Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hands on Harvest PART II

As I said in my last Hands on Harvest post, I learned more about the land and vines at Gloria Ferrer's Carneros region estate than I thought possible in two days. My palate was put through some rigorous paces as well with a parade of wine and food pairings.

I am a big fan of Va de Vi the sparkling wine Gloria Ferrer introduced last year, and familiar with all their sparkling wines as well, but I did not know they also made still wines, Pinot Noir in particular. You can find out more about the wines and history of the Ferrer family on their site. But for this post I wanted to focus the aspects of the land in the Carneros area that I found most interesting on the tour.

Walking Tour with Mike Crumly
Sustainability is a big buzzword these days. It’s bandied about for everything from hotels to shampoo. Sometimes is hard to know what exactly it means. During the Hands on Harvest we were led on a walk around the Circle Bar Ranch property by Mike Crumly, VP Vineyard Management, and given some insight into what sustainability can mean for a vineyard.

The Riparian Corridors & Land Conservation
I didn’t know that some species of birds won’t fly over big tracks of open land. They prefer to flit from tree to tree, so it’s important to break up big plots of vines with some trees to give the birds and other animals a path across the land. The riparian corridor at the Circle Bar Ranch was man made. Native trees and shrubs were re-planted in the gulch that cuts across the ranch and reinforced with mesh fabric to control slit build up that protects the watershed downstream and rocks to prevent erosion as from rainfall run-off in the winter months. Preserving the land is sustaining the land. You wouldn’t know from looking at this that is was all recreated.

Bluebird Boxes
The western Bluebird is most threatened when Oak woodlands are reduced by commercial development of land. The use of bluebird boxes gives the birds a nesting place and helps maintain their populations in the vineyards. During the rainy seasons the vineyard crew builds bluebird nests. Like the Keebler Elves making cookies, they build the boxes at the winery workshop and then thru a partnership with WillMar Center for Bereaved Children, the boxes are painted by children struggling though grief. Gloria Ferrer sells the bluebirds boxes in the tasting room and all profits go to the WillMar Center.
When Mike held up the bluebird box and told us the story of how healing an act it was for the children to work on creating a “safe home” for the bluebirds, I thought we were all going to bust out in tears. I think I even saw a tiny tear in Mike’s eye. I tell you, that guy is all heart.

The Midden & the Artifacts
One of the most fascinating features on the property was the Miwok midden. During a land survey prior to the vineyard development, evidence of a Miwok Indian Village was discovered. Artifacts including arrowheads made from obsidian and grinding tools made of stone were located and documented. A archeological survey identified the section of land as a Midden, a place where the hunter-gather tribes discarded their “kitchen’ trash such as mussel and oyster shells and an occasional body too. I guess you could say the midden is like a like a huge garbage disposal, a stone age KitchenAid so to speak, with room for any relatives who happen to kick it around the dinner table. Although the midden is adjacent to the active vineyard, the area is fenced off and left undistributed.

The Geology and the Trenches
When I saw the first trench I thought maybe this event was really an elaborate ruse to lure us into a trap and “harvest” our kidneys and other organs and then bury us in the freshly dug trench. I could barely walk at that point anyway so it seemed like a good idea. But that was not the case. The trench was part of an object lesson on the geology of hillside growing conditions.

I’ve been of tours where the geology is discussed before, but there was something about Mike Crumley's presentation and his ability to break down the information into component parts that suddenly clicked in my mind. To see the difference in the soil depths along the hillside slope was amazing. And then to connect that to the stress placed on the vines as evidenced in the differences in leaf canopy created by the shift in soil depths was startling. I’d never noticed that before, but then again no one had ever pointed in out and explained it so clearly either. Apparently it’s dappled light that makes the best Pinot grapes and thus the canopy on the “struggling” hillside vines is most desirable.

The People
One thing that stood out for me was, given the size of the Gloria Ferrer operation, everyone there seemed very relaxed. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company and had as much fun as their guests. I really felt like they would be great folks to hang out with for a few days. Oh wait, I guess I did that. So if the whole point of Hands on Harvest was to give an in depth view to the land, the wines, and the people of Gloria Ferrer, all I can say is—Mission Accomplished.

A Tale of Two Harvests

Last year I participated in my first harvest (which I wrote about here) and all I got was a warm beer and a taco at the end of a grueling day of manual labor. But oh what a difference a year makes!

As I said in my post last year, the most important thing I learned was to politely decline any subsequent invitations to Harvest. But then I got invited to the Gloria Ferrer Hands on Harvest event on September 13 & 14th, and all I can say is OMG! The Hands on Harvest exceeded my wildest expectations. I learned more about winemaking and the particular vines at the Carneros estate than I thought possible in two days. My palate was put through some rigorous paces as well with what seemed like a never ending parade of wine and food pairings.

I live tweeted the event with the hashtag #GFHoH, but later discovered many of my messages were saved to draft instead of going out…oh the joys of technology. There is much to share about what I experienced so I’ve decided to break it up in to two separate posts. For now, here is a quick pictorial of Hands on Harvest.

The Vertical Tasting of Royal Cuvee
Vintages from 1990 -1997, I was impressed by the consistency of color across all the vintages and particularly liked '90, '92 and '94.
"Champagne is like a bed, it's meant to be shared" ~ Bob Iantosca

Wake up and smell the vineyards

The “Gentleman’s” Harvest

Breakfast Al fresco
Left to Right: Tom Burnet, President; Elvia the Cake Lady; Bob Iantosca, VP Winemaking; Harvest Guest, Gerald Murphy of Revival Bar & Kitchen

Sustainability Walking Tour with Mike Crumly

Artifacts from the Miwok Midden

The Riparian Corridors

The Bluebird Boxes

Mid-morning replenishment-- Oysters & Bubbles

Grafting Demonstration

Geology Lesson in the Trenches

Pinot Pairing Lunch!

The Crush

The Caves

The People

I 'd like thank the entire staff of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards for an exceptional event, forever changing my idea of a harvest experience.

Stay post will go in-depth to the history & geology of the Circle Bar Ranch including the particulars of our Sustainability Walk led by Mike Crumly. If only Mike had taught my high school geology class I'm sure I would have attended more often and learned something along the way!


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