Note: this was first published in the Vacaville Reporter on Sept. 24, 2013.
One of the best things about living in wine country is the newspaper headlines, especially at this time of year.Murder and political malfeasance are not the stuff of our breaking news. What do we care about? Grapes! “Growers Expect Early Harvest,” “Wine Grape Harvest Could Be Biggest In Years,” “Grape Harvest Accelerates,” who knew there was so much to report about grapes?
The articles that accompany those harvest headlines invariably quote winemakers who have been walking the vineyards for weeks, sussing out the ideal levels of sugar, acid and color. They calculate the logistics of vineyard crews, cellar tanks and “hang time,” ever vigilant for the heat wave or rain shower that could ruin everything. When everything is as good as it can be they “call the pick” and harvest is underway.
No matter what the challenges of the vintage year, these winemakers are media savvy; each year their quotes indicate that THIS harvest is “one of the best.” Rarely do they publicly worry that a freak rainstorm will turn their crop to rot or a hot spell will bake their grapes into raisins. The standard comment about a late season rainstorm, as typical as “it’s an honor to be nominated” from an Oscar loser, is “No problem, the rain was just enough to wash the dust off the grapes.” Vineyard full of baked cabernet? “The yields may be off but overall the quality of the grapes is outstanding.”
The winemakers are not so sanguine in the cellar. Their art involves many choices: yeast strains, fermentation temperatures, pressing techniques, and barrel choices, but the quality of the grapes is paramount. They’d rather enhance the flavors created by a playful Bacchus than the fix problems wrought by a cranky Mother Nature.
For everyone in the wine industry it’s an exciting time of year, like final exams and graduation. The work of a season culminates in long and anxious hours, with the promise of leisure once it is all over. People like me, for whom the industry is a spectator sport, see the signs and get excited too. The lights in the vineyards before dawn, the yeasty aromas in the air, the cellar worker in the coffee line, bleary-eyed and still in his rubber boots, all signal that harvest is here.
Harvest is a time when we, in our world of freeways, reality TV, and shrink-wrapped vegetables, can reach back to the ancients and celebrate the elemental pleasures served up by earth and sun. When the daylight is waning, the hills are brown, and even the crape myrtles seem melancholy, it is cheering to see the vineyards. There we see bunch upon bunch of fat, round berries, full of juice and ripening before our very eyes.
I look forward to the day that Solano’s emerging wine industry shoves those joyless headlines off our newspapers in favor or our own harvest news. For now I can enjoy more immediate pleasures: turning leaves, an orange moon, and wines of earlier harvests.