I walk through the vines picked yesterday and am utterly staggered when I come across buckets of fruit missed by the bucket boys. We work so hard to distill an entire year’s work into a limited number of precious grapes and to find buckets, along with unpicked bunches hanging on the vines is frustrating and disappointing. My stomach churns as I go up and down the rows, stunned by how much we missed.
When life deals you lemons, make lemonade.
So I’m under a shady tree with my boys and we are hand-squeezing chardonnay into a great steel pot. Silvereyes dart in and out of the foliage. The honeybees have already discovered us and have descended for a sweet sip. They rise and subside on the wave of green berries as we reach gingerly into the picking bucket for the next bunch. My boys soon tire of the squeezing routine and drift off to play. I tune in to the rising jet-engine roar of the surf, and feel something shift in me. I look at the grapes as if for the first time. They are miraculous. Perfectly formed. Amazingly designed. And I am feeling the texture of skins, the nature and depths of various fleshes and liquids, the slippery hardness of seeds, the delightful scratchiness of stems, of pedicels, the unique and amazing architecture of all.
The grape is a miracle of design, and proof of a divinity. No human could ever have come up with this! My hands engage in a holy celebration as they squeeze cuticle and exocarp and mesocarp, carrying sucrose and tartaric and malic acid, and flavor and aroma compounds into the waiting bucket.
It’s amazing. And it’s tiring. After the first bucket my hands are sore from squeezing and I’m contemplating how to do this quicker, more efficiently, and most importantly, not with my hands. I consider my feet, perfectly designed tools for grape squishing, but I’ve been walking barefoot all summer and they are not of the godliness level of cleanliness. Perhaps I can enlist one of my sons? But they are off somewhere…
I continue squeezing, sore hands and all, mantracizing through the pain, putting good energy into each squeeze. I start to consider presses and the use of force and my thoughts turn to winemaking itself. What type of winery to build? This my first wine made here. Necessity is a true mother.
And my thoughts go out, each step anticipates a more complicated one, something like ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, and I am reinventing the history of winemaking. First crushing with hands then contemplating body parts and how to minimize exertion and then the mechanism of the crush and the virtues of presses and the scale keeps expanding. How much do I need? What are the grapes calling for? What does this land ask for?
I consider the grape and how it pops and splits and bends and slides. I think about liquid and mass and cleanliness and godliness. Always thinking God. This work is a perfect meditation. I am drifting off in a divine revery, lost in the rhythm of it.
I place three steel pots in the vines allowing the natural yeasts of the vineyard to mingle with the freshly squeezed juice. They rest there overnight and in the heating morning I transfer them to a fermentation vessel fitted with a proper vapor lock which I place in the shade. My boys are pumped to be participating in this level of winemaking. The conversation turns to moonshine and “hooch” and the delicious idea of something almost illicit. One of my sons is actually deeply interested in what we are doing. I demonstrate the hydrometer and his eyes widen. He’s all for testing oak chips on flavor. We are mad scientists, mad about wine. Mad to bear witness to the alchemical transmutation of something amazing into something amazing.