October 20, 2012

The dog days of harvest

We're three weeks into harvest and it feels like summer in August. I don't mean it's warm, no, autumn is clearly here. It's just that some things are incredibly good. Some things are getting a bit old. And some things are sweeter as the season's days slowly start drawing to a close. Just like that August feeling, when you're mixed on the passing of time.

All the fruit for my winery is in for the season. I figure I'll have around 20 barrels of Pinot Noir in addition to the two barrels of Chardonnay, which incidentally was actively fermenting on its own in barrel as well as in a couple glass carboys of extra wine that I have. Nice to see foam on the surface of the juice. Smells clean and fresh. I can't wait to have my first commercially available white wine.

Meanwhile, my six fermentors of red wine have been similarly native and active. I don't add yeast to the grapes, instead letting fermentation spontaneously occur. It's never failed. This year the ferments have been a little too vigorous. I found it interesting to hear a colleague suggest the ferments are faster with higher pHs in the juice, meaning the yeast are happier in a lower acid solution. Makes sense. One fermentor of Armstrong Vineyard is done but I'm letting it hang around for a few days while two others from Armstrong finish up. I'll press them together.

The three others are at or just past the peak of fermentation. After we mostly destem the grapes, we let them sit untouched for several days until the native yeasts build in number. Then once the fermentor is putting off enough carbon dioxide to really notice, we punch down the fermentors once a day, twice if the temperature gets a little high. Punching down meaning mixing the grapes skins and juice around to release CO2 and heat and keep the top of the mixture fresh and clean.

I'm cautiously optmistic for the wines from 2012. It's too early to say how they will be, but the first finished fermentor is nice, with good density to the flavors and nice texture from the skins. I do know that I'll be really glad to drain and press all these fermentors, then clean and fill all my barrels in the following few days. At that point, I'll be done with harvest. And that's going to be in about ten days.

I love harvest, but that's something that has taken time to set in with me. I can't wait until it's done each year, but I'm working like a dog and I've found I enjoy it.

October 11, 2012

Harvest continues

I admit it. I wrote off the SF Giants in my last post. Now they've done the unthinkable and beaten the Reds three games in a row to take their series. According to Giantdynamics, harvest continues.

It turns out that all my Pinot Noir is already in the winery. I had thought the last of it would come in Wednesday, the day I supposed would be the end of the Giants season. Instead, conditions allowed for everything remaining to come in Monday, which worked out wonderfully.

So I'm all in, right? Wrong. I'm making a small amount of Chardonnay this year and that's coming in tomorrow. I'm getting two barrels of chard juice from another winery, just enough to play with for the winter. I've made Chardonnay before but not for a while and not for my commercial label. I'm curious to work with it.

What's in the winery, you might wonder? Six 1.5 ton fermentors full of Oregon Pinot Noir. Three of the bins are from various blocks in Armstrong Vineyard, from Ribbon Ridge. The 115 came in on Oct 2, then the 667 and Pommard came in Oct 6. Brix was a bit high here and acid a touch low, but the ripeness is terrific. It's way too early to tell, but I'd guess the wine here ends up brooding and rich.

My other three fermentors are one each from three different sites in the Eola Hills. All of these grapes came in October 8. Zenith was also a bit ripe and lower in acid than I'd like. Bjornson from higher up in the hills had similar ripeness but stronger natural acidity. And my newest site, Crowley Station, showed the cool west side of the Eola Hills with just 23 brix and 3.35 pH. Fairly ripe in a less warm year but downright modest this year. I'm excited.

At this point, only the Armstrong 115 has begun to ferment. I did 17% whole cluster in that bin, my first experiment with fermenting intact grape clusters amid the crushed grapes and juice. The others are just hanging out in various states of pre-fermentation purgatory, the waiting place.

Lately there's a nice lull in harvest, as a friend put it today. The weather looks grim for the next several days. Glad I just about have everything picked. And Giantdynamics be damned. Here's hoping the Giants can continue their dominance., because I hope the Giants run continues long after all the grapes are picked. Sometimes you have to deviate from the plan.

