Bruliam Wine Blog
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We are very excited to announce that this year’s San Diego Spring Pouring Party will be held on Saturday May 10th from 1pm – 3pm at Cucina Urbana.
As in years past, you’ll have the chance to taste all of our new release wines and feast on the delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared by the Cucina Urbana culinary team. Wine will be available for purchase at the event to take home that day.
Event tickets are $35/person (plus tax). We always sell out, so please purchase your tickets early!
We look forward to seeing you on May 10th!
-Kerith & Brian
This year, it just so happened that the dates of the annual College of American Pathologists conference overlapped with the Sonoma County Vintners pouring events. I’d already committed to presenting at the pinot noir seminar in San Diego and could accumulate Continuing Medical Education credits on the same trip. Serendipity.
In my prepared pitch for the pinot seminar, I joked that I’d abandoned my career in surgical pathology to pursue my true passion…..yeast. “Pathology and winemaking are closer than you’d think,” I remarked. But then I never expected to get medical credit and expectorate in the same afternoon. As I rode the escalator to the top of the San Diego convention center, I mused just how closely they’re intertwined.
A month before the path convention, I’d rode a nearly identical escalator, in a parallel universe, at the Sacramento Convention Center. There, I queued up behind an undulating train of wine trade professionals. Choo-choo. First floor: registration. An unhelpful employee checked me in, scanned my badge, and directed me back to the escalator. Choo-choo. Second floor. I floated up and into a grand hall, outfitted with glorious stainless steel tanks, state of the art de-stemmers, and tradesmen promoting hoses, fittings, and irrigation supplies. I’d finally made it to Unified, one of the largest tradeshows for winemakers. Only their jars of gratis Hershey kisses and logo key chains looked identical to the medical conventions of my past life. Just try to sneak a Red Vine before some sales rep seduces you with an awesome digital microscope or automated slide stainer.
When two different cancers metastasize to the same place, we call the result a “collision tumor.” In fact my first published paper reported a collision tumor in a lymph node. An unfortunate gentleman with both bladder cancer and prostate cancer was now stage 4 for both. The slides showed discrete patches of malignant cells from each cancer. But in certain spots, the scary, blue cells just blurred together, indistinguishable in origin without special stains. How can I separate my medical doctor past from my current identity as “doc winemaker?” A guy at the consumer tasting in San Diego asked me why I didn’t put “M.D.” on my Bruliam business cards. Most Bruliam fans know that I used to be a doctor. But my old pathology buddies are unaware of my professional reincarnation.
I have never regretted leaving medicine, but attending the pathology conference left me surprisingly wistful. I wandered thought the poster presentations and lectures on high alert for my old colleagues. I’d trained at UCSD Medical Center and was certain I’d run into my old resident pack. But I didn’t recognize anyone. I checked in with the orientation desk to see who’d registered. “Do you have a Chris XX?” “No ma’am.” Then, “How about an Angelique XX?” “No ma’am.” I gave up after the fifth name. This was not how I envisioned it would happen.
Per my imagined script, I’d be riding the escalator up to the Gastrointestinal Short Course when I’d bump into our old program director or the handsome neuropathologist we all adored. “Why Kerith, is that you?” he’d inquire. “I haven’t heard from you in ages.” My reply was polished. “Well actually I left pathology a few years ago. I have a new career.” (dramatic pause). “I’m a winemaker.” Then he’d smile and drown me under a tsunami of congratulatory hugs and questions about my sexy, new job. Who wouldn’t want to be a winemaker? Answer: all of the pathologists attending the CAP convention.
My drama concluded with an unsatisfying denouement. I was just another anonymous convention goer. Only this time I was the interloper, a poser schlepping a 700 page syllabus in a Leica microscope swag bag. I idled by the computer station and abused the free wifi to check my Bruliam Wines account before heading off to pour some pinot noir.
Our Spring Release is only a week away, and it will include our 2013 Rose of Pinot Noir. To help get you in the mood, here’s the scene from a few weeks ago when we bottled this pink nectar (coincidentally on Valentine’s Day!).
If you can’t see the video below, please click here:
I love HGTV. Cue an upwardly mobile, Middle America, archetype family. Pan out to a cluttered galley kitchen as their adorable toddler dumps her 7200-piece puzzle on the kitchen table-satellite office-gift wrapping station. The exhausted, harried, and very pregnant wife offers her list of “must haves” to a sympathetic real estate agent-contractor-fabric designer.
“We definitely need 4 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, an updated kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a finished basement, a soundproof office, and an industrial capacity laundry room with automated folding. The butler’s quarters, dedicated air hockey space, vintage wet bar, and indoor curling center are negotiable,” drones mom.
The feckless real estate agent shifts nervously and murmurs, “Yes, indoor curling centers are hot with Sochi. So what’s your budget?”
“$83,000,” dad replies. He looks the agent straight in the eye, without a whiff of irony. That’s when I really get into it.
