Transformation -- Or, Come, Winter

The end is nigh.

The end of 2 am alarm-clocks; of first-in-line-at-that-freeway-Starbucks; of three non-home-cooked meals per day because you're just.too.tired. You know your body's had it with the harvest lifestyle when you start craving arugula and quinoa, and you don't care to sneak a single piece of the kids' Halloween candy.

Indeed, we made the final pick of the 2010 j.brix harvest on October 28, ahead of the forecast rain. When we arrived at the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard hours before sunrise to get our half-ton of Syrah, we found the loading dock illuminated by floodlights, full of picking bins piled with fruit, and staffed by two very tired-looking forklift operators. The vineyard crew had picked all night long, as winemaker after winemaker called in fruit, rather than risk the rain this late in the season.

Jody inspects the Syrah, and finds it flawless

Pre-dawn forklift action

Nights are cold in Cuyama, and the Syrah clusters were as chilled as the air, about 39 degrees. Once we returned, we sorted the clusters from the picking bin into the dry-iced fermentation bin (an easy task, as the fruit was beautifully clean, perfectly intact, with hardly a leaf in the mix.)

It's a stellar vineyard team working at the Highlands. We've spent a good amount of time in the vineyard during our picks this year, and I am consistently awed by -- and incredibly grateful to -- the intrepid souls whose own 2 am wake-up calls bring them out into the black night to pick cold fruit with their hands; to hoist it heavy on their backs, over and over; to notice when a stray leaf gets in the mix, and care enough to pull it out.

View To A Fermentation

We decided to leave the fruit in its whole-cluster state for fermentation instead of removing it from the stems. That meant one thing: foot-treading. With sincerest apologies to reader Todd, whose strongly felt assertion against male pigeage is duly noted, I present Jody's Climb in the Bin.

And he's off!

It's actually really helpful to have a man assisting with foot-treading. I mean, that 1,000 pounds of fruit isn't going to crush itself. I got in, too, but it seems there are already enough photos of my pigeage skills on this blog.

Yep, those grapes have officially been treaded.

Something you must experience to understand: The smell of fermentation. This Syrah, in particular -- like all our wines, fermented on native yeast -- greeted us a few days in with the most glorious aromas of any wine we've made yet. It's continued through a graceful transformation, all the while revealing aromatic nuances -- exotic spices, deep black fruit -- that have me seriously excited about what it's going to become. As of this writing, it's almost dry, and we expect to press it to barrel in a few days.

A happy fermentation, on the move

Grapes'-eye view

They'll Be Back

Oh, but don't think we've been doing nothing in our spare time besides the thrilling combination of whole-cluster punchdowns and going to bed early. There's always work to be had in the cellar, between topping, barrel cleaning and ...final assemblage of the 2009 vintage in preparation for bottling at the end of the month! Which brings the need for glass and cork ordering, and label finalization, and all kinds of other details to keep everyone on their toes.

However, I can say with certainty and great satisfaction that I've eaten home-cooked quinoa three times this week. Once, atop an arugula salad, even. What's that sound ... could it be the impending return of the (double) double-blind wine-and-food-pairing dinners? (Which, I should clarify -- considering our recent culinary history -- have no relationship to a certain In-N-Out Burger menu item. None whatsoever.)

Farewell, harvest; welcome, winter. Solace.