October 07, 2012

October returns

It's October again and harvest is on. Already I have half my Pinot Noir in the winery, with the rest coming Monday and Wednesday. But more on that later. First I need to look back a bit, in wine and baseball.

I wrote earlier this year about October 7, 2001, when I first made my own wine. I suppose this could be the eleventh birthday of Vincent Wine Company. It was the final day of the San Francisco Giants season and began my pseudo-scientific theory of Giantdynamics where grape picking should happen on the last day of the Giants' season. I haven't figured out if that day should be the start of picking, or the end, or the height, or just a day you want to make sure you bring in grapes.

Where did this theory come from? 2002. Giantdynamics seemed to happen by accident in 2001, then history repeated itself in 2002 and I saw a pattern. Only, I found myself picking on the final day of the infamous 2002 World Series, when the Giants lost Game 7 and the Series after leading big and losing Game 6 the night before.

This was my heartbreaking moment in baseball, as a fan anyway. I grew up an LA Dodger fan in the 1970s and 1980s. Who was my favorite Dodger? Dusty Baker, the same Johnnie "Dusty" Baker who managed the Giants in 2002, long after my conversion to the SF club. I loved it. My favorite Dodger, my original "guy," Dusty managed my favorite team.

Only Baker went to the mound in the 7th inning of Game 6 in 2002 and took out a dominant Russ Ortiz, and HE GAVE ORTIZ THE GAME BALL! I don't normally say this kind of thing, but that was an omen. That was a move against all that could possibly be good. I screamed at the tv "No! What are you doing??" Obviously it had no effect. The game wasn't over, far from it. The 5-0 lead quickly became a 6-5 loss, and the next day I picked grapes. And the Giants season ended.

So what are Giantdynamics? Essentially, good Giant seasons might be consistent with late harvests. Think 2002 and 2010. With the Giants playing late into October, so the grapes may have to wait. Then there are years like this year, a good to great year but one that is rapidly ending. Hot weather late in the growing season has rushed the onset of harvest. Meanwhile, the Giants easily made the playoffs only to be sitting down 0-2 in a best of 5 series against the Reds. And who's managing the Reds these days. My guy. Johnnie "Dusty" Baker, who somehow ended up in Cincy.

So I'm picking Monday and Wednesday this week. Looks like Wednesday would be Game 4 in the series, if it goes that far. I'm guessing it does, only to end that night, with all the grapes just in the barn and everything right in the realm of Giantdynamics.

October 01, 2012

Sauvage at Fausse Piste

After my new wine release event at the new SE Wine Collective the other day, a great friend from out of town and I went to Sauvage for incredibly good food and interesting wine, meeting up with his sister for a while. We managed to end up in the back with Jesse, where he's busy making his well regarded Fausse Piste wines from the 2012 harvest.

First Sauvage. If you haven't been here, go. Now. I'd heard good things from very reliable sources, and they remain reliable. We had a variety of dishes like wonderfully fresh beet salad, top quality oysters, the most tender boar ribs ever, pheasant, lentils Le Puy, all incredibly good.

Then there is the wine list. Fifty selections, all well picked, all available by the glass, all amazingly priced. Oysters? How about Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet? For $5 a glass. How about meaty Cotes du Rhone from Eric Texier for just $9 a glass? It was great with the ribs. This place is a new favorite, not just for the prices. It's simply exactly what a restaurant should be, serving top quality food.

So Jesse Skiles is a chef and is the one behind Sauvage. He's also a winemaker of his label Fausse Piste, literally in the back of the house. I'd seen Jesse earlier at our winery, and sure enough he came by his place later to check on his ferementers. We tasted from a few, lots of whole cluster syrah from Washington picked at lower sugars than most, with good natural acidity.

Then Jesse showed us his skin fermented viognier, a few fermenters worth, that was exotic and appropriately structured. He's taking a very low intervention approach with everything he's doing and the results are delicious. I'm really excited he's now making his wines in Portland.

A restaurant and winery at SE 5th and Ash in Portland. You should definitely check this place out.