Thursday, July 24, 2008

Must have had too much wine

I must have drank too much wine prior to my nephew and niece arriving at the winery-I emptied a few barrels. William turned 19 the day before traveling to DCW so I waited until he got here to give him his gift. As our tradition has been, I always do something unique in "wrapping" the gift. Buried it 10 feet deep on a beach, hid it in cement and even did my version of FEAR FACTOR. Being a Vintner, it only seemed logical that it be wine related this year.

All that was said to him was it was hidden in a barrel on the crush pad. Now what kind of person has to drive a fork lift to find his present-MY NEPHEW! I had great laughs watching him move barrels, spin them around and peek inside the bung holes! I absolutely love the mental image of
his expression when I told him it was hidden in the barrel. Even more watching them peek into the barrels. Sometimes I'm stunned at the stupid things I think are funny-love that my niece and nephew can laugh with their Aunt Bug.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Table Turned on Proprietor and Winemaker

What can I say but Alaska rocked!

It was the Damskeys and my first time (but not our last) up to Alaska. We were approached by an association we belong to about traveling to do a winemakers dinner. OK, our first response was "where is it?" and when told Alaska, The Damskeys and I jumped at the chance. We decided why not as we had never been there and always wanted to go. Now, for those of you that have met us, you can imagine how non-stop we spoke about this trip. I think everyone we met knew we were headed to the great white way. In fact, I think DCW staff was more excited to see us go as the day came so they wouldn't have to hear us ramble on anymore.
Having arrived around Midnight (YIKES), we were exhausted but ready to go on Wednesday for our tour and dinner at night. How cool is it that a wine club member was our tour guide! Both Kerry and I taking the tour from a wine club member instead of giving one-can't say that has happened before. Lisa and her daughter Chloe were just fab too. She took us several places and didn't even laugh at us when it seemed like we had our noses pressed to the window checking out the scenery. Of course we saw some blue ice and glaciers but moose too. Finished the afternoon having lunch on top of the mountain at the ski resort. Such a nice tour with great people-that alone made our trip and we hadn't even arrived at the dinner yet.
The winemakers dinner was at a lovely restaurant called Kincaids. All native Alaskan inspired cuisine that was paired with Dutcher Crossing wines. The chef really did an outstanding job. He paired some wine with dishes that we would not have thought worked until we tasted them. He was spot on with all the pairing. I have to admit that I was thrilled no reindeer was served. I jokingly commented about having reindeer sausage the day before and didn't have a clue as to what wine would match. The WHOLE room quickly commented that our Maple Zin would work. That made me laugh as Alaska is really becoming a wine drinking state if they're pairing it with reindeer sausage.
Overall, we had an incredible time but one thing stood out the most. THE PEOPLE. Everyone we had dealings with were outstanding salt of the earth folks. That alone makes me want go visit again. Heck, Kerry and I are rarely on the other side of a tour-with Alaska folks playing tour guide, we'd happily take the opportunity to be in their hands again.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Migrant workers and the wine industry

As I walk to work daily, it continually strikes me of how the immigration issue plays an important part on the wine industry. As consumers, it's easy to not think about the migrant workers as we drink our favorite wine. I used to be that way until I started the search to find my dream winery. I gave little thought to the farming aspect of the wine industry and focused on the winemakers working their magic. Now, please don't get me wrong-the winemakers play a hugely important part and they SHOULD shine. However, they will be the first to credit the terroir,vineyard and vineyard management crews. As my winemaker, Kerry Damskey, has stated numerous times, the winemakers are shepherds of the grapes. It takes a lot of knowledge, strategy, care and hard work to create the outstanding grapes Kerry likes to shepherd. With that being said, here are a few thoughts and observations about migrant works and their importance to this industry-without going into the politics of immigration. That's for another time.

