March 22, 2008
Monday was March 17th, a date celebrated in Ancient Rome as Liberalia. Liber was the name of an early Roman version of Dionysos, a God of Fertility and of wine. The day was like a Bar Mitzvah for young Roman lads, and afterwards– after the procession of giant phallus symbols, the public drunkenness and whatever it was that they did– they would switch their boy’s toga with its effeminate purple sash for an all-white grown man’s toga, and could vote and do pretty much whatever they wanted, I guess.
On Tuesday I saw my first spring barn Swallow, returned from his winter sojourn, flying about the barn. It is a beautiful bird, the swallow, and has been married to mankind since we first began to build structures. I mean, jeesh, Virgil wrote about them like 2,000 years ago flyinga bout the rafters of the roof.
Wednesday, was the Spring Equinox and as the earth was briefly balanced at 10:48 pm, the winter died and the spring began. Persephone returned to Demeter. It was sunny and warm and we’ve almost very nearly finished our pruning for the seasons, and have already begun mowing down and disking in our cover crops.
On Thursday, we disinterred a batch of biodynamic horn compost- those the cowshit-filled horns we buried on the fall equinox. We unearthed some wine we’d buried alongside them and drank the two bottles, some 12 or 15 of us thirsty vineyard workers in the shade of a fig tree just beginning to glow green with the spring’s new growth. in place of the horn compost we placed a crushed quartz-filled horn and another bottle to drink in another 6 months. Covered by soil, I danced my version of a Mexican hat dance over the site, and went back to work.
And today, on Friday, I did it all again at another vineyard, but this time I was filmed by a TV crew, and I was miked and interviewed, and directed to do silly things for the sake of telling a story, and will someday, in like 6 or 8 months, be seen by those who watch “In Wine Country” (on the Bay Area’s NBC 11) and I will become instantly, incredibly, and annoyingly famous. I will be blogged about by Perez Hilton. I will be seen stumbling out of clubs with my vagina hanging out. I will finally, finally be recognized while pissing in a bar.
It is a full moon tonight, and I really ought not to drink as much wine as I’m about to drink. As the last good Friday before all my anonymity is stripped away from me, I’ll enjoy it by myself, relaxing in the silence before the helicopters descend to capture me embracing whatever starlet’s career could best be furthered by being seen with the likes of me, the famous Winefarmer. Probably Natalie Portman, I hope she speaks kindly of me to the press after we break up. I hope, I hope I don’t accidentally lose that tape we made drunkenly screwing each other. I’m sorry for that Natalie. I’m sorry for everything.
February 28, 2008
Spring is here, you can feel it in the warmth of the sun after the rains, and everything is aflower: the fruit trees, the acacias, everything smells swollen and fertile. The wildflowers are beginning to glow, the fertile sap of rebirth is coursing, and did you see that goddamn lunar eclipse last Thursday? A full moon, in eclipse, glowing orange on a warm night at the end of February.
The rains quickly followed, I think the final big storm of the season; we’ve had enough, thanks. The little buds on the vine are starting to swell, and did you know Columella used the word “genitali” when speaking of the buds? I like that word better, really, to think of the delicate little buds as the moist little genitals of the vine. They are kind of furry. They’re so fragile now, and while pruning and training the vine to the trellis, it’s easy to knock them off and ruin everything.
The rains ended and it all dried out. We’re pruning still. It’s getting late, I know, but really, the danger of the spring frosts hasn’t yet passed, and though beginning to swell, the genitali haven’t yet burst with growth. Another few weeks of dormancy are left, maybe less. Each little genitali is still aslumber, dreaming of growth and sunlight and growing, dreaming of a primordial forest and a stout oak to grow up.
We came up with our own recipe for a biodynamic pruning wound paste. In includes benotonite and horsetail, and on each of the pruning wounds we paint a thin layer of white goopy goo to prevent eutypa infection.
I’m a little worried about the redwing blackbird. I just haven’t seen that many this year. and I wonder why, if they’re alright, or I’m just not tuned into their call as much as I used to be. They’re one of those birds common both from my childhood in Iowa and out here in California. In a way, I think of the redwing as a bird which accompanied me out here, and maybe there’s just some redwing blackbird party somewhere else and they’re all getting laid or something. That’s probably it. No need to worry.
