A week ago Saturday, Armida Winery’s co-owner, Bruce Cousins, leaned over the sorting table and said to me “You’re getting some real winemaker excitement from these Petite Sirah grapes, aren’t you?”
I was drafted into helping at Armida’s harvest that day, since they had an intern out for a wedding or some such lame excuse. And the sorting table is where it starts when the grapes come in from the vineyard, and it’s an all hands on deck operation. Since I’m the same height as Winemaker B (Brandon Lapides), and was wearing a similar color shirt, Bruce thought he was making the comment to Brandon. (By the way, I’ve paraphrased liberally from Bruce’s actual words, which are best left to the crush pad.)
Winemaker B and Father working the Armida sorting table.
The grapes are picked and put into half-ton bins. Each bin is picked up by a forklift, and tilted over the sorting table. Grapes start coming through, and we’re supposed to pick out the clusters that have mold on them. The good clusters then go into the destemmer, with grape juice and skins dropping from there into an auger pump to go through hoses to the tank. Then the winemaking starts.
Zinfandel grapes in the foreground, and Petite Sirah grapes in the back, waiting to be crushed into the Armida estate wine Il Campo, a field blend of the two grapes.
A half ton bin of Zinfandel is tilted by the forklift, and the intern uses the rake to provide a steady stream of grapes to the sorting table below.
The auger pump beneath the destemmer will pump the grapes and juice into the tank to start the transition from juice to wine.
That Saturday was a big day for Armida, their single largest day for grapes. Around 18 tons were harvested, some of it Zinfandel from Maple Vineyards (Armida received 90+ scores on its Maple Vineyards Zin for both the 2011 and 2012 vintages), and the rest being the Zinfandel and aforementioned beautiful Petite Sirah from the Armida estate vineyards. This estate Zin and Petite Sirah were processed together, as they become the Il Campo field blend that Armida puts out. If I had kept track of the number of bins of each varietal I could probably estimate the relative percentage of one versus the other, however, after nearly 5 hours on my feet at the sorting table it was all I could do to stumble back to my car.
(I’m not asking for sympathy, rather, I’m in awe of Winemaker B and crew, who had been at the winery for at least 6 hours before I showed up, and had another 2+ hours of clean up after I left. I knew, in an academic sort of way, that winemaking was hard work, and harvest means about 9 weeks without a day off, with days running as long as 15 hours, but actually working there made it real. Winemaking really is hard work!)
(As another aside, while 18 tons is the largest day for Armida, of course larger wineries can handle much more with more automated equipment and more people. When Winemaker B was supervising the graveyard shift at Montana Vineyards in New Zealand, his top shift was over 90 tons of Sauvignon Blanc.)
From a quality and quantity perspective, it looks like a good harvest for Armida. The drought did not have too much effect on quantities, as many of the vineyards they source for grapes dry-farm the vines, including Maple Vineyards. The vines there are old enough, more than 75 years, that the roots have certainly found ground water by now. For the other vineyards, while water usage has been cut, there was still enough to get good growth for the vines. Some growers were extra careful about pruning off the second growth clusters (clusters that start growing typically 2-4 weeks after the main clusters, and therefore won’t ripen in time anyway) to make sure the primary clusters got their needed water. The weather has been good for the growing season, consistently warm days and cool nights, without spikes in either direction. So at this point, 2014 is looking pretty darn good.