2017: Harvesting Albariño

2017: Harvesting Albariño

It’s crisp and overcast this morning. The weather is perfect for the task at hand. We want to pick the Albarino in just these conditions because the cool temperature tends to preserve the freshness and fruity qualities of this grape. We are eager to be among them. I love this grape and the wine it is capable of becoming. The clusters are relatively small and have an amorphous, boxy shape. Most clusters just big enough to fill the hand. These are relatively young vines and there is variability in the diameter of the trunks reflecting growth of the vines in response to the local soil conditions in this bloc. I have observed that the older, more robust vines also produce the largest clusters and are most prolific generally. The fruit is exactly right for picking today at 22.1 degrees Brix with a pH of 2.98, predicting good acidity and, hopefully, preservation of the minerality and stone fruit flavors expected from Albarino. The grapes have a green-gray color and a nearly translucent quality and somehow have the appearance of being lit from within. The ripest also display a golden blush over the most sun exposed surface.

Shortly after we position the cart and picking bins and have commenced picking Judy Waller, a photographer friend who has come with her husband John to chronicle the harvest, appears and asks if we have heard about the wildfires in the Napa Valley. We haven’t. I didn’t think much about it since wildfires promoted by the increasingly severe drought conditions coincident with climate change are now common. Later that day, during our lunch break I am made aware of the extent of the conflagration and of the devastation it has caused in Santa Rosa, where we used to live. Marjorie tells me that our old friends Dorr and Stephanie have “lost everything”. They were forced to evacuate at 3:00 AM as the fire crested the surrounding hills and Dorr returned the next morning to “check on everything”. He found a barren field of ash where his home had been. He and Stephanie had developed a small paradise of a garden. Their simple home contained an exceptional collection of art, objects and artifacts, carefully and lovingly acquired over the course of their long marriage and tastefully displayed. The thought that they had been incinerated overnight was almost impossible to fathom. Thankfully, Dorr and Stephanie are safe and among friends.

Marjorie and I moved to Santa Rosa in 1980 after I completed my medical training in Los Angeles. They were among the first friends we made and they have remained a part of our family since. We purchased an original homestead up the road from them and extensively remodeled it over the years as our family grew. It had a very old and wonderful home orchard that included navel oranges, blood oranges, grapefruit, lemoncella, clementines, apples, plums, pears, &etc. Our children were raised and grew along with the house and outbuildings over the 13 years of our residence there. I can still recall my daughter, Anna, in diapers wandering in the orchard eating fruit from those trees. This was also a casualty of the firestorms that engulfed much of Rincon Valley. Even though we no longer owned it and have not seen it in many years I grieved for it after leaving and many years of family memories resided in it. The news brought to mind a favorite poem of yearning by the Chinese poet Wang Wei:

You who have come from my old country,
Tell me what has happened there!
Was the plum tree, when you passed by my silken window
Opening its first cold blossom?

The news of the unfolding devastation and associated personal tragedies made for a quiet day of reflection. We finished picking the Albarino in the early afternoon and moved on to the remaining rows of Tempranillo. After processing the Tempranillo and starting its cold soak we pressed the Albarino. We received delivery of a new Enoveneta membrane press for use with the white wines and were eager to use it. We decided to do whole cluster pressing and were delighted with the results – more efficient juice extraction after a shorter press run than with our basket press with much easier clean-up. We were grateful to be done with the day, to have the opportunity to process the emotional burden of the news and to catch up with and reassure ourselves about our friends with a too long deferred phone call. It is hard to imagine a more poignant day.