2011 Harvest

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November 30, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest Recap: Part Three of Three – Ram’s Gate Winery

Ram's Gate Winery - Sonoma/Carneros

It is befitting that my 2011 Harvest Recap ends where it began: at Ram’s Gate Winery, the new gateway to wine country.

Facts first: Ram’s Gate resides where Roche once was. The facility is entirely brand-new, from the concrete cellar up. At the helm of Ram’s Gate is Managing Partner, Jeff O’Neill (of O’Neill Vintners). Next in line is General Manager, David Oliver. The winemaker is Jeff Gafner (Saxon Brown) and assistant winemaker is Jesse Fox. I conducted an interview with Jesse just before leaving town, this past October.

The rest of the supporting cast of impresarios includes appearances by: Cary Gott (father of Joel Gott, of Gott’s Roadside fame – or Taylor’s Refresher – whichever side of the tracks you’re on) as consulting Winery-101-Guru, Ned Hill the Vineyard Manager, Shannon Rosenberg the Wine Club Director, Marc Hartenfels the Hospitality Manager (formerly of Benu), Jason Rose the Chef de Cuisine (formerly of Wayfare Tavern and Locanda SF), Tanya Melillo as Marketing Coordinator, Michelle Lehmann (of the newly formed Michelle Lehmann Communications) as Public Relations Coordinator, Brooke Hester the money lady, Barbara a project-managing all-star, Katie and Eva the best interns a winery could have, Dan the Construction-Master-of-Ceremonies and surely there are others. But these people I knew and knew well for the first few months of my stay in the Napa Valley.

The winery was slated to open it’s doors on September 18th (and it did!). I arrived to the scene on June 10th. Between June 11th and August 11th I would endure “an education” in the start-up of a multimillion dollar operation that gave new meaning to the word momentum, which is Latin for “You’re dead in the water the moment you say, ‘um.'”

At any old rate, here goes —

My task was such: I was brought out to help build the Ram’s Gate “brand” up into the Digital World. Give it life, let it breathe, give it direction, get it going – into the cloud. Because that little old traveling wine saloon thing I do has garnered the likes of a good amount of press, they asked that I also lend a helping hand to events. At first I was tasked to suggest an array of opening events Ram’s Gate ought to partake in. Soon, that responsibility grew into event management and direction. The Social Media umbrella of activity was put on temporary hold while I spent every waking minute of the weeks to come doing as much as I was humanly capable event-wise, event prep, event proposals, event event event(s).

A visit to the Facebook page will reveal some of the early content I helped to shape and create. Same goes for their Twitter account. Videos I created of Ram’s Gate’s vineyards and outings with Ned Hill dot the postings on Facebook. A video of Jeff O’Neill, in “Apple” fashion serves as an introduction to a man full of passion – the passion of wine, the passion on the vine. Jeff is an amicable character who loves fast cars. How appropriate to have the Infineon Raceway right across the street from his winery. I even suggested he consider sponsoring a “Ram’s Gate Gate” at the Raceway. We’ll see if that pans out.

The attention to detail cannot be dismissed. Every single tiny atom of the winery was thought and brooded over. What more can be said? Go visit and see for yourself. The wine too speaks for itself. Try the red or white label Pinot Noir. It was my favorite. Tell ’em Jonny Cigar sent you (and they’ll charge you double).

And with that, let’s say that momentum caught up with me and before I knew it, I had lost sight of the green light at the end of the dock. I left the operation in August because it was time to engage in the activity I came to California to partake in: HARVEST.

I’ve lived in New York City for the last 10 years. I found myself really “getting into wine” about six years ago and getting serious about it three years ago. At the end of October, just before leaving Napa, Time Out New York named me one of ten Wine Prophets of New York City. I am… enamored by it all.

