Sunday, October 27, 2002

It Was a Great Ride

The moment Lofton made contact I knew what we were in for. I could watch it but I couldn't listen, and remote in hand I zipped the sound down to zero. Still it was horrible. The catch, the leap, the pileup on the infield, fireworks and smoke in the air, fans leaping and bouncing deliriously, every last red-shirted one of them pounding blow-up noise sticks as yet more fireworks blast away…. Just as I was sinking deep into despair and self-loathing (You idiot for caring so much about millionaire athletes, you fool for wasting all this time on a game), there was little Darren. You've heard too much about Dusty's boy, the most famous 3-year-old in America, but stay with me: He saved my day. He did it by sobbing in his daddy's arms as the Angel celebration unfolded in the aftermath of Lofton's flyball and Erstad's catch, of Rueter's gutsy performance and Livan's failure—and mostly, of course, in the aftermath of Saturday's monumental collapse. (That's when the Giants lost it, duh. Only the foolishly afflicted—like me, see earlier post—dared let hope make a comeback in the hours before Game 7.) Watching the tears roll down Darren's face I thought, "Yep, little buddy, it hurts." And I laughed. Little boys cry when their team loses. And so do big boys. And it's OK.
So Close

All through the Series, win or lose, I've looked forward to the next day's paper. That's part of the experience–kind of like rolling an interesting wine around in your mouth, gargling a bit, drawing air in and over it to make sure no subtleties are missed. This morning, I couldn't face the full 20-page section of rehash. All I wanted was a little Bruce, who I was sure would understand. At first I felt his merely solid effort had failed me somehow; I read, and the pain didn't go away. But now I feel hope and excitement returning. No doubt, this is a profoundly difficult time for the true Giants fan. The prospect of this long run of happy events ending in sadness, again, looms large. And to have had it sitting there in our hands–eight outs to go, nobody on base, a five-run lead … that's plainly cruel. Rebecca says she's afraid to hope and that is wise; me, I've got no choice. I've been with this team for 30 years, since I was 10 years old and declared my independence from the Minnesota teams I had followed since spending the first five years of my life in the Midwest. We were in California now and I needed a Northern California team. The A's were winners, so naturally I shied away from them. The Giants had a history of disappointing; they would be mine. Then and now. Bring on Game 7.

Friday, October 18, 2002

When last we met, on Monday, I revealed the sad fate of my just-pressed Zinfandel: It was leaking out of the barrel. This led to the purchase of another barrel and of a pump. Along the way this week, I also spent an hour in the hospital while the urologist performed an operation which my HMO calls "removal of sperm ducts." Vasectomy, indeed. Niko shall be the one and only! It hurt, dammit. More than they said it would. Three days later and it still hurts. OK, the pain is as promised--"moderate," not "extreme." But pain down there carries special weight, you'll certainly agree.

Meanwhile, there was craziness at work. Budgets, calls to "drive sales," research to do, plans to flesh out, writing to concoct, numbers to hatch, on and on. It almost felt like a real live full-time job, I swear.

But back to the winemaking. I picked up two 1998 barrels for 35 bucks a pop from Kristen, the charming and informative winemaker at Honig, and with my new pump moved the wine from the leaker into one of the Honigs. I wasn't very careful about pumping the dirty Zin and sent a lot of crud through the pump. The pump didn't mind, but the crud got all beat up and is now floating on the wine at the top of the barrel like pond scum. I've relied strictly on gravity in the past but with this much wine--by the end of this year's crush I'll have 260 gallons of wine in barrel, please don't tell the BATF--that was becoming impossible. I didn't realize how powerful a 1/2 horse pump could be. Next time I'll be more careful, for which the wine should be thankful. We'll let that Zin rest quietly for a few months now. I'm sure it will be fine.

I mentioned the end of crush: It comes tomorrow. I'm going up to Mendocino again to get old-vine Carignan. This poor grape gets little respect, mainly on account of the fact that growers have cropped it to high heaven and picked it too soon, and producers haven't argued with them when they did so. And why would they? The giant Central Valley wineries that bought most Carignan were feeding into jug wines, beefing up the color and flavor, and their first priority was to keep costs low. Treated right, I believe Carignan can make an interesting little wine, with deep color and rustic Rhonish flavors. Like Petite Sirah, it possesses much more character when picked from old vines. My source is Don Lucchesi's 45-year-old vineyard south of Ukiah in the Talmage area. Don gets about 5 tons an acre off his vineyard, a small crop by Carignan standards. At this late date, it ought to be plenty ripe, as well. I'll let you know what I think after I get back tomorrow.

One last thing: The Series, of course, starts tomorrow. Timing couldn't be more perfect. The last grapes are picked, then we settle in to watch the San Francisco Giants take their first World Series. What a wonderful fall this is turning out to be.

