We crushed the Elke's Pinot Noir today which brought my first trip out with a truck load of stems. I use the stems for erosion control in the vineyard, particularly in some of the steep road sections that get a lot of traffic during the season. I then took a walk around the vineyard tasting everything that I could to get a sense for how ripe everything is in advance of the much-heralded rain we've been promised. This photo is a pretty sunset but also the harbinger of, now today's, rain. Sprinkles, really, but tell that to a Zinfandel, Pinot or Chardonnay grower and see what face they make.
On my walk through the vineyard, which I try to get into a data-processor mode, my mind is usually racing along on two levels. One is the taste-sight-feel of the grapes, the other is closer to the muse going nuts as I'm absorbed in the data mode. The thread really started as I finished spreading the Pinot stems out in the vineyard avenue. The stuff that comes out the back of the destemmer tells a story, in this case those durned heat waves that we had this year. Our destemmer does a great job of ejecting most of the stuff that we don't want to go into the fermenter. In this case, shriveled-up grapes from the various heat events went with the stems, rather gratifying when it looks about the same proportion as the fruit going IN to the destemmer.
So? Yea? Well, the timing of harvest is so key to the winemaking process and a very late year like this one compresses all of the options. A little rain narrows things, a big hot north wind does the same in the other direction. A late year reduces the window for equivocating (bane of the vineyard manager, to borrow from my last post). The winemaker's job is to take all of these realities and optimize, based on their stylistic leanings. The muse caught me for a moment and I thought about all the basic definable parameters: pH, sugar at harvest, type and length of fermentation, choice of oak cooperage, tannin level, microbial array (yeast, ML bacteria, sanitation), and a biggie -- the propensity of specific vineyard characteristics, aka terrior.
Each of these macro parameters are then agonized over for the course of winemaking and each winemaker leans this way and that as they go dealing with each parameter as it comes. Given one's druthers, each winemaker could almost be identified like voice-recognition technology by the results of his or her choices along the way. The differences may be minute or huge, but chances are, there would be a discernible pattern for resultant pH (firmness of texture), sugar at harvest and, shall we say, "adjustments" (alcohol level, relative "heat" and body), notes of oak, firmness of tannin, complexity due to fermentation regime (clean, funky, complex, typicity or how it fits in the varietal/category) and the terrior is the initial starting point.
All of this led to a notion of how each parameter contributes to the overall wine almost like how single notes form a chord. This has struck me before, and probably other writers throughout history, but that notion that, given the proper detection equipment and database, a mystery wine could almost be attributed to a winemaker and/or house style. I guess that's why the Master of Wine program is so difficult because that is exactly their ultimate goal and there are quite a few wines out there, if you haven't noticed.
Fall is a great time to visit, by the way. There is eye candy all over the place, fermentation aromas and lots of action. See our website to make an appointment if you're not asleep already from these musings.