And I’m ready now to put into words what I was unsure of from this earlier post, and those words look like this: Let me begin with an analogy — once you make it on Broadway, you go home to star in your local community theater production of “Into The Woods” and you charge ungodly prices that make the locals talk dirty, but shell out dough regardless because you’ve got a bio with accomplishments that give new meaning(s) to big fish in little ponds. Wine Country is a place to go when you’ve already made “it,” and by it I mean “$.” Remember the time you made millions of green in real estate? Or as a banker? Huh, bankers? Ya know? Right? Own it. Occupy it, killer. Or that inheritance you worked so hard to inherit? Or perhaps you were a politician or a lawyer or a doctor or maybe you were The Great Gatsby and you made your money you rags-to-riches SOB! Well… you did it and then they ask you what you’re going to do now and instead of talking bullshit about Disney Land you buy up some property, you plant grapes, you come up with a brand and kapow! You’re in the wine business. Just ask Dan Aykroyd or Maynard James Keenan.

Wine is a luxury. Sure, it’s an agricultural product, but it’s a damn luxurious one. It’s an Organic Pre-Certified Home-Grown No-Pesticides Hand-Picked Hand-Washed Hand-Massaged Loved Cared and Tended-For Piece of Ripe Juicy Elegant Mouthwatering God’s-Country produce. And it’ll cost you and tax is not included and neither is shipping.

I came back to New York to realize all this? Not really. But if one is thinking of making a career out of the Vin-[Extra]Ordinaire, one must stop and smell the vinifera.

Now look Old Sports: this ain’t apply to ever’body. In fact, I met many, many a goodnbrilliant wino, hospitable, caring, nurturing, endearing, humorous, cantankerous, ornery, healthy, good-eatin, good-living group dare I say throng of folks. And made some perfectly brilliant friends, some of whom I would trade for various New York friends in a New York Minute.

The business of wine has to be a business of passion – because if it’s not something you like to do, love to do, with all your heart and soul, it is a vanity project for you or a death project for your piggy bank.

You know where this leaves me, mentally, for January 2012? Nowhere to go but up. Just like a budding vine. Nowhere to dream but down the mountain. And I was at the top of Mount St. Helena, looking over it all… I was looking over it all.

I know that I love the wine industry. I know that I love the people of the industry. I’m lucky to have been apart of the start of Ram’s Gate, and to see a winery built up from the ground not just in the physical sense but in the building of a business as well. I love wine like the way Gatbsy loves Daisy. The difference is, it hasn’t eluded me yet. And tomorrow I will stretch out my arms farther…and indeed, one fine day—————-

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November 14, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest Recap: Part One of Three – Alpha Omega Winery

Alpha Omega Winery

In April of this year I began making plans to work the 2011 Harvest in the Napa Valley. I had no idea what it would mean to “work” the Harvest — only that it was imperative I be present in the valley in June, when wineries began the process of hiring for the season.

To simply pack up and leave Kings County, Brooklyn for five or so months and head west to the no-humidity, dry Napa County  seemed like… a fine idea! I telephoned everyone I knew – bloggers, winemakers, family, pool attendants and supper club impresarios… on the advice of Hardy Wallace and Jeff Morgan, two dynamic winemakers of radically different styles, I booked a one-way ticket and promised my wife that I would make good on this adventure (after all, she would only be able to visit in August, so we’d be apart for quite some time). I eventually found myself working in the cellar at Alpha Omega Winery in Rutherford, CA, but first there was June, July and August…

From the beginning of June until the middle of August I had work consulting for Ram’s Gate Winery. Ram’s Gate is now the first winery in sight as avid wine-country adventurers speed north from San Francisco into wine country. It is in effect, the gateway winery to the valley. Situated on a hill across from the Infineon Raceway in Carneros, the place is a work of art with expansive seating areas, lounging areas, glorious tasting room and demo kitchen, lake, on and on.  I will revisit a recap of Ram’s Gate in part three of this little three-part harvest recap series. For now, we fast-forward into September.

