2017: Harvesting Tempranillo
It’s early and the crew is parked under the Sycamores, milling around to kill time and stay warm. We are picking the Tempranillo this morning. This is typically the first varietal we pick because it is first to ripen fully. Tempranillo translates to “little early one”. We load two ½ ton picking bins onto the vineyard cart along with twenty or so 5 gallon plastic buckets we just purchased from Umpqua dairy. In their previous existence they held chocolate and other flavor compounds used to make the ice cream that is so much a part of what makes life in the Umpqua Valley so unique. The vineyard cart is positioned between rows and the buckets distributed along with picking shears. The netting used to protect the fruit from marauding birds is raised to expose the double fruiting zones characteristic of our trellis system. We will continue to broadcast the distress calls of the birds that would otherwise attack the grapes until picking is completed, however. It sounds like an insane aviary.
We start to drop the succulent bunches of Tempranillo and I listen for the first crisp contact of a large, pendulous bunch with the bottom of the empty bucket. The bunches are heavy and of a deeply purple to black color – beautiful to look at and satisfyingly dense in the hand. The sound of the buckets being filled softens and almost disappears as a deep, heavy layer of fruit insulates successive bunches from the hard plastic. We dump bucket after bucket into the picking bins and occasionally mist the fruit with KMet (potassium metabisulfite) to retard the growth of spoilage organisms or native yeasts. Sulfites have been used in winemaking since the time of the Etruscans. They are traditional, safe and effective. The fruit is especially beautiful this year. We have waited until the last possible day to pick and it is ripe. The berries release from the stems easily, the rachis has begun to lignify, the skins are soft and easily chewed and the pips have turned from green to brown with a soft nutty flavor. I am excited to begin the process of converting sunlight into wine via the intermediary of grapes.
It’s been a sobering month. Marjorie has lost a favorite aunt and her sister, Phyllis. We have visited relatives in hospice and a cousin in remission. We need to visit our new granddaughter, Zoe, in London. We need to see and touch the other end of the arc of life. In the meantime, I hope the repetitive connection with our own harvest, the act of in-gathering, with its physicality, compulsory focus on and absorption in another natural cycle and the soothing environment of the vineyard on a perfect day will bring comfort.
There are random conversations about nothing in particular. We all focus on harvesting the grapes as gently and efficiently as possible. One principle learned early is to never lose sight of your hands. The picking shears are sharp and a brief lapse of attention can result in a painful cut on a fingertip that will serve as a reminder for several days. Many buckets on the bins are full and are offloaded in the shade and tarped until we are ready to process the fruit. This step entails the accurate weighing of each bin which is then set next to the elevator onto which Lupe and Jesse will transfer the fruit to be delivered to our Mori de-stemmer/crusher. Marjorie and Bridgette attend to the elevator, removing as much MOG (material other than grapes) as possible as the fruit goes by. The fruit is gently crushed and drops into a fermentation bin below. The stems are separated and collected in another bin. The air is filled with the smell of freshly crushed grapes and the clatter of the de-stemmer. I add a small amount of KMet and some toasted French oak dust to stabilize the color of the wine. When the fermentation bin is filled it is transferred to the winery where the Brix and pH will be checked and added to an identifying label. A shovel full of dry ice is layered onto the fruit in the bin an a fog of CO2 spreads over the surface of the fruit, protecting it from oxidation in the ambient air and cooling the must for the 3 day cold soak that will precede inoculation with yeast and the start of fermentation.
After the fruit has been processed, labeled and covered the equipment and the winemaking area are meticulously cleaned, the rachis dumped to be composted later and the winery closed and secured. It is past 10 PM and we are exhausted, sore and hungry. We separate until tomorrow. Harvest resumes in the morning.
Marjorie, Bridgette and I clean up and prepare for dinner. We celebrate over lamb chops marinated in a chipotle, spice and herb blend served with a salad decorated with organically grown nasturtium blossoms. (Recipe attached). The flavors are rich and distinctive. They deserve to be enjoyed with a wine that will not shrink back from them. We pair this with the FOON 2014 Tempranillo. It is a perfect match. The pain begins to melt away. We need rest and sleep.