Still in slow-mo here in most of formerly sunny California.
A week ago, the grapes I'm getting from a backyard (actually, front yard) vineyard in Dry Creek looked like they'd take another three weeks to get ripe. Today I got new sugar readings from Paul Micallef, the home vineyard owner, suggesting that they'd take . . . another three weeks to get ripe. With high temperatures in the mid-70s, the weather for humans is dandy, but for grapes, it's about as motivating as watching paint dry.
A week ago, I thought I'd be getting some Grenache and some Malbec from normally torrid Lodi later this week. Today's projections are that they'll take . . . another week. Mother Nature on hold.
The upside of this downshifting is that there's more time to get ready for the impending avalanche of grapes. Which means lots of cleaning, not exactly the most romantic part of winemaking, but the most time-consuming. My rule of thumb is that, for any winemaking procedure, the first 40% of the time gets spent cleaning and prepping; then 20% of the time goes into the actual wine-related work; and then there's another 40% of the time spent cleaning up once again.
It's the same with restaurant cooking: a big investment in staging and prep work, followed by a brief, intense burst of cooking, followed by cleanup and planning ahead for the next day.
So two co-conspirators (Eileen and Ivan) and I spent two hours (six person-hours) Saturday just cleaning things: scouring out fermenters so they can become homes for grapes; rinsing out glass carboys so they contain no (OK, less) foreign matter; and cleaning up some wine -- racking the somewhat cleaner wine in barrels off the layer of sludge at the bottom of said barrels, rinsing the barrels out, then putting the wine back in.
Racking is a lot like chain-gang work: move something heavy and slightly gross from point A to point B, then move it back from point B to point A. This entire effort resulted in no new wine, no new flavors, no new bottles, just less dirt, fewer microbes, and several million fewer dead yeast cells in the barrels.
BUT, we had a reward. When Pete Stauffer and I went up to visit Paul and his field blend vineyard last weekend, he gave each of us a bottle of his 2007 home vintage. So when my sanitation crew and I were done with our labors, we pulled the cork, and from the first sniff, broke out in smiles. With 20 vintages under his belt, Paul knows how to make a decent bottle of wine; but we could tell we were tasting the vineyard, this blend, this spot, these grapes, and getting a foretaste of what we will hopefully be able to reproduce.
Ivan and I, longtime lovers of these miscegenated grape mixes, thought it was right on the money. Eileen's first comment was that while she liked it a lot, it didn't taste like the Zins she was used to, and she was right, too. The addition of the sliver of Petite and the demi-sliver of Carignane means there's more in the glass than just gushing, berry-jam, Zinfandel fruit; there's stuff we all srtuggled to describe, maybe tobacco, maybe tar, maybe smoke, maybe . . .That's why the old-time field blend style is California's signature wine. And why we still hope these grapes finally get ripe. Please. This year.