“Brangelina spends $83K a year on Tide, let alone a crappy Kenmore top loader. You can’t really expect butler’s quarters for less than $150,000,” I yell at the T.V., pita chip shards flying from my lips to the screen. Damn bunch of uninformed, unrealistic aspirational spenders.
Brian is shocked. Perhaps he is suggesting that I, too, am an unrealistic and uninformed aspirational spender. Perhaps he is suggesting that I, too, pursue an improbable, half-baked budget for Bruliam Wines. He recently advised that I pitch Shark Tank. Brian is so tired of saying no that he’d rather hear Mark Cuban do it. Do you hear me laughing?
It’s true I like to experiment and play. For the last 2-½ years, I have repeatedly pitched purchasing a ceramic egg. It’s an aesthetic, breathable fermentation and elevage vessel suited to white wines. Brian has pointed out that Bruliam does not produce white wines. That’s because I don’t own an egg. Exactly my point. What comes first, the marsanne or the egg? Score ten points for clever word play. Score $0 for my Bruliam nest egg.
I also have suggested expanding into another Sonoma Coast vineyard. My “Vineyard X” business plan included words like “fun” and “super cool” and “killer site.” Brian looked for my Excel spreadsheet. There wasn’t one. I thought “P & L” meant Pinot and Labels. At least I’d saved the vineyard glamor shots to my iPhone stream. Sure it’s cheaper to print 500 labels for one bottling than 100 labels for 5 separate bottlings. But, I was an English major. You do the math. Point conceded.
Most recently, I’ve developed a hankering for a fermentation vessel of my own. I am eyeing a wooden custom deal with built in cooling coils. If a ton of fruit from “Vineyard X” costs $Y then a ceramic egg rings in around $2Y. What I’m daydreaming about is more like $3Y+, pending the Euro exchange rate. The odds are not stacked in my favor. But at least I’m a little more sympathetic to the poor saps navigating the housing market on reality TV.
The current object of my obsession:
Last week I was lucky enough to meet Rob Harris of Price Family Vineyards for a pruning tutorial at Gaps Crown. We started off in Bruliam block 13, clone 777, which is cane pruned on the Guyot system. It’s a labor intensive and thought provoking method. But before I launch into too many details, let’s zoom out and get the big picture.
Pruning means cutting away plant material to manage vigor and capacity for the forthcoming growing season. Very broadly, vigor is the height and amount of green vegetation. If you have sprawling, mega-long shoots without many grape clusters, you’ve got too much vigor. If you’ve got lots of grapes without enough leafy photosynthesis engines to get the berries ripe, you ain’t got enough. “Capacity” encompasses all in growth- vine, roots, shoots, clusters, all of it. An ideal pruning regimen matches the capacity of the soil (fertile? Or not?) to the capacity of the plant (productive or puny). The geographical area, climate, and intended use and goals for the fruit all play a big part too. Pruning manages the crop so site and productivity make sense. We typically call this vine balance, eluding to a tricky but very necessary balance between vegetative growth and reproductive growth (foliage vs. fruit).
Now back to Gaps. Guyot is ninja pruning. It’s a balls-to-the-wall, no insurance policy system. You lay down a cane that becomes the nidus for the current growing season, without leaving any replacement spurs. And yes, it’s a bit like it sounds. If you make a mistake, you can’t “replace” it. Each cut impacts fertility, foreshadows light exposure, and regulates shoot position and cluster count. There’s also the double whammy that you’re simultaneously considering the fruiting cane for the following year (2015) and while trouble shooting mistakes from last year. No pressure here. In the Guyot pruning universe, a misguided cut from 2012 might well still plague vines today. Pruning is always done in the light of the previous year(s) and in the anticipation of the coming year(s). As Rob notes, “It’s a rolling cycle. You never make a pruning decision in a vacuum.” But enough theoretical; it was time to get real.
Together, we’d look at a vine, and I’d offer a suggestion. I was usually wrong. Ever patient, Rob would explain why I’d made a poor choice and what he’d do differently. You can deliberate a single cut for 5 or 10 minutes. Just for comparison, an experienced vineyard crew is expected to prune those vines at a rate of about 1 vine per minute, including clearing their bush. Now extrapolate that over 100’s of acres. It’s no wonder that Guyot pruning requires so much time and skill. Though there are some systems around that can actually be more time and thought intensive, the Guyot is a tough one. Luckily, I had my trusty Roshambo scissors to fall back on.
Next we visited a chardonnay block with cordon training, like our home ranch, Torrey Hill. Cordons are the long, thick permanent shoots that remain in place from year to year. Pruning here is more straightforward. You aim for spurs a hand’s width apart and prune back to two buds. Finally, Rob handed me actual shears.
In the video below, you’ll see my pruning tutorial in action. I’ve added some cartoons to help illustrate the process. This clip showcases a glorious, clear, Sonoma Coast “winter” day. The girl in me loves the sunshine. The farmer in me fears the drought.
If you can’t see the video below, please click here.