October 28, 2010
Hey everyone, Mr. CG here once more, reporting again on another year in growing grapes. For about ten years now, I been cultivating a hobby vineyard but unfortunately I’ve been faced with the difficult conditions felt by most farmers in this business: bad weather, poor growing conditions, disease and pests.
For years, I’ve been tending the back hill making sure our 100 vines produced enough quality fruit to make a barrel of wine. In 2007, we had our first healthy crop, enough to fill one barrel to make about 25 cases (or 300 bottles). 2007 and 2008 were both successful years, winning Gold Medals in the amateur division in the Sonoma/Marin Fair and then the Sonoma County Harvest Fair this year. In 2009 we lost most of our crop to bad weather and I was forced to buy more fruit to make my barrel. Using other grapes, there’s no telling yet how that blend will turn out, time will tell.
I’ve been watching the 2010 grapes grow all season. It was my largest crop by far and the grapes were growing in near perfect shape, size and sugar content all summer long. It was a spectacular crop and Kate and I were very excited until last week. Just days before the harvest, birds found holes in our nets, and in the dead of night we were attacked by a family of raccoons. Together, those varmints managed to feast on several hundred pounds of grapes in the course of a week!
Despite so many ravaged vines, harvest day is always exciting for us, as the remaining healthy fruit is finally clipped off the vines and turned into our cherished Petite Syrah.
Here’s Kate holding some of the grapes, showing exactly what highly quality fruit should look like. These grapes have been on the vine a long time raising their sugar levels to their maximum. The skins are rich in flavor and complex in color. Kate looks so cute here, but it’s the last time she smiled yesterday morning, because she had not yet realized the extent of the damage cause by the pests.
This picture shows my disappointment once again. Despite the nets we used to protect the grapes, the raccoons and birds were able to infiltrate our defenses and launch their operation.
It was clear from the evidence left behind that the older raccoons climbed under the nets and one by one removed fruit from the vine. The little raccoons would then pick up the dropped fruit and fill their bellies. The ground in the vineyard will littered with individual uneaten grapes. I’m thinking the vineyard now needs a guard dog, maybe a yappy little terrier to scare them varmints away.
It’s not all doom and gloom around here. Living in Sonoma County is a beautiful place and we always have access to plenty of great wine. In fact, our next door neighbor makes some of the best Cabernet around. He grew up in Italy in the wine business, and now he and his brother are some of the top wine makers in the country. Unlike our wine which we make offsite, our neighbor has a micro winery in his basement, and last week he was busy making Cabernet.
He owns a crusher/destemmer which is the ultimate red winemaker’s tool. For full bodied red wines, the stems are separated from the grapes, but the skins remain with the juice for its pigment and tannins. Once fermented, the wine is separated from the skins to age in barrels for anywhere from 9 months to several years.
This is a hydrometer, a tool used to measure the Brix level in the unfiltered juice. It tells the winemaker the sugar level and aids in the process of fermentation.
Regardless of the outcome of our specific crop, harvest is a very special time for our community. The wine business is our largest economic base and the reason so many travel so far to visit this region. You can’t escape the buzz around town, and all of the conversations at restaurants, bars, and social gathering places. Everyone’s talking about this year’s harvest and their latest great bottle. On weekends, the country roads are crowded with tourists making their way into the Wine Country for a weekend of tasting amidst the fall colors, and sometimes we play like we’re tourists too.
So we learn something new every year, but that’s the beauty of this process. Today, I’ll be on the phone again this morning looking to outsource some fruit and considering a source to find a good dog. It looks like my kids just might get their Christmas wish for a puppy.
Signing off with high hopes for better luck next year,