I stepped outside yesterday after a day spent toiling away in the cellar. A bright beam of late afternoon sun caught me by surprise and my face wrinkled. The coming and going of sporadic spring showers tapping the metal roof above all afternoon had tempered my expectations.
A swirl of thoughts and activity, the day spent preparing both the wine and cellar for our rosé bottling. This is my indicator that winter has passed. Pulling rosé out of barrel is our first robin sighting. The seasonal ebbs and flows in the winery cellar are one of my favorite things about working in the wine industry.
One season melds into the next and no two weeks are the same. A rotating wheel of hallmark events make up the cellar calendar. We have made it to spring and the cellar is budding with activity, breaking through the sleepy routine of winter. The first daffodils of the season emerge in the flower beds surrounding the cellar. Spring is a season focused on bright crisp wines, rosé and sparkling. The first wines of the vintage are bright, lively, and vibrant. Rosé is first to be bottled followed by sparkling which is put in tirage. Sparkling base wine is our tree sapling. Planted now to provide shade and a refreshing relief on a warm summer day several years down the road.
After sparkling is laid down in tirage, the focus shifts to chardonnays. The days are getting longer and filled with more consistent sun. The land is warming up, blooming and full of growth, frost no longer threatens. Our attention shifts to a more even-keel variety which reflects upon this seasonal change, chardonnay. Lemon curd, white stone fruit, and an air of salinity; hello old friend. The sun’s rays becoming less brittle each day as spring transitions to summer. The cellar crew can finally shed their winter layers as the cellar warms. We blink and it is July.
As the chardonnays depart us for the next phase of its life, red wines become the center of attention. As the weather warmed in spring, their personalities emerged. Dabbled throughout our time working on the white wines, an attentive eye was kept on the pinot noirs. Intermittent tastings and evolving thoughts in spring give us a sketch of which blend a barrel might end up in. As summer wears on tastings increase and a plan solidified. The days are long and our to-do lists are as well. The dog days of summer are spent assembling and fine-tuning blends ahead of our biggest bottling of the season. By the end of August, our cellar is all but empty. A sigh of relief comes over the cellar but we know it will be short loved.
Early September is curious time of the year. It’s almost time to bring in the next vintage of fruit. Winery staff is scattered to the wind sampling grapes from vineyards around the valley. A mix of excitement and anxiety fills the air. Will it rain next week? Will all the fruit be ready to come in at the same time? Are we about to have a hot spell? Questions and variables are the hot topic of discussion. It catches me off-guard every year but one day, the trigger is pulled and fruit arrives at the winery. The first load of grapes to the winery, usually bound for sparkling, is a cause for celebration. A new set of challenges are before us with so much potential. Block by block the fruit comes flooding in. By October, the winery is all but drowning in fruit. Barrels here, tanks there, and every surface is some degree of sticky. These harvest days are long but time flies by. They become a giant blur of time. When we emerge, the leaves have fallen and the long nights have returned.
In late November, around Thanksgiving, things begin to return to normal. The wines have found their way into barrel and the swirl of activity comes to a grinding halt. Winter has arrived. The last few chardonnays are taking their time undergoing malolactic fermentation. This is the time of year to rest and recover. The wines enter elevage and we wait to see what they will become.
The seasonal rhythms of the cellar are something I cherish. Going around and around on the carousel of the cellar year, it’s easy to lose track of time. One day you are an intern just getting the lay of the land, and before you know it 5 years have passed. It is easy to be mesmerized by the journey and transformation each wine has undergone.- Rae Brown, Winderlea Enologist