Took a delightful trip up to Healdsburg in Sonoma's Dry Creek yesterday with my longtime winemaking crony Pete Stauffer and his wife Diana. The purpose: visit our grapes.
Pete and I are splitting up the output from a backyard vineyard belonging to Paul and Barbara Micallef, who are friends of friends. I met these folks a year or so ago at a dinner party, and we tasted some of each other's home wines, and that was that. This spring, we ran into each other again, at the same mutual friends' house, and Paul said that since he had so much homemade wine built up, he thought he'd be selling his grapes this year, maybe put them on Craigslist.
Oh, Paul, I said on the spot, let me have a crack at them first -- and this post is about why I jumped at the possibility.
His vineyard, producing slightly under a ton of grapes, was constructed 20 years ago on the model of an old-time California field blend -- maybe 85% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane. That kind of mix is every Zinfandel fan's dream; it's the kind of grape cocktail that has made Ridge Vineyards famous and made oceans of tasty wine for 150 years. It's the signature of California wine, and Dry Creek is a good an area as any for its expression.
I mentioned this possibility to a couple friends, who began to drool. I mentioned it by email to Pete, who said, why not? I called Paul, promised to take the all the grapes at a very reasonable price; he didn't even ask for a deposit.Yesterday we got a look at the place. Not your average backyard vineyard.
Does that make you want a glass of Zinfandel, or what? The little hillside vineyards, stretching four or five rows further down the hillside than the picture shows, is a mile off of and above West Dry Creek Road, and has a view of several million dollars' worth of Dry Creek real estate.
We walked the entire vineyard, tasted some grapes, and checked the sugar level with a refractometer (around 18 Brix). We could see the sunburn damage in a few places, legacy of a freaky heat spike a couple weeks ago in the midst of an overly cool season. We tasted Paul's 2009 field blend in the barrel, and it was tasty indeed; we tasted a smaller barrel of Petite Sirah made from another part of the vineyard -- a single row, off by itself, dry-farmed, no irrigation -- and it was spectacular.
This will be some seriously fun wine to make -- not to mention the YouTube posibilieies of rank amateurs picking grapes on a steep hillside. Three or four weeks till harvest -- depending on the goofy weather.Mainly I came away with that unbelievable view in my head. I've always felt that one of the clearest truths in the world of terroir is that once you've visited a vineyard, the wines always taste special, they taste of that place. This is not terroir in a causal, scientific sense -- the idea that natural conditions create flavors -- but rather an emotional association -- that knowing a place changes your understanding of the wine forever.
I can hardly wait.