September 2011 Archives
Note to self: Avoid flying home on 9/11.
Despite a poorly planned departure date, I made it home from my New York sales trip without a hitch. And just in the nick of time! Yesterday we received our first load of ripe grapes. As is the tradition around here, everyone gathered around the crusher to witness the big event. Even my father was there, to ceremoniously shovel grapes into the shiny stainless steel hopper. A glass of bubbles was raised as we toasted the safety, success, and serendipity of this annual event that is the lifeblood of our winery.
The 2011 harvest is important for a number of reasons:
Now about those milestones...
This is our 40th harvest. It's also the 35th harvest for longtime employee Gary Emmerich, and it's the 1st harvest for newcomer Tim Bell. Tim joined us earlier this summer as winemaker. Now don't go getting all worried that massive changes are ahead: on the contrary, Tim's exacting nature and attention to detail will help us ensure the continued high quality and consistently delicious nature of our wines. Longtime consulting winemaker Bill Knuttel remains part of the team and will be working closely with Tim throughout the harvest.
We have a few other newcomers in the cellar too. Donovan Ackermann and Kosie Van De Merwe are our latest harvest interns (both hail from South Africa) to add to a long list of international talent who have worked crush at Dry Creek. They are joined by veterans Nova Perrill (assistant winemaker), Jerry Smith (cellar master), Abel Garcia (cellar foreman), Mike Gillian (mechanic), and Tarcicio Garcia (Abe's brother).
To say we have an awesome team is an understatement. Just look at this pictureÂ there's enough brawn, brains, and bravado to make some seriously hard core wines! As the work on the crush pad begins to pick up the pace, the work continues in our vineyards. Besides the actual picking process, our vineyard crews are busily dropping fruit, eliminating clusters that don't look good and encouraging maturation and ripeness in the remaining clusters. Monitoring sugar levels is a daily to-do while waiting patiently for Mother Nature to do her thing. Harvest generally starts out rather slowly, but nearly always escalates to a frantic pace that somehow everybody manages to survive.
No wonder they call it CRUSH!
Our family is in a state of transition. My eldest child, Taylor-whom many of you know from the wine named after her, (Taylor's Vineyard Sauvignon MusquÃ©) as well as her annual singing performances at our Summer Lobster Fest, recently headed off to college. Packing her up (three cars full!) was a surreal experience as any parent who has been through this transition knows. Happily, she is loving college life and has made many new friends. Her grades better be positive too as we sure are going to have to sell a lot of wine to help pay for this! Our family life is slowly adjusting to a slightly less complicated existence with one less person in the house.
The winery is in a state of transition too. We have several new faces around the cellar and we are rapidly gearing up for our 40th harvest. With all the cold weather earlier this year, we're already behind schedule by a few weeks. But most winemakers I know secretly welcome a little delay as they finish up their last minute preparations before the first load of grapes arrive. This year, we will most likely start picking Sauvignon Blanc first. Quality looks good, but yields, especially in Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel are light. A bit of last minute scrambling is going on as we search for added vineyards to shore up our estate fruit supplies.
Sadly, I'll miss the arrival of our first load as I'm on a plane headed to New York for a week of market work. You certainly wouldn't have had that forty years ago! Nor, would you have had the overcrowded marketplace, distributor consolidation and a lagging economy to worry about in addition to harvest. As a matter of fact, harvest forty years ago was a very different matter.
The summer of '72 was very hot and dry. A serious wildfire had occurred on Bradford Mountain, just off West Dry Creek Rd. I was 9 years old at the time. The California Division of Forestry Services had set up camp in our newly cleared field- in what would soon become known as DCV 3-the birthplace of FumÃ© Blanc and the first vineyard planted to Sauvignon Blanc in the region. Dad was fresh out of UC Davis and excited as hell to make his first vintage of wine. The winery itself had not been built, so our first load of grapes was actually crushed over at Cuvaison Winery in Napa where good friend Tom Cottrell was winemaker. Many of the industry's legacy vintners were also getting started that same yearÂBernard Portet, Jim Barrett, and Tom Burgess to name a few.
It was an era of trial and error, of teamwork and innovationÂmost winemakers were new at this, and they were such early pioneers! One of my favorite family stories involves my father using chewing gum to plug up a leaky radiator hose during the long slow drive over the hill to Cuvaison. With 100 degree plus weather, the grapes were at risk of being scorched and a solution had to be found quickly. A couple of wads of Wrigley's soon repaired the problem and Robert Young's old red truck eventually made it over the hill with our precious first load. Hopefully, we won't have similar problems this year although I'm sure there will be a few snafus...there always are.
So much has changed in the nearly four decades of our existence. We now have dozens of fermenters, three presses, and thousands of barrels that fill the walls of the winery. Our cellar crew has grown to 9 and we have a full time maintenance man to repair radiator hoses instead of using chewing gum. I've grown up and so has the winery. What will the next forty years bring? Who knows, but I sure feel blessed to have been a part of the winery's early days as well as that very first harvest.
This is a blog about what it's really like to be in the wine industry...so sit back, take a sip and enjoy!
A Lifetime in Wine
Top 10 Traits of the Successful Family Winery
The Dreaded Family Meeting
Board Meeting Jitters
Is the Future of the Winery in Danger?
The Case of the Overweight Bottle
Wine and Dementia
Wanted: Talented (Normal) Individual for Family Owned Winery
A Sea of Wine
The Heroes of Our Industry