The foundation of a “wine country experience” for a person decidedly delving into the industry as a profession, is in my professional opinion: cellar work. And there it was. Was it there? Surely. Several weeks of early mornings and strenuous repetitive and tiresome activities. But: thrilling work, fulfilling work, gritty, take-action, no-standing-around, honest labor – a labor of art. You thought I was going to say a labor of “love,” but that’s silly. Harvest work is perhaps for some a labor of love. I began to see the work of the winemaker, the cellar team and vineyard crews as a labor of art.

Think about the many different works of art you might see in flea markets or say in Paris’s famous Montmartre market. Some works stand out above the rest, though the experience is entirely subjective. A finished piece of art is the result of an artist’s labor of his art, and speaking wine, bottled wine is the labor of a winemaker’s labor of his art. The artist will brood over many decisions: what canvas to use, brush strokes to perform, colors to highlight, textures to impart, anon. The winemaker too will ruminate over his canvas: the vineyard. What and how to plant? And then: when to pick? How to harvest (hand harvest vs machine harvest), and how the grapes are crushed, sorted and sent to cold-soak or to ferment, whether the juice goes into barrel or stainless steel, whether it is macerated with the skins during cold-soak or fermentation, whether it is inoculated with yeast or left to ferment with the natural yeasts coming in off the vineyards — there are a myriad of possibilities and wine as a finished and bottled product will be influenced by the choices the winemaker makes.

Now look: I’ve dabbled in a variety of careers: acting, directing, writing, temp work, restaurants, public relations, bird-feeding, horseback racing, fishing, hunting, singing, pretended to be a billionaire, Frank Sinatra, and told more Henny Youngman jokes than Henny Youngman, however folks: talking the wine-speak, walking the wine-talk and performing in a manner that holds the simultaneous attentions of the amateur and professional connoisseur is in short: a challenge. I’ve appointed myself a “Master Sommelier” for two reasons: 1) it’s irreverent 2) I will never be a true Master Sommelier, but why should that stop me? Okay, you say, fair enough — can you hold your own? Can you indeed talk the wine-talk and still keep your Maryjanes from biting? Good question.

Yes (for the most part).  The impetus for my western pilgrimage was to get an education. So: can I tell you the laws that govern the lands of Burgundy and Bordeaux? Can I name the 13 cepages that make up traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape? Would I be happy to debate the origins of Portuguese grape varietals? Or tell you the difference between any Spanish wines, any of them? How about describe the sensations, the aromas and the subtleties of white wines? Red wines? Rose wines? Would I recommend a wine to go with your dinner? How about a wine to go with your anniversary? Shall we head to a restaurant with a Gold Medal Wine Spectator Grand Award-O-Palooza wine list and tell you what the acid is like in a 1987 German Spatlese or Zweigelt or recommend the ’84 over the ’95 third growth Bordeaux or tell you the difference between the Cote-du-Rhone and the Cote-d’Or??

Yes. Will any of it be true? Maybe! Will you believe me because my conviction will be absolute? Absolutely!

Can we talk California? You bet we can.  Need another list of questions? No you don’t. But a fun list of the many activities I engaged in while working at Alpha Omega Winery is absolutely in hand. All, I should say, set into motion by winemaker Jean Hoefliger and assistant winemaker Henrik Poulsen. These good gents, whom I had the privilege to work for, are masters of their art. Jean is Swiss and Henrik is Danish from Denmark though contrary to what you might be thinking they don’t mix Swiss cheese, great Danes, Danish pastries or chocolate into the wine (I’ve suggested as much but to no avail). Swiss chocolate? Swiss knives? Danish Flags? Maybe. Delicious? Complex? Drink now but just you wait until later? All the above. A brilliant duo who work around the clock to make the best wine they can.