Monday, October 14, 2002

We were all out in the winery (you might call it a garage). I had finished pressing the Zin, 60 gallons into barrel and another 13 gallons into glass carboys. Niko was all changed and ready for bed. But we had to watch the bottom of the ninth. An out. Another out. Extra innings appeared likely. I wandered through the open garage door and out to the driveway to continue my cleanup while Rebecca and Niko stayed seated in front of the little TV we have out there. Over my shoulder, as I aimed a high-powered spray of water at the press staves, I saw David Bell's liner fall in. Likewise with Shawon Dunston (unbelievable). Two on. Two out. It dawned on me: If the next guy up gets a hit, the Giants are very likely in the World Series. I put down the hose. "Who's up?" I asked Rebecca. I didn't know. While pressing, I hadn't kept track of the lineup changes. Lofton, she said. "Hmm. He can be dangerous." We stood in front of the TV, me all wet and wine-stained, Rebecca holding Niko in her arms. Base hit. Base hit. There's going to be a play. Bell's not fast. The outfielder's not very deep. The throw is off line. It's over. We jumped and hugged. Niko smiled a big smile. We laughed. "The Giants are in the Series," I shouted. "Oh, my God," Rebecca said. Niko smiled and said, "Why does that little TV have an antenna on it?" "Because the Giants are going to the series," I said. "The Giants are going to the Series, and I think they're going to win it."

Post script: A perfect night. And then, as I sat and watched the post-game revelry, a dripping noise from the newly filled barrel behind me (a beautiful one-year-old French barrel). Drip. Drip. I looked up and down. Hmm. I looked behind. No! But yes: A leak. It's high on along the inside edge of the end, so I'll be able to keep 95 percent of the wine in the barrel for the day or two it will take me to find a replacement. Such a sweet barrel. A pity. But still: The Giants are in the Series.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

The '02 Crush Continues

It was back at the winemaking today. But first an update on the Pinot that was picked a full month ago now: After pressing, I let the wine sit in six carboys for three or four days, allowing much of the spent yeast and assorted other muck to settle. I then racked the wine into one 100-liter barrel and a clean carboy. I left behind most of the muck, but wasn't meticulous about it, since the malolactic bacteria I had pitched into the wine near the end of the primary fermentation works more efficiently in the presence of solids. You could call this "slightly dirty" wine. Nearly two weeks later, the wine is showing remarkable progress in clarifying; the color is excellent for the variety; and the fruit is more concentrated than I expected--sweet and spicy. A bit of fermentation odor does remain--one taster called it hydrogen sulfide, but I'm not convinced of that--but it seems to be fading fast. To my surprise, we may have a winner on our hands.

Now onto today's activities. The focus was a grape at the other end of the varietal spectrum: Zinfandel. Three of us were up early this morning, bound for Mendocino and Greg Nelson's ranch about 10 minutes north of Hopland. Thank goodness for Janet from the office, and for my trusted friend and winemaking comrade, Dan Brekke. Together we were able to pick an estimated 1100 pounds of grapes in about three hours. Compared to picking Pinot, the Zin was a cakewalk. The canopy was a bit more open and the stems were longer and easier to grasp and snip, and few of the clusters wound themselves around wires and canes the way the nasty, difficult Pinot did. The grapes were in good condition--certainly no mold was evident--although there was a good deal of variability among the clusters, which is customary of Zinfandel. Greg brought his refractometer out and we did some informal sampling at various spots in the sizeable block. He found bunches at 28 brix and bunches at 21. Most seemed to be grouped in the 23-26 range, however, and the seeds were brown and nutty in all but the greenest clusters. Post-crush, my hydrometer, after initially checking in at 23.5, twice gave me readings just over 25 brix. Perfect. I was very happy with the timing of the harvest--and indeed, Greg's boys Tyler and Chris were picking in another part of the block. If you're picking on the same days as the grower's boys, you're probably picking on the right day.

Greg, by the way, couldn't have been more hospitable. When Janet and I arrived after the hour-and-forty-minute drive from Napa (Dan was coming solo from Berkeley), he invited us in for coffee. Greg's wife, Missy, then joined us and she and Janet recognized each other from several years ago, when Janet's family lived in Ukiah and Missy was working in the schools. Much reminiscing ensued. They apologized, but there was no need to; I get a kick out of old pals renewing acquantaince.


We knew we were done picking when our bins--two each of 44, 32 and 20 gallons--were full. Plus three 2.5-gallon pails. That gave us 200 gallons of grapes, although by the time we arrived in Napa, settling had left a bit of space at the top of each of the bins. Our estimate of 1100 pounds was based on 6 pounds of grapes per gallon. That should be enough juice to fill a barrel--and what a nice barrel I've got to fill! Thanks to the generosity of Eugenia Keegan of Keegan Cellars, I've got a 1-year-old French oak barrel. Just right to give this Zin some smoothness and sweetness.

Crushing went smoothly. We crushed right into a half-ton bin, a task made easier by sawing a few pieces of wood to size and using them as planks to hold the crusher over the bin. Dan and I are becoming shockingly adept at crushing. The 1100 pounds were crushed and destemmed within an hour. I was pleased, too, with the results: A large percentage--perhaps 30 percent--of the berries were unbroken, which should aid me in my pursuit of fresh fruit and soft mouthfeel.

One last little tidbit: Just after we finished crushing, a colleague of Dan's stopped by with his family, which was visiting from Southern California. Niko and Steve's two little ones immediately began running around and playing. Particular fun was had swinging on the hammock (mom's provided the push and pull for the swinging action). Niko was quite disappointed when the gang had to shove off a half-hour or so later. And boy was he sad when his big pal Dan had to go! But we all agreed that there would have to be a visit with Dan, Kate and Tom soon.