We’re very fortunate to live in an area full very productive, very unpretentious wineries. Add that to the fact that we’re experiencing a bit of gorgeous fall weather this week, and as Patrick put it, “wow, California is just a terrible place to live.”
So we spent today (and a short time yesterday) meandering our way through a few nearby Lodi wineries. I’ve decided one of the things I can do with my new “big girl” job is to join a wine club, so this could be considered an excuse to vet some of the options. Granted, we seem to be very good at buying wine when we taste it, but not so good at drinking it once it gets home. We actually have one of those cheesy little 18 bottle wine fridges we found in a friend’s garage, not to mention a couple other racks acquired in similar fashion. And it seems to be our mission to fill every space.
One of the places we visited today actually took us out into the vines and explained the pruning process to us. And yes, I should have taken pictures. He said that by now the plant has already decided what its grapes and leaves will look like for next year, and if you look close enough inside the little nodules on the branches you could see the microscopic tiny buds waiting to get their start.
Now, before those start to unfurl, a team of professional pruners will actually come through and select one nodule to keep for each branch, trimming off all the remaining leaves, branches, and any grape clusters that stayed on the vine. And the same pruner will tackle the same rows each year, knowing how he likes to prune each specific plant. I believe he said it would take an experienced pruner less than a minute per plant, but it could take a week to complete one vineyard.
The one in discussion was a 78 year old plot of zinfandel, used specifically for their reserve zin and sweet zinfandel dessert wine (not a port because of 1. the alcohol content was .2% shy of port status, and 2. I’m pretty sure ports have to come from portugal). Our guide, Chuck, also mentioned a pruning process the grape clusters themselves go through early in June. Any clusters that haven’t begun to turn purple, or with a high percentage of green still on the grapes, are clipped off and thrown on the ground. This process essentially cuts their yield nearly in half, but ensures that the remaining grapes get all of the focused energy from the plant, and a more concentrated flavor. For the same reason, they only give each plant about 12 gallons of water throughout the entire summer (and thermometers in the valley spend many days above 100 during growing months). This intensifies the flavor and allows them to use a single vineyard for their reserve zin, not just using it as a base then adding other fillers or grape blends.
In the end, that’s just a fancy way to say it tastes good in a glass. But having the background, and seeing the labor of love it is to make my 3 ounces of wine, makes my slurping that much more appreciative.