No tears this year. Sweat, sore muscles, stained hands, a little blood, but all scars reaped in joy. It’s the year we’ve been waiting for.
The year when our handiwork in the vines gets an exponential boost from legendary weather and a spanking new extension to the winery.
Four harvests this season – a far cry from our pampered, one-harvest, one-vat in 2011. After the Rosé hand harvest, the Merlots arrived in their faithful manner: poised, plump, sweet. I was out in the vineyard directing the harvester while the enthusiastic team in the winery prepared for the wagonloads. And true to form, despite our lengthy, war room planning session the night before, I still made a mistake in the parcel sequence.
Frantic calls on my walkie-talkie. “Merde” on the other end of the line. But we don’t call John “MacGyver” for nothing, and with ingenuity and more sweat he cobbled a solution. Merde!
The Cabernet Francs came in a week later on the portentous Lunar Eclipse and Full Moon. Apparently I was the only person in France who did not get out of bed at 3 am to watch the spectacle. Even our earthy mayor who drove the tractor marveled at this day’s fortuitous astrological confluences.
But no time for poetry – the harvester arrived early and was on the far side of the vineyard taking the wrong parcel in the dark – despite all our markings. Merde!
For years, locals have told us that the regional Cabernet Franc can offer the precious qualities of elegance and finesse as well as subtle, marvelous flavors. Many of these farmers have also ripped up most of their Cabernet Franc to plant the earlier ripening and more reliable Merlot. Francs are finicky. They need their feet in the right soil, the right exposure, the right rootstock, and, the uncontrollable factor – a sunny September so they really ripen. This exceptional year we were determined to see what our Francs would give if we could continue to ripen them into October without the risk of rot.
Surely it’s too early to brag, but I was astonished by the taste of the Franc just 10 days after harvest. Normally at this point in fermentation, juice cum wine can taste very strange, if not downright unpleasant. We rely on trained palates to make professional but seemingly clairvoyant pronouncements about the potential virtues underlying these perplexing flavors as the wine is evolving. But not so this Franc. She was delicious even in her most complicated period of adolescence. Enough said, lest I sabotage by counting my chickens too early.
And finally, October 7th, we collect the Cabernet Sauvignon to bring structure and complexity to the blend. Immeasurable relief and gratitude that the last grapes have come to shelter, safe and sound. On such a day we live in the moment, we want for nothing.
Meanwhile, the daily work in the winery has gotten more complex. Pumpovers for maceration to extract the delicious tannins. Moving tons of juice from one tank to another, cleaning out the sediment, moving it all back. Délestage to break up the “pancake” of raisins that sits on top. Temperature and density checks (sugar as it is transformed into alcohol). Tasting every tank, every day to make sure everything is ok.
And toward the end – the “brassage des lies” – stirring the dead yeasts at the bottom. Brassage gives that highly desired and rare sensation of “gras” (unctuousness) as the wine rolls over your tongue. A most precarious activity with John crouching at the top of the tank trying to stir the bottom 3 meters below. I man the pump, nag him to be careful, and pray.
We rarely have dinner before 10 pm, so all in all, hardly a sustainable rhythm. John’s hands are calloused and stained wine-ink red.
After 6 weeks we’re bone tired.
But never to tired to touch. Every midnight we stroll across the garden in the crisp, cold air. The winery is warm and humming quietly, and as we enter I’m reminded of that childhood sensation – all my dolls have been dancing about during my absence. The wine pretends to be asleep now, but we know better. John and I walk to each tank to touch and send intentions. He calls the Rosé the “Ice Princess” for she is distant now, deep in her cold beauty sleep. But all the others are warm and welcoming to the touch. If those theories of Quantum Physics are correct, we are wishing the wine into deliciousness.
After we tuck in the tanks, we step outside for a night bath of starlight. Under clear skies punctuated by diamond points, we wrap our arms around each other and hug the wine in our thoughts.