My never-ending quest to learn, discover and understand pinot keeps rolling along.
Driving this journey is a deep desire to someday make pinot noir, the wine that I have come to love and thirst for above all. It may seem almost hyper-American-trendy at this point to love this grape, and all it's fruitiness, but I am an American, I live here and am resigned to that fact. If I could drink red Burgundy on a daily (and nightly) basis, I would humbly resign myself to that cast. Yet beyond the French mystique and the American reflection, I have a deep, warm spot in my heart and an almost ache in my soul for all things pinot, from California, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia and Patagonia, Argentina.
So I was out helping a friend bring in his remaining three tons of estate pinot noir fruit the past few days, on a vineyard which I corresponded from last spring, with a rather poignant piece about our individual and lively migrations and meditations; about birth and death; about our losses, our pains and about a fleeting yet attainable peace about it all.
To be back at this vineyard, on this mystic knoll, in the mist, no less, is to complete a cycle. Vines I cut, pruned, tended and amended six months ago are now hanging full with opulent fruit of gorgeous purple and blue. To date, the harvest has been steady, but with many quick and quirky turns in the weather. Two weeks ago it was nearly a hundred degrees on this sun-splashed, south-facing slope. Two days ago, it poured down with the season's first rain for several heavy early morning hours.
With the grapes still shimmering wet, sparkling in silver, we set out to bring them home to crush before mold could have its way. The sun also has its way on this piece of hillside, quickly burning off the morning dew, revealing grapes-while not yet achieving an epic period of “hangtime” — that are full of color, with nice dark skins and a sugar level somewhere around 24 or 25 brix, a perfect amount of sugar to fuel a nice fermentation. Munching several bunches from different rows and contours is all the proof you need. These grapes are as regal as pinot noir vines are noble.
And almost immediately I add my own bloodline to this developing story, as my fourth or fifth stem cut with the ARS grape scissors catches the meat on the inside tip of my middle finger. Happens to everybody at least once. Nevertheless, blood flows like red Burgundy from the wound, literally dripping over the vine I was working with. Trapped somewhere between all the obvious metaphors I was; thinking of this amazing seasonal life cycle, and thinking also of the title of Maynard James Keenan's movie, “Blood Into Wine.”
It is true that grapes bleed and thus we make wine. It's clear also that we bleed for them!
With a row of bins lined up and ready to go, and my finger triple wrapped, we begin the crush. Grapes are gently tumbled into the hopper from above, where they are de-stemmed and crushed; then they fall onto a sorting table that could do some kind of double duty as a vibrating massage table. Oozing into this (no pun intended here) work is easy, as the vibration lulls one into dreamland while looking at the magical Anderson Valley below, sprawling with hilly vineyard set between stands of redwood trees. But I keep my eyes fixed on the table, as the grapes vibrate along. The goal is to pick out the tiny bits of green stems that look like kind of like psychedelic spiders.
Also, the real sorting is about removing grapes from each extremity of the growing cycle (which I poetically alluded to a few weeks back): The shriveled up raisins must go, as well as more swollen, transparent greenish-red ones called “water grapes,” which are second growth and contain intense sour flavors. By culling both the old and the new, as it were, the receiving bins contain nearly all consistent, perfect fruit, destined for a small-production, estate-grown-and-bottled pinot noir from one of North America's most up-and-coming wine regions, and certainly the most beautiful and magical in the land.
Cheers! Remember, blood and wine reveal truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org