Random Ramblings of a Weary Winemaker: To Heaven And Back

by Peter Wellington

Oh Lord, Stuck in Shanghai Again - Sat. Jan. 19, 2008

Skip ahead to “Go Back Jack…” if you’re here to read about my work. These first two sections are all about my recent trip to Bali. My 86 year old father had enough miles on his credit card for a couple of tickets to anywhere and wanted to go to his favorite place one more time. His last visit was about 15 years ago, mine was as a teen 40 years ago when we were living in Malaysia on one of my father’s sabbaticals. A lot has changed in that time, but Bali is still one of Earth’s special places and the people have maintained their spirituality and grace. Getting there is another story. It was 32 hours from takeoff in San Francisco to landing in Denpasar, with two layovers of several hours each. One cool thing about the flight was getting a bird’s eye view of our vineyard and winery as the plane went north on the polar route.

The Shanghai airport was immense, all chrome and tile and glass, but almost deserted. While we waited for wheel chair assistance at the end of the jetway, the United flight crew was waiting for their escort. After about ten minutes one of them suggested walking down the hallway towards the airport center, but was quickly rebuffed with a warning that they could end up in jail. I ended up going through Quarantine twice, Immigration, Customs and airport security three times each. Each time a stern faced official pored over the documents to make sure every i was dotted and every t crossed. My dad and I sat on hard chairs (with armrests that made it impossible to lie down) for half the night in the cavernous, unheated (high 50’s maybe) main building. Two thirds of the check-in counters were unassigned, airport personnel outnumbered travelers and seemingly no one spoke English. Only because of a tip from some fellow Americans did I manage to prevent loss of our luggage, which had been clearly marked to be checked through all the way to Bali. I guess it really isn’t the airport employees’ fault that they can’t read the Roman alphabet.  

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? - Thurs. Jan. 24, 2008

After Shanghai the Singapore airport was almost too good to be true. It is the top rated airport in the world. The terminal is a huge first class shopping mall, with a large, friendly, knowledgeable, multilingual staff and there are large banks of free high-speed internet stations everywhere. Best of all, after our ordeal in Shanghai, the well padded chairs and chaise lounges are extremely comfortable. You can even rent small bedrooms or take a shower for a small fee. I decided to buy some Indonesian Rupiahs for airport fees, tips, etc. while still in Singapore, and ordered $100 worth at the foreign exchange booth. When I discovered that would get me 930,000 Rupiahs I got to thinking that I’d never been a millionaire, much less carried a million in my wallet, so I bought $120’s worth. There are way too many great stories to be able to tell them all here, from tiny women in flip-flops carrying 110 lb. sacks of cement balanced on their heads and families of four on a motorbike to verdant scenery and temples everywhere you look. In spite of the arduous travel involved I look forward to going back, would consider retiring there, and would recommend it highly to anyone looking for a very affordable, unique cultural experience in a tropical paradise. The Balinese are among the most friendly, artistic, stress free, spiritual people on the planet. The feeling is pervasive and infectious and one can’t help but let go of stress and worry after just a few days. I believe that just two weeks there has altered my perspective on life.  

Go Back Jack and Do It Again - Sat. Jan. 26, 2008

After our first two full time cellar workers were with us more than 4 years each we now have our third new guy in just over six months. The first one just didn’t cut it and the second one got picked up on a probation violation on his way home after just his third day of work. It seems his probation conditions didn’t include taking a long trip to Mexico. Such a pity, too, he had great experience, glowing recommendations, was a quick learner and hard worker. Everybody liked him a lot. My wife said she couldn’t believe I didn’t do a background check.

It’s time to get back to business after a month plus of very little vineyard or winery activity. José started pruning on the 14th, but rain has put things on hold the last few days. No worries, we’ve got until late March to finish. Our first bottling since August is in four weeks, so we’re making sure all the wines are bottle ready. Supplies have all been ordered – capsules in November (minimum 10 week lead time), glass in December, corks and labels last week. We’ll be bottling 2007 Rosé and Sauvignon blanc and 2006 Estate Zinfandel and Merlot. Most of our ‘07s have completed ml, so the new guy, Sam, will get lots of practice racking, and we’ll all be busy with our first formal tastings of all the different cuvées, including barrel trials and cap management comparisons.  

A Double Shot of Wine Judge Love - Mon. Jan. 28, 2008

You’ve probably read some of my rants about wine ratings and wine competitions, but the fact remains that positive reviews and awards can boost sales. We do submit wines to several major reviewers, and we do enter some of the California competitions. We just got great news from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition (billed as the largest wine competition of American wines in the world). We got two double gold (unanimous) medals – for our 2003 Sonoma County Cabernet (a wine. woot launch wine) and our 2005 Zinfandel “Meeks Hilltop Ranch”. Just over 2% of the 4000+ entries made double gold. At least two dozen wineries that have been featured on wine. woot entered the judging and many of them got great results, including double golds for Mumm, Calistoga Cellars, Stuart, Hahn and Ty Caton. Complete results, if you care, can be found at winejudging.com.

Coming soon to this blog: my opinions about the connections and the myths about yields and quality. Please continue to suggest topics or ask questions about any aspect of grapegrowing or winemaking.