Sometimes I think about nature vs. nurture, and since being a kid have romanticized a sort of modern cowboy style of life. Up early, hard working, a bit of drinking with the boys, on the move and on with the next day. I’m not sure how much it’s my romanticizing of these things that makes them desirable to me, or how much it is inherent in who I am. But when given the opportunity to live like this, I take it.
I don’t mind getting up early, and about a week or so ago, before we made the time switch, it didn’t faze me getting up a good two hours before the sun rose, jumping in my car and driving up the coast to Paso Robles to help my step dad crush a ton of petit verdot. I had taken the day off work to go work, but instead of sitting at a desk, I’d be outdoors, in the sun, working with my hands. This suits me well. Petit verdot is one of Greg’s (owner and wine maker of Seven Angels Cellars) last grapes to crush for the 2012 harvest and he needed a hand. Personally, I’d do just about anything to work a day in Paso amongst farmers and wine makers, so it was a no brainer.
I arrived into Paso and met Greg at Darkstar Cellars, just off the 46 west, where he does his wine making. It was about 9:30 am and already people were moving and shaking. Greg was trying to seal up a barrel that had been under attack by some wood-boring beetles, and Brian Benson (acclaimed wine maker) was already tending to fruit he had at various stages of fermentation (he spent a good part of the day target shooting with a high powered rifle at long distances, so I don’t exactly feel bad about his morning start).
After the barrel was attended to, we jumped in the truck and headed to Joe’s Other Place, a cafe in old-town Templeton for a pretty hearty (second) breakfast (come on now, I was out the door before 6am, surely I needed a second breakfast). If you want to feel like a cowboy, go for breakfast on Main Street in Templeton. Trust me. With full bellies we drove the winding back roads east of the 101 to pick up the petit verdot. The fruit looked amazing – even ripeness, hand picked, no sun damage. Greg couldn’t have asked for anything more even though he does not intend to make a stand-alone wine with the petit verdot. Instead it’ll be used for blending and balancing other wines. But the quality of this fruit, one that will be used in a secondary manner, is a testament to the quality of his contracts and the overall importance he places on his product. We loaded up the truck and went back to Dark Star to get on with the day.
The rest of the afternoon was spent prepping for the crush (lot’s of fork lift driving), crushing and sorting (think I Love Lucy-style assembly line, but instead you are pulling stems and leaves from a flowing river of semi-crushed wine grapes), then cleaning up. By the time the sorting table and de-stemming machine were all clean, the autumn sun was going down and the temperature in Paso was getting closer and closer to its frigid evening low. I was wrecked from being on my feet all day and was ready for a shower, a meal, and long nap till morning. We’d be back at the winery after dawn to punch down other varietals that were already undergoing primary fermentation.
The day was a success, and a learning experience for me on a number of levels. I furthered my understanding of the wine making process, but also deepened my appreciation for the work that Greg does. He makes countless trips up to Paso during harvest season, sometimes 2 or 3 times a week, then puts in long days once he’s up there. This is exhausting. Period. After a drive and a drive home in about 24 hours I was spent – mentally and physically. But quality work takes sacrifice, and Greg is surely willing to one for the other. The 2009 and 2010 wines have been stellar. With the way things are going and the work that is being put in, there is no reason this is going to change any time soon. If you are interested in their wines, here is information about their wine club.
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