Vine: Well the weather has been all over the place with cool almost rainy days last week in the 60s and mid to high 90s this week. Not exactly an even growing season so this years vintage is going to be very interesting. Still a lot can happen between now and October, but the fruit is definitely behind with verasion just starting. Verasion is the turning of the green grapes to red. See picture. This in my mind is about two to three weeks late and could portend disaster if we have an early rain or rains. But that is the dice you roll when you grow up here. Some years are good, some are spectacular, and some will be washouts.
Verasion, by the way, is nature way of starting the reproduction process. As the grapes mature they are green and tart (high acid). The green hides them within the foliage and the tartness (and bitterness from unripe tannins) makes them unpalatable to the birds. When the seeds within the grape mature to the point where they are ready to be spread, the grape turns nice and deep purple, with the acid decreasing and the sugars increasing. Then it is bird banquet. I lose about 10% of my crop to birds. Of course the birds eat the grapes fly away and leave little droppings here and there, which contain the seeds of a new generation. As a grape grower, my aim is to disrupt this cycle as best I can. I use kite birds (kites that fly over the vineyard and look like hawks) and streamers to little effect.
I have been through one cycle of irrigation, using drip lines and leaving them running for about 96 hours to ensure full saturation down to four feet (I use moisture sensors buried at one foot intervals down to four feet in three places in my vineyard). It is amazing to me how just moving down a couple of rows, the soil characteristics change and the moisture profile is completely different. I have my vineyard segregated into five watering blocks, but I may have to add a six or seventh block to further micromanage the water to some of my plants. For those of you who don’t follow my Vine/Wine blog, I use an irrigation technique that allows the soil to almost reach its maximum depletion of moisture before the plant shuts down, and then saturate and repeat. Studies have shown that the plant gets a little stressed in these cycles and it pushes more flavoids and other good stuff into the berry sensing it may be shutting down. It decreases production, but increases quality of the grape.
The work in the vineyard, which I have been putting off, is to remove any secondary growth of berries which will not get ripe and just sap the plant of nutrients it could be pushing to the first tier crop. I will also do some cover (leaf) management to remove some of the cover to expose the berries to the sun. Other than that, a little hand week control, and as always, gopher patrol, that is about it until harvest. Right now I am thinking late October, early November, but then maybe I will be surprised.
Wine: Let’s see. Since I last wrote my brother came to visit and then we went to a wedding. Since the wedding are more about dancing and joy than food and wine, although both necessary to the joy and dancing (Beer! Helping white boys have rhythm since the Dark Ages), I will describe a very simple but excellent meal I fixed for my brother.
Understand, of course, that he is from Colorado and he thinks they have good food out there, so he was easy to please. I did have “fresh oysters” out there on my last trip and I almost died. Fresh out there except for iceberg lettuce, beef (and the really good stuff comes from Nebraska), and cantaloupes, refers to the flying time from the coast. Okay, I hyperbolize, but except for a few rare surprises, the quality of food is not the same as it is here in California and I am not a bit biased. Had a great Colorado wine lately?
What I fixed for dinner is immensely simple, but very good. I went to Whole Foods to find a medium sized sirloin roast that was grass feed. Getting good flavorful beef is half the battle. I then marinated it in some Syrah, garlic, Lea and Perrin sauce, and shallot salt. I cranked up the barbeque and then cooked the meat at the other end of the grill away from the charcoal for about two hours at 275-300° until medium rare. It does not require watching and that frees you to prepare the other stuff. For potatoes, I got some small red tomatoes from the farmer’s market and boiled them until they were about half done and still a little hard. Then you drain the water, cut them in half add a little bit of butter and a lot of olive oil, mix thoroughly with salt and pepper, put them on an aluminum foil tray, and then on the grill off the heat for about 45 minutes to finish cooking and soak up that smoky flavor.
The sauce for the meat (which is cut thin after it comes off the grill) is quite simple and is from the William-Sonoma Sauce Book. Saute some shallots in a sauce pan in a little butter, add 4 cups meat stock, 1 and 1/2 cup good Syrah, a tablespoon of soy, and about a teaspoon of tomato paste, 1/4 teaspoon of dried Thyme, 1 tablespoon of either beef or veal demi-glaze and then reduce down to about 2 cups (45 minutes). Thicken with cornstarch/water slurry, and mount with two tablespoons of butter. It is wonderful.
For a vegetable (fruit, I know), my tomatoes are just getting ripe so there was a plate of fresh sliced tomatoes with a hint of olive oil, salt and pepper. The salad was a mix of fresh greens including a little arugula, tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with sliced fresh peaches, bleu cheese, and toasted walnuts. For wine, and there were several, I went with a Rhone blend from Holly’s Hill (2005 Patriarche). There were others, but that went best with this dinner. Carpe Diem