12:00PM: What to do with the partial remains of that cup of morning coffee (now cold) may be the hinge that tips the scale one way or the other for the rest of the day. Regardless of my need for more caffeine, my palate has to be ready for tasting fermentations at this point. This can be the most difficult part of my day. During fermentation, grapes and juice take on a wide range of characters — some of them fizzy, sour, bitter, syrupy or tart; others may be stranger than library paste and three-day old omelets. All winemakers have to taste and smell through each and every lot for quality assurance and to act on anything they come across that may be a threat to the final product. Essentially, we are attempting to control a natural process which, if left on its own, can end up in ruin. There is a game of chicken being played with nature here and you don't want to be the loser.
2:00PM: After two hours tasting through fermentation lots in the winery, my palate is fried. If I'm lucky, everything tastes and smells great and I can put aside planning and executing winemaking orders for a moment to grab a bite to eat. This is a special moment of euphoria for me as harvest lunches can be the one thing that keeps you going. In Santa Maria, Mexican food is one of the most consumed cuisines during harvest for people in the wine biz. I have my go-tos: La Picosita
, Lo Mejor de Jalisco, El Herradero, Las Brasas, El Toro, La Unica and El Pollo Noreteno. Tacos are consumed en masse — sitting or standing but mostly on-the-go — there is nothing better.
3:00PM: Paperwork is not something most people associate with winemakers during harvest; however, going from vineyard to winery, then (in my case) to winery and to winery, emails and work orders are essential for directing each cellar crew on what to do. Most people don't know this, but Alta Maria wines are not made at just one winery, but at three wineries. Having three wineries allows me to make wine in all sorts of various-sized lots and styles which is where part of our wine's complex style originates. Blending these wines made in different locations is analogous to having 3 different kinds of the same ingredient in your kitchen (e.g., Sea Salt, Himalayan Salt and Smoked Salt). It adds all these different attributes to our cellar and provides for some giddy anticipation when it comes close to blending time.