In the cellar, I worked with a team of Spanish-speaking work-horses: and I mean that with utmost respect. Many of these guys (and they were all guys) work year-round at Alpha or head to South Africa for harvest in the Napa-off-season, or other parts of the world for harvest work. “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, all the live-long day,” is exactly how I felt through the month of September into October. “Up in the morning, out on the job, work like the devil for my pay,” is what I sang every morning in the shower. So, how about a typical day in the life of a cellar worker? Looks like this:

5:30am: Get up.
6:59am: Clock in.
7:02am: Morning Meeting.
7:12am: Get to work. Punch-downs, add sulfur, clean barrels, clean tanks, clean crush pad, clean tools, sanitize everything, clean some more, rack wine, depose of lees, stir the lees, batonnage, find something to clean while waiting for grapes to come in and once the grapes come in oh boy… make sure the million-dollar sorting machine is in place and sanitized, bins are ready, hoses are ready, barrels are ready, ozone, sulfur, all ready and man your position — you are sorting you hosing down you are driving the fork-lift you are cleaning the crates, the bins, the crushpad and you are helping him and you are supervising them because I’ve got to taste and make sure the “D-Juice” goes into this tank and the “Free-Run” goes into that tank and then after you’re going to climb in and scoop out the grape skins, but don’t worry, we won’t turn the machine on (har har har) and oh the jokes. Joking. There are lots of jokes. What else are you supposed to do when for eight hours a day you’re doing punch-downs. Repetition is the way of the winery. And guess what? It’s lunchtime.
12:00pm: Lunch.
12:30pm: Everything you did from 7:12am until 12:00pm do again. Do it a little faster too, okay?
4:00pm: Clock out, as long as there aren’t more grapes coming. If they are, stay put, but clean that punch-down stick and make more sanitizer and inoculate those barrels while we wait and take this into the lab and have them run the #$&%*#Y*@% test on this stuff and make sure they run the #(%*&%&# test and not the $(#&%&(#%( test, okay? You got it? That’s what she said.
4:05pm: Hunt for car keys and realize you are covered in grape juice, grapes hanging off your pants, sweater, hair, and blue rags are still tied around your belt. Oh well, they’re yours.
5:00pm: Just try reading and responding to emails. Just try it.
6:00pm: Dinner? You ate plenty of grapes today.
8:00pm: Too early for bed? Nope.

Alright, that’s a typical day. So let’s imagine you’re holding a bottle of Alpha Omega 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s nice, right? Looks like this:

Alpha Omega 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

You: How much does it cost?
Them: $84.

And here is where the battle is waged between consumer, the market, reality, the connoisseur, the collector, the every-day drinker, the educated and frankly the uneducated. If you ask why the wine costs $84, chances are you’re not going to buy that wine. The efforts, aforementioned, that go into producing this product are monumental. The costs, the people-power, farming, the marketing, the distribution, everything that happens before that wine hits a shelf and eventually your table are a bit incomprehensible, but understanding that can help put costs into perspective. It takes a lot of people and energy not only to make a wine, but to make great wine. Think about that when you think about price. (We can have a different conversation when we’re talking a bottle of wine that costs $200+ because I have a different opinion about that).

Now let’s back track a moment and say that you tasted the $84 Cab before you new how much it cost. Now we dabble in the realm of quality vs expectation. Remember: that taste in wine, like taste in art is subjective. There’s one important factor however that trumps subjectivity and that is experience. Experience is not drinking; experience is tasting and reflecting. And reflection can shape expectation. Part of my pilgrimage to Napa for five months – leaving my wife to the vacuuming in Brooklyn – presented as much of an opportunity to taste/reflect as it did to network, talk and hear tales of the glory days and struggles of such a history-rich community of farmers.

Listen too and let’s dispel this: to truly taste&discuss a wine, good fearing wino, is not to be a snob of wine. When you drink chocolate milk or when you drink coffee or tea you’re looking for a pleasurable wonderful experience, ain’t you? You order that Blue Bottle $55 cup of Joe because it makes you feel like an important person. Wine is full of complexity too and recognizing that complexity by talking about its mouth-feel, texture, aroma, body, viscosity, taste anon! and what it reminds you of is all part of the pleasure to be had from building toward an intoxicating moment of truth. The children of our current college circuits are imbibing wine like Prohibition is once more on the horizon and if that’s a place to start, okay. After that, it’s time to work toward the sophisticated aspects of enjoying wine with a meal and crucial to not be so self-absorbed or self-infatuated that talking about wine is beneath some culturally idiotic principle you’ve decided to uphold because you saw it on Google, or some friend on Facebook thinks you might be an up-and-coming snob or some wine writer intimidates you.

