Pick! Crush! Press! repeat! Pick! Crush! Press! Repeat! ….ah, harvest….
Some of Biale 2018 is still fermenting and getting pressed to barrels but we can say that another healthy child (on the plumper side for sure!) has joined the family, thank goodness! Let the after-harvest celebrations begin: Biale bottles, bubbles, beers, are a-poppin’!
Wow, it’s like having a baby every year. It was a long, drawn-out one – and “labor” seemed to go on forever – but harvest 2018 is finally, safely in the nursery.
It all started with Zinfandel from the great Monte Rosso Vineyard September 4th and finished with old vines Barbera from the Gaudi Carli Vineyard in Calistoga on October 26th . A little later than typical, a much slower pace than preceding years, 2018 was a case of waiting patiently for sugars to rise, the acids to fall, and the tannins to relax as the delicious flavors began to shine. Tres, Bob, Kyle, George, Richard, Keleigh, Chris, Coach, Maclean, Gio, and devoted helpers Ron and Nancy all hunkered down as the bins began to arrive- each one weighed, carefully sorted for defects, and light crushed to fermenters. Let’s not forget the Port-treaders: Maggie, Rebecca,Maura, Aline who marched around on the Petite Sirah three times a day to extract all that incredible color and flavors for our traditional dessert wine!
The crew was focused but fun – the playlist all over the charts. The day I raked down bins of Zin, it was soul, funk, R and B. The fruit seems to move a little faster to James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Reading. Daily team lunches are common – not always possible but add to the sense of common purpose that the harvest cellar breeds.
From August on, it was daily early morning visits to the vineyards at first light for Bob and Tres and the crew – pulling berries from the ripening bunches and gathering them in zippy bags for testing and tasting at the winery. Then day by day the windows open for each of the dozens of vineyard blocks and ancient vineyards we draw from for peak flavors and fruit maturity – and it’s game on. Round up the pickers and bins!
Grab the fruit prematurely and you get weak flavors and cranky acid – probably bitter tannins, too. Grab the fruit too late and you get high sugar but too high alcohol and prune-y flavors, sometimes fat, flabby acids and tannins. Nailing it requires experience, instinct, and constant attention in the field. And when you do nail it, the wines start to make themselves and require less tweaking and interventions. Being a winemaker can be more like being a sheepdog than a mad scientist. Let nature take its course. Guide, shape, coddle, and release that built-in goodness from these great vineyards on these precious lands.
Now, with great new wines resting safely in barrels and as we wrap up 2018, it’s a great time to reflect on our blessings, nurture our relationships, and share and savor the fruits of our labors!