Dylan & Tobe Sheldon
2018: The vintage that wouldn't end.
It was long and hard…(that’s what she said!)
I kid, I kid.
There’s an old saying in this biz, “it takes a lot of beer to make great wine.” I think this year we might want to retool that phrase to, “it takes a lot of whiskey to make great wine.”
It all started with 5000 pounds of apples. And a dream. And soccer cleats. And a distillery. Few of you know that we’ve been quietly making some pretty remarkable small batch cider off and on since 2002. It’s become a tradition of sorts. As we’re waiting for the grapes to ripen, we get the cellar dialed in for production and find that we can’t wait to start fermenting anything that’ll sit still long enough. Living in the Russian River Valley, we see many an old apple tree needing tending and a home for its fruit. And while the processes are similar on most aspects, wine and cider production diverge at the point of crushing the actual fruit a great deal. This is where the soccer cleats come into play. We hand harvested 5000 pounds of apples, from the Russian River Valley and Philo, with a mix of 13 different cultivars. Put some brand new neon cleats on and stomped them into 400 gallons of juice, that was fermented into a deliciously complex hard cider.
The 400 gallons of cider was sent to the copper Alembic still at Griffo distillery to return to us as 16.2 gallons of pure apple fire (162.5 proof) spirit. We cut it back to 80 proof (now 32-ish gallons in volume) with rainwater collected from the sites of the orchards, and we will be bottling a tiny amount as an ‘Eau de vie du Pomme.’ The rest will be aged for 7 or so years in barrel for a tribute to the great and noble Calvados. (Which as a historical side note, was the very first alcohol my grandfather tasted at the tender age of 19 upon liberating Normandy in WW2.)
To be frankly honest, it was a beast of a vintage. It was a full on sprint tempo with a double marathon distance. It broke us all, starting early on when I got my left thumb caught in a falling cast iron floor grate, and ending when my crew mate tried to stop a falling barrel from hitting the forklift with his pinky finger. We both broke bones, but he got the worst of it by far and is sporting a fancy cast for the Holidays. At some point, we just accepted that it was a thing that would not end, the zombie cyborg that just wouldn’t die. This is the first vintage in my 21 trips to the plate that we didn’t have a post vintage party. We may still yet, but as of this writing on Dec 2nd, we still haven’t recovered enough to celebrate the achievement, or honestly feel like it’s really over. Yeah, yeah it’s still an awesome job. I get no sympathy for these endeavors. I get to live and work in an amazingly beautiful part of the world making wine for a living, who wouldn’t want this gig? (Besides most sane people that is)
Why the hell was 2018 such an unstoppable beast? Well, it was bountiful and, resplendent in yield and quality. It was exciting in the pacing and endurance required (that’s what she said!) -Sorry, it’s a problem. I’m actually in therapy to help, doc says I’m making good progress..(that’s what she said!) Ahhhgggg, sorry.
Stand-outs early on, are the 2018 Rosés. Fresh and sexy deliciousness. Our Tempranillo base for the soon to be sparkling Brut Rosé smelled like a fermenting gummy bear factory in the early stages, now it’s a portrait of wildflowers, rhubarb, and cranberry. Total production should be 36 cases. I’m gonna put dibs on 20 cases for us, so get your name on the list early ;-)
Luc’s Vineyard fared well post-fire considering the extent of destruction that occurred last October. The Syrah was fermented carbonic style with Viognier, it is absurdly aromatic and has the potential to break the mold and perception of what this grape is capable of. The Grenache is exceptional, not just from Luc’s Vineyard but also from Ceja Farms Vineyard which we worked with from 2001 through 2014 and brought back into the fold this year.
We also added a whole cluster cold fermented Carignan from an old vine organic vineyard in Mendocino, think star anise, clove and a cyclone of rose petals all illuminated by a black light. Yeah, it’s pretty dope. We’ve got some lovely Graciano, and the Calistoga old vine Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon co-mingling with the very first few clusters of Frappato from last springs grafting of this rare Italian varietal. In short, quality is the best across the board in 10 to 12 years, no joke, or embellishment for marketing sake, the fruit we brought in was thrilling.
Then, it rained. Kind of a lot. All our fruit for ‘Sheldon' was in, but as I make wine for a dozen other labels including our joint project ‘Avaler’ with Inspiration winery, my work doesn’t end with our harvest. Cab, Merlot, etc. Look really good. Pinot is absurdly promising, as is Sangiovese. Zin is decidedly split, pre-rain fruit is killer, the stuff we saw coming in just after the rain got hit hard, with some blending it’ll be fine but it’s the only thing I’d give a B, vs. an A to A+ from this vintage. The folks that generally make a more elegant style of Zin will be thrilled with what they have, the fruit bomb 16% alc folks have a bit of blending and work ahead of them.
Some folks have asked about smoke affecting this vintage from the Mendocino complex fires. We had 63 different lots, and 123 tons from, Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Marin come through the winery this year. No smoke taint issues at all. One client sourcing fruit from Lake county dropped their contracts due to some damaged fruit. In short, way less of a problem than last year. All in all, I am honestly giddy over what we’ve got in the cellar. Exhausted beyond imagining from what we just endured, grateful that my stalwart crew persevered through the juggernaut that was our vinous Iliad.