Unbelievably, I am now at San Francisco International on my way home, and the Napa trip is over. It went in the blink of an eye, at warp speed. I think the limited sleep time and three strong shifts at Ana’s Cantina (the two were correlated) probably helped move things on so fast.
We were split into groups on Thursday morning. The idea was that we should all have the opportunity to experience vintage. It was called ‘Down and Dirty’ in the official schedule, which sounded a bit alarming, but it actually turned out to be very educational and quite a bit of fun. Matt, Eric and I were assigned to Anthony Truchard, of Truchard, to observe first hand the harvest in Carneros.
The Truchard family are growers with 400 acres of grapes in pretty, gently hilly Carneros, and also have their own wine brand (the Rousanne, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are all excellent, if you can find them). Our job was to help harvest Chardonnay, which was being picked on Thursday morning. We joined in with the crew: they were fast and efficient. We were sluggish and a bit sweaty, trying hard to avoid cutting fingers off while still filling the small picking bins at a reasonable speed.
Then the Chardonnay was brought back to the winery in half-ton bins, and put directly into the press. The resulting juice was a slightly alarming murky grey/brown colour, but this is quite normal with Chardonnay. Anthony admitted that this block was picked a little late and had some sunburn. When we looked with the refractometer we saw that the juice was at 26 Brix, which is higher than they’d like.
We all lunched together at Rubissow, a beautiful property in the foothills of the Mount Veeder appellation.
This was followed by some free time. I filled mine by visiting Mayacamas, and it was potentially the highlight of my trip. This is a super place – high up in Mount Veeder with vineyards ranging from 1800-2400 feet. Bob Travers, the previous owner, completed 44 vintages at Mayacamas, and the wines have always been outliers: mountain fruit, picked early, with very traditional winemaking, creating wines that are very tight in their youth but which age beautifully. Charles Banks and a business partner bought the property from Bob in May 2013 and have pledged to keep the wines in the same style. They have already begun an extensive replanting program to restore the vineyards to top condition. The place is amazing. The wines are amazing. In a way, it is Napa’s Wendouree.
I headed straight from here to Round Pond for the evening event with the group, complete with a bloodied face, sustained by falling over on the rocky soils of Mayacamas. My camera survived the fall, though, which was a relief. At Round Pond we had a lovely dinner and a fireside chat with second generation vintners, talking about the future of Napa and what changes they have seen since they took over from the previous generation.
Then it was out for a final night bash with the group in St Helena. Just one beer, I said to myself, then bed…