I have been working on a vineyard rejuvenation project this spring, on a breathtakingly beautiful piece of land, on a knoll-top featuring a sprawling view of the Anderson Valley, which stretches for miles below.
It is not unlike views here in our home, from various perches throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. A few of my favorites are the high point on the Yule Creek trail, above the Marble quarry, looking out at the upper valley; the top of Highland Peak; or the view of Mount Sopris from Dry Park Road (or anywhere in Missouri Heights).
First and foremost, this knoll is a paradise for birds. A rafter of turkeys blocks my way each morning as I navigate the steep drive. Ravens soar by non-stop; at eye-level, high above and far below, as I track their flight paths. Similarly, a pair of red-tailed hawks scout the area, following each other in flight from lookout to lookout on the tops of trees or power poles. I spy on them, but with their awareness, I’m sure they know I’m here. Stellar jays screech their imitation hawk-calls from the oak canopy while red-winged blackbirds flock about near two crystal blue reflective ponds below. Off in the distance, I can hear the shrill whoops of cranes and herons. And this time of year welcomes back geese by the skeinful — appropriate wine terminology for their accepted group name. And to the pitying of doves: The spirit of this word is hard to overlook.
From here, I can feel and see things from so far away. Call it compassion, or what you will. But as I sit here in silence, day after day, save for the wuuuush of the oceanic breezes through the tree tops and the communal orchestra of birds, I have been meditating on the heaviness that has arisen out of recent events that have shaken our close knit wine community.
The vineyard I am working on is already producing what is tasting up to be world class pinot noir (three vintages of it, to be precise — one in bottle, two in barrel). The Anderson Valley, and especially this “Deep End” of it, is known for just that. A new wave of owners (from the Napa-fied to the L.A. newcomers) is set on carrying forth the tradition of the recent owners, and their forbears, who broke ground in this idyllic setting. Idyllic, yes, but it is rugged, remote and cold. The daily thick fog that settles in the valley at night is casually burned off by 10 or 11 in the morning, giving way to afternoon heat that is graced by brisk, chilly as the winds of the ocean willing its way 12 miles inland.
The fruit grown here is what nature had intended as the genus vitus vinifera evolved to specific varietals (e.g. pinot noir) and the potential for producing fine dry wines. It’s acidic nature and lean sugar content results in wine that is lithe and supple.
Metaphorically speaking, this is bitter and sweet in the same mind. Which is kind of like life, when you look at it, like the symbol and idea of yin and yang; ebb and flow; birth, death and rebirth. The characteristics we cherish in fine wine are born of struggle and persistence. The plush, intriguing and pleasant flavors of pinot noir speak of triumph over many obstacles. Each spring new life pushes through seemingly dead wood. To use one of my old Argentinian wine maker friend’s catch-all phrases: “This is life.”
The grapes of this hillside are not necessarily sweet. They produce wine to this effect; the view is always there, for those who are sitting, waiting and looking.
I dedicate this column to Jeff Walker and all of you who came to be in his circle. He followed a migration — ever the perfect metaphor for the birds that guide us — in his flight to otherworldly Aspen and its lofty heights. His passion for everything from wine to music and skiing rubbed off on me. Jeff sought out the great wines of struggle, as well as the laughter, joy and magic that effuse when the cork is released from the sacred bottle. I will drink to that.
Cheers…remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org