Winemakers up and down the Napa Valley are busily preparing for harvest. Not so for Dolce Winemaker Greg Allen! He’s full of anticipation for harvest, but the Dolce vineyards have a long, long, long way to go before reaching Botrytized perfection.
Dissipating nervous energy is my great challenge as we head into fall. If such energy could be supplied to the grid, then the world’s energy crisis would be resolved. I’m confident about the potential for superfluous energy, but I’m less sure about when exactly Dolce’s grapes will be ready for harvest. Over the course of the fall my desk becomes remarkably clean, my files updated, my catalogs reverse-alphabetically organized by vendor, my harvest supplies arranged by relative importance, elaborate plans for celebrating Dirk Hampson’s birthday with a water delivery robot firmly devised*, etc. I diverge …
The time to make a wonderful, dry wine from Dolce’s Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc comes in late September—and then passes. The leaves fall to the ground in October as the yellow jackets feast on Dolce’s super delicious fruit, and the full fungal ecology of Coombsville is firmly established in Dolce’s vineyards by November. By this time, my colleagues are both exhausted from the Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet crush and excited about planning their next vacations. And still I wonder when harvest will start.
Over the course of the growing season there are several developmental markers in the vineyard that we winemakers look for with increasing anxiousness and celebrate as they occur: the beginning (bud break), the potential (flowering, set), the uniformity of fruit (veraison) and the readiness for harvest (ripeness). With Dolce, “readiness for harvest” means the all-encompassing, regally rotten, slightly alarming state of Dolce’s fruit smitten with Botrytis followed by warm and windy weather to promote the shriveling and concentration … then and only then can we begin harvesting Dolce’s fruit.
And when we begin, a veritable army of seasoned pickers dutifully selects berry-by-berry for the fruit which can only make Dolce. When we begin, such berries must present the right kind of mold, the right level of shriveling and the notable absence of yellow-jacket damage. It’s not pretty. It’s not fast. We collect about ten pounds per person per hour, a wholly unremarkable rate when compared to that of Chardonnay (usually 350 pounds/person/hour).
When we begin … when will we begin?
*There is a long-standing tradition in the cellar: whoever is the lucky birthday person gets doused (in ever creative ways) with water.