Monday, November 5, 2012

In the Cellar

So you’ve seen the pastoral pictures of fruit on the vine, but what happens after the fruit is picked? We transition from the word “harvest” to the word “crush.” The crush season is the busiest time of the year for most wineries – bringing in the fruit that represents the entire year’s work in a few short weeks. It’s like finals – it took all year to grow exemplary fruit and now the proof will be in the pudding if you can get through this last cram session before the proverbial board exams.
Let me just toss any romantic notions out the window before I go any further. Winery work is not always (or even most often) glamorous. And if you’re working in a winery cellar during the months of September through December, expect to be cold, wet, sticky, sore and exhausted. ‘Tis the season of the “cellar rat.”
A cellar rat, if you don’t already know, is a person who toils away in the cellar. These are the people who make all those delicious wines possible. They receive the fruit at the winery, sort and de-stem it, crush and press it, pump or press the juice over the cap to extract flavor and color and then barrel it down to its intended storage vessel. Then they babysit it; stirring, topping, and generally keeping it from getting messed up all year round. If there is a manual labor job to be performed, it’s likely that these folks are doing it. A winemaker is only as good as his or her team and these are the All-Star players.
The origins of the title “cellar rat” are a bit nebulous, but I’ve got some ideas; it’s a term for someone always hanging around the cellar and who may exude a somewhat bedraggled appearance (long shaggy hair, unkempt look, stained and torn clothes perhaps mended with duct tape). For many cellar rats, the title and their stained hands are a badge of honor.
Working in a cellar is not for the faint of heart. You will get dirty. You will get wet. You will be hungry and tired. You will ache, and eventually, as harvest wears on for weeks on end without a day off, you will begin to go a bit crazy. Why would anybody torture their body with this kind of work?
It’s a labor of love. And while there’s little room for romance this time of year, there is a lot of passion. Passionate people working towards the same goal of making great wine – no matter the sacrifice, whatever it takes. We give a bit of ourselves so that each bottle is a little bit better and of course we sleep well, knowing that we gave it our all.
--Katy Long
Content Manager

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

My mother called me up and asked me to pick out a case of wine to send back East for Thanksgiving, and it put me in a bit of a quandary. While most of my family will enthusiastically guzzle whatever is placed in front of them, a few are a bit more sophisticated in their wine appreciation. I suspect this not an unusual circumstance as families gather around the country for the ultimate hedonist’s holiday. For every uncle with a serious wine collection, there’s a cousin or three who are more interested in taking the edge off their losing wager on the Lions’ game. Then there’s the meal itself, no small wine pairing feat given the sheer array of flavors on the table. Alas, this is why my family turns to me for guidance.
To my thinking, the selection process can be broken down into three basic camps: crowd pleasers, food pairings and wine geek specials.
Crowd Pleasers: Cabernet and Chardonnay are the two most popular varietals for a reason. For a lot of wine lovers, they get the job done. Chardonnay is certainly a little more natural dancing partner with turkey, whether you go the full, rich and tropical route à la Mer Soleil or opt for something with a little more pop and acidity like the gorgeous Etude, you’ll be in great shape. If you have your heels dug in on Cabernet, it’s important to have something with at least a year or two in bottle so the tannins don’t completely overwhelm the meal. Either something lush and sophisticated like the ’09 Chappellet or an inexpensive quaffer like the ’09 Ridge Runner would fit the bill.
Food Pairings: Forget the Pilgrims and Indians… it’s about food and wine! This is the holiday where Pinot Noir shows its true versatility on the table, able to handle everything from deep-fried bird to sweet potato casserole. A bright and lively selection like the ’10 Alta Maria or one packing serious Burgundian pedigree like the ’09 Louis Jadot Pommard is in order. In the world of whites, something crisp and complex like the ultra-rare ’10 Caravaglio Bianco from the Aeolian Islands or a basso profundo white Burgundy from Marius Delarche in the form of Corton-Charlemagne will play just fine.
The Geek Squad: The stuff that the pros drink based on versatility and sheer enjoyment for the world-weary palate. A couple of the wines I include in the care package for my own consumption included the Durdilly Beaujolais from the legendary ’09 vintage and the laser-like Wachau Grüner-Veltliner Federspiel. Tell your favorite sommelier that those were on your Thanksgiving table, and you’re guaranteed to be treated a little better on your next restaurant visit. There you have it… a user’s guide to a very broad range of styles, at least one of which is going to hit the mark for every wine lover in the room. Cheers to Thanksgiving 2012!
--Rhett Gadke
Wine Director