Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Bizarre Harvest

I realize that I haven't been making wine for as many years as some of my colleagues. Yet, this is definitely the strangest harvest I have seen.

Back in 2003, we just knew it was going to be tough from the get-go. In 2007, we were pretty sure we were on auto-pilot the whole way through. But this year can't seem to make up its mind.

May was the coldest I'd ever seen, and June was one of the wettest. July was schizophrenic, and August saw us finally get some heat. September has us bouncing between monsoons and beautiful fall weather. It's enough to drive me even more insane.

All of this variability has put stress on our vines. We've kept them clean through August, but little spots of downy mildew are creeping in. It's starting to look like a battlefield out there, and the good guys are barely hanging on. Only a few more weeks to go, and I think we'll make it.

Keeping a positive attitude in life is one of the most important things on my priority list. But even now, I still find myself forcing a smile or having thoughts of throwing in the towel. Then, I get little surprises.

We picked some Chardonnay last week, and you know, it's pretty nice stuff. Not great in the numbers department. But the aromatics are very pretty and the juice was sqeaky clean. It'll make a nice Steel Chard.

So, I am still holding out hope that I'll be surprised again. And, hopefully, again and again and again.....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Life with Giant

Most of you know by now that we have stores-in-stores with Giant. (This is all part of what the PLCB calls an "extension of premises" of our license.) The first one opened in Enola back in November of last year, and the second opened in Mechanicsburg in February of 2009.

I think this model may ultimately be the model for Pennsylvania wineries to promote their products to local communities in the future. Giant grocery stores is a rather large corporate structure, and one that took me a little while to understand when I started working with them. See, I ran away from all things corporate and found refuge in the wine industry. I like flat organizations, and by that I mean small. Corporations, almost by definition, aren't small.

The interesting aspect of Giant is that it thinks very locally as a business. Of course, there's all the standard mass-market items you'd expect to find, but more than that you find locally grown produce and other products. Giant likes to partner with local businesses, and Allegro was just an extension of that idea.

Now, keep in mind that in no way was it a simple extension. Whenever the PLCB becomes involved, the bureaucracy ratchets up. Bottom-line, though, is that everything we did was within the letter of the law, and our license did not come about through any new legisalture. It was mostly brought about by the willingness of the folks at Giant to see things in a new way.

Back in 2005 (I think) we sold wine at a local grocery store in York using a "festival permit." It was a creative way to gain access to grocery store sales, and it worked really well until the PLCB started to deny similar applications in 2006. I approached the local grocery store-to-remain-nameless and told them that all they would need to do is to make an outside entrance in their building for me and I could be their permanently. The manager thought it was a great idea--as all his customers loved it--but the corporate folks at the unnamed store shot it down.

Fast forward a couple of years--and with a forward-looking partner in Giant--and we're selling wine in a grocery store again. Two, in fact, and things are going really well.

It really does come down to who you end up working with. Finding people who are on the same page as you. Giant--the grocery store chain--is an immense corporate structure. That said, it's also filled with people from central PA. These folks understand what central PA is all about. And they've been great to work with.

Thanks for everything, Cheryl, Tracy, Nick, Chantal, and especially Kerry. You all get it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's started...again....

What's strange is that every year before harvest, I worry that I won't be able to make wine this year. That this will be the year that the yeast and grapes don't get along, and I fail miserably. I worry that the wines will taste awful, it'll all be my fault, and I'll have to go back to the real world and a real job.

This happens to me every year. Yes, every year.

So, on Wednesday we started harvesting our grapes. The early varieties (Cayuga and Traminette) were the majority that came in. The Cayuga is destined for our Brogue Blush, and some of the Traminette will end up in a white Nouveau (I think...you heard it hear first, but I might change my mind.) We also brought in our Pinot and Chelois for our regular Nouveau, as well as some Chambourcin for a Rose. (I know what you're thinking, "Rose?" Yes, Rose, damn it. I love the darn stuff. Just like Riesling. And I make what I like, but that's for another post....)

So, after a couple of days of processing fruit and juice, we now have the first wines of the 2009 vintage percolating away in our tanks. And the familiar smell/sensation of CO2 permeates the winery. Aahhh, harvest. As a kid, I used to love the summer, for obvious reasons (no school, sunshine, no school) and didn't like fall (school started) or winter (cold, school still going on) or spring (school). But now summer is just a prelude to fall. Man, I love it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Harvest is coming......Harvest is coming...

And here it is. Strange, though, because Ray and I looked at each other two weeks ago and told each other, "Sure feels like harvest." By that, we didn't mean the weather. We meant how tired we felt. Not a good sign.

Harvest is what I live for, outside of my family. It's why I am a winemaker. It's when the excitement happens. It's when we make all the decisions that we're going to have to live with intimately for the next 12 months or so, but really for the rest of our lives in one way or another. And what usually happens is that the decisions that really matter come sometime in late October when we're dead tired.

It doesn't seem fair, but it's also the allure that harvest has for me. I use to race hurdles years ago. Sprinters are all about psychology, and like most athletes, they have to believe that they can do things better than others. I's pure competition. It's about raising your self up to a challenge. And what better challenge than to make great wine.

This vintage, 2009, could be a tough one. It's starting out later than normal. But most vintages end at the same point (at the end of October.) What is means is that the same amount of work we get less time to do it in. Not fun. On top of that, this has been a tough year to begin with, and there is a chance that it may finish with the same adversities. Oh, what fun....