Founder, Owner, Winemaker, Hose Dragger, Vine Pruner and amateur blog writer...
Bee zee Time...
“Indy”, the 1967 Ford tractor I use for therapy (and discing the vineyard rows) just received fresh ignition points and a rebuilt starter motor, he now roars to life in seconds rather than the customary 10 minutes of praying and cursing while fiddling around with the wires. The 2003 crop (I can’t believe it is 4th leaf already!) is on the vines, tiny little green condensed clusters waiting for the right time to bloom and set a crop of berries. In these weird times, when it often feels as if nothing makes sense while the history of the world is changing as we speak, I find it very comforting to watch the vines and realize that nature does not care. It simply continues to do what it has done for eons, start another generation. When you really want to get philosophical about it, the only reason we have wine is because the vines want to reproduce and ensure the survival of their species… it is absolutely amazing when you think about it. Here is how this mechanism works: Early in the growing season the vine is sucking nutrients out of the soil and energy from the sun so it can grow vegetatively. Once the sugar factories (leaves) are working at full steam, the vine shifts into second gear and starts diverting resources to the fruit, berries begin to swell and the seeds begin to mature. At this point, the grapes are very high in acid and low in sugar and thus very unappetizing to birds. Only late in the season, when the seeds have matured and are ready to perform their function do grapes start to taste good, acid levels begin to drop and sugar levels start to rise fast. No, the vine does not want to produce high-alcohol wines, it simply wants the grapes to be tasty to birds so that they may feast on them and deposit their seed-laden poop somewhere else.
In 1987, when I interned in Bordeaux, one of my duties was vineyard sampling. I remember raising an eyebrow (and in my youthful stupidity thinking “how primitive”) when a vigneron told me that in his family, they know it is time to harvest when the birds start eating the grapes. The more I grow grapes, the more I am convinced this is the best indicator of grape ripeness. Believe me, I tried to make huge 15 % alcohol wines from over-ripe grapes like some of my misguided vinous friends only to be very disappointed in how they age (I do have to admit that they are very “showy” in their youth but I digress…). So now I watch the birds very closely come harvest time and I think: “Where do the bees fit in?”
As some of you may have noticed, I like to have fun in writing about the wines, surfing and life in general. I must say I do enjoy the occasional raised eyebrow.. is this guy joking or is he serious? Since I am walking a thin line in how I chose to market my wine I think it is only fair to get a little serious and talk a little about my winemaking philosophy. So here it goes, undiluted. Just as you become a better cyclist when you do not have to think about your pedaling technique, you are able to make better wines when you stop over-analyzing minute production details. Pure, simple and true and I am willing to bet that anyone reading this can relate to at least one area in their life where they KNOW this is so… how about parenting for example: if you have more than one child – tell me you did not over-protect your first born… I dare ya! As I get close to completing two decades of harvests I find myself in that comfortable zone as a winegrower. While I still look at the analysis results in the lab, I do so with a much “lighter eye” than I used to. I do not go into immediate action mode if I see a low nitrogen reading from a petiole analysis of some vineyard if I know the vines look healthy. I do not rush to add acid to a wine if I know it tastes good, even if the pH is higher than the accepted norm. Just as I have learned to focus on the big picture in raising my kids (so what if my kid leaves a messy room once in a while? Is he well adjusted? Does he relate well to his friends and family? Can he tell right from wrong?) – I have also learned to make wine by taking a step back, letting the small dots create a bigger, discernable picture to guide me.
I have, long ago, given up the idea of making a wine so great to cause the whole world to drop to their knees and worship the ground I walk on. Ain’t gonna happen! Just as I do not expect everyone to like me, I do not expect all wine lovers to love the wine I make. This attitude gives me a great freedom, the freedom to make a wine I like to drink. To answer the obvious next question I have to struggle and find words to define that which is indefinable… taste. It almost seems easier to define what I do not like, for example: I dislike wines that have huge, overblown aromas and weak structure (they build expectation and deliver disappointment). I dislike wines that taste like furniture… Oak has its place in winemaking but it was never meant to have a leading role. Most of all, I dislike wines that deliver a disjointed experience, wines that let you sense the fruit separately from the oak, the tannins separately from the acids. To me, a great wine is one that is seamless, one that does not easily reveal it’s secrets but rather creeps on you by first and foremost delivering a pleasurable sensation on your palate… what I call the “Yummy” factor. I often laugh when I see someone sip a hugely tannic wine, grimace and say: “ Boy, this will be great in 10 years” What a crock of bovine excrement! If a bottled wine is unbalanced now it will not become balanced later, at best it may become more drinkable. So now you know that my winemaking mission is the search for balance. Just as I do not define my surfing by the type of board I ride (I have both longboards and shortboards) but rather by an attitude that says let’s see what fits this wave and these conditions best – so in winemaking; I try to step back, get a good feel for the fruit, the vintage, the variety and let them lead the way with minimal intervention. I cannot agree more with winemakers that say that wines are made in the vineyard, it is that attitude that puts people on the road to make balanced wines!
A Plug For My Friends…
I recommend two new brands for you to check out: One is S.P. Drummer made by my college roommate and good buddy Scott Peterson (no, he is not the one from Modesto…) great reds from an experienced winemaker and a great cook. The other brand is Amicitia made by Chris Russi and Tim Nordvent in Healdsburg, in addition to providing good wines at fair prices they are cool people and their newsletter is tons of fun.
In case you did not know, DaKine is a purely Hawaiian expression that can mean many things but is mostly used to describe something that is the best, the ultimate, as in: “ Brah, you should try the poke at Nakamura’s, it’s DaKine poke, spicy like my girlfriend, Brah!”
Folks who came to the Longboard table at the Rhone Rangers event had a taste of the 2002 DaKine Vineyard Syrah (barrel samples) and judging by their purple-stained smiles they really enjoyed the experience.. The wine is about 89% Syrah, 3% Zinfandel, 2% Malbec, 2% Grenache, 2% Petit Sirah, 2% Malbec and (like it says on the label) 100% Yummy. It will be available next spring in small quantities (only 50 cases or so will be bottled).
If this mail is the first time you hear about the release of the 2001 Syrah it means you are not on the E-MAIL list and may be missing on some of the fun! If you have email and want to receive the occasional update, email me at:
Pura Vida and Mahalo to you all,
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