DCW has the philosophy of hand crafted wines and that all starts in our own vineyard and everyone we source fruit from. Our vineyard management crew works year round for our ranch and 5 others. It really takes a person with special drive to do this work-it's far from easy. Our crew has been known to show up in our vineyard at 5am and off they go working up and down the rows with smiles on their faces. They hand prune, tie up the vines, thin the fruit and even hand pick during harvest. Heck, during the summer, most of us don't like going outside in the 106 degree temperature and these guys are working hard outside in these temps to produce good fruit for the wine industry. I won't go into the complete details of the back breaking and hard work they do as it would make for a long blog post but let me state this one thought. They do work, and are happy and grateful to have jobs, that almost everyone of us would NEVER do.

My appreciation for their work ethic really started last summer while we were planting acres of new vines. We spent several weeks prepping the soil, plotting the rows and laying irrigation, stakes and wires-all done by hand. OK, honestly that was fun to watch part of the time and then I went back to my office. When the crew started to plant the vines, I was truly amazed. These guys were almost like machines in how consistent they were. They had a process and they followed to the letter. Our Sauvignon Blanc block was planted in 6 hours. 6 HOURS! I watched every minute of it too. The next day they planted acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on the ranch with the same enthusiasm and work ethic.

Now I bet these guys went home and told their families that the crazy new owner stood and watched them plant. Would be a logical thing to do as they were very unfamiliar with me at the time and may not have understood that I was trying to understand and learn what was happening. However, over this past year they are use to seeing me in the morning. Dutchess and I are up when the roosters start to crow and walk the vineyards. It gives us a chance to check out the vines and see what's going on in the vineyard. During our walks, we have gotten familiar with the crew. Yep-I still don't speak a lick of Spanish and it's not beneath be to gesture while I speak so they understand my questions. They have been happy to explain and show me what's happening in the vineyard. We work around the language issue and they continue to educate me. I have learned more about what's happening in the vineyard thru the crew than I have from any book.They deserve respect for the job they do and they have earned mine.

My first thought was these are men my brothers would love to have work for Mathy Construction road crews. They have the same mentality my brothers look for in our road crew. Finding people to work the road crew gets harder every year for them as many of the millennium generation can not possibly grasp the hard physical work concept. I actually think I told my brother that if he can't find road crew workers-come hire the guys from a vineyard crew.

Bottom line is we only deal with legal immigrantes-that's our winery choice when we sub-contract out the vineyard work to a management company. We may pay a little more than other vineyards but it's the law to deal with legal immigrantes and we'll follow it. I would NOT trade our management company and their immigrate workers for anything. But I do understand that the immigration policies/laws will ultimately effect our industry. We are planting so we can mechanically harvest our fruit if the time comes. Until then, we're going to continue to care for and harvest our vines by hand. The immigrantes are an under appreciated but valuable part of our industry and the production of high quality wines. I continue to be astounded by how hard they work and how difficult their job is physically. Do I worry about our industry and what will happen if we are driven to mechanically harvest? Sure I do as I wonder what will happen to the quality of our fruit. I don't care what anyone says, even the greatest winemaker can't make great wine from so-so grapes. Until the time comes for us to mechanically harvest, I'm going to continue to praise our legal immigrantes and give them the deserved credit and appreciation for the job they play in my vineyard and the wine industry.

New beginnings at the one-year mark

I've always got more to the story to tell and our winery newsletter just can't fit all of my musings. Somebody suggested a blog and I knew it would be perfect for me.

I’ve just marked a little over a year at Dutcher Crossing Winery and so much has happened. I was told by a mentor that the first year would be fast-paced with a big learning curve, but things would be different after that first year as I would have seen everything once. Well, he was correct with respect to the first year’s pace but things are always changing and never the same year-to-year. If I knew what the first year would have been like, would I have still chosen this path? Absolutely! The great things in life aren’t always the easiest. Have I had numerous sleepless nights? OF COURSE! But have I seen the wines and winery going down the right path? You bet! Heck, half my sleepless nights are purely from excitement over the wines we have in barrel. Bill’s Block Maple Zin and Bernier/Sibary Zin are tasting so great and I can’t wait to share them.

But as I said, there's more to the story....