Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Vineyard Gets Its Hairs Cut

It's pruning season all over the valley. The vineyards, which have been slumbering in dormancy since late November/early December, are now completely dormant and ready to be pruned. Today, the vineyard crew systematically works their way from one end of the vines to the other at a steady pace, talking coolly, quietly, and rhythmically among themselves to pass the time. These were some of my most favorite moments when I worked on the tiny vineyard in France- finding myself in a whole new type of conversation, one with a different tempo, rhythm and beat. It's conversation for the sake of conversation, rather than for conveying a point or winning an argument. Conversation whose primary purpose is to entertain/amuse/pass the time. Spending the entire day working with your hands and your eyes (your senses) and requiring less production/output with your intellectual mind allows a different way of relating to your coworkers. You're not passing in the hallway making quick jokes as you cross going different directions to different ends. You're spending the whole day in the uninterrupted company of your coworkers, outside, conversing casually and genuinely with no pressure to say anything particular at any given time.

We prune to limit the number of grape clusters the vine will produce, ultimately to limit that vintage's yield or to balance the vine. At Peju, we prune to have only two grape clusters at hand-distance intervals on the vines, varying slightly by age and size of the vine. This ensures that the vines concentrate their energy to produce two high quality fruit clusters rather than many lower quality (less concentrated, 'flabby') fruit clusters.

Winemakers have to be vigilant about when they choose to prune, as pruning often nudges the grapevine to awaken from dormancy and inspires bud-break not long after. The key here is not to get bud-break before the morning frosts of Spring have ceased.

Rains can continue until the cows come home, but morning frosts are not our friend. Luckily our Rutherford location usually spares us much worry. The threat of damaging frosts is low in our prime Rutherford real estate.

Before (left) and After (right)
One Tangled Rod at a Time

Friday, January 6, 2012

Exercise Your Taste Buds

Winemaker Sara Fowler tasted through sixty different barrel lots of the 2009 and 2010 red wines in our cellar yesterday. She called it "checking in with the wine." What was she checking for?

"I'm checking to see how the wine is maturing, how it's progressing, and to see if any of the individual barrels need attention."

Sixty glasses of wine lined the Production office. Incredulous, I asked her how she could possibly maintain the ability to taste the subtleties in numbers fifty through sixty (or even after #20). She chuckled and said,

"Sixty is nothing! I used to have to taste hundreds of wines in a day at one of the other wineries where I've worked. I'll just take a break after the first thirty, do something else for a couple of hours, and then come back to the last thirty."

At Peju, we age our Napa Valley tier reds for 16-18 months, and our Reserve wines for 26 months, so at this time, Sara is tasting through the 2009 Reserves and 2010 Napa Valley tier reds.

"The 2009 Reserves are dee-licious!" She says with glee. Our Reserves are Cabernet Franc- and Cabernet Sauvignon-predominant Bordeaux blends made exclusively from fruit grown certified organically on our Rutherford Estate. "Though each barrel will impart slightly different flavor characteristics-- and we purchase barrels from several different cooperages for this reason-- all the 2009 reserve wines themselves are full of rich, ripe, dark fruit flavors. 2009 was the last great year before the trickier two to follow, but I've been pleasantly surprised at the way the 2010's are tasting today, as well."

"I have the best job in the world," Sara said, as I turned to leave. "It just doesn't get much better than making wine in the Napa Valley. I can't wait to play with these delicious [barrel] lots and start blending later this month!"