If I could see into the future, I would buy one lottery ticket and finally get that little place in Napa I always wanted. Yeah right "napa"- that'll be the day. Nope, I 'd still live in Sonoma County, and I'd still go to work everyday, albeit in a slightly fancier vehicle. But not being prone to buying lottery tickets, I just don't see that happening to me. Hey- maybe that in and of itself means I can see the future.
But in some circumstances, I actually can- and today I got a glimpse of the future. It was a bit hazy, but it was a glimpse nonetheless. People always wonder about the current vintage- how is it, what do i think of it, etc. All winemakers get asked these questions. I keep waiting for the time a winemaker says something other than "best ever". Just once, I'd like to hear someone say "well, the wines are okay, but not really what we were hoping for, and not as good as the previous year". Yes! I would buy that man a beer- which he would need because he'd be pretty much broke at that point with that level of candor.
Truth be told, I think it is almost impossible to say a lot about a vintage until it has been in the bottle awhile, especially with Pinot. I swear, you go in one day and taste through barrels and it's all "oh yeah! Nailed it baby! Whoo-yaah". Two days later, you taste the same wines and its "allright, who the hell has been messing with my barrels?"- because the wine is nothing like it was a couple days earlier. Pinot is just that fickle. I just hope to bottle on a "good" day- and willing engage in ritualistic ceremonies to ensure just that result (the hallucinations are simply a pleasant bonus).
When a guy presses a wine (at the end of fermentation) and purports to pronounce its quality at that time, I want to walk up and bitch-slap some sense into him. Actually, I just want to bitch-slap him for saying such nonsense- because you just don't know. Anything can happen- and usually does. To think that the wine that just finished fermentation is the same wine you will bottle months or years down the road is simply intellectually dishonest. And stupid. Because wine does change- dramatically- it goes through secondary fermentation- it gets character from contact with the dead yeast cells (we stir them through every couple weeks for a few months), it concentrates by the process of evaporation, it goes through chemical changes, sometimes it changes just because it can. And it should.
So when you bottle it- it may still hold some of the early characters, but it had better damn well have evolved into something different, and hopefully better (wines just finishing fermentation are not usually a lot of fun to taste- they are full of CO2 (carbonic acid) which can make it seem like drinking razor blades. Tart, sometimes unyielding, with all kinds of rough edges....interesting yes, informative, somewhat, but fun? Not hardly. And most definitely not definitive.
It's a process getting to know a wine- it certainly starts in the vineyard tasting grapes, and it evolves every step of the way. Like a love affair of substance- it just takes awhile, and there are always peaks and dips. But a really interesting day is the day you first assemble "rough" versions of the various wines- bringing together the pieces you think will approximate the final result.
This time of year we host two weekends of "Barrel Tasting" where folks can taste a few wines from barrel, and buy them as "futures" at a very low price. Makes great sense in these economic times if you (a) have faith in the winemaker, and (b) can handle delayed gratification (a term I can hardly spell, let alone embrace). So, I have to assemble a few rough blends to exhiit a generalized sense fo what the wines might become (your personal choice of god willing).
Today I put together three of the five or six Pinots from 2008 to show the next couple weeks: our "blend" (from six vineyards) , our "Bucher Vineyard" Pinot and our "Selection Massale" (which is from a vineyard where 9 different clones of Pinot are interplanted so none of them dominate- it allows the site to trump the clones). It was fun to do, and really gets you deeper in touch with the wines. It was also a chance to reflect on the vintage, which officially "started" as soon as the prior year's fruit was picked and vineyard decisions needed to be made.
But really, I think the 2008 vintage began in late August, when I got together with a dozen or so other Pinot producers, and a couple winegrowers, and a great chef from a local restaurant (Tai- the owner/chef from Mosaic in Forestville- check it out). And my friend Michael, a German guy, whose presence means the thing will absolutely degenerate into a booze frenzy, and who will, at that very moment, wax on about why Alsace is rightfully part of Germany. I almost hate to tell him his guys lost. Twice.
But Tai roasted a pig (wrapped in banana leaves) in a pit, we drank heavily of great wines from around the world (nobody brought their own), played bocce, and ate like kings. It was a great night, went on far too long, and when Michael brought out some German brandy the thing went downhill. The real winner was the west county taxicab company. One guy though, who was pretty looped pretty early on hasn't been seen in awhile, and I suspect we need to check the fire pit.
Unfortunately, we were in the midst of a heat wave at that point, and many of us had to roust ourselves after about ninety minutes sleep to go to work the next day, picking or crushing. I had fruit coming in, the earliest pick ever for me. It was hot by 9 am, and we struggled to get the fruit cold enough to cold soak awhile. And it went like that for a couple weeks, until finally, right after I had refused some fruit because I did not have an empty fermenter, the fog rolled in. Then everything stopped, we all caught our breath, and the rest of the vintage kind of trickled in. And we drank a lot of beer, and broke some bread with friends, and had a lot of laughs.
So, racking these wines from barrel and assembling a mini blend of where I see them going (still subject to change, but the big stuff is ~hopefully~ behind us) was a lot of fun- not just to see the future, but to reminisce about the recent past. And even though I've been tasting these wines for months, it was an eye opener to taste some things put together. And the wine that came in so early is pretty damn evolved for the beginning of March. I actually like them all pretty darn well. It tells me that 2008, despite the many vagaries of the year -late frost and freezes, heat during harvest and swarms of locusts and pillars of salt (not really)- we survived,and things turned out well.
Heck, if you ask me, 2008 has the potential to be, well, the "best ever". Really.