Mornings are cooler now in the Santa Ynez Valley; fog lies over the vineyards as dawn breaks, clearly indicating the onset of fall. Mother Nature withdraws her vaporous tendrils binding them up for the day to reveal crisp autumn mornings. Vines that have worked so hard all year to produce their fruit are showing signs of completing their cycle, their rich green leaves of summer are now dappled with amber. Most of the white fruit has been harvested in a mad dash to beat October’s first rains, and the thicker-skinned reds are drinking in their last weeks of sustenance before leaving the vine.
My workday starts and ends in the dark at this time of year. In fact, some days don’t end at all. Last week our little crew put in a 38-hour ‘day’ pressing Grenache Blanc and Roussanne ahead of the rain. We’re in a continuous cycle of punch down, crushing, pressing, testing, and bottling. We’re replacing gaskets, and wrangling with vendors to ensure that all equipment is up and running 24 hours a day. Each day I don the hat of mechanic, farmer, scientist, artist, winemaker, salesman, IT guy, and general manager. Weekends become a distant memory, as hazy as the foggy mornings. It’s times like these when I realize how fortunate I am to truly love what I do. If I didn’t, life would be unbearable.
I read Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech after he died last week. As absurd as it sounds, I was struck by a few parallels. The first was his comment that, “It wasn’t all romantic.” I think that many people have a romantic ideal wrapped around the notion of winemaking. And while some of it is true, there are some decidedly ‘unromantic’ aspects to it. Second, I too, was fortunate enough to stumble upon what I loved at an early age. I made my first wine in Australia at the age of 19 and have never looked back. And third, while he lost Apple for a while, I lost my estate vineyard and my winery in 2006. Like Jobs, I found the loss devastating, but it may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m no longer shackled to my estate grapes. I’ve been able to search out grapes to specifically satisfy any flavor profile that I desire and establish a great new winery site. The resulting wines have been both personal and critical favorites.
Late at night, when I leave the winery exhausted from a day that is both physically and mentally taxing, I can’t help but think of those hardy pioneers who came out west to work the land. I go home to electricity, a hot shower, and a soft bed; they went home to lanterns, no bath unless it was Saturday, and a mattress stuffed with straw or perhaps feathers. Still, I suspect we share similar emotions of having completed a hard day’s work and knowing that our crops are in and hoping that we’ll be able to successfully take our product to market. My hands are stained from the grapes and split from the work, but when I look down at them, I know that, like Steve Jobs, I am quite possibly one of the luckiest guys on earth.