Tonight I am drinking a bit of applejack, in honor of john chapman, a true American Dionysos, and my dog is asleep at my feet. Tomorrow the sun will rise again and we’ll be deep in the mustard fields of slumbering grapevines whose genitali are just beginning to stir.
January 4, 2008
For the past week and a half or so, without much else to do, I’ve been kayaking out in the San Francisco bay with the seals and the crazy seabirds, the loons and those pelicans. Because I had the time to do that, I was paying a lot more attention to the feel of the tides. It’s true, they’re a lot higher and a lot lower when the moon is full. I’ve been sleeping out on the water in a houseboat part-time for the past year or so, but over the christmas holidays, when the full moon and the perigee coincided, the parking lot of the dock was flooded. You learn to study the tide charts but more importantly just to look up at the moon to know if you’ll need your rubber boots.
There’s this old book I can’t find translated into English. Written originally in the thirteenth or fourteenth century by Pietro Crescenzi, or Petrus Crescentius. A section that I’ve found is seductively called “Winemaking and the Moon,” and for a geek like me, it’s like I heard about a book that may or may not teach you jedi skills, you know? A magic book. I’ve been trying to sort through all the various bullshit you hear people tell journalists, and at the same time watching the weather as I followed the biodynamic calendars and the old farmer’s almanac. I’ve been trying to figure it all out, see what’s what and what’s real.
Here’s what I think: In terms of winemaking, I wouldn’t want to rack my wines while the moon was full or new. I wouldn’t want to rack my wines during the weeks around the new and full moons. I think if the tides are high, the lees are probably a bit more turbulent, and if you’re the sort of person who’s trying to clarify your wines gently, maybe not have to filter them, you need to rack your wine off of the lees. That’s pretty much all I can think of. I don’t know what else you’d have to worry about. How did this Pietro dude write like a whole 7 pages on the subject? What’s he know that I don’t?
Okay, so, it’s raining now. A major winter storm. The houseboat swayed gentle in the wind, the ropes creaking. The tides are low. I mean, it’s almost a quarter moon I think and yesterday was the apogee, but there’s a major winter storm. What I’m trying to say is that the tides and the moon can’t predict the weather. But I’d like to know what it can tell you. I’d like to know what some old guy from way back then had to say on the subject.
I’ve got this old and maybe magic book translated into French on a PDF file. It was easy to find on the internets. That Sean Thackrey guy has a copy of it posted in his super-duper cool internet archive of medieval wine manuscripts. I’m going to post an ad on craigslist, and see if somebody would be willing to not charge me a shitload. I mean, hey, I’d love to learn French, but who has the time? Hell I’d love to learn Ancient Greek too, while we’re at it and why not the fucking , I don’t know, lute?
So if i get it translated, I’ll post it or a summary. I’ll let you know if there’s any winemaking jedi tricks in the book.
December 22, 2007
Last week, dawn was cold and rosy-fingered on the horizon, the skies clear and Perseus still lingering in the sky as we started pruning up in the Mayacamas. Tomorrow will be the winter solstice, the sun in its southern-most arc of the sky and the shortest of the days. It will correspond with a lunar perigee, at a time when Mars is just days from reaching its closest proximity with the Earth. I’m not sure what it all means. I heard we’re supposed to have nice weather.
It’s pruning season. I like to prune. It is the most difficult and exacting of vineyard operations. It takes years of hands-on work in the vineyards to become truly adept as a pruner. It is also the most fundamental, most important activity or the growing and making of quality wines. I’ll be honest: I’m not the best. Possibly the slowest. Most easily distracted and confused, I have the least amount of hands-on vineyard work of anyone out there pruning for my company. I work with plenty of guys with great, gray moustaches (bigotones) who do this shit with jedi-like abilities, taking into account:
1. The general architecture of the vine
2. The general vigor of the plant
3. The variety
4. Sun exposure
5. Predominant winds
6. The vigor of each individual shoot, based on diameter and length between nodes
7. Risk of exposure to winter-season fungal agents such as Eutypa
8. Evidence of viral infection
9. Future exposure to growing-season fungus like Mildew and Botyritis
10. The trellis system
11. Desired crop-load
12. Previous year’s crop
13. Age of the vine
14. Overall beauty of the vine
15. General disposition of the vine
16. If the winemaker in charge actually knows anything, and
17. Whether or not he comes to the vineyard.
All these considerations and probably more I can’t right now think of need to be weighed in a moment’s notice, without any real thought, because when you slow down to think, that’s when you really mess up, do stupid-ass shit.
