot spell, it was incontrovertibly cold. A friend and I spoke about how we were suddenly starting to feel the hibernating instinct coming on, and begrudgingly so, as neither of us felt we had suffered nearly enough of what was supposed to be Napa Valley summers’ insufferable heat.

But things are heating up again. Joe, our assistant winemaker, was talking today about the ‘tsunami’ of grapes he was sure would be coming soon. (Tsunami here referring to a relatively fortunate natural ‘onslaught’/inpouring of ripe grapes, for which ultimately we are grateful, however chaotic and stressful it might feel in the moment. N.B. I wish to express my sincere compassion for those that recently suffered the catastrophic tsunami of wind, water, and destruction in Japan.)

So anyway, the point is it might get crazy around here soon if it stays hot and all the grapes ripen at the same time. Stay tuned. Let’s just hope the heat doesn’t spike so suddenly that we lose more crop in addition to what was lost in late spring rains. There could be a wine drought!!  Just kidding, don’t panic yet. I’ll keep you posted. And anyway, we’re Americans. We’re problem solvers and innovative thinkers. We always find a way to get what we want!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good Morning

Usually it’s the aromatic experience of rich, toasty coffee that invites me to join the rest of the world in morning’s wakeful activity. Today, just now, it was the smell of freshly fermenting Sauvignon Blanc that met me as I shuffled into the office after another night of somewhat un-ideal sleep. Deliciously, delicately pungent, it has got to be one of the most beautiful smells in the world. Floral and elegant and enticing, it’s as though nature were creating its own perfume. I hope everyone gets to have/pursues this experience at some point in his or her life. (And why wait?) Sometimes it’s hard for me not to criticize the whole working-in-an-office thing and accompanying sedentary lifestyle that I've led since last harvest—I came out here for winemaking- how did I end up doing Marketing?—but today, it’s hard for me not to appreciate my uncommon and highly agreeable position to be working just a staircase away from the fragrant magic (and science) happening in our cellar of fermenting fruit. 

(And anyway, I get to work Harvest again for a few days a week, so don't get me wrong, I'm pretty stoked about life.)


Pre-Harvest Buzz, About the Author, and Nature is Awesome

From 8/12/11

Wine country is about to erupt into hyperactivity.

It is hard to appreciate in this pre-Harvest moment of calm, collected normalcy just how much is about to happen in the next three months, especially after such a mild, gradual summer/growing season.  This will be my second harvest in the Napa Valley and probably really the second harvest I’ve even known was happening as such. I don’t think I really understood the concept of a harvest until I studied abroad in Senegal in college and spent enough time living outside in a village to be transformed by the experience of living in a way connected to nature.

I grew up in a city. We moved to the country when I was nine, but it was horse country. (Phoenix, Maryland.) Nobody was growing much of anything besides the grass on their front lawn, and mowing was the only tending involved. My parents are well educated people and caring and attentive parents who fed me well and raised me to value being healthy and conscientious about things in general, but still somehow I had no idea how my vegetables came to be. I never actually witnessed a growth cycle of anything non-human. I had no appreciation for how things grew or what it was like to spend quality time outside and with nature.

I know that’s why I appreciate it that much more now. It was like discovering a whole new level of being, to exist in connection to the earth rather than apart from it, floating in isolation- a weird, individual black box of a human sharing space and time with everything around me, but existing separately. Nature grows from the deep and from itself. There’s no start point or end point, no delimitation of existence. It’s all interconnected, and when you tap into it, spend time with it and begin to be able to actually feel the connection, to feel the way that you too are in fact a part of everything that’s going on… well, it’s awesome. The true meaning of that word.

So that’s me. Probably more than I’ll share throughout this blog. But in case you ever wonder who is this person behind the author, here’s a sense! Hello!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Processes & Anticipation

From 8.9.11

They’re coming. Ripe grapes. Ripe, delicious wine grapes, which as soon as they’re picked from the vine will begin on their process of becoming wine. The process-rich nature of winegrowing and winemaking is what draws so many of us to wine.  You can’t fake it. You can’t rush it. You can’t fully control it. You witness it. While the vine and the soil and the weather each exist and change and co-exist and interact, you watch carefully, ready to jump in at any point if human intervention might prove beneficial. You wait for the grapes to grow into themselves, to grow into all they can be, to achieve a dynamic harmony between acids and sugars and skin to pulp ratio and a million other aspects/indicators of optimum maturity that we in many cases don’t have a better way of testing for (yet?) than with our amazingly evolved but little understood palate.

It can be a multi-million dollar betting game to make the decision of when to pick. The myriad different indicators of ripeness will never all be exactly where you want them at exactly the same time, and you never know what the weather will bring if you wait. Some years betting against time and weather is trickier than others.  This year has shown us a long, steady, gradual ripening and a smaller-than-usual yield due to rains late into spring. The winemakers seem highly optimistic about this year’s fruit, which is pretty exciting. When you hear prominent winemakers in the Valley saying things like, “This year might deliver the best crop of fruit in a long time,” it’s easy to get caught up in the hopefulness of what might be to come. What will happen this harvest?! Will the fruit continue to ripen gradually, making possible the creation of stunningly complex, elegant, balanced wines? Or will the weather take some unexpected turn to the detriment of the crop? Or will it be a moderately exciting harvest with minor issues and no particularly noteworthy circumstances, leaving us somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed after the build-up of pre-Harvest fantasizing and curiosity? Is this even possible? Can’t wait for the tale to begin to unfold… What will I be writing over the next few days, weeks and months? Only time will tell…


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day One - The Sauvignon Blanc has arrived.

The crew was up at 3am this morning at Persephone Vineyard to harvest Sauvignon Blanc from the Athena block on the north side.  A total of 8 tons made their way to the crush pad this morning for the first crush of the season. This year, we will be picking almost exclusively "at night" (in the wee hours of the morning), so that the fruit gets processed while it's still cold. Sara Fowler, our winemaker, is very excited about this new practice, which will ensure that the juice goes into the tank at its freshest, and has nearly no opportunity to oxidize.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011