This time of year is always tough for me. I’ve never been a warm weather person and when the Autumn breeze picks up and the vineyards start to turn beautiful colors it makes me happy. But this is nearly always the time of year that is the most difficult for grape growers and winemakers – especially for those grapes that need the extra time on the vines.
Why? Well, for starters the moisture content in the air gets higher and usually we start to have cloudy days and certainly heavy morning fog. This can induce botrytis on the grapes leading to moldy clusters. Not good. In addition, with the shorter days there is limited amounts of sunlight which means it takes even longer to get the grapes ripe.
So as much as I want to light a fire, sit on my couch and get lost in a great wine…I’m torn. I want to enjoy this time of year and all the things that come along with it (like eating more), but I’m always concerned about the grapes. When the vineyards have been picked I feel so much better.
But it is about so much more than just getting grapes ripe. It’s also about developing flavors. Generally speaking the longer the grapes are on the vine, the more depth and character are developed. There is always a give and take when it comes to wine though. During the growing process sugars rise as acid levels fall – at some point the two intersect at the perfect time and that is when the orders are given to pick. There’s a little more to it than that, but those are two very important factors. But wait too long and the wine can be too alcoholic leading to a ‘hot’ character.
All reports I’ve heard is that this year has been a banner year. Quality is really great and quantity has been higher than expected. After two semi-rough years it’s a relief to see one where winemakers are really happy. The last two vintages have certainly had their challenges (cool summers, heat spikes, rain), but the great winemakers have taken the time to provide higher levels of care and sorting to bring out the best qualities.
I live in an amazing place to grow grapes and with very few exceptions the climate is perfect. We aren’t plagued with many of the issues that Europe deals with. It’s not uncommon for France to have rain in the summer and very cold weather early on requiring picking sooner than is desirable. Often I have customers ask me what my favorite California years are and I can truly say nearly all of them. Sure, they each have their nuances (some providing more fruit forward wines or others earthier) but we are lucky that we have these nearly perfect conditions turning out an excellent crop year after year.
Back in 2009 when I worked for Matanzas Creek we were visited by a group of food bloggers. At that point in time I actually had no idea what a blog was and my curiosity was spiked. These gals seemed to be making a difference on the food front and I thought soon after meeting them that maybe I had a knack for writing about wine. Funny since English and writing were subjects I avoided at all costs in high school and college. I guess I just hadn’t found the right subject.
So, one of these bloggers was Jenna Weber of the blog Eat, Live, Run. This is the post from her visit that day. At one point my face was on the post, but as time goes on the blogs get purged of some pictures to save space. I didn’t even know about the blog and probably wouldn’t have checked except one of my friends happened to be an avid follower and saw me on the post the next morning.
These gals were telling me that some of them saw upwards of 1-2,000 people visiting their blog each day. WOW! I haven’t been anywhere near that, but I also don’t update as much as I want to. Anyway, I’m getting side tracked. A few months later my inspiration finally turned into reality with my first post. That was on Blogger, but I learned within the year that Word Press was much more suited to adding pictures and had an easier interface. I’m coming up on 3 years of blogging this January and I still love it. I wish I had more time to dedicate to it, but life is busy and I update when I can.
The reason I bring up Jenna Weber now is that I just finished reading her book White Jacket Required, a look into her life before, during and after culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. The book was a dream of hers an I think she did an outstanding job. I’m thinking it won’t be her last book and I look forward to reading future projects – maybe one about her time in wine country? If you like food and more importantly good stories about people, I definitely recommend the read. The book is full of suspense, heartbreak and joy and even a trip to Sonoma’s wine country!
Don’t get any ideas readers, I won’t be writing a book anytime soon! Although you never know what the future will hold – I never thought I would be blogging either.
Tonight I lie in bed awake waiting for tomorrow to come. Tomorrow brings with it opportunity, new experiences and more time with the family. You see, last Friday was my last day at the place I spent 5 days a week at for the last year plus. Through no fault of my own, the business closed. I was working hard to make it a success; however there were too many factors stacked against us. But that is the past and the past can not be changed. What can be changed is tomorrow (and now – but tomorrow and now are pretty close to the same thing).
