Recently we sent out our ONX e-news and in that edition our winemaker, Jeff gave an update on the winery. Unfortunately we were unable to publish the story in its entirety due to its size, therefore we decided to send it to you in this week's blog. Enjoy!
When you ask most people what the most stressful time of year is for a winemaker you typically get two responses, both of which are correct to varying degrees. The first answer is usually something along the lines of “Winemaking can be stressful?” What can I say, we lead a touched existence, especially to those who don’t appreciate the uncertainty surrounding an agriculture based industry. The second answer is the more obvious “Harvest must be the most stressful time!” Given the long hours, unpredictable weather, and the intricate dance between holding out for optimum ripeness and getting the fruit in before its overrun by the usual Biblical plagues of rain, mold, locusts, and chupacabras, I don’t think there’s a sane winemaker who would argue with that assessment (although it’s probably best that we hold off on any assertions concerning the sanity of winemakers for another discussion).
However, people often forget to consider what is probably the second most universally stressful time in winemaking… bottling. I imagine bottling to be a lot like sending your kid off to college (I say this as a 31 year old single guy so it’s pretty much entirely speculative on my part). You spend all year tending the vineyards, watching them ripen, harvesting them, and meticulously fermenting and aging them (sort of the equivalent of watching them grow up, go through grade school, join the football team, go to prom, etc). Then, in preparation of the day these wines will no longer be in your winery, you go through a series of blending trials to figure out where you’ll put them (choosing a college). Next, once you’ve chosen your blends and your bottling date, you’re confronted with a giant list of logistical challenges to coordinate. You need to make up your blends, stabilize the wines, order bottles, order corks, schedule the bottling line, schedule temporary staffing for the line, and order a half dozen other things you need to keep that line running for a full day (and all of these things have to be coordinated to occur within a very short time span since most facilities don’t have much extra space around to store everything). I see this as the equivalent to all the work the parents do to prep for college that their kids never really appreciate (financial aid paperwork, buying a laptop, stocking up on food and supplies, buying books, buying clothes, fixing up their car, etc). Then, assuming everything that you’ve ordered shows up on time, bottling day arrives. Here, the key is to make the transfer of your wine from tanks to the bottling line as smooth and efficient as possible. Any mistakes made here will live on in the bottle for the rest of the wine’s life. Similarly, it’s always best to avoid being the family that has the really long, awkward, extended, tear-filled goodbye after their kid moves into the dorm (seriously, all of your kid’s neighbors and future friends are watching this happen). Finally, when all the filled bottles are loaded onto the truck and shipped out to the warehouse, you can exhale, relax, find a couch to sit on, and open up a beer (or bottle of ONX). I’m pretty sure that part is the same for parents and winemakers.
I should also mention that there were a couple of noteworthy circumstances surrounding our last bottling. The first is that it occurred on Leap Day. Now, the only superstition I’m aware of regarding this day is that St Patrick (in one of his lesser celebrated achievements) declared that women could propose to men once every four years on this day. However, I’m not willing to entirely write off the possibility of it also somehow being considered a day of bad luck, because this was the second day of the entire winter that had any prolonged rain (did I mention the facility we were at is open to the environment?). Well, not being ones to back down from a challenge, myself and the owner/winemaker of the facility got our inner 6-year old on and built what I like to refer to as the winemaking equivalent of a couch cushion fortress our of picking bins, the largest tarp I could find, and a little bit of rope. That crisis averted, ONX was able to make it through the rest of the day unscathed. We bottled 606 cases of wine, including five 2010 red blends and the first ever ONX white blend (a 75% Sauvignon blanc/25% Viognier blend from the 2011 vintage).
On another note, it was great meeting so many of you at the ONX Release Party in Seal Beach last month. It’s really important to me to hear your opinions on the new blends and the direction the wines are going. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to see more of you at the events we have coming up in Anaheim and Dana Point later on in April!