People occasionally joke with me and ask, “How is it that you don’t drink all of your wine?” We have a chuckle over that but the truth is it’s my livelihood, folks. This is a sink-or-swim life choice and I prefer to learn the front crawl than to drown in my own creation. Wine Work equals Hard Work. It’s not all lovely strolls in the vineyard admiring the morning dew on the fruit and leisurely afternoons sipping reserved vintages on a perfectly elegant yet rustic terraza gazing peacefully at the mountains that enclose the wine valley. I like that picture a lot. But the reality for a newbie winemaker like myself is a little bit different. For example …. I’ve been trying to arrange to rack my barrels for months. Racking involves pumping the clear wine off the lees (sediment) which settles in the bottom of the barrel and is composed of dead yeast, dust from the vineyard, and maybe bits of bugs that were on the fruit at harvest, and who knows what else. Sounds yummy, no? Regular racking of the barrels aids in clarifying the wine, softening tannins, and may help enhance aromas, stabilize the wine and avoid off-flavors. So it’s one of those chores that simply needs to be scheduled in.
My first year making wine I had six barrels that were all on the floor. Racking them was a daunting process for my new winemaking creds but not impossible to wrap my head around. I just needed help lifting those heavy suckers through the window of my wine room until I was able to widen the door.
My second year making wine, however, I more than doubled production and my barrels are stacked two high. So? Well, if I was only working with one or two varietals it wouldn’t pose such a problem. Or if I planned to bottle all of my wines at the same time. But no. I have both single varietal wines and blends. And I want to bottle some wines young and leave others in the barrel to age longer. If my young wine is on the bottom tier, that poses a problem at bottling time.
Then there’s the spectacular conundrum of blending wine. If I need half a barrel for one of my wines, what do I do with the other half? Barrels have to be kept full or the wine turns to vinegar, so perhaps you are getting a glimpse of my dilemma. Both Lady in Red and 50 Shades of Red are blends. Since I plan to bottle 50 Shades as a young wine some time towards the end of April, I needed to re-create and finalize that blend … well, yesterday.
Without boring you to tears, let’s just say that both my spatial and mathematical thinking were stretched to the limits. And the absolute truth is that if I hadn’t had my brilliant friend Chente to help me problem solve as well as do the heavy lifting, the wines would still be on their mother-loving lees!