In the belly of the beast
The last time we visited, we were on the cusp of harvest, with many cases to bottle. Imagine you are on a beach with your toddler, which is to be your priority (wines to bottle) with a huge wave on the horizon that is sure to knock you off your feet (harvest). We managed to pass the little one up the cliff to safety just as the first wave of a very large set drove up the beach and pulled us out to sea where a hungry yet surprisingly hospitable whale took us in. We live in the whale’s belly, but have breakfast burritos on Saturday mornings.
Like many things, harvest is shaped like a bell curve. Most of it is manageable; however there will be a time when 24 hours in a day is just not enough. You don’t know for sure when Harvest has happened until the entire ordeal is over, but from here it looks like it occurred on Sept. 11, 12 and 13. We night harvested our Yulupa Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc all three mornings; the first truck arriving on the scale at 4 a.m. One 25-ton truck an hour equals 125 tons by 9 a.m. But on top of that, the winery was empty. Two days of 90-plus temperatures pushed everything on the verge of ripeness to ripeness-plus. On Sept. 13, we crushed 384 tons of red and white grapes. We won’t approach that again this year simply because we don’t have the room. And we may never have approached that amount on any day in the past either.
Night hand harvesting is a new phenomenon. By picking at night the grapes arrive cool and less oxidized. This also saves the power it would take to chill the juice in tanks. The picker feels better without the sun beating down. He picks more fruit and has more to show for his labor. Night picking used to be done with huge banks of lights powered by generators in the field. The lights were unwieldy and dangerous. But now LED lights allow the tractor’s generator to power small yet blindingly bright lights. As I drove to work these mornings there were mini-suns on the hills all around. If you didn’t know it was harvest you would think the aliens were landing. It was cool.
We are currently pressing red tanks as they go dry. Empty a tank of fermented skins and fill it with fresh grapes. The last of the whites arrived here on Saturday, Sept. 21, along with half an inch of rain. The pace of ripening slowed, but it was not enough to set back the ripe fruit that was ready to pick. Cabernet and Merlot grapes are rolling in at a refined pace. The sugars are perfect; between 24 and 25 degrees brix (percentage of sugar by weight). Surprisingly we have only crushed one Zinfandel vineyard. This is worrisome because Zinfandel has thin skin and will not handle another rain well. Pinot Noir is just about all in and flavorful.
Our captor has not opened her mouth to release us, but we can hear the lapping of waves against her side; it is a calm day.
Mark Stupich is Cellar Master & Winemaker, Kenwood Vineyards