Early this week, the fog and rain rolled in like a veil to cover the NapaValley, signaling the end of harvest and the changing of the seasons. Surrounded by a thick mass of clouds, the valley feels insulated from the outside world, as if hibernating in observance of the end of the grapes' journey from vine to winery. Droves of trucks barreling down the highway with back beds stacked with grapes have ceased. The air is damp, still, and quiet. Even the vines themselves seem relieved of their duties and thankful for the moisture. Several weeks after relinquishing their grasp on each grape cluster, bringing their singular task to completion, they now soak up the water and begin the slow fade into winter.
This in-between period immediately following harvest is really an interesting time for the vines.
They still possess a vitality that their time spent fostering and nurturing the grapes affords them but have not yet declined into dormancy. Instead, they perform one final, wondrous transformation--their leaves turn from brilliant green speckled with gold, to a deep, burnt orange that makes the vineyard look like rows of flame. And for that we are thankful!
Enjoy the photos of the vineyard and Happy Thanksgiving from Peju!
All of the picking for Harvest 2012 is officially finished, but the work does not end there. As the focus moves inside of the cellar, it is clear that while the taste of the vineyard does not hinge on following procedure after complicated procedure, it does require some thoughtful decision making about which are the most effective practices for making great wine. These practices often surround treating the grape with care, and avoiding too much manipulation of its flavors. But the thread that seems to run most clearly through Peju’s winemaking philosophy is that the easy way is not always the right way, and there are no shortcuts.
I stumbled upon a perfect example of this as I wandered through the cellar last weekend. There were only a couple of people working back there, and they were responsible for pump-overs, or the process of racking the wine off the skins and then reintroducing it to the grape solids.
A simple pump-over is a vigorous process, one that ultimately tries to achieve maximum flavor extraction and oxidation in a minimal amount of time. At Peju, however, and at many wineries committed to attaining the very best wine from their fruit, this process is done in a more drawn out, gentle fashion referred to as "delestage". Instead of spraying the wine directly back into the same tank, the wine is transferred to a separate vessel and given time to recalibrate and settle down. This complete separation of liquid from solid components not only aerates the wine, but also allows the skins and seeds in the first tank to experience the pull of gravity. With the wine transferred to another tank, the grape solids sink to the bottom, which allows them to compress under their own weight and even extracts more fermenting juice.
When the wine is then reintroduced, it experiences further aeration, and the process is gentler and more thorough than if the wine were racked immediately back over the top.
By repeating these steps throughout the fermentation, the winemaker extracts as much flavor as possible from the tannins, as well as oxidizes the wine just enough to make them more elegant, and less astringent. This makes for a wine that will drink well upon its release, but have a cellar life of up to ten years or more.