Jonny on the rampage! Well, I had to. Being in the valley and working at Alpha also meant distancing myself from technology and hence, distancing myself from the constant conversation that seems all-too-important to drop, or leave behind. There simply wasn’t time to “engage.” I’ve tweeted less, I’ve blogged less (much less than I promised!), and I’ve engaged less than ever before. I spent hours connecting to the fruit of the land – being outdoors – noticing nature. I worried less about posting content every few minutes and focused instead on what I was doing. People used to drive. Now people drivetext. At the risk of sounding preachy, I mention all this because there was a lesson to be learned and I learned it: the conversation will go on & you can pick it up at any time. It tis only one’s own self-induced manifestations (and I induced plenty, believe me) of what one might be missing that creates – and is continuing to create – more content and more saturation than any of us can or need to handle.

Stop, slow down, reflect and enjoy. That is the power of wine. Wine is by nature slow and reflective. I spent many evenings having dinner with good people, and we talked and talked about wine and the qualities of wine – a valuable activity for anyone albeit a fan of drinking wine or immersed in the industry. I saw grapes grow on the vine over many months, tasted them as they ripened until they were harvested, crushed them and drank their juices and in another year I’ll be able to taste the white wines that made this 2011 harvest and in a year or so after that, the reds. Then, I will have come full circle. And when the time comes, I hope to be surrounded by friends, tasting the wine, eating good food and talking about the hours spent working in the cellar, remembering things like the sounds of fork-lifts racing around the crushpad.

“Door is always open,” is what Jean said to me as I left Alpha for the last time, on a bright and warm late October afternoon. Well, I’ll be back – certainly to taste the red wines, the very wines I spent hours upon hours punching down during cold-soak prior to fermentation. I tasted the juice then, and I look forward to tasting the juice… when it becomes wine.

Visit Noble Rot Talks to hear an interview with Jean Hoefliger.

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October 12, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest — Days 3-6 at Alpha Omega Winery

The glorious moments of "Cold-Soak."

It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2011. I’ve been ordered by the town Doc in St. Helena to “take off” 10/11, 10/12 & 10/13 and then some. Apparently, I’ve been… overdoing it. A slight case of Vertigo and the ailments that follow have set me back. And I’m happy to have been knocked down into a chair for a few days because I realized I haven’t had a day off since June 8, 2011. Well, one day off, but I hiked Mt. St. Helena with Amanda Wells – the same Amanda Wells that happens to be married to me. Okay, listen: It’s Harvest, can you smell it? The salt air? I brought you to — wait, wrong movie. The fermentation in the air? I’ve brought you to Napa Valley!

Harvest work ain’t easy work and the hours are not for us, good-natured humans, to decide when the grapes are ready to come on down! Just as an example you can see what Ram’s Gate Winery went through for the harvest of their first ton of Chardonnay grapes. At Alpha Omega, we experienced a day where 23 tons of grapes had to be pressed with the juice of whites going into stainless steel tanks and the reds going into barrels for an extended cold-soak maceration. Now, what in the good name of Grape Juice is “cold-soak” and “maceration?” Good questions. After spending three days doing punch-downs of the cold-soaking macerated juice and grapes I asked winemaker Jean Hoefligger what this “nonsense” is all about. I said “nonsense” and here’s what he said more or less:

Jean: We cold-soak for an extended period of time because when the grapes are not fermenting and with the absence of alcohol, the tannin extraction, fruit and flavor extraction works best. We can make a wine with more concentrated, nicer flavor and aroma characteristics when the exchange of flavor and aroma profiles happens in the absence of alcohol.

