Monday, September 28, 2009

Pondering "Perfection"

Is there a work of art that is perfect? The Taj Mahal? The Parthenon? Is perfection a singular, quantifiable, 100% test grade? Where do we ever come across, in real life, situations where perfection is an objective, determinate, finite reality? Do we strive for perfection to be closer to God or man? Is one of Monet's haystacks more perfect than another?

My cousin, Albie, left his surfboard behind the garage at my parent's house. Albie is older than I am by seven or eight years, and when I was a kid I pretty much worshipped him, this awesome surfing cousin. When I turned sixteen and got my driver's license, I measured that eight-foot longboard and measured my mom's Volvo stationwagon. With the back seat down and the front passenger seat reclined, I could fit the surfboard inside.

I took that surfboard out from behind the garage and washed off caked dirt. The whole board was covered with some other nasty, irregular gunk. For two days, I scraped and rubbed until all that other junk was removed. Finally, I got out my mom's Pledge and sprayed and polished until that entire board gleamed with perfection. The inlaid wooden highlights sparkled. We were ready, me and that surfboard, and I was going to teach myself how to surf.

Going down to the beach with that surfboard, I could not have been more happy or more proud. I got it out from the back of the Volvo in the parking lot with great care, stood it up, and admired it. The board was heavy under my arm, but I kept cool and didn't show how hard it was to lug that huge board across the sand. I could not wait to get it into the water!

Once it was in the water, the board looked beautiful, but I could not even hold onto it, much less get on it and paddle out into the waves. My sad conclusion, after two hours of struggling to even lie down on the board and failing at that, was that surfing is really REALLY HARD! It took me a lot more years to learn about waxing surfboards and to realize that "perfection" is incredibly slippery.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Process of the Attainable

No much about getting to have Grape Hill has been easy. All the exhausted drives from Seattle. Fighting winds and rain to build. Getting stuck in ankle deep mud. Decisions decisions. We built a house from industrial materials and made our kitchen island and all of our moldings from cherry-faced plywood.

Nobody can get this, THIS, by writing a check. Oh, you can get something spectacular, no doubt, but not Grape Hill. This is a process, a not terribly expensive achievement that requires time and dedication, passion and the capacity to roll with frustrations and limitations. Producing something that conveys the impression that this is unattainable, with an alienating under-current that says "You can visit, but this is beyond you";that under-current is commonplace. What we wanted to convey is an invitation to other that says "enjoy yourselves and may you do in your life the things that really turn you on".

We didn't seek perfection and we certainly did not achieve perfection. Perfection is never going to be had in any human endeavor; just thinking that we know what constitutes perfection means we are either mimicking fools or egoistic fools, and neither of these types of fools laughs nearly enough.

So if being here feels comfortable and special without feeling especially elite, I'd like to invite everyone to rethink what constitutes "elite"? In Bhutan they have a government ministry of happiness, the mandate of which is to support and enhance the joy within the population. Places that invite deep breathing and wandering skipping childlike richness...these are places built upon impressions and not upon impressing. I reckon that is about it.

Took me a lot of journeying to get back to being able to thoroughly love watching the clouds pass by. Maybe I am finally getting to the point where we can open those bottles of wine that we have never dared to drink. I don't ever want a painting so valuable that I cannot feel comfortable to hang it up where I can see it and I don't ever again want to buy a bottle of wine that I take so damned seriously that I cannot justify drinking it up.

None of that stuff will ever be as good as what those glorious wind-surfing dudes are enjoying every single day they get out on the river. That sort of richness can't be had by writing a check.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall and Winter Ahead

Harvest begins on Sunday. The process is: removing the netting, snipping the bunches into small crates, running the small crates to the truck for transfer into the huge crates. After harvesting, all the equipment gets thoroughly cleaned and then we Crush. Crushing is a process to break the skins and remove the stems ahead of flushing the fruit to clear bacteria and then promoting fermentation through the introduction of yeast. Fermentation is a daily baby-sitting process wherein the grapes rise to the top of the fermentation container and need to be "punched down" multiple times daily until the sugars have turned to alcohol and the new wine is "dry". Lots of work, fulfilling work, and a couple weeks of purple hands.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Whine

