Monday, November 24, 2014

Up to Our Eyeballs in Grapes

12-14 hour days, which then became 14-16 hour days eventually were spattered with 19 hour days as soon as the grapes really started coming in. There is usually a brief lull between Pinot Noir processing and Chardonnay processing while Flowers waits for the prime Estate Chardonnay to reach optimal ripeness and chemistry (the likes of which make up their 96-point, #1 Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay). During this time, the harvest team has a chance to catch up on things like sleep, laundry and cleaning both at home and around the winery. This lull never happened, and instead the optimal ripeness of certain Pinot Noir blocks exactly overlapped with the optimal ripeness of top Chardonnay blocks, meaning that not only was there no time for any of this much-needed rest, but our workload was doubled as we were processing two different colors of grapes meaning that we had literally 2x the amount of preparation, processing, post-processing and cleaning to do on any of these given days.

The mornings were usually filled with a walk through the stunning vineyards  for sampling to ascertain ripeness and predict a picking schedule or hand-sorting the Pinot Noir or Chardonnay that had been picked overnight to ensure it was at a perfectly cool temperature when it arrived at the winery. By late afternoon, we would usually have begun cleaning up the processing areas, which could take anywhere from 2-4 hours. Additionally, I had been asked to fulfill the role of what equates to a “Ferment Nurse”: So, after grape processing, my days were filled with sampling and then analyzing the sugar level (measure in Brix), temperature, pH and organoleptic qualities of each ferment.

In order to ensure the accuracy of the results, the sampling method I was instructed to use was the most labor intensive I have ever encountered, but it made sense: there is no sense in analyzing 50 different ferments when your samples are not reliable, and so I was happy to carry out the sampling with this method. I was the only one to do this sampling and analysis as it was important to our winemaker to eliminate any possible variables in sampling and analysis that you would get by having different people do it each day; though repetitive, it gave me an incredible opportunity to connect with the ferments and really understand the process. Seeing the analyses change daily, smelling different characteristics in each ferment, following their evolutions and finally tasting the magic as premium grape juice became premium wine… well, this is what has me hooked on this industry. It is truly magic.  

The days were an endless blur of grapes, and for me, numbers. But moments where we arrived at work to see the sun rise over the fog that had settled in the valley or where there late into the evening to see a full moon rise over the vineyard… these moments are clear snapshots in my mind, some of which we fortunately captured on camera.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bike Alert Saves The Day with JT Sprockets, Chains & Hiflo Filtro!!!

12-14 hour days gradually became 15-16 hour days as the grapes really started coming in. My bike had been sitting idle in the garage since we had arrived, and though I was itching to get out for a ride to shake off the stress of the days and enjoy the incredible curves of the Pacific Coast Highway, I resigned myself to simply being happy that my chain had lasted over 28,000 miles, and instead stared longingly at the Transalp whenever I went into the garage.

The winery was a very busy place with trucks delivering grapes coming and going with empty bins, mechanics coming and going to fix the necessary machines that inevitably always seem to break during harvest when they are most needed. All of this noise faded into the background as I stared at the grapes riding the belt beneath my nimble fingers, ready to pluck any one of them that didn’t cut the mustard. Until one day, the FedEx truck pulled in and delivered a heavy box with my name on it from Bike Alert. This was a delivery that elicited celebration and ensured a long night after work… it contained all of the materials for the maintenance required to get the bikes back on the road in happy condition: new JT Sprockets, JT Chains and Hiflofiltro oil and air filters… YIPPEEE!!!

The Transalp and Africa Twin are both quite happy with JT Sprockets (the AT has been nearly around the world on JT Sprockets), but until checking out, we didn’t realize that JT also made drive chains, so it had always been a crap shoot as per what chain we would use, based off of availability, price and the tools we had at our disposal. Knowing what excellent quality the JT Sprockets are, we were excited to see how the drive chain would perform and so we reached out to Bike Alert to see if they’d be willing to help us out. Knowing what one would need for normal bike maintenance, they very generously added the Hiflowfiltro oil and air filters to our box of goodies, which sent us over the moon completely.

