I’m an unabashed lover of French wine (and Italian, Californian, etc.), and there are certain grapes we grow in California that just don’t ring my bells like the French versions do. Syrah is one of those grapes.
Making up the red wines of the northern Rhône almost exclusively and extremely important in the southern Rhône as well, this grape stinks of aromatic bushes, roasted game, fecund earth, and a black fruitiness that is simply…Syrah.
When we make a version, as we did with the 2018 Cassis, a wine that will be released on September 5th for one of our wine clubs, I get more than a little giddy. Vive la France!
There are many factors that conspire to make California almost uniquely susceptible to fire. In the last several years, fires in Sonoma and Napa counties have severely affected the quality of the fruit coming off vineyards. The Livermore Valley has been lucky in that it isn’t surrounded by a lot of trees and inaccessible areas where fires start and thrive. 2020, in addition to being the year of COVID, racial unrest, and a damaged economy, has added nearby blazes to the menu.
The SCU Complex fire was started on August 16th by rare dry lightning strikes and has burned more than 360,000 acres as of this writing. It is one of the largest fires in California history sending plumes of noxious smoke that blanket much of the East Bay.
Smoke in the sky will diffuse UV radiation, sending less energy down to the leaves of plants, and lengthening the amount of time it takes to get fruit ripe. This occurred in 2017 and was one of the factors that contributed to overall quality. It is the smoke, though, that can cause irreversibly negative effects on grapes. There are a number of by-products of wood smoke that can be absorbed into grapes and cause acrid, intensely smoky flavors that ruin the vintage. The amount of smoke it takes to get to this point isn’t quantifiable, so we will end up doing some small ferments to see how much, if any, smoke taint is present in the wine.
Much of winemaking is about hope…hope for a good harvest, hope for few mistakes in the cellar, hope for Mother Nature’s cooperation. We are hoping that Hope will be enough to rescue 2020.
Harvest snuck up on me again. I’ve been doing this long enough to know when the first grapes will come in, but each year I’m still surprised. Harvest is holy. Harvest is hard. Harvest is healing.
The senses are the winemaker’s greatest tools. The ability to smell and taste and remember what you’ve experienced from barrel to barrel are crucial in putting together consistent wines.
Outside influences, like Brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast that lives everywhere in the winery, can get in the way of the true expression of fruit and vineyard and the intent of the winemaker. Being clean in the cellar is the easiest way to keep Brett and other malign bugs at bay.
Between every barrel, we spray a 70% ethanol solution on the thief, that metal tube in the accompanying photo, that we use to steal a little wine out of each barrel.
We draw wine out into our glass, smell, taste, make notes, then sterilize the thief before it goes into the next barrel. Think of it as the prophylactic use of prophylactics…a condom for our Cabernet.