“...Do not forget that there are always things to learn about the wine, you just have to listen, wine is a living creature, changing, evolving, breathing, and always ready to show you something about him and yourself."
And my mentor was right...I'd never forget those lessons after perceiving the scent of that vineyard at the lavender field that was my first contact with a winery from inside, the books are amazing but they never show the magnificent of the reality, they never show that, the music in your ears perceived when you arrive in the morning on your day off to take the brix in a silent winery, that sound is the living being that your mentors mentioned about, it is changing, growing, transforming itself… and you realize that it is not difficult anymore to learn those steps, because you are changing with that wine must in the tanks, every second you are there, transforming you in a certain way.
That was the reason to search this opportunity back in 2012 and be in a winery experiencing the process by witnessing the transformation, giving some life to the map on the wall of my mentor's office, this was my time to come to experience my own version of the map drawn with paper and ink, but sketched by me with soul and wine. And this is my way after the experience of that sunny harvest of 2012...
IN THE VINEYARD
A wise man once told me that good wine comes from good grapes, and good grapes can only come from a good vineyard. Being surrounded by the ecosystem the estate gives the grapes, experiencing the way nature manifests itself all over the vineyard is the strongest and purest form of energy I have ever felt. I consider myself to be a city girl, who does not like the dust and the adventures nature has to offer. But when my feet touched the vineyard soil for the first time, the silence felt was astonishing, those grapes where living in the middle of the hill growing and changing, feeding from that environment and I was there experiencing how the grapes express themselves as the terroir influences them, so they can later transform at the winery, while the rest of the world keeps moving around them; the majority of people in the world are focusing in its everyday life; catching a cab, paying the bills, being on time, preparing presentations, those grapes are living in peace, and that peace was contagious.
In its very own romantic way the air was thick and cold in the morning in that small Petaluma's corner, covering everything with a vast white wool, that amazing sensation about the climate swinging shifting is the most important thing in the field. Remarkable to know that what is amazing for the grapes is hard for the human body, cold in the morning, with a sunny day and yet again cold at night… yes… it is amazing! Great for the grapes and the polyphenols but horrible for my bones! Every morning before the harvest, taking the brix and samples, filling my arms with grape sugar, watching the occasional hare running wild all over the place, hearing the wind blow in my ear, dusting my boots and my finger nails with the vineyard soil, all came as part of my vineyard duties. People who say the grape tastes like grape have never given themselves the opportunity to experience the fact that every grape variety tastes different, every clone gives something extra, and every site with its particular composition lets the grapes become a unique expression of the place.
Yes, the terroir influence is real, but when you taste a freshly cut grape and give yourself the time to perceive the fullness of its flavor, you can perceive it as the most amazing grape that you have ever eaten, with several layers of potential expressions giving your mind a free ticket to a creative trip which will be screaming at you the way that you can transform them at the winery showing all the potential possibilities. Amazing how such instructions and expressions can live within a tiny living thing that only weights a couple of grams. That was exhilarating, my spirit was in the right place and a sensation of extra multicolor landscape was extremely bright and potentially overexposed, I was high on life.
It is true when they say the climate, the soil and the orientation are important factors, they must be recognized and probably some AVA’s from the country do not show the great landscape and terroir as others but some places truly deserve this status. Of course the grapes should be amazing in the field, and with that you are in the right path to the dream, but also the people who give their life and the stories sharing the responsibility of the grapes are equally important and contribute to the greatness of the wine equation.
IN THE WINERY AND THE CELLAR
During my free time I visited different wineries, one thing was true, I put more attention to the way things were arranged, to the equipment, the neatness of the place, because –let’s face it- some of the wonderful things about being a sommelier is the glamour that brings the uniform. Most of the time the majority of questions people elaborate are related to the wine, the opinion you formulate towards it and the place where it comes from, but nobody stops to think about the endless list of things to clean at the cellar during the harvest, or the innumerable duties during a busy day.
