Winter Notes 2020:
People who know me know that winter is my favorite time of year. It’s not just because I love Christmas (which I do); I also love the gray, the cold, and the rain. My wife, Joy, sometimes refers to me as her Eeyore, because like me, he seemed to thrive in what A. A. Milne called his “gloomy place, rather boggy and sad.” There is nothing truly gloomy about me or about Bartholomew Estate in the winter, however. Even the cloudy days are beautiful, and the sunny days between the storms are positively spectacular!
Our winter weather is a real cause for celebration, in any case, as it’s the source of renewal. Without the
rain, nothing would grow, and without cold, the vines wouldn’t go dormant. This is a crucial part of their life cycle, and strangely enough, this winter dormancy is also my favorite part of the wine growing season. The vineyards may not be green, but in my mind’s eye, they’re simply bursting with potential. At this point the upcoming harvest is nothing but potential as well—and therefore potentially perfect.
No challenges have yet arisen: no spring frosts, no summer heat waves, no fall rainstorms, no difficult fermentations. Nothing to get in the way of my perennial quest for winemaking nirvana, the wines that make themselves, and make themselves into something irresistibly delicious. Fortunately, we have the tools and the talent to make the very best of what nature does give us, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
Speaking of the very best, let’s talk about Syrah. While we use most of our estate-grown Syrah as an essential element of our flagship red wine, Press Release, we also bottle a bit on its own for discerning fans. Deeply dark, lush and luscious, this Syrah has the additional distinction of coming from Viviano’s Block, the oldest-known vineyard site in Sonoma County outside of the Mission. It was originally planted in 1832, although the current vines are not that old. If you close your eyes, you can taste the history!
Kevin Holt, award-winning winemaker, shares his approach to winemaking
Non-interventionist winemaking is a myth. The end result of crushed grapes and natural biochemistry is vinegar; to stop the process at the wine stage requires intervention. The winemaker’s job is to decide where to draw the line from there. While there is a place in the world for both “natural” and “manufactured” wines at either end of the spectrum, I believe that great wine is made somewhere in the ever-shifting ground between these two extremes.
As with any craft, the skill lies in knowing when and how to apply the correct tools to gently shape the product, and when to get out of the way and let the beauty of the raw material shine through. Finding and expressing the character of a great vineyard is what makes great wine, and sometimes that takes a bit of spade work, but it never requires burying the grapes in winemaking. Finding the balance point is the key. Balance in the process results in balance in the glass.
Cool, long and very slow, the 2018 growing season led up to the latest harvest I’ve experienced in more than twenty years of making wine. While late harvests can be scary, as fall sets in and the onset of winter rains approach, they can also lead to exceptional flavor development in the grapes. In warmer seasons we sometimes see sugars rise before flavors are all the way there; not so this year. By the time we got sugars where we like them, flavors were rich and concentrated, and since 90% of the flavor in any wine was in the grapes at harvest, this was a very good thing.