Although the evidence remained, the rains that came in mid to late September cleared the land of smoke and drought. The canopy was stressed, but due to the excessive heat, the sugars were actually a little behind due to the vines shutting down. I began sampling berries, and later clusters, and we were quickly approaching a pick date for the rosé. Approaching that date, I sprayed one last 501 spray to push the ripeness forward (still sitting around 19-20 Brix) and asked the orchard manager spray one final botrytis spray as the conditions were favorable for its development. The week prior to picking the rosé (Strawberry Mullet) sections, I compiled a pied de cuve or yeast starter in the vineyard. Using a technique I’d not used before, I destemmed and crushed by hand about twenty or so pounds of fruit into a plastic fermenter, then filled to the top of the bucket with whole cluster fruit. I gassed the bucket with CO2 and sealed it while still at the vineyard and crossed my fingers it would take.
The Strawberry Mullet was picked mid-morning on October 3rd, which was a very pleasant day to pick being sunny, clear and in the mid-60’s. It was picked into a ½ ton bin with dry ice layered into it before sealing it up and driving it to McMinnville, where I would be processing the wines. Once back at the winery the fruit got loaded straight into the press with zero sulfur added or any maceration or crushing ahead of time. Then the moment of truth: I popped open the pied de cuve. I took a wiff, and while it smelled of what reminded me of King Edward cigar box I had my crayons in as a child, it smelled healthy. I shrugged, and tossed it into the press with the fruit and let it go. Once the press got going I welcomed the Strawberry Mullet into the world by playing it The Idiot by Iggy Pop as it flowed into a settling tank only to be racked off its gross lees the following day.
The following week, back out at the vineyard, I took representative samples from each test bay. Where the treatment was a two cluster bay, I took five clusters from the upper and five from the lower spots respectively. I weighed, crushed, strained and ran pH and Brix on each lot, and recorded the data in my notebook. I would later send whole berries from the same lots to the lab for phenolic analysis with the same sampling parameters. Just scanning over the data, I was intrigued by results. The bays that had the lowest acid were the bays I had clipped the wings on (people, wings have acid!!), and the bays with the highest acid was from the bay that I tipped and hung two clusters on. I conceded though that there might be some vigor factors that tilted the numbers a little in some areas, but regardless the patterns were there. Clipping wings on Dolcetto, already a low acid grape, was a surefire way to lower acid even further which is not ideal while tipping or doing no cluster architecture manipulation was a way to maintain acid. The decision to hang one cluster per shoot versus two really came down to the vigor of the individual vine, and what style you were trying to achieve. Based on that block, I think alternating one to two clusters for a thinning strategy could maintain a decent crop size while having sugars and acid in balance. Tying all this data into the phenolic testing would be even more eye opening.
On my final day at the vineyard before harvesting, the weather was cold and rainy like on the day I had started back in February. My pace was a slow and meandering pace as I walked the block, not wanting to leave ever as I taped off the section I wanted picked for Asa Nisi Masa, and reflected, although perhaps with a little cheese, that my work was almost complete. I had gotten the fruit to the finished line, healthy and clean. Just then I saw a swarm of starlings flush from the eastern side of the block. It was out of my hands at this point. With no bird netting up, all I could do was wince and hope the hell they wouldn’t pick it all clean. Have mercy, please. It was a satisfying feeling I felt, watching the low, lumbering clouds sweep over the valley, and I couldn’t wait to have that feeling again next year.
Then harvest day came (10/25), and a helpful and equally vibrant crew came out to pick. Harvesting fruit is always fun, always convivial. That is, when it’s sunny and clear, and you cook your crew scrambled eggs first to start the day. Back at the winery, Asa and Baby Blue were processed a little differently, with 50% whole cluster berries used on Asa where I only used about 20% on Baby Blue. Zero sulfur was added at the crush pad.
Baby Blue was the first to wake up, but for both wines I began their life with daily pump overs, moving to punch downs leading up to pressing the wines. Both wines were pressed while still fermenting but were both around 1-2 Brix, on 11/7. Baby Blue was pressed into two neutral barrels and Asa didn’t even fill one barrel and had to top that barrel with a few gallons of free run juice from Baby Blue. The press barrel of Baby Blue was a touch smoky and its evolution in barrel would be monitored, and over all I felt the two wines would be quite different. Once I received the phenolic data from the lab, this became quite clear. For me, the big take away from the whole experiment, aside from the chemistries of the wing vs clipped, was the absolute concentration of phenolics in the crown gall infected fruit. In addition, the acid and sugars were in line to everything else, and my pH on the Asa was far higher than that of Baby Blue. Ultimately the decision to go for a little more whole cluster on Asa all came from the cluster sampling I had done leading up to harvest, with it having a higher average acid level than my vineyard representative sample. There’s plenty that can still go off the rails, but absolutely I can’t wait to drink that wine. There won’t be a lot of it, that’s one certain thing.
On my final day out in the vineyard this year, I sprayed one last 500 spray and also planted some vines I had in pots all season long in holes from diseased vines I’d ripped out in the spring. I planted also some Nebbiolo vines I had had in pots for a number of years, so it will be interesting to see if they take. There are still holes and still vines to be ripped out. I might like to get a few different varieties out there and co-plant them just for the hell of it. The whole thing is experiment anyway. Walking the block one last time, I estimated that with the fruit I had left hanging on the vine that that block put out about 3-3.2 tons, which breaks down to 5-5.25 tons/acre. Not numbers most winemakers would boast about, but ultimately it doesn’t break down that simply. The high vigor rows (west side of block), probably pushed closed to 7 tons/acre vs closer to 4 for the eastern side of the block. The crown gall averaged something ridiculous like .9 tons/ac. Silly low. The year, and therefore the very idea of each wine, was completely shaped and created by watching and observing over the arch of the growing season and by making adjustments each week…tinkering, to pull or not pull leaves, the timing and the thinning of fruit, the timing of nutritional sprays, walking the block and simply being there in front of it with open eyes and an open mind. I can’t wait to start again.