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A year in the vineyard

We buy it. We drink it. We toss the bottle.

If we like a wine we may spend a little more time thinking about it, perhaps we’ll jot a note for future purchases, maybe we’ll go back and read the label to see if we can glean some information about who made it, or what the blend was or what appellation it came from. But rarely do we think about how the wine was made.

That’s because we think the whole process is complicated. And it is. There are so many variables involved at each step of the way, and there are universities devoted to the intricate techniques used by winemakers to grow grapes, harvest them, ferment them and age them, all before they release a wine.



But at the heart of it, winemaking is a very simple operation that in many ways has not changed since ancient times.

In the coming weeks this space will devote one column a month to the process of making wine. We will be getting a monthly report from Ron Rosenbrand, the vineyard manager at Spring Mountain Vineyards and the winemaker, Jac Cole, on just what is transpiring at that time in the vineyards and at the winery.




Spring Mountain Vineyards is located in the hills just above St. Helena, Calif., and they make wonderful cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. In this space we will follow the progression of the 2008 vintage from the buds of April through harvest and, who knows, if we all persevere, through bottling and, God willing, release.

Full disclosure here. I was a fellow at the 2008 Professional Wine Writers Symposium held this past February at the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley. Spring Mountain Vineyards was the sponsor of the fellowship and I had the opportunity to meet both Ron and Jac during a tour and tasting at the winery. Both were extremely generous with their time and their enthusiasm for their wines was palpable.

I was struck by the beauty of the place, the quality of the wines and the verve of those who worked there. I instantly began to plot how I could stay and watch a vintage come from earth to vine, from barrel to bottle.

“Maybe I could just take off a year and make wine,” I thought. “Maybe they will just let me stay here.” Then I woke up.

When I got home though, the idea stayed with me and I thought perhaps the best way to follow the progress of a vintage would be to see if I could get monthly reports from Ron and Jac via phone conversations and digital photos. They were agreeable and now, together, you and I will be able to participate in a vicarious way in this season’s progression.

We’ll start later this month and hear about how things are going in the vineyard. We’ll talk canopy management and vine spacing and soils and rainfall amounts (things have started out pretty dry so far this year in Napa). As the summer goes on and the heat of the day stresses the vines, we’ll hear about how pests and fungal diseases are combated, what techniques are used by vintners to protect their fruit from the dangers that lurk around every corner for farmers.

Once fall comes, we’ll discuss the harvest. When do the grapes get picked and why? Who picks them? What kind of yields are there? Will this be a good year for the fruit?

Then we’ll go inside and talk destemmers, crushers, basket presses, the processes of fermentation. We’ll get an idea of what kind of oak will be used and where it’s from, and we’ll learn a little about how long the wine will roast and toast in the barrels before it is bottled.

Hopefully by the end of the process we will all have a rudimentary understanding of how Spring Mountain Vineyards makes wine and therefore a better understanding of how what we drink gets into our wine bottles.

I’m looking forward to this process, this journey in print, if you will, and hope that you will join us. Look to this space the last Sunday of each month.

Cheers.


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