Harvest is Here! Or, When Does the Sleeping Part Happen?

In the days since I last waxed rhetorically about returning to the Santa Barbara Highlands "before we know it," well, we've done just that -- and much, much more. Harvest 2010 is upon us at the j.brix winery. Last week, we:

  • drove 1,400 miles in three days;
  • visited a Starbucks at the opening hour of 4:30 am, after being on the road sans coffee for, er, three hours; 
  • went from mountain vineyard, to the best Thai food in Santa Maria, to crazy barrel warehouse, to coastal vineyard, all in one morning;
  • made the decision to pick not just the Grenache for rosé, but, shockingly, the Riesling (We're making Riesling! I didn't even get to talk about the Riesling yet!); 
  • processed a ton of fruit (a half-ton on Tuesday, and another half-ton on Thursday); 
  • pressed the resulting must into barrels; 
  • did more cleaning than a janitorial service does in six months; and
  • happily watched the native-yeast fermentations fire away on both the Grenache rosé and the Riesling.

This week, we'll be headed back on the 400-mile-plus roundtrip drive to the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard for the second half-ton of Grenache, destined to become an elegantly structured red wine in the vein of our 2009 La Paloma Libresca (the '09 should be bottled come November). The fruit will be hand-picked early in the morning. We'll bring it back and de-stem, and let those native yeast get going.

(Aside: Did I mention we both have other jobs? You know, the kind that pay, and for which you're expected to show up regularly? Thankfully, each of our employers is supportive and sympathetic to our deliciously rewarding pastime.)

On the Road to Nothing O'Clock

It's a good thing there's photographic evidence, or else the lack of sleep, combined with the seriously intense physical work, surely would've convinced us by now that the whole thing was one of those crazy dreams. Except for all the barrels that weren't there before. Those, I really can't explain.

So, what happened, exactly? Well, we tasted the Grenache fruit up in the Highlands, and immediately knew it was ready for the sprightly, full-flavored but low-alcohol rosé we wanted to make. We scheduled the pick for the next day; then, headed to the Kick On Ranch vineyard in Los Alamos to check on the Riesling fruit, fully expecting that after the cool coastal summer, it'd be hanging for many weeks to come. We were stunned to taste amazingly focused, balanced, ripe fruit with a seamless combination of apricot and white peach, and a fierce acidity that tempered the rich fleshiness of the flavors. All of a sudden, we were set to return in two days to get that pick. 

The first pick of 2010 at Kick On Ranch, Los Alamos, CA. Those pickers worked fast - one ton in half an hour!

After an incredible full-moonset and a sudden, blinding fog that turned the black to grey, we left with a half-ton of Riesling in the very early morning (having already been awake for some six hours) and headed back south. Our friend Matthew from Forlorn Hope Wines drove his own several-hundred miles late the night before from Napa to pick up his half-ton (here's the deal: No one gets much sleep at harvest time). We're all making Riesling for the first time this year. What fun!

Bubble, Bubble - It's No Trouble

Today, both the Grenache rosé and the Riesling are fermenting like crazy in neutral barrels on their ambient yeasts. (Thanks to a suggestion from friend/amateur winemaker/baker extraordinaire Rémy Charest, I've also put a mixture of flour and water in a jar near the barrels to try and get a native-wine-yeast sourdough levain started. And, after just a day, it's already bubbling! The more fermentation, the better, as far as I'm concerned.)

We've got our red-Grenache pick set for Friday morning, which means another middle-of-the-night odyssey and full day of working with fruit. For days after these trips, time ceases to have much meaning, and we refer to whatever hour we may happen to glance at a clock face as "nothing o'clock." It seems perfectly suitable.

In Which Gourmand Tendencies Lie Dormant (But Not Dead)

Those double-double-blind food-and-wine pairing dinners of ours will return, don't worry. But during harvest, well, most deeply held cooking proclivities somehow get put on hold, as creative and vital energies become focused elsewhere. Also, for some reason, beer becomes unreasonably appealing.

True confessions: We've (gulp) ordered pizza more than once in the last week ... and I believe Matthew's fallen prey to the magical lure of the corn dog. Mmmmmm, corn dogs. OK, that's all! Until next time! Get some sleep for us, would you?