Not as glamorous, very monotonous and sometimes challenging, it involves a lot of hard work, cleaning every corner and then cleaning again, involves sweat, details like not putting the hose on the floor, sanitation, sorting the fruit, taking away the leafs, using the right yeast for the tank, measure the brix, change wine must from one place to another, the never old joke asking where wine flies come from, do they just spontaneously generate? –No, they don’t, Aristotle was wrong!– fermentation, CO2, smelling the tanks, shoving the grapes, pressing, running the stairs, add sulfur dioxide, run some more, climb, clean, eat, run again, breathe, move the barrels, smile to the tourist, taste the wine must, smell the tank, fill worksheets, hours and hours, and in the end every little detail lets you fill the missing pieces of the puzzle that your advantageous education left out, the tiny secrets the books fail to mention, and everything flows by creating a sense of belonging as part of a big picture, that in the end teaches you, that changes you, that lets you transform into something that you never imagined before, just as the grapes.
It might not be glitzy for the majority of the people, but the music is there, if you know how to appreciate it, a real symphony of people moving all over the place, breathing and living wine. One might think there is nothing charming to show, but the beauty is in the work done, in the passion felt, in the dreams dreamed, what can be more splendid than putting your hands in the grapes, smell the fermentation process, be inside of a tank full of tons and tons of fermented grapes, smile and remember those little fellas from the vineyard ready to transform themselves into something that a sommelier in its glamorous life will use to shine, but probably without ever experiencing the process by itself in a front row seat.
Indeed, the books shows the steps, the process, the movement as I have said, but they do not show the pain in your feet, the sore muscles in your body, the strong smell of the fermentation, or the emotion one experiences when you try for the first time the wine must of those grapes that where once in the land, as they start to change, leaving the sweetness of the youth to create something full of chemical reactions, magic in the happening.
...the books show the steps, the process, the movement as I have said, but they do not show the pain on your feet, the sore muscles in your body.
THE WINE TASTING
I could not stay enough to see my wine grow, yes my wine. I cannot say this in any other way as it becomes your wine because of the role you played, or at least you were an important part of the process putting your best effort on the final result and being part of the crew, a family.
Some years later, when I tried the wines of the 2012 harvest, the tears could not stop. Yes, as a sommelier my principal duty is to evaluate the list of factors that you should find in the process that in the end will give you a wine, but nobody prepares you or no book mentions this, when you are involved from head to toes in the process, even if you were only a small but crucial part of it; like the harvest, that glass of wine is another world, it lets you find all the factors that you should find, but for some reason, when pronouncing the name of the wine lets jump in your mind the names of the people who worked to put the wine in that bottle.
The year on the label acquires a different meaning as it comes not only with the climate of the year, but also with the things that happen in your life during it, the variety of the grape has the face of the vineyards that you visited every morning to check the evolution, the color of the wine has a hint of the several faces of the people that you met, the brightness and clarity of the smiles and laughter, the aroma of the wine has the trace of lavender aroma of the wind in the vineyards and the earthiness of the dust - terroir- in your mouth -literally-.
Of course the nose has the normal aromas of the grape variety, but also has the perfume of fermentation in the cellar room, or the fragrance of a windy day when you finished a long shift of harvest work, and it tastes on the palate like one of the best things that you ever tried. It has attack, sweetness, body, soul, names, fruit, voices, tannin, challenges, texture, acidity, pain, finish, laughs, complexity, dreams, hopes, layers, length, they felt like a window to the past through your passion, and after that revolution that took place in your mind, you probably should say only the basic things of the wine tasting grid shutting everything else, but inside you that glass of wine gives texture, aroma and life to all the memories in your mind.
Today I can realize on one thing, every moment, every experience is a small dot for others, but for you part of the great picture that comes to life when you look at it from a distance, such as a pointillism painting. Yes, not glamorous at all, but full of soul and life with each different color stroke from the brush. Undoubtedly every time that you learn something new, regarding a place, gives you the opportunity to enjoy more the little things that make it up. As you experience more and try new things you know that from here on you will appreciate more and more a single glass of wine, and the best of all, you will understand everything better, because the pictures found in the books have a life behind them, faces, voices, souls. Even when speaking of a bad wine you will make the correct review, but always showing a respect for the people and the stories behind that glass of wine.
That is because inside of that wine map hanging on the wall all the dots share a story and are linked as all the things you do in your life share a connection, as time goes by hopefully filling and adding more to the map on the wall for years to come.
Check out Part 1 of this story.
Michelle is a sommelier based in Puebla, Mexico who works with the Mexican Sommelier Association as Wine educator, she completed CA winery internships in 2012 and 2013 and passed San Francisco Wine School's California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) program in 2013 and now she is pursuing the opportunity to compete this year at the category emerging wine writer of the year sponsored by Champagne Louis Roederer.