Posted by Ken Forrester
As I sat with my morning coffee this past Sunday, watching the very first of our autumn rains, I was again reminded of how nature constantly evolves. We pressed off the very last little batch of hand-destemmed 2009 Cabernet on Saturday morning—soft juice, inky purple in color, fully ripe, gentle tannins, with no hint of those sometimes leafy Cab flavors, and the alcohol is only a shade over 12.5 percent! Almost unanimously during this past vintage, many of our wines achieved super-even phenolic/tannin ripeness before the sugars climbed (a rare phenomenon). By all accounts it was a remarkable, exceptionally gentle ripening season (apart from the sheer terror and brutality of the terrible fires, that wrought such destruction and sorrow).
Here it is that the very next vintage starts, with almost no true break in the action. This first autumn rain, which finally broke at about 5 a.m. in the darkness of early morning, had that wonderfully gentle silencing effect, like falling snow.
I sat and watched this awesome spectacle of the dry earth being gently replenished, months having passed since we had any rain at all to speak of. In that time, however, all the fruit has gently come to full ripeness, the heavily pregnant vines having safely delivered their prodigy, as it were, and the cycle has come to almost a long, sustained soprano pitch, just waiting to be relieved.
And so the heat is off, the rivulets of fresh cool rain are slowly running in the rows between the vines and the now almost-exhausted plants can drop their yellowing, sun-bleached leaves in relief with the certain knowledge of a labor beautifully concluded. And as the sap flow stops in the vines, with the reserves all stored and saved for the year ahead (something we as humans could learn from!) they will doze now and be deeply lulled to sleep by the approaching winter—a deep, dark, replenishing, revitalizing sleep, to be woken by the gentle warmth of the spring sunshine heading south again. And so the rhythm of the cycle of the seasons goes on. Beauty all around us now in every fallen leaf, every exhausted, barren vine and the scorched, dried earth once again leaves us with the promise of a harvest to return next year.
Truly all so overwhelming, and so intimate and far beyond our understanding. There is so much that we merely accept and take for granted—as it has been for hundreds and thousands of years. What a privilege to participate!
This rhythm of the earth is what binds us all, understanding, perhaps in our limited way and with limited vision, the small role that we play. I listened to the soft chorus of the raindrops as they drummed onto the now parched land, with our picking crates all sterilized and packed away and our crew taking a well-deserved and hard-earned break after all those 4 a.m. mornings and days spent in the sun bent over the vines, picking up lug boxes, waiting for ripeness. For three months now we have been picking, and the relief as this rain falls is tangible.
For me it heralds my plans for the time ahead in the market, traveling, showing the wines, warming old camaraderie and making new friends. Sharing the ultimate fruit of our labor and breaking bread with strangers that are likely to become friends over the years. Meeting the kindred spirits of the wine industry, the chefs, sommeliers, wine geeks, aficionados, store men and shelf-stackers is one of the great perks that lie ahead.
As the vines rest, and we await the pruning and renewal that spring will bring, committing to the next cycle and the harvest ahead, there is the thought of all those great winter dishes, the osso buco, stews and casseroles, creamy truffled mashed potatoes, the comfort food months all lie ahead for us in the south, as you greet the spring flowers, see the sun a little earlier each day and await the summer—it really is all magnificent.
Wishing you a very happy year ahead, and whatever part of the cycle that you're in, may it go well for you, and if your travels bring you to this southern most tip of Africa, do please make the time to come and visit and explore one of the most dramatic, varied, somewhat undiscovered and beautiful wine regions of the world.
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — April 21, 2009 4:40pm ET
Ken Forrester — Stellenbosch South Africa — April 22, 2009 3:53am ET
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