A day in the vineyard can brighten even the darkest of winter months. For multiple reasons I have always despised the month of February. The energy in the cellar dims and the work level trickles. The weather is groggy, cold, and the surf, more often than not, stinks. So I bundle up, glue myself to the desk and crank out emails and blog posts like a butter churn. Ever so slowly the cabin fever starts eating away at my sanity. Suddenly my phone jumps alive with a call from the heavens! Well... actually from the Santa Cruz Mountains.
My dear friend Trevor Campbell, another young punk winemaker like myself, happens to be managing a small private vineyard in Saratoga. A bit of help he needs? Of course I’ll lend a hand. Don't get me wrong, vineyard work is no day spa. It’s usually enjoyable for the first half hour until your lower back starts aching and your hands begin to throb. But the sun is out and it’s time for a hefty mid-winter dose of fresh air.
I drive the old red Ranger into the hills, where to ancient oaks curl and the moss grows long. I arrive at the estate eager to get my blood flowing. Trevor greets me with a sharp skid on the gravel in his golf cart. He gives a smirk cackle then continues to cover the cart tracks with his shoes. We tour the land, which holds some of the steepest acreage of vines I have ever seen. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon planted on south-east facing slopes. Beautiful views of the south bay area all the way out across to Mt. Diablo in the distance.
Our task of the day is to tie the vines to the trellising to support uniform growth. We listen to Eric Clapton and CCR, attaching the vines from end to end. This time of year the vines are dormant and show little sign of life. Leafless and brown, they lay in wait for spring sunshine to start breaking out. The recent rain had dampened the ground, making for a soft seat opposed to crouching down. With the steepness of the grade of the earth the challenge was not to slide as we slowly crept up and down the hills.
Trevor's attitude is that taking your time and getting to know each vine is the only way to grow great grapes. His meticulous nature and calm energy resonate into the soil and up through the roots. We spend hours tying row after row, the sun softly greeting my back with its warmth.
Soon, it was time for a taste. After all, why do we toil year-round in the vineyards and the cellars?
Trevor unlatched the swinging double doors of the cellar and we wander into his hobbit hole, buried into the side of the mountain. A charmingly quaint cellar, fully equipped with tanks and a laboratory. We snagged two glasses off the shelf as well as the wine extracting tool appropriately named the “barrel thief.” Barrel rooms come in all sizes, this one practically a closet with under 10 barrels, with a fresh smell of stone and wood that only barrel rooms possess.
We tasted, experiencing the wines grown from the land that we had just worked, connecting with this piece of earth on an entirely different level. This was a robust red with bright candied cherry fruit and luscious viscosity. A firm grip on the palate with forceful acidity. Hints of Szechuan spice and cinnamon followed by mild french oak integrated flawlessly along the finish. Amazingly welcoming and delicious.
We finished our glasses and headed back out to the vines, now with a new outlook on the work we were doing. I had experienced the potential and was now a part of the process. Energy that is put into the vines now, even in a state of dormancy, will show on the palate later on. As I connected with each vine on this sunny day in February, I remembered that without the darkness there cannot be light.
Though I am still glad it’s the shortest month of the year...