Many thanks to my cellar hand buddy Chad for the introduction to Natural Process Alliance. The NPA consists of international crew of folks making wine with as little intervention as possible. Chad, Steve and I stopped by on a Friday evening. We interrupted the guys shaving their beards for Mo’vember. After that wrapped Georgia native Hardy showed us around the winery, letting us taste out of tanks and barrels. Winemaker Kevin and the gang happened to be in the middle of evening punch downs of their reds. At the NPA punch down can mean foot tread. A casual offer was extended to come back the next day and get in on the action. Much to their shock there we were the following morning. Steve behind the camera as he is fighting a cold but Chad and I were ready to tread.
The NPA is one of a handful of wineries in the area that are doing things a little different. I like different. They use native yeasts, little or no sulphur and how about this for WOW factor…..they let their whites sit on their skins for months. At this moment I’m sipping their Sauvignon Blanc poured out of their refillable Kleen Kanteen. Steve and I are arguing over the color. I say golden, pink, he says light amber. Clearly different and yummy.
For weeks I’ve been running around the winery saying, “Yis! I want to dig out a tank.” This involves crawling inside a large stainless steel tank to dig out the grape skins that remain after the wine has been drained. It is a whole deal. Grapes have a gas problem, lots of carbon dioxide. This brings up obvious safety issues that have to be addressed including proper ventilation of the tank, safety harness with retrieval cord, and a CO2 monitor.
One way in, one way out.
Today as our other responsibilities are waning we had an opportunity to dig. We dug out one of the crawl inside tanks and then another smaller one that you rake out from the outside.
A couple that digs out tanks together...
Jill pulling rake duty.
Harvest is nearly over but for now we’re still putting in long days. We look forward for more time to write and actually drink some wine in the coming weeks.
Any sanity or sense Steve and I had two years ago must certainly be long gone. If you need proof of this we thought driving from North Carolina to California would not be so bad. We’re pros at this, right? While the trip was really smooth, it was long and tedious and left us questioning are reasoning abilities about making the decision to go all the way from east coast to west for a short-term winery job.
To our credit we did try to plan things to do along the way to break up each day a bit. This is easier planned than executed as more often than not we just didn’t have the energy to take a big white van off the interstate to track down the local charm. That said there were a few highlights. We visited Stonehill Winery in Missouri. Way, way back, 1800’s back, Missouri had a fantastic wine industry. Today they have a surprising number of wineries producing lesser known grapes / wines that are well suited for the climate. We bought a bottle of sherry- our first. Next up was barbecue in Kansas City at Gates Bar B.Q. where much of the restaurant was shrouded in smoke from the pit. It was obvious that half the customers eat there weekly and the other half stagger in as if on a pilgrimage to a distant, holy land.
Steve having a come to BBQ moment in Kansas City.
Our new climbing partner in Denver.
That was about the extent of our tourist stops on our westward trek. We did visit pals in Denver and met their adorable little boy. With a little luck we made beers happen with our wildland firefighter buddy as we passed through Winnemucca, Nevada. He is good at being anywhere and everywhere in the American West. I’m not sure how he has such mastery over his geography. It is a mysterious combo of truck, helicopter and I suspect nose wrinkle.
Picture perfect Lake Tahoe.
Stellar Jays are a fixture on the Tahoe landscape.
Just before reaching our final destination we spent a cool (literally- there was snow at elevation) weekend in Tahoe. This was a favorite spot of mine from our 2009 travels. With my foot swelling (sting ray) and weekend crowds on the trails, we kept our hikes short and our vista lingering long. For such a touristy area somehow parts of the Tahoe area manage to be not only bearable but actually pleasant. With a mellow weekend behind us we rolled on into northern Sonoma County and a tiny but just right apartment on a big ‘ol hill overlooking the Russian River Valley. More to come!
Our New Zealand work permits expire in November. We’re on a plane home August 1st. This doesn’t add up until you add wine. Then it becomes a perfect plan. Remember we worked at a winery during the Southern Hemisphere autumn. We put in long hours at a large winery as truck after truck delivered tons and tons of grapes. No real ah ha moment but a sweet experience for sure.
Sweet enough for us to apply to one wine job at one winery in California. More winery work was not the plan but I was in a restless mood after vintage wrapped up in Gisborne. I saw the job online. I thought, “Oh why not? It is California wine country after all, a smaller winery, that could be nice, see what happens.” A few weeks later we were accepting wine jobs in the Russian River Valley for the North American crush, start date September 1.
We dig the winemaking world. Lets be clear Steve and I are far from calling ourselves winemakers, we’re cellar rats, the seasonally hired hands that are the key to wineries making it through harvest. Someday we may be winemakers. For now it is too soon to tell if this is a new career or simply an adventure not yet finished.
Yes, that is bubbly with fish and chips. Getcha some.
I can’t stop thinking about Marlborough. It wasn’t the wineries. They were nice and all, as is the point of a cellar door. It wasn’t even the wine. I’m just not that big a fan of Sauvignon blanc, the regions claim to fame. It was the clouds. Viscerally speaking Marlborough was one of the prettiest wine regions I’ve visited. It seemed like the clouds would decorate the sky a bit different everyday. Combined with the fall color on the vineyards and the dry hills surrounding the valley, this wine growing region provided all the contrasts for stunning scenery.
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