Thursday, July 8, 2010

Behinder: The Mistress

We've all been there before...the harder I work, the behinder I get. It's the darned mistress, again, like a siren calling the ships onto the rocks. Her name? Well, we all know her by different names, but most have to do with work...lots of work, all the time, 7 days a week, never relenting. In my case her name is Cerro Prieto, our vineyard, all encompassing in time, thought, care, emergencies, devotion, dislike, love...she is the reason I need a clone to do the other half of the work I can't get done. Do I love her? Yes. Can I live without her? Definitely yes. Do I wish she would be less demanding, require less of my time, and yes, function without me? Yes, yes, and certainly yes. Would I miss her were I to go away on a year long cruise? Yup. Can I do other things, fun things, simultaneously, without having to think about her? Yes again. Sounds like some conflicting thoughts here...but that's the way it is in the vineyard. In truth, 18 of our 20 acres are pristine, require little care other than pruning, thinning, leafing, canopy management, fertilizing, harvesting, and finally, making the carefully tended grapes into fine wines. Truth be told, some 90% of my time is spent on just 10% of our vines. How on earth could that be?

All of us have something that is a cocklebur under our saddles, and everyone has something in their jobs or everyday lives that is just a continuous pain in the rear. In my case, it is 2 acres of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, both grafted and replanted some three times now, over the course of the past 4 years. One year it was late...really late...spring cold spell, that fried our 2 above varietals just after planting and grafting. Next year, we had a similar situation, but that time the frost came the 3rd week in June(no kidding). Heck, we were 2 days short of summer, and our cold valley vineyard dipped into the low 20s. Last year we had summer in January, followed by a cold snap, then once again, it became warm. So warm, in fact, that on May 21st, San Jacinto Day in Texas, that our cold valley vineyard reached 117 degrees.

We had been pouring wine at the Paso Robles Wine Fest that day, and upon returning home, we were greeted by 2 acres of Pinot and Sauv Blanc that appeared as if someone had taken a blow-torch to them, neatly beginning at the fruit wire and working upwards. It honestly looked as if someone had put a running brown paper bag from one end of each block to the other, with a decidedly brown strip running from the fruit wire upwards, and running the entire length of both blocks. Hot air rises and cold air least there was a tiny bit of cold available to keep each entire vine from cooking up. We managed to save most vines, but did have to re-graft and replant almost 12oo vines. For someone seeking perfection in the vineyard, it is painful to have some vines just misbehave over and over...and yet over again. Yet that is the way it goes, and everyone knows whereof I speak. One little thing is enough to make an otherwise
pleasurable job very unpleasant at one time or another. I like to think of this kind of event as "negative work", in that it takes a lot of time, thought and energy to "get it right", only to have one's hopes dashed by some this case something as simple as bad breaks in the weather. The remaining vines can withstand these climatic insults because they are well established, inured to, really cold spells, or more recently really hot ones.

This is the time when it is good to remember the glass scenario: is it half full or is it half empty. We all would like to be positive, glass half full types, and mostly we are. It is just that persistent cocklebur, if you will, that can make life more...well, challenging, for lack of a better word. Some in the grape biz say they have "issues", but we all know that to mean that there is a lesser or greater degree. Whatever, I would be delighted to airmail those two acres to anyone nearby who might want them. Yet I know that isn't in the cards, so I will just have to persist, be even more diligent, put more time in, and hopefully, one day actually get the entire 20 acres to behave. Until then, I guess I will continue to get more behinder the harder I work, and just remember it is a privilege to be able to work in the fields, in the cellar, and sometimes in the parks for big holiday pourings. When you get right down to it, 90% perfect ain't all that bad. Matter of fact, the tiny 2 acres that have caused all the problems are more than counterbalanced by the 18 acres that require little more than the usual care and maintainence. Like the saying goes, "Nobody's perfect"...but it sure is nice to be almost perfect.

Our orginal goal was to grow the perfect grape. Then it was to make the perfect wine. Well, they may not have been perfect, but , by golly, they sure came darn close. The 2006 Cerro Prieto Merlot won 2 International Gold Medals, both the San Diego International wine competition, and the Critics Challenge International Wine Competition; our signature wine, the 2006 Paso Bordo(85% Cab/ 12% Syrah)received 92 points in the Wine Enthusiast...and this was our first bottling. Aside from being very proud, we were also a bit humbled by what we had achieved. That's why the mistress, that time demanding, worry wart of a vineyard, is really not so bad after all. She has brought us fulfillment and fame...the worry and hard work are just the price of admission...nothing more, nothing less. Being able to live life and work outdoors at something I truly love, worry warts and all, is really, truly, just a matter of being blessed. Someone, a client, once said, "Being able to live here is like living in a tree house , and the vineyard is incredibly beautiful". What could I say to that? Sure I thought of the mistress, but when all is said and done, our visitor had it right: it is beautiful and it is sheer pleasure to work here...outdoors, in sunlight, living a dream that not many have the chance to experience. Mistresses, schmistresses. We are incredibly fortunate to live our dream, and if there are some cockleburs, or bumps in the road, that is a small price to pay for the spectacular life we have been able to live.

Behinder? Ah, heck...begone. Oh, and if you happen to drop by, don't forget to try our newly released 2007 Merlot with a dab of Cab and a touch of Syrah in it. The '07 Paso Bordo is not quite ready yet, but will be at the end of September. Meanwhile, we still have 60 cases of the '06 Paso Bordo, and I can attest, it goes down fine. Come see us and give both a try. Cheers.
As for the picture above...that is my real lovely wife, Teresa

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