A Balanced Vintage – Part III – Water

Water is important to all life.

Plants and animals are comprised mostly of water and can live only a very short time without it.

Drop of water on a grapeleaf.

If you feel like a slave to your lawn’s water bill each summer you know what I’m talking about.  So, have you ever wondered how “dry” farming works, or how some regions survive where they are not allowed to irrigate?

The key is in the balance, and tenacity, of the vine.  A vine wants to make grapes with juicy berries around the seeds so birds will eat them and propagate the seeds miles away.  But, if a vine has too much water, it will expend excess energy after the grapes are ripe. The result will be extra shoots and leaves, or what we call “vigorous” growth.  This cause an overly bushy vine that stops sunlight from reaching the grapes for ripening, and in many cases also causes a vegetal – or “green” taste in the grapes.

Any good bartender will tell you that watered down drinks completely change the taste, texture and concentration of a drink.  Just like your tomatoes in your garden will split if they get too plump, a fat, watered-down grape cluster will taste watered-down and are a feast for mold and mildew.

This past vintage we saw little rain, and it avoided crucial times. These crucial times are Lucas Farmer of Euclid Wine in Napa Valley“flowering”, when the grapes offer up delicate lacy flowers to the bees.  If spring rains wash away the pollen the vines are left without fruit for the vintage. Another crucial time is at the end of the summer when the grapes are large and tightly clustered when they’re particularly susceptible to mildew. Lucikly – it stayed dry through both of these phases.

If done right, the vines are left to struggle slightly and put as much energy as possible into the grapes, keeping the green leaves in check yet not watering down the grapes.

A very delicate balance… and that is just what we had this vintage.

Man Vs. Vine

So, I just finished a three part series on the 2012 vintage covering temperature water and pests.

Another dichotomy in the wine business is, typically,  when you have a lot of something it Lucas Farmer of Euclid Wine in Napa Valleyisn’t that good, but that is not the case with this vintage. We had such a balanced vintage that we got good juice… and a lot of it.  So, we can expect some wineries to sell juice off in bulk if they’re over capacity.

To me, however, it is what happens after the vineyard is that is the most important part of the winemaking process.

There are many purists that wax poetic about the expression of terroir and insist a winemaker be minimally involved… but, who are we kidding?  Even the most staunch biodynamic vineyard owner manipulates the vines with pruning and canopy management and soil additions. I don’t believe there is a commercial vineyard in the world that just “lets the ground express itself.”

I mean, really, the only thing that is truly natural is a weed.

What winemakers face are a multitude of choices in the vineyard, only to have the real fun begin when the juice is fermented and ready for barrel.

The barrel aging and blending part is the true art of winemaking in my opinion.  Barrels are a winemaker’s spice rack.  Some are toasty and sweet, others are bitter and fresh and herbaceous.  The combinations are endless.

Mike Farmer in Euclid Winery Performing Barrel Tasting

I’m known for big spreadsheets.  My Dad taught me, “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.”  Like a chef playing with recipes, I find true joy in experimenting with different juice lots in different barrels and then different toast levels in either new, once or twice-used barrels.

A question I get all the time is “what are you aiming for?” I believe there are many strategies to answer this. Your winery may have a “house style” that your customers have come to expect. Or, you may be looking to please a certain type of customer, price-point, food pairing or award critic.

I, personally, look for deliciousness.

I try to make wine that I believe tastes good. The final blend can be complex sets of formulas in excel, but hopefully it is just as complex and excels in the mouth!