November's here and with it the end of the grape harvest. This year we brought in more than nine tons of mostly Pinot Noir grapes from five different vineyards. Now all the juice from that fruit is fermented into wine and safely in barrel, where it will age over the coming year.
Never mind the two barrels of Chardonnay - our first white - that aren't anywhere close to being done fermenting. That's just fine. With reds, we crush the grapes and let things ferment for a few weeks. Then it's time to drain off the new wine, press the skins to get every last drop and put everything in barrel. But with whites, we press the grapes right away and ferment the juice by itself in barrels, ideally over several weeks and even months. With reds, fermentation is relatively quick. With whites, it can (and should) take time. So we'll let that Chard go for a while and see what we get. Think art, science and luck.
Everyone always asks - how was this year? And I'm delighted to say that several people have already heard this was a great year, nearly perfect even. No, that was last year. Nothing we want to go through again, with a very late harvest in unexpectedly dry and mild conditions, but one for the ages. One you can never take for granted. One I trust will reveal itself in time, the wines still so young but so full of potential.
Of course, years like 2011 produce wines I love. Lithe, bright, full of energy, life giving. Years like 2012, with a historically dry growing season and harvest time heat and wind, make lithe, bright and energetic a bit challenging. The silver lining - more people still seem to like richer, fuller wines. If that's you, 2012 should be stellar.
In 2012, my goal as a winemaker was opulence mitigation (stealing a line from a friend). That meant grapes picked while they still had good amounts of acidity to give the wines life. Or fermentations drawn out over a three weeks to produce a broad range of aromas and flavors. And infrequent punch downs to make sure we don't overwork the wines, overmixing things like kneading a dough too much and making tough bread. Riper years like 2012 provide lots of flavor and color in the wines. My goal has been to not push things further still, to preserve the elegance of Pinot Noir while knowing confidently that everything the grapes have will make it into the wine, even with a very gentle touch in the winery.
Sure enough, I have stacks of barrels full of deeply colored, rich but structured wines ready for a winter hibernation. And shouldn't we all be? Harvest is a maddeningly hectic time of decisions and second guessing, organization and luck, hard work and moments of sheer joy. Now that it's done, I want to go somewhere remote and sleep. And sleep. All the way until spring.