James Molesworth, Flying Winemaker. I kind of like the sound of that. No, I don’t have any delusions of grandeur, and I also happen to still like my day job. But still, "Flying Winemaker," even for a day? It’s worth a shot.
So with that in mind, I hopped the early flight yesterday morning from New York to San Francisco and then took a 10-minute cab ride to the custom crush facility where I’ve been making my own barrel of Syrah from the 2007 vintage. It was time to rack my lone barrel and I wanted to get my hands dirty.
Racking is a basic necessity for red wines and so there’s really no room for debate, the way there might be when deciding on which yeast strain one uses for fermentation, or which type of oak barrel to use.
Racking is needed to aerate the wine so that it doesn’t become hard-edged and reduced. It's also used to remove the gross lees (sediment) that have settled out over time. As you can see from my video, it’s a fun process if you only have to do one barrel. It was cool to get purple stains up to my elbows and it definitely helped me "connect" with my wine a bit, considering I don’t get to check on it every day. But I couldn't help but imagine how my back would feel if I had to do a few dozen barrels a day ...
After racking my barrel, the resident winemaker, Michael Zitzlaff, took me through a tasting of several other ’07 Syrahs from Santa Barbara (which is where my fruit came from) as well as a few other regions in California, covering a diverse range of vineyards including Alder Springs, Eaglepoint, White Hawk, Stolpman and more.
As we moved along we tried different barrels—new, used and even zebra barrels (with alternating staves of new and used oak)—containing the same wine. That's always a fun way to see the effect different amounts of oak have on a wine. For my own wine, I felt there was enough oomph from the vintage that I didn't need to use any new oak, so I opted for a one-year-old barrel with medium toast. I really liked the way my wine was showing, while overall the ’07 Syrahs are showing lots of black fruit flavors with ample structure. It looks like a strong vintage and the '07s were a big step up from some of the ‘06s we tasted, which seemed a bit angular and lean.
When I was done with the hard labor, I hooked up with some friends for dinner at the Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant that has grown from humble beginnings into a large 200-plus seat bustling restaurant located in the brand new Ferry Building overlooking the water. It was a Monday night but that didn’t seem to matter as the place was really buzzing.
The wine list is a wine geek’s dream, heavy on Austrian, German and Loire whites along with a handful of light-bodied, cool-climate reds from Burgundy, the Loire, Jura and so on. Prices are modest too. A bottle of Hirsch Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kamptal Kammern Heiligenstein 2006 was bright and floral, proving a nice match with a round of vegetable spring rolls and other appetizers. A main course of cellophane noodles with crabmeat stole the show though, as it played effortlessly with the off-dry François Chidaine Montlouis Sur Loire Les Bournais 2005—a perfect match,
Properly satiated after a day of honest work, I was promptly dropped off back at the airport where I caught the red eye back home. From coast to coast and back again in 24 hours, Flying Winemaker for a day.
The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building No. 3
San Francisco, Calif. 94111
Telephone: (415) 861-8032