August 14, 2007
I got an e-mail from my friend Jason yesterday asking for advice on preserving tomatoes. Poor thing (envious sarcasm there) is going to Europe for three weeks just as his tomatoes are coming into their own. He’d gotten some great canning advice from Kalyn’s Kitchen, but I admitted to him that I’m a bit intimidated by canning and often take the easy route myself—slow roasting and freezing. When he shot back saying he was already envisioning a roasted tomato and goat cheese bruschetta with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I got all riled up on the subject and set out to write a post on prolonging the pleasures of the tomato when I got another e-mail, this one from Erik telling me that Keith was bringing in the first grapes of the season—Sauvignon Blanc—and inviting me to come toast the harvest with them.
It seems the Sauvignon Blanc beat out the Tomato for this post.
So this morning, I finished scraping the last of the scrambled eggs and frijoles off Noe and trundled her out to the truck. It was foggy when I awoke, but by the time we got up the road to Clos du Bois, there was just a chalk line of it left floating below the bumps of Mount Saint Helena and Geyser Peak. The vineyards themselves even had a sort of greeny-gold, Sauvignon Blanc-esque sheen to them in the morning sunlight.
Noe had shrugged off her jean jacket by the time I had her in the sling (I swear I caught her rolling her eyes) and we joined the Clos du Bois crew and hoisted a glass of OJ (well, I did) to the newest of the new vintage. It’s such a unique feeling being there for the first day of harvest. There’s a buzz, an effervescence. Everyone knows that the next two months or so are going to be brutal as one block after another ripens and has to be brought in. But for this first one, the joy of anticipation seems to outweigh the prospect of exhaustion.
One by one the trucks—heaped with grapes that Keith and his team had picked way early this morning while it was still cool—came through the crush pad and unloaded their fruit into the hopper. I was surprised at how in tact the grapes were, and Jason and I both commented on how much juice their was. Erik said that by nature, Sauvignon Blanc is a juicy grape, and that if it were Chardonnay in the hopper we wouldn’t be seeing nearly as much juice.
At this point in the season, Erik is out in the vineyards daily testing for ripeness. We’ve been spared the heat waves of previous years (man, I hope I didn’t just jinx us all) and Erik says that the more temperate weather has made for a gorgeous, consistent canopy and beautiful fruit. I hope for his sake it also means a staggered harvest . . . you never know when a hot day will hit and several blocks will ripen at once, which means some serious long hours for the crews.
Somewhere around 9:00 the last truck rolled through and the OJ was polished off. As I was driving back home and Noe was sawing logs in her car seat (on the ever-so-long five minute trip), an odd fact occurred to me; the harvest season is literally punctuated by “Sauvignon,” the word . . . it begins with Sauvignon Blanc and ends with the Cabernet Sauvignon.
I promise . . . tomatoes are up next!
July 27, 2007
Ode to Veraison
Fresh and green, translucent and new
Turning red . . . and then somewhat blue.
Just yesterday your berries gleamed green
Now ruby gems dangle between your leaves.
In a few short weeks you’ll be plucked from your roost
And left to ferment; your elixir-like juice.
But I know the wait ahead is long
Until I can taste the beauty of what has just begun.
As your bead-like berries, green and new
Turn to red . . . and then somewhat blue.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
It may seem strange to begin a post with a poem, but veraison time just brings that out in me. “What, Lia,” you say, “IS veraison anyway?”
I’m glad you asked.
In a nutshell, it’s when the grapes turn from Kelly green to either reddish-blue (for red wine grapes) or a golden hue (for white wine grapes). In French, veraison has an accent aigu over the e, which gives it the same root as the word verite—truth (as long as you have that accent in there . . . without it, ‘ver’ means worm). To me, that says it all. It’s the time when all those millions of little grapes are transforming into what they were meant to be, fulfilling their destiny.
For those who aren’t as romantic as I am (pfuff!), the excitement around veraison comes from it being such an obvious harbinger of harvest. Vintners can plan on the grapes being ripe enough to pick roughly 45 days after their color changes hue. They’ll start testing sugar levels (brix) and other ripeness indicators almost obsessively during that window to determine the best time to pick.
When I went out to the vineyards with Oscar yesterday to take these shots, there was already a buzz about the winery—fermentation tanks were being shined and tractors primed. Maybe I’m being overly sentimental, but I could almost hear the vines whispering to one another . . . “it’s almost time!”