Road trip for Franc and Merlot

Mmmm - the gods seem pleasedAt about 7am Saturday morning, Hal and I set out with Laura’s truck and trailer to find America – and barring that, ripe Cabernet Franc and Merlot. We’d packed plenty of tie-downs and enough plastic sheeting to Cristo a garage, having learned in previous years that you can’t have too much grape-wrap.

The morning was drizzly in Portland, but as we passed the Dalles, the weather lightened and the low autumnal sun began to slice across the hills, giving them the soft suppleness of suede. As we crossed the Columbia at Biggs and scaled the bluffs overlooking the water, the view downriver was both calm and majestic. It’s a 3-1/2 hour drive each way to the vineyard, but that glance over your shoulder in the early morning light always makes it easier.

Bins formerly full of ripe grapesJust out of Sunnyside, we pulled into the vineyard, where, as advertised, it was indeed sunny. The grower had already stacked the Franc in small white picking bins, ready for weighing. We’d always rather taste and test the grapes before they’re picked, but this grower just does what he does and you hope for the best.

In this case, the best seems to be what we got. The fruit was clean and healthy, with reasonably tight clusters and a brix (sugar) of about 24 by my refractometer. The only odd thing were the small green berries that studded each cluster like bracts on a pineapple. The grower theorized that it was so hot when the Franc was blooming that some berries simply gave up and were never pollinated. In any case, we’ll need to take extra care with these little guys, especially during press to ensure we don’t squeeze any of their unripe bitterness into the wine.

Soon thereafter, the Merlot came up from the vineyard, and it too looked and tasted great. All told, we loaded about 1200 lbs of Franc and 1330 of Merlot into the trailer and truck respectively.

2500 pounds of grapes, swaddled in for the journey home

Before we left, we also walked the rows where our Cabernet Sauvignon was slowly ripening, tasting the fruit, checking out the condition of the seeds, and clipping as random a sampling of clusters as possible for transport back to home base for analysis. The grower pointed out to us that the Cab rows angle gently downhill until they hit a bit of a bump where the topsoil collides with buried rock. That meant, he said, that the lower section took water differently than the upper, and that for that reason, one was ripening quicker than the other. So we took two cluster samples, one generally from the upper rows, one from the lower.

On the way out, we also made a 4-mile detour to where the grower has his Riesling planted, since we’re idly interested in trying our hand at a white this year. Just next to an apple orchard, but across the road from some kind of cow nexus (not a dairy, I don’t think), the fragrance was complex, to say the least. We held our nose and got a random set of clusters for analysis back at the batcave.

After a quick, greasy lunch at the Pioneer Kitchen in Toppenish, we headed back down 97 to the Gorge, stopping at Stonehenge to offer the ritual sacrifice that will guarantee us 100-point wines (I mean, it’s always worked in the past…).

The ritual sacrifice at Stonehenge

The gods thus pleased, we high-tailed it back across the river and headed west toward Crush.

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. Corranc October 3rd, 2007 10:41 am

    Thanks for taking along those of us who missed the trip.

    All Hail Bacchus!

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