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Why I Don't Freak Out (That Much) Anymore at Harvest

Adam Lee of Siduri and Novy makes wine from California and Oregon.

Posted: Aug 26, 2008 10:35am ET

By Adam Lee

Posted by Adam Lee

My mother-in-law is a bit of a pack rat. In fact, my father-in-law says that, when they die, we should check all of the books in the house before throwing anything out because he swears there’s money hidden in them. (I don’t think its true, Pop. I look every time I come back home.) On our last trip back to Ennis, Texas, I came across a well-worn copy of the June 15, 1996 issue of Wine Spectator where James Laube wrote an article called “California’s Hot New Wineries.” In that issue, he selected 21 properties as the “best new California wineries” and another 17 as wineries that “show enormous promise, but are just getting started.” He named us, Siduri Wines, as one of those “Just Getting Started” wineries.

Boy, am I glad those days are past us. Oh sure, there’s an exhilarating rush about being considered fresh. And my wife, Dianna, and I love to “discover” new California wineries and show off those discoveries to our (equally) wine-geeky friends. But, as harvest approaches, there is something far better about being a bit more established. This is especially true in a year like 2008.

We haven’t picked a single grape yet in 2008, and yet the vintage has already presented us with its share of twists and turns. There were two distinct frost events, in April and in early May, that greatly affected us in many Russian River vineyards, in our Napa Syrah, and down in the Santa Rita Hills. During flowering, some shatter (when the vines don't set fruit properly) occurred in a number of our vineyards throughout California. This shatter and the spring frosts have led to pitiful yields in a number of locations. In the Santa Lucia Highlands, there’s a good bit of millerandage (the fancy French term for smaller berries mixed in with larger ones), which is often a good thing. Except, of course, when those smaller berries break open, which puts liquid in the clusters increasing the chances for rot—which is happening some now.

And in Oregon, we found ourselves three to four weeks behind normal ripening schedule until early July, when temperatures warmed for almost six straight weeks—seemingly catching us up, except that it has now rained on and off for the past five days.

Had any of this happened to us back in 1994 (our first vintage making wine), I would have freaked out. And while some folks may say that I still freak out every harvest, I really think I hold it together pretty well. It helps to say, “Frost, yeah, we’ve got issues with it. But we also had frost in the Willamette Valley back in 2001—and here’s how we dealt with it.” We also dealt with tiny crops down at Clos Pepe back in 2002 and 2003. Rot, sure, we’ve seen that before too. Which is not to say that we have it all figured out. Far from it. But sometimes it is helpful enough to know what doesn’t work and be able to eliminate that particular path from the upcoming journey.

Of course, the real key is discovering a way to learn from your experiences but also taking the time to look at things in a fresh, new way. Dianna and I are honored to have a group of winemakers who we call friends and who are close enough to us to question us and call us on it when we are tempted to do something because “that’s the way we have always done it.” Folks like Ryan Zepaltas (our assistant winemaker and owner of his own fantastic winery, Zepaltas Wines), Jeff Pisoni, and Mike Officer of Carlisle help us walk this tightrope between looking forward and looking back.

Maybe I should go back and ask my mother-in-law why it’s a good idea to stick $20 bills in between the pages of old books? There might be a good reason for it… .

Mark Horowitz
Brooklyn, USA —  August 26, 2008 2:09pm ET
Adam: My wife and I feel fortunate to have enjoyed several years' vintages of your wines. We find your wines accessible and are grateful for the moderate price tags they carry. I just wonder how many miles you clock each week shuttling between your many Oregon and California vineyards and whether the cost of travel has affected you in recent months.
Tom Hudson
Wilmington, Delaware —  August 26, 2008 3:24pm ET
Adam - we thoroughly enjoy your wines and are proud to offer them to our customers.
Adam Lee
Santa Rosa, CA —  August 26, 2008 4:46pm ET
Mark -- Dianna and I travel something like 6000 miles during harvest. And the cost of travel definitely sucks (we kept our old Honda Accord because it gets good gas mileage instead of using it as a trade in. And Dianna just had the joy of the Days Inn down in King City). But we think it is imperative that we visit all of the vineyards as many times as is necessary so we will keep it up.
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  August 26, 2008 6:00pm ET
Adam,Good luck to you, Diane, and the rest of the crew this harvest . . . hope to hook up in the spare moment or two you may have when you come down to visit our area . . .

By the way, did you install that radar detector for this harvest yet?!?!??!?!
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  August 26, 2008 8:10pm ET
During harvest you travel a ton, sleep probably very little, check the grapes and you guys have kids.....what am I missing here? How do you manage?
Adam Lee
Santa Rosa, CA —  August 27, 2008 8:38am ET
Karl,How do we make it? Drugs, lots and lots of drugs.

Seriously? Don't forget there are two of us. Dianna and I split up many of the vineyards. And we have a great group of folks at the winery - 2 full-time people in winemaking and a group of interns - that are invaluable. After that it is adrenaline. I usually work 16 hours days and work 7 days a week for about 6 weeks. One year I lost 35 pounds during harvest! I could stand another one of those years!

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