Today feels like the fall season is definitely upon us. Now that we are into October, I am faintly remembering, through the fog of this crazy 2020 year, that these waning days of sunlight and temperature are some of my favorite of the annual cycle. Ready or not, leaves are bursting into vibrant color and falling to the ground to decay and become soil. Spider webs hang heavy, adorned with dewy jewel-like droplets of morning mist. Fog and crisp air dominate the beginning of the day and the afternoons are sunny and warm. But the light has definitely changed. Deep, dark blue skies are gone and are replaced with a paleness that is lovely, but also something that is not warm nor building towards any crescendo other than the impending winter. We are in the descent of daylight, and readying for the colder, darker, wetter days to come. Chanterelles and other delicious mushrooms are poking up. Stew pots are getting scrubbed, cleaned, and readied for rich and savory hot meals. Light and fresh garden fare like tomatoes and greens are now replaced by root vegetables and meaty game. Braises, dried herbs, reductions, and stocks are back…It is now Pinot Noir’s true season. This is where she shines the brightest.
With the end of harvest also comes the end of the warm season and a bittersweet adieu to the summertime days. I have fond memories of this summer: Caroline in our gardens and on the vineyard properties, picking Chamomile and Verbena to dry for tea infusions, making jams out of the raspberries, blackberries, plums, and figs! She made black currant liqueur (also called Crème de Cassis in Burgundy). She macerated chive blossoms in vinegar to make a wonderfully aromatic addition to summer cucumber and squash salads and so many other recipes. We live and learn through experiences. The summer salads of tomatoes, basil, blackberries, and fresh garlic from the gardens with local cheeses and our homemade breads were magical, and they were our only dinner for about a month’s time. We sat up at the vineyard and watched the sunsets each and every day that we could, and I will always remember those moments as unspoiled, pure, and beautiful, and for the happiness that they brought in a vacuum in the midst of what otherwise has been total chaos and madness.
We have now taken most of our harvested wines to barrel, and I can report that we feel fortunate for our particular situation. The Chardonnays are bright and lively, and also have a precocious flinty and saline minerality to them which I am very happy about. But, with 18 months of aging in front of them, there is still a big story to be told with time. In short, the raw materials on the white wines are solid.
The Pinot Noirs are bright and freshly fruited with great primary aromas and textures, but they are also very young and therefore hard to assess at this time although optimism dominates here. Because we had to change our entire approach in 2020 to try to avoid any influence the smoke might have had by harvesting early, promoting early fermentations, minimizing extraction techniques like punch-downs, pump-overs, and/or delestage, we finished fermentations in 5-7 days versus what is, historically, a much longer fermentation. Am I happy with the results? Yes. Do we have a few wines that smell slightly like barbecued meat? Yes. But, we have many wines that are potentially thrilling. We must all stand arm in arm with those who had small successes and those who had existential sadness this year. 2020 cannot be a year that divides this valley or divides the wine consumer’s thoughts on the quality of this valley’s vintage. Let us not forget that our friends in Napa and Sonoma, California have had a much more terrible year, with vineyards, wineries, and businesses that have burned to the ground.
We will all remember this vintage as one of the craziest in our lifetimes up to this point. I don’t want to ever see one like it again, but perhaps it has been a great teacher for the future. A future that must face the reality of growing wine in a changing and warming climate that we are not working hard enough to reverse. This is part of the climate change problem, my friend!
It is really difficult to accurately depict, in words or in images, a harvest (much less one like this). I have talked about this before with previous blog entries. My full-time team craves the harvest as if they were born for this and that is why I love them so much. I feel the same way. This is our moment to shine. Our interns show up, with their youthful anticipation, for an event that might open a door to a lifelong professional journey or simply just to fill a bank account, helping them on their way to something else. They leave as a family, tethered to this place forever. What happens to all of us as we plan, stage, strategize, clean, sort, select, ferment, extract, worry, press, and rack each of our 120+ harvested lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for 7 days a week, 15-18 hours a day, for over 30-50 straight days is indescribable and melds us forever. It is easy to say that everyone remembers their first harvest. But truthfully, every winemaker remembers each and every harvest because they are just that special to us. A lucky winemaker has the opportunity to craft 20-40 vintages, and when your life can be summed up in 20-40 wines, that makes each and every one of those years special and remarkable in their own way.
As I take a step back and look at my team and what we have accomplished this year, I can’t help but reflect in wonder on their character, strength, and tenacity. During the stressful days of the forest fires, as we stood together in a winery without water or electricity, wearing face masks and headlamps (at noon!), we all could have easily freaked out, and I think we all saw that point of possibility in each other’s eyes. Instead, everyone buckled down and got to work, and made happen what needed to happen. For ten days, in dense smoke, we worked with dedication. The wine had to be made quickly, yet delicately, with an eye for maximizing the vintage’s very strange and stressful circumstances. Our interns had no idea what they were stepping into this year, but they just rolled up their sleeves, worked their butts off, and stayed positive, and for that, I am so grateful. If they go on to make wine someday, they will have great stories to tell their future interns someday.