Today we picked our first grapes of 2008. It’s only an experiment, but it will be wine, sparkling wine, so it counts!

What we picked today was the base for a sparkling wine we are experimenting with called simply Brut. It’s a blend of mostly Chardonnay with a little bit of Pinot Bianco thrown into the mix. We have very little Pinot Bianco, and it’s not a component of any of our wines, so when we asked ourselves “What do we do with this stuff?” The logical answer was to try a little spumante. I feel that Pinot Bianco is a largely overlooked grape variety that is superior to it’s superstar cousin Chardonnay. It has a minerally structure along with a lovely freshness that Chardonnay rarely has, making it great for a sparkler.

We picked these grapes early in the season to keep the potential alcohol around 11%, and hold on to some snappy acidity, important for the Brut.

When I arrived at the winery, the press was already working, and from it came the unappealing, greenish-brown liquid from the grapes. I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn’t. When I got my nose in there and smelled that wonderful aroma of fresh apples and pears, combined with that unique smell of raw grape juice, I remembered immediately my first harvests a decade ago.

There’s  romantic misconception about the harvest… Grape Picking. Most people imagine lovely ladies in sun-dresses happily carrying their wicker baskets of beautiful fruit through the vineyards…

I would rather spend 8 hours in the cellar working with tanks and pumps and hoses, than 4 hours picking grapes. It’s messy, buggy, sticky, hot, nasty work.

The upside is that it’s hard to pick in the dark, so when the sun goes down, it’s time to go home…

Not in the cantina. I’ve worked 23-hour days during the harvest. Twelve hours is a light Sunday. Sixteen to eighteen hours is to be expected. The harvest is a time of long hours and very physical labor. Apart from the wines I produced in my first harvest, my most vivid memory is wet feet. No one told me about how wet working in a winery is. You use water to wash the tanks, the barriques, the floor. You have to hose down the grape cassettes, the plastic, milk-box looking things that the grapes are harvested into. You have to wash the press and clean the pumps, hoses and heat exchanger every night before you go home. Water water everywhere…

I know I had some miserable days during my 5 harvests (especially 98 and 99), but looking back I can’t remember the pain of the wasp stings and the misery of putting on wet NIKEs in the morning. All I remember now is how much I learned, and how happy I was that the wines turned out so well, and that I was a big part of it.

Some more form the first day…
Toio (Vittorio) picking Chard…
Greta, Chardonnay, Grape cassettes
NB – NO sun-dress, NO wicker baskets.


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