2009 was my first year living immersed in the middle of Sonoma Harvest. I had taken severance from my employer in July and had planned to take 4 months of work to complete a semester of wine and wine business classes, as well as spend time as a harvest volunteer and cellar rat. After years of home brewing I also decided to jump in both feet into home wine making, or being a garagiste.
For someone on ‘sabbatical’ I was buried – Simple Hedonisms was in the middle of being birthed, was carrying an overload of classes, creating the blog from scratch learning new frontiers, diving headlong into establishing my Social Media presence; so unfortunately I didn’t capitalize and capture my harvest or home wine making experiences in blog posts.
My harvest volunteer experience was shortened on both ends by two phenomenon; I broke an outer bone in my foot and was in a boot cast early harvest, and then received an offer to return to my previous role in the technology space (VP Sales/Marketing) that couldn’t be passed up. In between that though I was fortunate to be able to spend time with great people and wineries like Mounts Family Winery, Hobo, and C. Donatiello; doing everything from picking, sorting, pressing, and of course the habitual cleaning rituals. I loved it immensely.
I also made two small batches of wine; an unoaked “naked” Russian River Valley chardonnay, and a Sangiovese (Barolo clone not yet bottled) from Alpicella Vineyard; which I picked, and crushed at home. It was a special thrill, hand cranking to de-stem, crush, and press on my improvised crushpad at home.
I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. I still aspire to focus on being a grower over a winemaker in future years, but the small hand production is thrilling. This year I strongly desired to marry my love of Rhone varietals with my garagista hobby.
This presented several challenges: (a) Rhone varietals, especially some of my favorites, are not widely grown in Sonoma County, especially available in small ¼-1/2 ton lots that a home winemaker would want; it’s too much of a hassle for the grower. (b) Rhone wines often shine best when blended (white combos of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc (the latter my fave, and near impossible to source here) and my beloved red GSM combo – Grenache (noir), Syrah, and Mourvedre. (Again the latter hard to obtain, especially in small amounts.) And I also wanted the option to bottle some as single varietals, depending how they came out.
The amount of work to process a ¼ ton, versus 1 ton, is quite similar. Indeed, fermentation, and aging vessels, like barrels (especially neutral, since not a new oak fan) for ultra small lots are hard to obtain as well. So why not just make less varietals, or more amounts of each. Would any grower of reputation even deal with a guy that wanted so many small lots? What the heck would I do with 100-150 cases of wine? (1/2 ton = barrel= 25 cases.)
I cast the Net and got lucky. Very lucky. (Although I am still looking for Mourvedre and Grenache Blanc. )
Tomorrow (which is the first varietal crush as well) I will reveal just how lucky I got, and my decisions.
Stay Tuned – Cheers!