As new members of the Sonoma County vineyard community, we’ve had to make it clear that we’re growers and not commericial wine makers. As of now, we don’t intend to produce our own wine from the grapes we grow. However, this adventure started because Clay is a passionate and talented small-batch winemaker who loves to share his efforts with friends and family. Here is a note he’d written to accompany 12 cases we’d bottled in 2009. I always thought it was wonderful and felt it deserved a bit of immortality on the Internet.
Friends and family,
In the early summer of 2005, a farmer in Santa Barbara county took a chance. She had harvested most of her crop of Sauvignon Blanc in the early summer, but decided to leave some of the grapes hanging in the fields. She hoped to allow the grapes to ripen still further to accumulate enough sugar to make a dessert wine. She took a risk, because grapes left on the vine can raisin or rot.
Most rots are bad—only one is good, and then only some of the time. Botrytis cinerea, a fungus whose most notable host is wine grapes, is commonly known as botrytis bunch rot. The fungus gives rise to two different kinds of infections on grapes. The first, grey rot, is the result of consistently wet or humid conditions and typically results in the loss of the crop. The second, noble rot, occurs when drier conditions follow wetter and can result in distinctive sweet dessert wines.
The farmer’s gamble paid off. Her second harvest occurred on Nov. 30, 2005. The bunches were approximately 50 percent botrysized, and the resulting juice is full of botrytis flavor and complexity.
Why am I telling you this on Easter Sunday? Because today Celeste and I bottled our wine made from these grapes, which we call Sweet Puppy. I guess this one would be Sweet Puppy III, as we have made wine in this style twice before.
This one is different than the others. While we were happy with the prior versions (we won a medal for the first one, for Pete’s sake), I thought it needed more “zing,” and I wanted to do something different. – Sweet Puppy won a silver medal in the dessert wine category of WineMaker magazine’s 2008 International Amateur Wine Competition.
We made this wine with much higher acidity than we have in the past. In order to balance the wine, we left the residual sugars higher, too. The result is quite different. Away from the honey and apricot spectrum, and more toward the pineapple and tropical fruit. We’re very happy with the result, but one thing we have learned is that wines evolve tremendously in the bottle. It will be a trip to see what happens with this one.
Dessert wines are a high-wire act for winemakers. The residual sugar is food (“substrate,” they’ve taught me to say at UC Davis) for organisms that are not supposed to be in the bottle at this point in time. To have them start chowing down now would not be a good thing. Amateurs are advised to stay away from making wines in this style. What do we know?
We bottled this wine after 0.45 micron filtration (“sterile filtration” in the parlance), and with a slightly higher dosage of sulfur dioxide (SO2) than normal to inhibit further fermentation and microbial action. We wanted to be careful in this regard because we expect this wine will improve with age, and we wanted it to be prepared for a long life.
Bottling wine is sentimental for me. Wine is time in a bottle. A snapshot of the sun, rain and breeze that can be enjoyed once, but then never the same again. When I bottle wine, I often think of my parents, who never knew this aspect of my life that has become so important. I like to make wine for the same reason I like to cook, I think. It is a way to express myself to my friends and family, and to share a little bit of myself and my love for all of you. Of course, our bottling sessions are always enlivened by samples of the current vintage. And I’m sure than contributes to the effect.
With all the weird stuff that is going on in the world now, it is nice when Mother Nature pulls a rabbit out of her hat.
Of course, I'll be trying to pawn this off on all of you. I hope you enjoy the final product as much as I enjoyed making it.
Here’s to taking risks,