Poetry in a bottle, and all the hard work that goes into it

Opening a bottle, pouring yourself a glass, sensing the complex aromas and flavors, the velvety texture: that’s the pleasure of wine.

But to get there, it’s good to remember just how much hard work has been put in by everyone that’s hard at work in the vineyards and cellars. As Wayne Young writes on the Bastianich Winery blog:

There’s  romantic misconception about the harvest… Grape Picking. Most people imagine lovely ladies in sun-dresses happily carrying their wicker baskets of beautiful fruit through the vineyards…

I would rather spend 8 hours in the cellar working with tanks and pumps and hoses, than 4 hours picking grapes. It’s messy, buggy, sticky, hot, nasty work.

Wayne has been doing a great job giving a sense of what harvest is all about, by describing everything from the equipment and how it’s used to fermentation, grape varieties, the method of drying grapes by appassimento, wasp attacks and the quick onset of a storm, just as fresh grapes are waiting to be brought into the winery. In other words, the messy, buggy, sticky, hot, nasty work, and everything that’s great and thrilling about it.

There’s a whole bunch of winery blogs that put out ongoing harvest reports, and the good ones are really, really great reads, if you want to get a true feeling of what that incredible rush of work – and work, and work – is all about. The folks at Michel Schlumberger do a wonderful job of maintaining what they call the Benchland Blog, which comprises great entries with photos and videos of the various steps in the whole process of the grape harvest. I particularly liked an entry called “Every Tank Full” where you can find out more about the stress of watching all your fermentations going on and crossing your fingers that some of they will be done by the time you need to bring in the next grapes. Also loved the one about the harvest excuses that you can use to justify lateness, absence, etc. And the fact that the harvest workers drank beer and tequila at the end of harvest party.

At A Donkey and Goat – a winery I can’t wait to visit next week, after the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma – the blog takes on more technical questions like dealing with smoke taint in rosé grapes or the two types of lees in chardonnay must, even as it showcases fun videos of stomping and sorting, and a particularly eloquent clip of a wild fermentation going overboard and foaming all over the tank. For anyone doubting that wild yeasts can do the job and that inoculation is mandatory, take a good look at that, and at The Twisted Oak Winery blog’s picture of petite syrah gone wild.

Speaking of wild fermentations, that’s also what’s going on at the Scott Paul winery, whose excellent blog I discovered thanks to Craig Camp of the Wine Camp blog (who, himself, has written great entries about the 2008 harvest in Oregon). Well-written, cogent, clear, the Scott Paul blog is a very good read, and shows just how compressed things can get at harvest time: everything was picked and brought in within 11 days, at Scott Paul, and in the midst of that, the crew had to deal with a busted motor that just stopped everything in its tracks on October 11. Quickly fixed, thankfully, and everything has apparently worked out fine afterwards. If it wasn’t for the small yields, everything would be perfect.

You might also want to take a look at the Hugel Blog, where Étienne Hugel does a precise, technically detailed presentation of the harvest season in Alsace, complete with potential alcohol figures and maturity levels… and even a map of the vineyards called Hugel Earth. It may not be as personalized, in terms of vineyard and cellar experience, as others, but it’s well-done – and also one of a few French blogs to be available in English.

The other interesting English-from-France blog I’ve seen so far is the one from Perrin et Fils, the family behind Beaucastel and a whole range of wonderful Rhône Wines. Just seeing the video of gnarly, magnificent pre-phylloxera grenache vines in Gigondas is worth checking it out.

The Perrins, incidentally, are partners in Tablas Creek, an excellent Paso Robles winery that also has one of the greatest winery blogs on the net. Entries for the 2008 harvest are complete, informative, and may also tend to induce empathic stress, when you read that, after the rollercoaster of spring frosts and heat waves, some vineyards in that part of the Central Coast are dealing with early frosts, well before harvest is completed. 2008 is one unusual year in California, with many producers reporting very healthy grapes but lower sugar levels and smaller yields. A challenge for winemakers, but I reckon the best should be able to work out wines with a lot of finesse and great flavors. We’ll see about that in the next couple of years.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted November 20, 2008 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    Outstanding post, really dug it!

  2. Posted November 21, 2008 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

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