Alcohol can inhibit and effect flavor and aroma, and so before the yeasts even think about turning sugar to booze, cold-soak is the way of this wayward winemaker. What that means for me and the rest of the cellar team hour and hours of punch-downs:

Punch-downs - juice is bubbling from the dry ice we add to keep the temperature down and hence prohibit fermentation.

We'll spend 5 minutes on each barrel, punching down the caps. That's 5 minutes per barrel on all these barrels, and apparently, I'm told , "This ain't nothin'." Well, I'd love to see what "something" is because this "nothing" is pretty intense. About 5-6 hours of work if alone.

***

Wine Connoisseur: “This wine has a nose of graham cracker and toast!”

Me: “Who’re you fooling buddy? It’s grapes! Grapes! Ain’t no toast or crackers in that!”

Wine Connoisseur: “I tell you, Jonny, there’s graham cracker.”

Me: “Prove it.”

Wine Connoisseur: “Surely, take a look at the photo below…”

Inside of a new Oak Barrel -- looky that toast!

If you were to stick your head into that barrel, as I did just after snapping this shot, you’d smell, so help me bloody merry, graham cracker and toast. And what a delightful smell too! But you see, good wino, that’s a reality and in a red you might just find that the aromas blend in such a way that you think you’re drinking a glass full o’ s’mores.

***

The Rain has been a’comin.’ On lunch break just last week (10/5) sunny, cook skies gave way to an instantaneous rain storm that looked like this:

Rain.

Not sure what this means for many growers, but as they say, we’ll find out. And I’ll let you know. So, we spent time inside recording the temperatures of the cold-soaking goodness.

13.1 degrees in the Celsius. Stable and good. Carry on! (Tastes great! Sweet!)

The forecast calls for more sunny days though. I’ll pick up cellar work next week. In the meantime, tune back in tomorrow as I’ll write about a dinner party hosted with Tim West of Grub.ly in a mansion at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco, a Harvest dinner at Quintessa, and a partridge in a pair…

 

September 23, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest – Days Two and Three @AOWinery

The way to Enlightenment is the way to listening.

Cigar’s log, Star-date September 21st, 2011, 9:30pm Pacific Standard Time:

My… body… is on… fire.

I have to commend my fellow cellar workers at Alpha Omega. These chaps are incredibly hardworking people who take their job seriously (though intermittent joking is rampant and necessary to break up the routines of cellar work which, truth be told can be very repetitive). I’ll introduce each of them here in Winetology as we forge ahead and the grapes keep-a-comin’. Though I should mention a young man from Napa, named Aldo, who left us today to take work in Calistoga. He was with AO for half a year, but the reality is he needs to earn much more money because he has a second child on the way. We had an interesting conversation about marriage and parenting and he put it to me like this: “In the Latino community – at least the way I was raised – when you have a kid with someone, you’re with that person. Married or not, you’re together.” He scoffed at me when I asked if he was married. He has no interest, but like he said, it doesn’t matter. He’s with the mother of his children until the end. Everyone at AO wishes Aldo the best of luck.

Listen:

This work ain’t easy – not that anyone ever said it was – though I’m beginning to understand the “you’ll see” winks and smiles that I’ve been met with leading up to Harvest work. And I’ve only been at it for three days! Some work year-round. Without these tough-skinned, incredibly smart and quick-thinking cellar teams (who work tirelessly around the wine countries of the world) these wonderous-grape-elixirs we all love to open and share and experience would simply not exist – at least not at the level of quality many of us expect. Once you’ve been bitten by an amazing bottle of wine, there’s no turning back… so next time you pop open something that drinks itself before you do, toast to the cellar workers, the vineyard workers and the winemakers who have made the wine what it is.

So what’s happened in the last two days? A hell of a lot.

