Archive for November, 2008


Matt, Sam and Mike

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Matt, Hillary, Erik & Cathy.

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First post-harvest racking

Matt, Roger and James. Mostly racking the barrels off lees.

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The Littlest Winemakers

Before we had children, I planned to plant a small vineyard in the back yard. All that remains of my noble intentions is now a single vine, which despite its fine pedigree—it’s a descendant of one of John Thomas’* vines, itself a descendant of one of David Lett’s—has been left to sprawl in a corner, untended. We usually just eat the fruit it produces, but this year Siobhán had a better idea. When I spotted her taking the potato masher out of the utensil drawer and asked, “Sweetie? What are you doing?”, she replied with the distinctive determination of a five-year-old, “I’m going to make wine.”

An excellent child! So we went out to harvest together, and she spent about an hour manually crushing and de-stemming the crop into a bowl while we talked about the rest of the steps it would take on the way to becoming wine. We deposited the must in a plastic container, and after it began fermenting with ambient yeast, she punched it down at the kitchen table; when the time came, we pressed it through a sieve into a couple of bottles.

A month on, we racked it off the lees and gave it a taste. It’s acidic and minimally fruity, obviously from massively overcropped and under-ripe fruit, and could probably use a dose of copper sulfate—in other words, kind of like Les Garagistes’ 1997 Pinot Noir, only better in that it can bear an “estate” label. In the meantime, however, both Siobhán and Maura have been to LG world headquarters to learn about economies of scale by punching down much larger quantities of wine in fermenters big enough for frolicking naked in (note to consumers: no naked children were actually immersed in this wine). As you can see in these awesome photos**, courtesy of Matt, they were delighted.

Having done their first vintage at five, they’ll have as many as a dozen under their belts by the time they apply to college. By then, the average school will cost millions per year, but what should I care? My daughters will be offered a free ride in the oenology program at UC Davis. That’s long-term thinking, my friends.

*I know, funny. Cf. Marcel Pagnol in La Gloire de mon père, writing about his uncle: “The most astonishing thing was that he was not called Jules at all. His real Christian name was Thomas. But my dear aunt having heard it said that country-people called their chamber-pots Thomas, had decided to call him Jules—which is, in fact, an even more usual name for the same utensil.” Of course, “John Thomas” doesn’t mean “chamber pot,” IYKWIM. I hasten to add that he’s a great, understated guy who makes great, elegant Pinot.

**Stupid WordPress won’t let me lay out or caption the photos the way I wanted. The intended caption for the first was “Winemaking: a must for children.” So clever, n’est-ce pas?

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How to make better wine

I pity the plastic surgeons and investment bankers who shell out for top-of-the-line equipment, build gravity flow wineries into the side of pristine hills, and lure the freshest UC Davis grads, all in frantic pursuit of 100-point wines. The real answer requires but a tank of gas: Simply sacrifice a little [ insert grape here – in this case, cabernet ] on the altar of Stonehenge, and your Parker score will improve by at least 3 points.

It’s worked for us every time.

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