Last week, I made a trip up to Northern California. It was a bit of a milk route, but I had some things I needed to take care of.
My fraternity brother, Dilber Sraon, a practicing dentist in San Jose, was finishing some work I needed done on my tooth. He is always honest and straightforward with me and does very good work, so I trust him more than any other dentist I have seen.
Since, I lost all the fruit in my vineyard to birds this year, I wanted to get some Montepulciano from my friend, Jeff Miller. It was not ready two weeks ago when I was in Gilroy buying Fiano from Dave Vanni. However, Jeff was picking on Friday, so I stayed with him the night before.
On my way to Jeff’s house, I stopped by Napa Fermentation Supplies and picked up a small wine filter and filter pads, which I will need for my Fiano and will use with my other wines and meads in the future. Napa Fermentation has the best price I could find for this filter. Being in the area saved me on shipping costs.
The following morning, Jeff and I went to his Suisun Valley vineyard with a couple of my 18-gallon bins. It was 33 degrees when we left Jeff’s house. The vineyard was only a little warmer. We were able to find the picking crews by the white clouds of their breaths rising above the vine canopies. While the crews were picking for the winery and other buyers, Jeff and I filled up my bins.
The fruit this year, though picked at pretty much the same time of the month, was different than last year’s: Montepulciano berries look like table grapes. They’re huge by wine grape standards. This year, while riper than last year, the berries seemed smaller. There was more shot berries as well. Because of the screwy vintage, there was a touch of shrivel, a little uneven ripening and, occasionally, something that looked like powdery mildew. As is the case all over California, all Jeff’s varieties came in shorter than last year.
With my bins almost full (about 120 -130 pounds of fruit), we went to meet winemaker Mikael Wargin, who was overseeing the picking of his fruit. We swapped some tips and stories and traded some bottles of wine. Soon after, I was on my way home. I picked up some bags of ice, which I put around my bins, turned up the satellite radio and headed south.
When I arrived home, around 4 pm, I put the bins in my cold room, packed them off with more ice and got some rest.
I had expected that he would be inclined a back seat and assist, as he did when we pressed the Fiano two weeks ago. At best, I thought we’d take turns pressing and rubbing the clusters against the expanded metal. I was surprised that he was enjoying the process so much, that he insisted on crushing all the fruit by himself.
I would load up a small plastic tub with fruit from my bins, pull out Material Other than Grapes, and carry it down to the cellar, where my brother was ferociously crushing away. It took two hours to crush and de-stem the fruit and turn it into ten gallons of must.
I wanted to do some whole-berry inclusion this year, to enhance the fruitiness of the wine. This required frequent reminders to keep my brother from completely pulverizing all the fruit. In the end, I have something in the range of 5%-10% whole berry.
Fairly recently, I had entertained the idea of experimenting with a “natural” wine, allowing ambient fermentative species to run the fermentation. This spurred a fairly vigorous discussion in the comments section. The fruit this year was not pristine. It was not horrible, but all it takes is one cell of a fermentative species to colonize the entire lot of wine. If that dominant fermentative species gives off flavors, the wine will be undrinkable.
There were some moldy-looking grapes in my bins. For all intents and purposes, I have to assume there is an established culture of mold or mildew in my must. Given the hand I’ve been dealt this year, I have to defer any experimentation with spontaneous ferments until next year.
I do not want to contaminate my other ferments or, possibly, my cellar.