Bob Lindquist and Jason
As regular readers of Wine Nation Underdog know, my husband and I have been preparing to make wine, so we’ve been eagerly awaiting the day our grapes are harvested. Back near the end of September we toured the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. We tasted Syrah grapes from all over the vineyard and tried to decide which blocks’ fruit we wanted in our order. Since this was our first time actually choosing and purchasing grapes, we were thrilled to have renowned winemaker Bob Lindquist there to offer his guidance.
Bob Lindquist sampling Syrah grapes
As we walked through the vineyard, we tasted Syrah clones including Estrella, 174, 383, 877 and UCD-01 from various blocks. It was amazing to me that there were such distinct taste differences between the clones. The Estrella had hints of coffee and black pepper. The 174 had notes of black plum and dark berries. After sampling many grapes, we decided that our order would be made up of three clones: Estrella, 174 and UCD-01. No one is sure when the grapes will be ready to pick, so I try (and fail) at being patient. Weeks pass …
Our freshly picked Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Syrah
I’ve noticed that all plans during harvest seem to change dramatically. We had everything all lined up for our Côte Rôtie inspired red wine. We thought that the Syrah fruit was going to be picked the week before, but it wasn’t quite ripe enough, so we postponed for another week. We’d also made arrangements to pick up Viognier skins and stems from Peter Work of Ampelos (thank you Peter) last week. Since we changed the pick date, the plan had to change again. Thankfully, Peter had more Viognier from Wezlau (formerly named Vigna Cesarina – located between Seasmoke and Mount Carmel vineyards) coming in the following Monday which coincided with our pick date.
Picking day finally arrives and the alarm goes off at 5:00am. It is still dark, and Jason and I are groggy but we grab a quick breakfast and head over to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto to borrow the Jalama Wines truck (thank you Mark Cargasacchi!) so that we can go pick up our freshly picked Syrah grapes at Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. The sun comes up as we drive towards San Luis Obispo. We arrive at 7am and find out from Bob Lindquist that the pickers are working on our order (which included three different clones from three different blocks: Estrella from block 4, UCD-01 from block 3 and 174 from block 1 ), so the bins aren’t quite ready yet. High quality wine grapes are harvested by hand. When the grapes are picked they are placed into bins that are lugged by hand getting heavier and heavier with each added cluster. Pickers work in the early morning hours when it is cold and damp and often fend off yellowjackets and bees. They work incredibly hard! Many thanks to the crew who picked our fruit!
weighing the grapes
Once our order is completely picked, it gets weighed and then loaded by forklift onto the truck. Though we only planned to get a half a ton (1000 pounds) we ended up with 1401 pounds. Even now, after the grapes are picked, the plan keeps changing! We have one barrel set aside for the Syrah, so we’ll need to figure out what to do with the juice from the additional 401 pounds of Syrah. The plan keeps changing! We arrive at Jalama Wines and Mark unloads the grapes by forklift. We have plans to have the grapes destemmed at 10:00am…but the schedule for the destemmer changes (of course) so we end up waiting a few hours so we hang around Jalama Wines and try to make ourselves useful. Once we get the fruit destemmed (thank you Doug!) we take a sample bottle of the juice to take to the lab for analysis. We also check the brix using a hydrometer. Next we make a few additions: SO2 to prevent spoilage, Opti-Red (an inactivated dry yeast that improves color and adds body and mouthfeel) and Lafase He Grand Cru (an enzyme preparation that increases the extraction of stable phenolic compounds). We are hoping that the grapes and the winery have enough wild yeast in order to have a native fermentation take place. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll go ahead and inoculate the grape must with yeast..but I’m really hoping we don’t have to do that.
Mixing the additions into the destemmed fruit
Since we ended up with extra Syrah fruit, we’ve decided to drain off some of the juice in order to make a rosé. I pop over to Home Depot to buy some plastic carboys to hold the juice for a short time until we figure out a long term plan for the rosé . After we drain some of the juice (this process is called saignée in France) into the carboys we jump back into the truck and head over to Ampelos to pick up Viognier skins and stems that we’re going to add to our destemmed Syrah for the cold soak. We arrive and Peter and his guys are working but the Viognier isn’t ready yet. So, we head back over to Jalama, pick up our wine sample and head to Santa Maria to drop it off at Vinquery. We also take the bins with us and drop these off at Qupé / Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Maria. We also stop at a welding supply store to pick up dry ice which we’ll add to the destemmed fruit in order to bring down the temperature and prolong the cold soak which we hope will yield deeper color and more aromatics.
punching down the dry ice
Next, we head back over to Ampelos where they are done pressing the Viognier, so we pick up the skins and stems. Once we reach Jalama (who knew winemaking involved so much driving?) we add the skins and stems to our bin of destemmed Syrah. Jason adds 100 pounds of dry ice to the grapes which makes the whole bin look like some strange witch’s brew. We’ll be back tomorrow to do punchdowns in the morning, afternoon and the evening. Even though fermentation hasn’t even started, I am already anxious to taste the finishes wine…which won’t be for at least two years…perhaps I will learn patience from winemaking?