Today was one of those perfect harvest days where there are way too many things to do in the number of hours available and yet the day – in its perfect wisdom – opens itself felicitously to allow everything to be squeezed in and the day to start and to end in bookended balance.
I arrived at the winery at 5:30 am to do my morning routine. My winemaking team is the best in the business, we divide the day into 3 parts so that the business of tannin extraction happens equally over the course of 24 hours. I like to wake up early so I take the morning shift.
Right now, we have 22 different fermenters giving shape to the fruit that is in them. Each of them is like a separate world, with a plastic cover for the sky and the plastic walls, the various hemispheres. We use our senses, nose mostly at this point in the year, to make sure that each fermentation is proceeding as trouble-free as possible. Consequently, one of the first things I do each morning is to make sure that each box smells the way it should. Plastic lids get lifted; I stick my nose into each one and smell the beautiful ballet of fresh fruit taking on the complex aromatics of that fruit becoming wine. If that ballet is marred in any way, I take steps to get things back on track.
On those mornings in which we have new crushed fruit in-house, like today, it is my job to add yeast to those boxes to start fermentation. Today, I prepared yeast, much like making fresh bread, for five different fermenters. This process takes about 1.5 hours. As I was tempering yeast, I was using a tool called a “DMA” to track where older bins are in terms of fermentation progress…I check Brix levels and fermentation temperatures to make sure that we are on track. As I draw samples for the DMA, I’m also tasting to correlate my internal sense of tannin development and fermentation progress with the numbers that we are getting.
After taking care of yeast and box progress evaluation, I ran to the U-Haul store to grab a truck so that I could haul 3 tons of Cabernet from Bates Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains back to the winery. As I brought the truck back, Beth was busy cleaning picking bins to load into the truck to be dropped off at Lencioni Vineyard on the west side of Livermore Valley before I headed out to Morgan Hill where Bates Ranch resides. Aidan and Beth marshaled in about 5.5 tons of Cabernet from Lencioni while I was bringing in the same variety from 65 miles south. Because we are never sure of exactly how many tons of fruit we are going to get and how many fermentation bins we will need, we are always at the ready to wash out more bins to ensure a clean vehicle for sugar to alcohol conversion (Beth had to clean out more picking bins a couple of times given that Lencioni produced more fruit that we thought it would).
Any time I get within nose shot of Bates Ranch it is a good day. This place is a miracle. It seems to exist out of time and is perfumed with the most amazing array of savory chaparral notes. Even better, you can taste these notes in the wine as it is fermenting and aging in barrel. We are lucky to be awash in the glorious funk of Bates every day in the cellar. You will taste it in the wines that are released from this site each year.
The workday (outside of this blog post) ended with the winemaking team tasting a gorgeous bottle of wine in the cellar made from Bates and another Santa Cruz Mountain site (that we will write many more words about later) that our friend and vineyard consultant extraordinaire, Prudy Foxx, gave us. The wine was inspirational and delicious and will be a referent as we move forward with wines from these vineyards.
Harvest time means there is no clock. You do what you need to do to make the best wines in the world, and we relish the absence of minute and hour hands. Today was a day full of activity, full of confidence, and full of hope. We look forward to sharing these wines with you.