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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Winemaker


The Winemaker, aka The Boy, spends each day in his own words "racking wine, washing barrels, cleaning things, using the forklift, stirring the Chardonnay, doing all the hard labor that no one else will do, did I mention washing barrels, helping with pressing, sorting, processing the grapes, ordering yeasts and other various equipment and bines, ordering new barrels, purchasing grapes that are not estate grown from other local growers , de-stemming the grapes, bottling, labeling, assisting with the corking machine”. There are other people at the winery who are hired to help and do what The Boy is doing, but The Boy is permanent. The other hired help either work part time or volunteer a bit like a paid internship.

The weather in the Santa Cruz Mountains is much more exciting than down in the valley where we live and I work. I can look out from the office windows and scan the hills. If they are overcast or shrouded in fog, I know he’s probably got his gloves on and I’d put money on the fact that he’s wearing his Muck Boots and is chilled to the bone. He’s not much of a cold whether Boy. It may be sunny, warm and delicious where I am, but it could be raining and blustery up there. His drive up the mountain is a mere 20-30 minutes each way, really it should be 30 but he has a motocross GTI, so its 22 minutes on average.

The winery produces a variety of varietals and blends of still wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage (blend of reds), Merlot, Barbara, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc, better known as Cab Franc and a sparkling wine, Blanc de Blanc made from Chardonnay grapes. By law, it is not permitted to label the Blanc de Blanc as a Champagne. That name is exclusive to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne Region of France.

The estate specializes in growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals because they are more well-suited to the cooler climate of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I say climates plural because there are micro-climates in nearly all wine growing regions. Some hills get more fog and moisture than others, some get more wind, and soils can vary significantly from vineyard to vineyard.Sometimes soil is rocky, dusty, chalky- there are lots of variations. As a contrast, The Boy’s favorite wine varietal is Zinfandel. Bold, fruit forward, spicy, rich, opulent- it grows best in climates where there is a lot of heat and chalky earth like Paso Robles which is 3 hours drive away from Santa Cruz Mountains.

Zinfandel does not grow well at all in the mist, so the estate doesn’t grow it.
After The Boy slaves away all day at work, he goes to meet up with his partner at our old apartment complex. This is in the valley and the wine is stored underground in a locker space that is subterranean - 3 floors down, which maintains a “perfect” constant temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Wine loves to be this temperature. It stores best in the range of 56 to 60 degrees and “hates” temperature variation. He has a partner to share the expenses of acquiring grapes and equipment and sometimes, to help with the labor.Harvest season, when the grapes are ready to be picked, is the busiest time for a winery, its staff, and particularly the winemaker. From vine to bottle the grapes require constant attention. (Depending on a specific varietals a selected yeast s, feeding the yeasts, punching down the cap each night and spraying it with CO2 to induce Malolactic fermentation. Punching down the cap means to push down and stir all the skins and crap that rises to the top of the barrel.)

This year he and his partner are making Zinfandel. This year, after a focused calling effort to locate good grapes, The Boy got lucky and was able to purchase Zinfandel grapes from a well respected grower in Paso Robles. Approximately 1.8 tons were purchased and because The Boy was required at the winery, his father drove to Paso Robles to haul the grapes to the “crushing venue” - my grandfathers house where we store our wine equipment. All my uncles, cousins and friends were pressed into action, as it were, to help de-stem and press the grapes. The grapes were then transported to the “fermentation venue” - the 3rd level underground locker, mentioned above, located several miles from the “crushing venue” to be stored in certain tanks and barrels for the fermentation process. What a lot of work, but – what fun! And, what relatives!

Soon to be bottled are his Cabernet, Barbara and Merlot from the 2004 harvest.

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