Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I blame Quintessa.

My life may look like chaos most of the time...I've left my sunglasses or keys or wallet in more random places than I can begin to count.  I'm late almost always.  I write nothing down and forget nearly everything.  If I wrote anything down its not like I'd be able to find it anyway.  My travel arrangements, dates and times are a joke.  I arrive too early or too late...sometimes by a factor of 24hrs.   But when it comes to anything having to do with wine or vines, I'm rainman.  Sure it comes in handy to know how many gallons are in a case of wine (to 5 decimal places).  Or exactly how many ppm 100ml of sulfur in a 600 gallon foudre equals.  Acre feet and reduced deficit irrigation,  the exact location of barrel 'x' (I have a grid in my head...3rd row in, 3 stacks up) and how it tasted last month on a particular root day.   But this wine numbers thing has infiltrated my everyday life. And its really starting to bother me.

It began in the autumn of 2007.   I found out that grape sampling (for pre harvest maturity tests) at Quintessa Rutherford was the worst (or perhaps the best) job a neurotic guy like me could possibly have.

If grape sampling doesn't interest you in the least, feel free to scroll down to where I confess to being OCD.

Now, EVERYONE knows that grape sampling is only as accurate as the sampler himself/herself.  For any reliable result it has to be totally and precisely random.  For berry sampling, one typically needs at least 100 berries.  Never sample from end rows or end vines.  These are typically not representative of the vineyard block as a whole and will tend to be poor ambassadors of maturity info. If your sample rows are long, you'll wanna keep that in mind and space your sampling points accordingly apart.  Read: count your steps between samples.  Remember, as humans, we're wired to be attracted to the ripe fruit.  The darkest, biggest berries are usually what we'd go for (The blacker the berry...) So, don't look at the cluster. Sample 3-4 berries in a 'corkscrew' pattern from the top to the bottom of the cluster making sure to include the shoulder or wing of said cluster.  This way you'll get berries from all parts with all levels of sun exposure.  So you see, I began to count everything in the vineyard.  How many rows are there in the Dragon's Terrace block?  How many vines between mid posts?  Since no two blocks had equal length rows, each block had a different number of steps between samples to achieve the 100 berry minimum.
Don't think it ends there.  Once you get the samples back to the lab...yeah, that's when the real counting begins.  Understand that patterns, trends...a history of a particular vineyard is super helpful if one wants to take a stab at forecasting anything from the all important picking date to how your vines will react to particular weather events. To establish a vineyard history (or continue one), each estate has their idea of what needs to be tracked.  At Quintessa, I was responsible for tracking avg berry weight, number of seeds per berry, brix pH and TA.  It goes a little something like this.

1) count out 100 berries, weigh them and take the average.
2) count 20 random berries, break open and count the seeds.  Divide by twenty.
3) push the glasses up on the bridge of your nose.
4) then do all the nerdy techy stuff which I'm too lazy to type out and which obviously involves a number or two

Don't get me wrong, it was an awesome internship.  I really was lucky to get it.  I started in the vineyard...ooh which reminds me.  I spent a week on a quad counting vines with Peirce's disease.  Burning up and down every row with a little clicker.  More numbers. Then I learned how to live in a lab, and then ended up perfecting the art of the pumpover (and believe you me, Quintessa pumps it over.  and over.  and over).  When my time at the big Q ended, however, the space between my ears was altered forever.  The counting didn't stop.  I think I've only admitted this to one person, but I'm pretty much counting all the time.   Steps.  Stairs.  Tiles in the shower, number of toothbrush strokes, number of mastications (don't...just don't.  you're so immature).  I've caught myself counting pedal strokes on my bike, powder turns, chairlift support poles, hell...the number of chairs on the lift.
Fast-forward a few years to the present.  I'm writing this and gazing out the window on the highest vineyard in the world.  'Altura Maxima,' its called by Bodega Colome'.  And wouldn't you just know that I've been charged with the task of performing a comprehensive vine count and classification.  Perfect.  I'm just shy of halfway finished counting 24 hectares of vines...that's over 50 acres in case you were wondering.  Every.  Single.  Vine.  Grandes, Chicas, y Falles.  Thriving, restricted or replanted, and missing vines.  As with the sampling, it doesn't end in the vineyard.  I then come back to my house and put all the info into a spreadsheet and color code it accordingly.  For hours at a time I pound away at the 1,2,and 3 buttons on my computer.  Its shocking.  And the counting is once again taking over my head and I'm wondering.  Am I the only one with this problem?  Wait...is it a problem?  Am I sick?!  But really, take a look at this...

I suppose it could be worse.  If I'm gonna be counting things, it might as well be the highest vines in the world, right?  Knowing your vines on an individual basis can't be a bad thing, hey?  And as with Quintessa, I'm sure I'll walk away having learned a great deal and will look back on my time here and feel ultimately blessed to be granted the opportunity.  For now, I'll just keep counting out there...and continue to establish completely irrelevant distances and silly routines.  Steps between my bed and the toilet?  9 from the left side 7 from the right.  How many times must I stir the sugar in my crappy instant coffee?  At least 20, or it doesn't count.

Hey, I gotta go, Wapner's coming on soon.

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