We rushed home from an abnormally “short” 13-hour day and got to work right away on my bike.

New JT Drive Chain/Sprockets… check!

New Hiflofiltro Air Filter… check!

New Hiflofiltro Oil Filter with new oil… check!

Roel followed suit with his bike the following evening.

The sad thing was that we knew our bodies and minds were not sharp enough after 4 grueling weeks at work to safely go for a ride. So our bikes continued to rest, but now at least they were ready to go at a moments notice. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dream Jobs Really Do Come True!

In my previous lifetime as an event planner for a lobbying organization in Washington, DC, I had a great budget to work with and bosses with scrupulous taste and excellent palates. This was how I was introduced to Flowers Wines and fell in love with their range of wines that relay a sense of what the French call “Terroir”: a sense of place reflecting the natural environment in which the wine is produced. Fast forward 6 years, Roel and I are riding around North America and decide to give ourselves an opportunity to work with extremely high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and learn about Biodynamic Wine Making… at Flowers Vineyard & Winery. We put a lot of effort into getting hired at this top-end winery, visiting last year on our way down to Southern California to introduce ourselves to the wine making team, applying like the other 200+ applicants, answering a questionnaire the likes of which I am familiar with from my post-bach days applying for jobs with high-level DC consulting firms, arranging Skype interviews from Australia, and then finally, we got the good news from Dave Keatley, Flowers head winemaker… We were hired!

Sometimes, dream jobs really do come true :)

We spent the first weekend at the house getting to know our new housemates, shopping for supplies as “town” was about an hour-and-a-half away, and of course, wine tasting at local wineries, greatly appreciating the complimentary and expansive “industry tastings” that were offered wherever we visited.

Our first week at the winery was meant to be comprised of introductions, various trainings (safety, processes, equipment, etc.) and getting to know the Flowers portfolio…

followed by another week of 8am - 5pm lax days, giving us plenty of time to get settled, or in my case, catch up on neglected blogging after our mad dash to make it to Sonoma. (Oops :? ) While we did manage to cram in the above-mentioned wine-related “tasks” in in the first week, we also added bottling the most of the 2012 vintage wines, cleaning and prepping equipment and tanks, and sampling 74 acres of vineyards to determine when
the first pick would be…

No, this photo is not crooked... the rows have planted on that steep of a hill

Our resident enologist explaining how Flowers would like us to sample the vineyard

The results of a morning spent sampling at Sea View Ridge Vineyard

...which ultimately came two weeks earlier than anticipated… By the beginning of our second week at Flowers, we were picking Chardonnay for sparkling base.

Sunrise Chardonnay Pick for Sparkling Wine Base

Roel picking Chardonnay for Flowers Sparkling Wine Base

Let the fun begin!!

And it did not stop from there. We did have some lovely evenings in the hot tub and some fun “family” dinners accompanied by a stockpile of Flowers wines (ranging from their ‘entry level’ Sonoma Coast wine @ $60/bottle to their single block selection Estate wines at $120+/bottle). But in short order, the fun at home and late nights gave way to very early mornings and 12-14 hour days.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Home, Sweet (Temporary) Home. For a while.

We spent our last day on the road before beginning our wine-making internship in Sonoma riding through the Redwood National and State Parks on the Avenue of the Giants.

Naturally, much of the morning was spent gawking at these magnificent trees and occasionally hugging them, for photographic perspective, of course.

By the early afternoon, the fog had dissipated and the views of the Pacific from 101 made for some stunning riding.

And to cap off an exquisite day, we arrived at what would be our home for the next few months and were blown away. Whenever we are about to settle down for a little while, we are mostly excited to have a postal address (to order parts to), a full kitchen (to bake cookies in) and a shower (duh). In addition to all of these things we would normally be thrilled to have access to, this home sported outdoor hot tub, a garage for the bikes AND as the only couple out of 7 interns, we had been assigned the master suite, complete with 180 degree views of the Pacific, a sauna and a king-sized bed. Pinch me.

Room with a (killer) view!!!