February 10, 2010

Five years! ...with old homemade cabernet

So who noticed when this humble site turned five years old last Thursday? Yes, the first post was February 4, 2005, recounting a tasting at Liner and Elsen in Portland of mostly 2002 Oregon Pinot Noir. Things have come a long way since then. In 2005, I decided to begin working formally in wineries at harvest to better learn the winemaking process. Now I make my own wine commercially, and the blog archive chronicles how that all came about. The plan is to continue writing this blog for years to come, but before we look too far ahead, I thought it would be interesting to go way back in my winemaking archive to see where we've been.

Tonight's wine -- my 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Whistling Ridge Vineyard. (How do you like that homemade label?)

Yes, cabernet from the northern Willamette Valley's Ribbon Ridge AVA here in Oregon. I picked the grapes myself in late October 2002, all 40 pounds or so on a golden autumn day after a protracted Indian summer that we've hardly seen since. This was back in my Giantdynamics days. For several years, by some strange coincidence, I picked grapes for home winemaking on the final day of the San Francisco Giants's season. Usually that's early October. But this especially bittersweet year it was a horrible late October day, the day after Giant manager and my childhood hero Dusty Baker took starting pitcher Russ Ortiz out of Game 6 of the World Series in the seventh inning with a 5-0 lead and GAVE HIM THE GAME BALL. It was awful. How could he do that? Of course the Giants came unravelled, lost, and the next day, my picking day, they lost again to lose the series. Season over. Not that I'm still bitter or anything.

But sweet things were happening then. My son Martin was born just days later, my sweet Mother here for many days looking after our young daughter, her namesake, and us through it all. And of course the sweet chardonnay I picked that day, to make my first white wine that didn't turn out so well. And the cabernet that called out from a few rows over. Ever heard that phrase "ripe for the picking?" Here it wasn't metaphoric. The cabernet was 22.5 brix, clean and beautiful. I had no idea what it would be like, so I stupidly took only 40 pounds at $.50 a pound. Twenty whole dollars. I destemmed and lightly crushed it at the vineyard, took it home and fermented it naturally in the basement in a bucket I used to make beer in. No yeast, no dry ice, no yeast nutrients, no ML starter, no nothing. It fermented for about 14 days and I pressed it by hand and got three gallons of wine. I aged it for about 9 months and bottled it by hand. It always smelled nice and tasted crisp like a Loire cabernet.

Now, with my first grader Martin beating me at Wii basketball with ease, how's this wine? Have a little look:


Ok, you can't see too much. Let me assure you the color is indeed fresh though showing some rightful signs of age. The aroma is better than ever, with maturing raspberry and light cassis notes, a little hummus and smoky earth notes. The flavors? Light and crisp as it was young, but filling out in the middle and finish. Think a light Chinon with a little Oregon fruit sweetness. There's hardly any tannin, not that there ever was much. In all, I really like it and am honestly surprised at how the wine has held up and come together over all these years.

Is the lesson that late picked, three gallon batches of glass aged Willamette Valley cabernet will age well for a decade? I do still have four bottles and this will certainly last a while yet. No. Rather, something unremarkable in its youth that has grown into itself and perhaps become more palatable with age is something we all should strive for. It really can happen. Just think of how much better my pictures will be in 2015.

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