On Monday, with the remnants of a typhoon in the Pacific heading straight toward us, I picked the slightly more than 1-acre parcel of Pinot Noir I grow for Ken Byron Brown. Ken is one of the old-timers of Santa Barbara County, going back to the beginning of what could be called the modern winegrowing era in Santa Barbara County, which started in the 1970s. Ken began at Zaca Mesa and then founded Byron Winery before selling it to Robert Mondavi. Ken remained at Byron as the Pinot Noir guru for the Mondavis for many years. Now he is "retired" and makes single-vineyard Pinot Noir under the Ken Brown label from Sanford & Benedict, Clos Pepe, Rio Vista and Cargasacchi Vineyards.
From the beginning I have been very lucky to grow Pinot for great winemakers and to learn from people with passion and experience. Ken is another example and one of those people that I have been fortunate to meet and gain from his near-40 years working with Pinot Noir. I can mention to Ken that I am thinking or wondering about a clone or rootstock or trellis system, and he will recite from memory the results of numerous trials that he participated in and his observations. His knowledge and expertise have been of tremendous value helping me to understand and make my way through the complex maze of each vintage.
The rainfall total for Tuesday and Wednesday was 2.75 inches. It was a soaker, with no runoff. A little early and poorly timed for both the Pinot Noir and pastures. The old cowboys say that any grass that grows before Thanksgiving (end of November) is useless. The sustained rains that grow pasture generally come from January to March. I have seen a few of these atypical, untimely rains, and the early grass sprouts and then withers. But I always hope the rains keep coming for early grass, as I feed the cattle hay and alfalfa during the lean months from October usually into March, until there is good grass.
The rain gave me a little more time to spend with my fermenting wines and develop the calluses on my hands doing punch-downs. One of my fermentations got a little unruly and ate the stainless-steel macerating tip of the pneumatic punch-down machine, which was not a good thing, because manual punchdowns are hard work! But I need the workout?
With the rain, the Aspergillus Niger mold is certainly growing on any berries that have any damage or dimpling. Able to enter the vineyards again, we picked last night into this morning. I still have a small amount of my own fruit and some for the Loring Wine Company still hanging. We went through yesterday in the afternoon daylight and dropped the damaged fruit, before we picked last night. Night picking is great for getting the fruit in cold, but even with halogen headlamps it's hard to spot all of the damaged clusters and keep them out. You need to go through the day before harvesting and sort the fruit on the vine by clipping any unwanted clusters to the ground.
As I was hauling picking bins and staged a tractor on Sunday, I had a chance to have a telephone conversation with Andy Peay at Peay Vineyards up in the Sonoma Coast. As we talked weather, Andy mentioned that they had just finished picking their last Chardonnay that morning and only had a little Pinot Noir still hanging. The Peays also grow Syrah and Roussanne, which was going to ride out the weather and needs more hang time in the cool climate of the Sonoma Coast. Presumably the Viognier block was picked earlier?
This morning's pick treated us to another spectacular sight in the sky, with the moon rising an hour before dawn as a tiny crescent sliver with Venus on its left. Tomorrow is the new moon, the beginning of the hunter's moon. The grape harvest for me is almost over, and I will miss picking under the moonlight. With sadness and fondness, I say: Goodbye beautiful harvest moon and thank you for your light.
Fred Brown — Maryland — October 16, 2009 8:22pm ET
John Kmiecik — Chicago, IL — October 19, 2009 3:14pm ET
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