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As a winemaker I would never, ever suggest, just one week into harvest, that this might be a “perfect vintage.” Why jinx it? Why take the risk of inviting Mother Nature’s wrath so early on when we have so many weeks to go?
So, I won’t. However . . .
We have both lots of Sauvignon Blanc in the barn. Perfect numbers. Our first Pinot Noir came in today and I was just handed the lab report for the lot. Perfect numbers.
By “perfect numbers” I mean the sugar and acid content are ideal for making stellar, well-balanced wine with minimal winemaker intervention. We won’t have to adjust the sugar or the acid and that’s a good thing. Natural is always preferred over making any sort of add or adjustment. Perfect.
And the weather? The forecast is for excellent ripening weather over the next few days then a bit of a cool down that will slow sugar development but will allow flavors to continue to mature. Sunny and dry. Perfect.
Yet I am petrified! How long can “perfect” continue? I’m hoping for about another eight weeks. That’s all I ask. But that is a long time this time of year. There is no reason a heat wave won’t hit us in the near future. The riper fruit gets the more susceptible it is to damage by extreme heat. So, no heat wave, please. Or, heaven forbid, we should get some rain. Ripe fruit, with softer skins, is very susceptible to damage by mold. And mold thrives in moist, damp air. So, no rain, please. Just perfect. That’s all I ask.
This is the life of a winemaker. Faced with perfect conditions for the foreseeable future, here I sit worrying. I’m trying not to think about the weather, though I did just check the forecast again minutes ago, for the nth time today. And its only 10 AM.
The good thing is that, whatever comes our way, I’m ready and that does take the edge off things a bit. This is my thirtieth harvest. If I don’t know how to handle a little adversity by now, there is no hope for me as a winemaker. I keep thinking about the Farmer’s Insurance commercial “We know a thing or two ‘cause we’ve seen a thing or two.” So true. I’m ready for anything. I hope.
The perfect vintage? Could be. Too early to tell but things are looking mighty good out there right now. Though this winemaker, for one, will not ever say that. Not now. Nope. No way.
At least once a year a winery is faced with the challenge of bottling its wine as it is pretty hard to sell it otherwise. Admittedly this should not be a big deal and generally it isn’t. But bottling is not without its inherent pains and worries. Its not a part of winemaking that any winemaker enjoys. Or is it?
As we gear up to bottle our Balverne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here at Notre Vue this fall, we’re attending to lots of little details and making sure everything is in place for a successful bottling run. We have our labels, corks and capsules. Glass supposedly arrives next week. We are scheduled to bottle just after the glass arrives. All this is carefully choreographed so that everything comes together perfectly and all on time.
We need to make sure the wine is ready, too. Following any final blending we will address the acidity along with the level of residual sugar and adjust each as necessary. The wines will be cold stabilized to prevent them from throwing tartrate crystals and will be heat stabilized to prevent protein hazes from developing. Fining might be done to soften tannins and/or to remove bitter components from the wine. One last decision to be made will be whether or not to filter.
Once the wine is ready and the materials arrive, its time to bottle. Again, this should be pretty straight-forward. How complicated can it be? You fill a bottle, cork it, label it and pack it away, right? Well, yes, that is the ideal scenario. But what if the wine is too cold and moisture is condensing on the outside of the bottle such that the labels won’t stick? What if we’re under- or over-filling bottles? What if the labeler is not cooperating and your margins are off meaning the labels are not centered? Or the labeler is skipping every third bottle? Or the filler is skipping every third bottle? Or some bottles are missing capsules? Or the wrong labels are being used? Or the filter fails? I could go on and on but you get the idea. “Best laid plans, yada, yada, yada!”
But once this necessary evil is complete, however challenging it might have been, the bottling line cleaned up and the exhausted crew headed home, you sit at your desk finishing up paperwork and look up at a few samples of the day’s bottlings each with perfect capsules, straight labels and all filled with delicious wine ready for wine lovers everywhere . . . life is suddenly all good again. Grab a bottle . . . I think you’ll agree!
The heat wave came and the heat wave went. And in its wake we have a cool spell predicted. We’ve been picking like crazy the last two weeks trying to keep up with the ripening process that’s been in high gear due to the heat. Now, suddenly, the brakes are on and I have nothing lined up to pick for at least a week. Maybe two. Or three. Yup, that shows you just that fast things change in this wacky business called “winemaking.”
But that doesn’t mean we’re bored. Quite the contrary as we are monitoring fermentations, prepping barrels for filling with Chardonnay juice and getting ready to press off the first Pinot Noir in a few days. As I do every morning, I tasted each and every lot today and am happy to say that this looks to be a very promising vintage already! I’m seeing great color in the Pinot Noir along with wonderful aromatics and flavors reminiscent of strawberries and raspberries. Grapefruit and citrus aromas from the fermenting Sauvignon Blanc fill the cellar. It is truly a great time of year and I invite you to come up to the winery and taste through the 2017 wines in progress with me! If you have never done such a thing, now is the time. And because we’re a small operation, I will personally have the time to take you tank-to-tank to taste.
Hope to see you soon and before the next wave of grapes hits!
I just got back from sampling the Sauvignon blanc and two Pinot noir vineyards. Yikes! The numbers indicate the fruit is almost ripe and, certainly by taste, things are just about ready for harvest! Flavors in the Sauvignon blanc are moving from the grassy, jalapeno, bell pepper flavors to the more tropical, ripe fruit characters we like to see in the wine. The Pinot noir is developing spicy, lush, dark cherry and raspberry characters. Yum!
Checking in on the weather forecast is becoming more frequent now. This morning, as I got ready for work, I noticed that when the local weather report came on I raced to the TV to catch the updates. After the recent heat waves, we’re enjoying some more typical foggy, cooler mornings and beautifully warm, sunny afternoons. Perfect!
My 28th harvest is just about to get rockin’!
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