But, as it is, I’ve got two weeks off. I plan on hiking in the mountains with my dog, kayaking in the bay with my ladyfriend, and drinking perhaps much too much wine.
October 9, 2007
So it was a day to pick, and to pick as much as possible. We started with Malbec, and, listen, I eat a lot of grapes and am learning what’s good and what’s not so good. Overcropped, little canopy management, the poor little vines could have grown tastier fruit, but the corporation that runs the place had other plans. Whoever decided that they wouldn’t pay to try hard on the Malbec.
It made me think about what my ladyfriend was saying about me this weekend, that I care more about the politics behind a wine than how it tastes. I think that by that she meant that when I taste wine I will speak of the company behind it before I say something. After a few years doing this, I generally know a little something about the entity, corporate or otherwise, who made the wine. So when I talk about the wine I’m tasting, I explain what I’m tasting by explaining what I know about them, and how I disagree with everything they do and stand for. I can’t help it.
I just don’t think that the corporate structure is the best mechanism for the creation of good wine. I also don’t think that the type of people who would decide to use something like, say, Roundup, are the type that have a feeling for nature and thus, don’t — can’t — make a great wine. They’ve already shown that they’ll cut corners. They’ve already shown that they don’t understand nature, the universe, the things that are more important than profit.
I know, I know.
I know that there’s all sorts of wine growers in America that get great ratings and make good wines that also use Roundup in the vineyard. There’s a lot of good wines made by corporations who pay their cellar staff poorly. And there’s plenty of hairy-faced organic vintners who make a lousy wine.
I just think that the goal should always be to do the best possible, make the best possible whatever. I know that in the here and now, profit is more important than philosophy.
I drank a wine last week. It tasted like it was overcropped, the vines were unhealthy and didn’t produce a lot pf phenols. The aromatics, the mouthfeel, were oak-related. I could taste that they had it wrong. They could have spent more money in the vineyards, saved money on barrels, and made a better wine. It was a $17 burgundy whose name I forgot. I forgot everything about it but that it tasted like they knew the wine would be lousy and threw in some of those big fucking teabags full of burnt oak chips while they fermented it.
September 27, 2007
Aw shit, I wish you could have seen the stars this morning at 5:30, the sky clear and black. I wish you could have seen the big yellow moon, full and setting as the sun started to peak, sinking below the coastal mountains. We were picking zinfandel, just a couple of blocks, maybe 2 tons. We started at 6:30 and were done by 8:10.
Afterwards and elsewhere, up in those mountains the moon disappeared into, we had some fruit to drop. Parts weren’t thinned well, and it was overcropped. The shoulders of the syrah weren’t fully trimmed, and as they mature differently, and too much crop means a delayed and lessened ripening of the grapes, it was important to bring a crew through. Elsewhere, maybe becaase we use only gentle, organic milder control methods, or maybe because the areas are just a bit more humid and cool, mildew had spread to the peduncle of the grapes, a grey furry growth that smells of white pepper and inhibits ripening by choking the flow of sap.
And also, well, if you have to know, when the moon is full and when the moon is on its elliptical orbit closer to the earth, there’s a greater humidity in the air. Also, it was a lot cooler there last week. Also, talking to the guys who’ve been around for a while, the sections of mildew growth always have mildew problems around now. So, whatever the cause, we walked through the problem areas dropping fruit.
It’s sad to see fruit not yet ripe but black and juicy looking, lying like a dead person on the ground. It’s a hard thing to do after spending the morning energetically putting as many grapes into bins and counting the money you’re making. Instead, we had to shift to counting the money we’d be losing. It makes you kind of queasy, you know?
And then, well, it was hot out, and i was tired. The sun was hot this afternoon. Maybe low 90s. And then it was the end of the day. I went home and cleaned.