The syrah is destined for the drainpipe and not my gullet, I'm afraid. Did a big blending session on Wednesday night and nothing tasted right. Great mouth feel, beautiful concentration, but an overall off flavor. Bob Betz was very gracious to help me out on Thursday. The verdict is that I mangled the syrah...left enough air space for some negative processes to occur that ran amok during the hot spell this summer. Sad news. These grapes deserved better. I am now convinced that the wine experts are correct...Grape Hill has the "it factor" for terroir. These grapes deserve better than me. So sad that Stan Clarke is not around. On my own, I had better get much better fast to do these justice. The cabernet survives, which is some comfort, but the 2008 cab was not anything to what the syrah should have been. I will do better in 2009, but so much to learn... My goodness, these are truly spectacular grapes. What the hell am I doing to be in charge of this effort? Just plain wrong.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting ready for harvest.

First the syrah, then the cabernet, about three weeks apart. This will be my second year of making wine. Last year's wine will be going into bottles after blending, with blending tests starting now. This has had eleven months "in barrel". I don't expect to wait as long next year, with the plan being to really try to go "oak free" and save just 20% for oaking. I am also going to be needing to find a real cellar for aging. Connor's bedroom isn't too bad, but those 100 degree days had even his room over 80 and that was a scary time for me. No sign that it effected the wine, thank goodness.
Tonight I am drawing out a 1/2 liter each of the syrah and cab to do various blending weights, the goal being to find two complimentary blends with one dominated by each varietal. We shall see. The final arbiter is the wine itself, after all. Ultimately, the wine maker's main job is to let the grapes do the talking and just not screw things up.

Much better growing season this year, so we should have wonderful grapes, far better cab, especially, than last year. Interestingly, I ran through a long malolactic fermentation cycle with the '08 cab and the acids are pretty and bright rather than overpowering. OK, no more writing about it. Let's get out the wine and see what we have!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can a tradition be brand new?

So. I say everyone who stays at Grape Hill should get a picture of themselves in the outdoor shower and post it on this blog. Is this possible? (Other than in winter, of course...we males would come off badly...)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Winemaking 101

From varmint control to how much juice goes into each barrel, wine making is about a lot more than grapes and crush, fermentation and press, aging and bottling. Our vineyard is producing now and the grapes are exceptionally good, but we aren't getting enough from each varietal to fill a barrel. We don't have that scale, and that lack of scale is a mixed blessing. The easiest way to age wines is the tried and true method of using oak barrels. But getting a barrel of good juice takes about eighty vines in full production. Then, once you have the barrels, which are very expensive belongings, you need to transport them somehow and store them in a temperature-controlled enough during malolactic fermentation to keep the bacteria happy and then cool enough to keep the wine stable for a year afterward. The logistics are daunting; unless you are selling wine, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to produce several varietals even at just one barrel each. Putting all your wines in one barrel is a lot like putting all your eggs in one basket, plus each barrel will yield twenty five cases of finished wine. That's a lot of wine for somebody who has no intention of selling wine.
So, we are getting about fifteen gallons each of both syrah and cabernet. That translates to six "carboys" of wine or around 140 bottles. Too much to move and store easily, too little to economically produce on scale. What to do, what to do???
Stan Clarke thought our vineyard site would produce some great grapes. Six years later, his convictions are proven out. One of these days, I need to decide to go big or to go home. The vineyard should be made to be at least six times its current size to eventually yield enough syrah, cabernet, merlot, cab franc, malbec, and petit verdot to carry its weight in the community. The land deserves it and I would be proud to have this, but so much work, it would take a full time vineyardist and that makes no sense without going 20X the current size...then without starting a wine label it doesn't make any profit, and then with a label the work grows exponentially...licensing, handling, shipping, marketing, distribution...
Goodness, reasoning things through out loud, or in a blog, sure helps to avert headaches. I'm sticking to the six carboys.