Recently this dry summer, I had reason to venture upon the wild hills above the family vineyard in Alexander Valley. Walking the hills half a century later, I pondered redeveloping these natural water sources as a backup to our amazing modern well which requires electricity to function. Going back to the time before electricity was available, all you needed to supply the house with water was a source at higher elevation, gravity, hand digging tools, some mortar, rocks, pipe and some planning ahead. These springs have seeped their life-giving water in a modest but stalwart fashion during wet and dry years including the 1976/1977 drought which I witnessed first-hand. This is a very hopeful reminder during challenging times.
As with any significant change, there are upsides and downsides. For us, as with you all, this past year of pandemic has caused us pain and uncertainty. The upside to that is we are healthy and have been able to weather that storm with the tremendous support we received from you, our direct customers.
Ever since last fall when the fire burned right up to the barns at my parents’ place, we have been on alert, adapting to new situations. COVID-19, business shutdowns and the resulting market shifts for wine made us find new ways to cope.
We are all currently in a situation where we must adapt to rapidly changing conditions. While this was initiated by a biological threat, the human reaction to it has caused changes that cascade through every corner of society. And like most human reactions and responses, not all of it is logical or fact-based. However, that does not change the fact that we must adapt and move forward as best we are able.
Since the fires of 2019 there has been a lot of activity in the hills above Alexander Valley. Chainsaws and chippers have droned on endlessly through the winter. Recently, excavators and large trucks have been scooping away the rubble from the neighbor’s destroyed home in preparation to eventually rebuild what the fire had destroyed. In the vineyards, this time is devoted to pruning the ‘dormant’ vines.
Where to start? This has been a challenging year, even before the double whammy of extensive power outages and the Kincade fire (just fully contained as this is being written). With the wholesale wine market jammed with new labels and minions of salespeople all clamoring for attention, I find I am unable to keep our wines focused on in most of these markets. Yet what has always been solid for our winery over these many years is the support we have received from those of you on our mailing list. We thank you for never giving up on us. It is why we were able to start this winery in the first place and why we are still here.
In our Spring 2019 newsletter, I pretty much dared Nature to ‘bring it on’ regarding rainfall in our area. Well, this spring appeared to be the winter-that-didn’t-want-to-let-go. We had rainy conditions including a winter-style system come through in mid-later May just as some vineyards in Sonoma County began flowering. Fortunately, that was pretty much the end of those weather systems and temperatures warmed just enough to allow successful flowering in the majority of the sites I work with. There are still portions of vineyards that have very little crop. But from the way it looks at this point, we are generally looking at moderate crop levels with clusters that are like Goldilocks’ preference: Not too big, not too small…just about right.
Why so happy about rain? I remember the extremely dry start to the 2013-2014 rainy season and by early February of 2014 where I promised myself that I would not ever complain about too much rain, regardless of how inconvenient it may be at the time. It is far better to have more than enough rainfall than not enough.
Instead of following these new and shiny things, over the years I have tried to streamline our winemaking process. Rather than simply introducing more steps, additives, manipulations, etc. to ‘improve’ only one aspect at a time, I have tried to stand back and focus on as much of the whole picture as I am capable of to refine the process.
I talk about balance [in wine] a lot. My favorite definition is that opposing forces are present in equivalent prominence. I consider the fundamental axis of balance in wine as ‘angles and rounds.’ ‘Angles’ are the harsh, pointy things like acidity and tannins. ‘Rounds’ are the softer, plush, sweet and/or textural parts such as Glycerol (a polyol formed in proportion to alcohol) and sugar if present in the wine style [not mine]