I’m already interviewing for my next adventure in this ever-changing industry. And I really mean an adventure. Each place I’ve worked for in the past 5 years has had its own character, history and customers. It has been a lifetime of experiences in a short period of time full of awesome co-workers with unlimited knowledge of wine. All of whom were willing to share with me and impart a real understanding of this complicated business. I’ve also had the pleasure of taking some great classes through leading organizations in the wine industry leading to even more knowledge.
It all sounds so easy: grow some grapes, crush them, bottle the product and sell it to consumers. So simple, I forgot the part about fermentation! But this is an intricate business that has countless steps to ensure the quality of the finished wine matches up with what the winery’s customers have come to expect. As one of the funny ecards floating around Facebook said recently: “you mean I can get paid to help people drink wine? Where do I sign up” It’s true. When all is said and done, that is what we do – although each of us plays a unique role in the process.
So while I don’t know yet what the next adventure for me will be, I do know that it will be exciting. I do know that it will bring with it new challenges and experiences. I also know that I will meet new people with unique perspectives hearing about some of the same processes in new ways. I’m excited for what the future holds and I look forward to where this career path will take me next.
So while I type this and think about all the experiences I’ve had, I know only one thing for sure; this is the only thing I want to do with my life. There are no other jobs or career paths that fit with my lifestyle. In addition, the beverage I have come to not only enjoy daily has provided for my family for nearly half of my post-college years. Good stuff. You’ve heard people say it, but do what you love and the money (and happiness) will come. I’m trying. And if the money doesn’t come at least there’s wine!
More soon on my next steps….
For those who didn’t know, Thursday was officially #CabernetDay on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets that I’m sure I haven’t discovered, but will waste plenty of my time in the future. So, what is #CabernetDay? And why does it have that number sign (#) in front of it? Cabernet Day is hosted each year by Rick Bakas, a local Sommelier. He also hosts several other ‘days’ throughout the year. That number sign is what they call a hashtag and in Twitter speak it is used to group tweets together. So, everyone who was tweeting about #CabernetDay could do a search for other people participating. Thus, creating a special place for all the #CabernetDay tweets.
So now that you’re fully aware of what a special day it was for Cabernet yesterday, I’ll share what I was drinking…
If only I could actually share it with you! This is one of my all time favorite wines. It also carries some special meanings to me. For starters, it is the Cabernet vintage we were pouring when I first was working at Arrowood. It was also my first job in the wine industry – pouring wine and conducting tours at the Arrowood estate. But for me, Cabernet goes much deeper than that.
Cabernet was the first wine I remember drinking. My parents didn’t drink much when my sister and I were growing up (at least not to our knowledge) except when we were at parties and family gatherings. If the Manhattans weren’t flowing, then I remember my dad drinking Cabernet. Now, I have a terrible memory so this could all be wrong, but makes for a good story. So, of course when I’m first offered the opportunity to drink I choose Cabernet. Can’t recall whether I was old enough to consume legally, but let’s just say I was. I liked Cabernet for its boldness. Although not right away. Like most alcoholic drinks wine is an acquired taste.
The first bottle I remember sharing with a group of friends (a big milestone in a wine lover’s life!) was a 1995 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour. For me it was a bottle I’ll remember forever. But it wasn’t until I started working at Arrowood that I fell in love with Cabernet. And until recently it has been my favorite varietal. While I still love it, Zinfandel is quickly catching up and may have even surpassed. Although my wine cellar tells a different story with Cabernet being the most common varietal and consuming almost 25% of the space. Of course, much of that has to do with my time at Arrowood.
I only have a few bottles left of the wine above and I look forward to enjoying them in the near future. Likely those will be enjoyed with company. And there really isn’t any reason to hang on to them much longer as it tasted great now. I would be very disappointed if I let them go much longer and then didn’t enjoy the flavors. Hope you do the same with your favorite wines. #CabernetDay was fun, but I’m also looking forward to the other #days coming up. Maybe Rick Bakas will do a #ZinfandelDay – that would be great!