Son of Road Trip: the Cabernet

Cabernet in the sunJust a little after 6am, Whit and I unlocked the Flexcar truck, stowed tarps and tie-downs in the back, and headed east through foggy, deserted streets. The chill was penetrating, but in that autumnal way that betrays a certain lack of conviction: soon enough, it would dissolve into a warm, Indian summer day.

A few miles past Hood River, the sun began to slice through the mist and dispel it back up into the hills, lifting a cascade of blue-monochrome buttes into view down the Gorge. By the time we crossed the Columbia and pointed north, the sun had cleared the way for a perfect grape run into the Yakima valley.

The grower had already picked a few thousand pounds for us and another guy who arrived just moments later. My spot test with the refractometer, trying to pick a random assortment of berries, pegged the sugar somewhere between 23 and 27 – pretty ripe at the upper register, maybe just shy of ripe at the bottom. Any harvest short of Château d’Yquem‘s berry-by-berry picking regimen will have this kind of variation: you just hope the spread is relatively tight and the average is where you want to be. So if this really netted us 25 brix, we wouldn’t complain.

Tons of cab await their destiny just behing our cabWe weighed and lugged the totes over to the truck, dumping in the back where Whit had lined the bed with plastic. The fruit looked clean and healthy, and the berries were generally on the small side — potentially good because it would yield a higher skin to juice ratio.

After the total topped 1300 lbs, we sealed up the bed and helped the winemaker after us, who’d come from Seattle with his diminutive wife and her Chihuahua. Clutching the runty animal like a bargain at a yard sale, she watched as the four of us hefted totes into the back of the truck. After we finished, she let the dog down on the ground where it was nearly swallowed by the expanse. It surveyed the landscape for predators and, quickly satisfied no insect or mote would be foolish enough to mess with it, hopped back into her arms, turning safely back into a purse.

All the way there and all the way back, it was clear that hunting season was in full campaign, trucks and jeeps clogging the sides of the roads near trailheads, guys in cammo slinging rifles over their shoulders as they strode into the forest, leaving the compromise of civilization behind them. When we stopped at a sub shop on the way out of Toppenish, two strapping, corn-fed hunters, done for the day, were in line ahead of us, and they were as baked as the Italian Herb and Cheese rolls the piled toppings onto. It seemed from the relative cleanliness of their boots and neoprene that their sandwiches would be the closest they got to bagging any meat that day, but that didn’t seem to bother them one bit.

Columbia Gorge from StonehengeOur own quarry safely bound and dressed in the back of our truck, we continued back down to the Gorge and Stonehenge for our own savage, animal sacrifice. Smeared with grape juice and howling at the sun, we left a cluster on the dais as a fruity offering. The wind whistling through the monument seemed to say “98-100 points, depending on elévage,” and we breathed a sigh of relief that our humble offering had been accepted.

Next stop: crush.

A cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon

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  1. […] mentioned in a previous post, the fruit looked pretty fantastic – clean, healthy, and evenly set. We began passing it into the […]