Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Nighttime…Is The Right Time….

…For picking Chardonnay!

OK, I know it doesn’t rhyme and isn’t as much fun as what the blues standard refers to, but it sure makes good wine. Night harvesting the chardonnay ensures that we receive cool and plump fruit. The cool temperature is important for minimizing extraction of any bitter flavors, helps the settling process, and means that we use less energy chilling the juice. The more humid night air allows the grapes to recover from any dehydration the previous day, and the firm berries transport better than hot mushy ones – they don’t breakdown as much in the bins, which gets back to the extraction point above.

The other important and too often overlooked aspect of night harvesting is that the conditions are much better for the people doing the harvesting. I know that if I had to run up and down the rows 50 times in long sleeves and pants while carrying a 40 pound box of grapes on my head, I’d much rather do it in the cool morning air rather than the mid-day heat.

Now, I’ve been talking an awful lot about Chardonnay in these last few posts and I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, so you’ll be happy to know that in the last week we brought in the first Cabernet Sauvignon from here on the Estate. We’ve got three little tanks full of some of the blackest Cabernet I’ve ever gotten my hands into. Tremendous color and plenty of great ripe berry flavor to go with it. The first full crop of our Takahashi Ranch Merlot – a blending component for our Napa Valley Cabernet – also came in this week, and it also is showing fantastic color along with some of the best flavor that we’ve seen from Merlot here at CM. If these first few tanks are any indication, this will be a fantastic vintage.

This week we will continue bringing in Cabernet from our Estate vineyards as well as from our Napa Cab growers, and we should be finishing up the Chardonnay within the next 10 days. The first of the Estate Zinfandel is on deck today, so come on by and have a look!

Until next week – Cheers and may you “be with the one you love.”

Scroll down for our intern Daniel's latest post.

Cameron Parry - Winemaker

Chateau Montelena Winery

Harvest Simple Joy

By: Daniel Orrison


Legs, back, arms, mind… tired. Hands, shirts, shoes, socks… stained. Harvest is officially in full swing. Grapes are coming at a faster pace than ever expected while the room for storage is quickly running thin. But away from specifics and onto experience…

I meet a man on my day off (first in 7 days), who took one look at my hands and asked first, ‘how’s harvest going?’ and second, ‘dead yet?’. I laughed at the later part of the question and replied with a modest but accurate… ‘almost’. He then went on to tell a story from his first harvest (he has now worked over 20), and it went something like this: He was young, out of college, ready to take the wine world by storm (sound familiar?), and his boss at the time said “son… this line of work is not pretty, you won’t be tasting wine all day, meeting women or having fun. You will be working, on call, always. Every part of you will hurt at one point and you will wish you were dead, this I promise, especially here.”

Quite a first conversation with your boss if you ask me… Cameron’s first words were much more welcoming.

The boss then said: “Because son, I’ve seen kids like you come and go, and here’s how it’s going to work. After the first week you will think you are tired. After the second, exhausted. And by the third… dead.” I can now honestly say this is a very accurate description of the harvest lifestyle. Days run together, the workload seems impossible, and the word tired takes on new meaning.

However, I feel the old man’s boss forgot a few parts of this story. He forgot to say how much fun you will have along the way (the laughs and memories), how rewarding it is to look back on everything you accomplish each day, how special it is to be a part of a tradition much larger than yourself, and how educational the experience is for anyone who loves wine. Sure, at points we’re tired, but in my eye that’s what makes it so great! The understanding that everyone is tried, everyone’s hands hurt, everyone could use a day off… but still, day after day, year after year, people all over the world wake up to celebrate the ups and downs of harvest. For instance, he didn’t mention that at 10pm, while cleaning presses in the pouring rain, listening to your cellar master, Gilberto, sing ‘life is beautiful’ you will laugh harder than you ever have. He left out how wonderful a feeling it is to put your feet up on a couch after working an 18-hour harvest day (something you can only understand after doing). Or how calming the feeling that surrounds a winery at midnight can be. The small joys, the subtle moments, and the silent “thank you” wine constantly offers its maker that reminds us of how worthwhile what we are doing is. This area, he most certainly forgot to mention. Because harvest, simply and unexplained, is about truth, hard work, discipline and tradition. These words are not to be thrown around, but respected. And while some days may be hard, tough and stressful the final product is worth every scrape… this, exactly, is what makes it so great. It’s not easy and because of this its rewards are not plain -- but amazing, incredible, and transcending (think 1973 Montelena Chardonnay). Or, in my eyes, what makes the industry move round. What excites us each morning to wake up and work hard.

Tasting on my day off. Life is good. Respect the small stuff.

God bless from Napa.



1 comment:

Sally Johnson said...

I love the way you write Daniel!
Sounds like you're having a great vintage.. All the best,

Pride Mountain Vineyards
Harvest Enologist