A lot of cleaning, and some pressing of grapes. They like to say that winemaking is 80% cleaning and 20% making. About right, I’d say. Before the wine goes into barrels some have to be cleaned and that looks like this:

Clean Clean Clean! Power washing with 180 degree water.

Once they are power rinsed with hot, hot, caliente water, they are doused with Ozone. That’s right. Ozone. How fantastic is that? This machine makes Ozone. Someone should tell the Obama Administration that there is a machine that simply makes Ozone. So we can deplete it as much as we like! But in the winery, Ozone (O3) is used to sanitize. Electricity hits water and inside this contraption makes Ozone and the smell is definitive… oddly enough it reminds me of being in a plane… hmmmf! By a process of grabbing onto certain molecules the O3 sanitizes the inside and then we rinse the barrel with cold water and et voila! Ready for fresh vino.

This machine makes Ozone.

On Day Two some Russian River Pinot Noir came into the winery and it was destemmed, sorted and put into barrels for an extended maceration with the skins and daily punchdowns. I was on the sorting line. As grapes whizzed past it was my duty to extract anything “green” i.e. stems. Also, any clusters or grapes that looked shriveled, gnarly entrenched in leaves, etc. This is the only opportunity to grab all the stuff you don’t want in your wine before it begins the fermentation/aging process.

Sort through that.

These grapes/juice went into barrel for an extended period of maceration – the time the juice is in contact with the grape skins and seeds. This allows for a free exchange of tannin, i.e. color and texture tannins.

Looks like Bluerberry gazpacho. But it's Russian River outrageousness, really.

Later, there are punch-downs. The skins begin to form a cap, and harden a bit and so they need to be punched down. Exactly the same thing that would happen to me if I went for a midnight stroll through Bed-Sty in my Astor & Black bespoke suits! This kind of punch-down is much more fun though. And at this point the “wine,” which isn’t wine just yet, looks like a massive vat of blueberry gazpacho. Yum. Smells great.

Punch...

Down...

Day Three I was introduced to the Sutter Penumatic Press. An expensive machine that takes several tons of grapes and presses out the juice. At Alpha, there are three stages of pressed juice:

  • D-Juice
  • Free Run
  • Press
This is incredibly fascinating because each juice goes into its own tanks and is blended into the final wine when the winemakers feel it’s time. D-Juice is the first bit of juice that comes from the weight of the grapes (gravity) on themselves… and it’s a lot of juice, sometimes as much as a barrel or two. Free Run is the golden juice, the coveted juice that comes from the gentle pressing of the grapes. Press is the juice that comes from really applying gravity to the grapes that have already been pressed — there’s still something in all of the skins and grapes and when you’re paying thousands of dollars a ton you want as much juice as you can get.
Here’s what the grapes look like when the come in from the fields:

Sauvignon Blanc in from the fields. Tastes SO good. Juicy and sweet.

Here’s what they look like after going into the Sutter Pneumatic Press:

Stem Mountains and valleys

And here is Mr. Sutter:  I had to climb up in that thing to shovel out some of the pressed grape skins and stems. The cellar team had a good time when I was inside. Some of the remarks were, “We’ll turn it on now, okay?” and “It’s gonna start to rotate” and “Just let us know when you want us to stop it.” Again, “Ha ha, very funny you guys,” was about all I could muster in response. They did in fact hold my life in the … push of a button. Now that’s winemaking!!

Sutter.

 And that’s not even half of it. It’s 10:13pm PT on Thursday, September 22, and it’s taken me a day to write this because of how exhausted/busy I am (if you noticed the beginning of this post begat itself yesterday). I’ve just gotten in from a dinner at the Morgan’s (Jeff and Jodie Morgan of Covenant Wines) and I learned that on my first day of Harvest work, the stirring of the sulfur in the wine is called “Batonage.” I’ve always wondered what that was. Turns out I did it. If some of this is incorrect, or makes no sense or if you are concerned with any of the grammar in this article, please feel free to get on a plane, come out to Napa and join me as we work this year’s crush, together :)