Thursday, July 29, 2010

What dog days?

Long time, no type my we are, the end of July, the "Dog Days of Summer" (please note my use of the recently created 'sarcastic' font) What, you ask, are the "Dog Days of Summer?"

Taken from
Function: noun plural
Etymology: from their being reckoned from the heliacal rising of the Dog Star (Sirius)
Date: 1538
1 : the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere
2 : a period of stagnation or inactivity

A more dire description can be found in Brady's Clavis Calendarium (1813): Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies"

What can I say…no (metaphorical) dogs this year! Brady makes it sound pretty nasty...especially that sour wine bit. If anything, spring and summer so far have been more like nature’s “casual Friday” around here. Not too hot, a few unseasonably cool days, dry, with minimal mildew pressure (which means much less spraying!). With the exception of our Malbec (more on that later) we exited spring with a phenomenal set. We are on track to have a slightly above average crop load than last year…which, as a winemaker, has me a bit concerned. I’ve been working closely with Sam, Juan, and Arturo who are doing a great job at selectively dropping fruit. In a year like this where there is no sign of verasion yet, getting rid of this excess crop today is going to help ensure that the fruit comes in with beautiful flavor and color…and not too late either!

Yeah, so about that Malbec. Commonly referred to as “the heartbreak grape”, Malbec is notorious for being very fragile during flowering. You sometimes hear of “shatter”; that is the phenomenon of the unpolenated pistil, dried up, and falling to the ground. In a typical year, we’ll witness 15% to 25% shatter on most of our varietals (yes, the joy of mountain farming). On the Malbec this year, it’s all over the place. There will be some vines with 30% shatter…and some with…my best guess, 95% shatter (I’m not sure how to quantify a cluster with three or five berries on it). This will present a challenge this year in determining ripeness, but that’s what makes farming fun. We’ll probably make multiple passes…a primary for the vines with minimal fruit load (get all the equipment dirty for 200 lbs of fruit…JOY!), followed by secondary and tertiary passes, based on fruit load.

Well, in other non-dog day news, my father, Fred, has been smiling ear to ear the past few months as he’s been able to re-embrace his first true love, construction. Most visitors to Schweiger Vineyards have fun with our outdoor tasting for whites, followed by a brief tour, concluding with red wine tasting in the barrel cavern. Coming soon, a new area to enjoy Schweiger Wines, our new tasting salon. One very fun feature will be a large deck overlooking one of our Cabernet blocks with the view of the Napa Valley laid out before you. This will truly be a comfortable place to sample our wines on those cool winter days…is that when the “hounds of winter” arrive to chase off these summer dogs? While I'm not crazy about Brady's aforementioned sour wine, I sure am rooting for a bit more heat in the months to come. Like all other things in farming...patience. In the meantime, let's raise a glass to whatever sort of canine you find nearby.

Andrew T. Schweiger, Winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards
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The panorama from the future tasting room deck.

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