As I mentioned before, I’ve been in the sales part of the wine industry for over 4 years now and so today, it was fascinating to see Ed checking in with his custom crush clients to get the particulars of what they wanted done with regard to their fruit.

Ed’s clients each had a couple macro bins of fruit with different requests. Tim, the first client with his Betwixt label (and a regular winemaker at the winery) brought in his two bins of Grenache from Lodi (previously, his Grenache was from Boar Vineyard in Chalone), and he requested to pull 25% of it off the scale and into another bin to do whole cluster (foot stomp). He doesn’t add anything – no SO2 and no inoculation with cultured yeast strains. This is less of a risk for small producers who are not dealing with massive amounts of fruit or dependent custom crush clients. Tim does about 30-50 cases per varietal, or 1-2 barrels.

Intrigued by the wine results of his hands-off approach, I asked to purchase some of his wine. I think touched by my interest to try his wine (as he smiled when I asked), he instead offered to pour some for us at lunch. His Lester Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mts. Pinot was outstanding. I am, admittedly, not generally a lover of Pinot, but this was leaner and brighter in acid while still holding a mouthful of spice and red fruit. I would absolutely buy and drink this Pinot.

Every now and then I find the right clone of Pinot that really makes sense to, and delights my palate, but it’s so hit or miss that I usually never pay enough attention to commit that clone to memory so that I can test it out through the tasting of other wines that have also been made from that clone! Man, I really need to start doing that. The only Pinot I purchased from my recent trip to Monterey was on our way back through the Santa Cruz Mts and it was the Pinot from Burrell School Vineyards.

During a different lunch, Tim broke out a bottle of his 13′ Pinot from Helluva Vineyard in Anderson Valley in Mendocino, which was also pretty amazing. I love the name of this vineyard! Tim also shared his Boer Vineyard, Chalone Grenache which was definitely bolder in structure (compared to his Pinot) but holding elegant layers of fruit.I really loved his Grenache. That said, I have a new area and vineyard that seems to amaze my palate over and over while feeling like a place of home and that is the Pedregal Vineyard in Paicines near  the Pinnacles down and across from the Santa Lucia Highlands. I would love, love, love to acquire fruit from this area in the near future.

As the fruit came raining out of the destemmer, Tim was quite fastidious in removing leaves so I tried to assist him as well. He said he sorted through the fruit while still up in Lodi, removing as many leaves as possible. Tim’s wife was there as well and really enjoyed herself. She even jumped in and pitchforked some fruit clusters into the bin for whole cluster fermentation. This was Tim’s first experimentation with that.

Their Betwixt wine bottle label, by the way, is quite beautiful. It was created by a friend who also did a variation on the font to make it look like Old English. When I ran my index finger across the embossed label, I asked if their label had been created by a printing press. Tim said it hadn’t but he liked that it caused people to think that it might. (By the way, there is a press in San Francisco that does indeed offer to design wine labels, an idea I wanted to run with myself years back when I was more active with my letterpress work via Zumbar Press.)

When one bin was nearly full of destemmed fruit, we moved the bin with whole clusters of fruit into place (that Tim held back from the destemmer) and then watched as he allowed the remaining fruit to fall on top of these fully stemmed clusters.

Ed’s other client for the day was Kevin and his Montagne Russe label; Kevin was coming from North Sonoma and running late with his two bins of Alban clone Syrah. The fruit was quite pretty and the berries were massive. Kevin was fine with having all the fruit destemmed as it looked pretty clean to him. (Whether this is an actual reason for destemming or not, this was the client’s reasoning.) He tried to pick out long stems that made their way into the bins, but wasn’t as fastidious about it as Tim was with his fruit. He also wanted SO2 added but opted to have Ed dissolve a couple of higher dose tablets in a few liters of lukewarm water which we slowly added towards the end.

Also added was a fair amount of dry ice needed to cool the fruit down because it had been picked during the most unfavorable time – right around noon when it’s warmest out. This is not very good for the fruit because acid levels will have dropped due to the heat and you want to capture or preserve that acid which makes your timing in picking the fruit optimal. This is why most fruit is picked early in the morning or even overnight. I think the dry ice was also added as a way to stop spontaneous fermentation that might try to occur given the temperature the fruit was at, although I’m sure the SO2 helped to prevent that as well.

Note: The choice to use SO2 or not is important if you’re planning on having the natural yeast work as the SO2 will likely kill off that yeast.

Once in the cold room, all the bins were labeled with a special color coded piece of tape to indicate label/winemaker. They are now ready for punchdowns and yeast inoculation if applicable.

In the end, I enjoyed seeing how Ed communicated and respected the wishes of his custom crush clients. He didn’t question their choices even if they differed from his own practices. All the fruit was treated equally in the way he used his equipment and facility to keep it healthy. Whether or not it works out I’m able to get Aglianico this fall to work with, I know I’d feel comfortable with Ed at the reins, a quiet and respectful eagle watching over things in an effort to keep everything safe.