Today we faced the final and most daunting physical task of our winemaking, getting the Cabernet picked, crushed and into primary fermentation. We have four varietals, but we’ve planted more Cabernet than the other three put together. So we knew, whatever we’d gone through with the Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault, we’d need at least to double that for the Cabernet harvest. Luckily, Cousin John came to the rescue. And Cousin John is definitely someone you want on your side in a pinch. He’s sort of the Indiana Jones of California as he works with archeology teams uncovering Indian burial grounds as well as performing half a dozen other varied careers. In addition, he spent his formative years in Sonoma, so he knows where all the bodies are buried. Especially when they are Native American bodies. Stuff like that always comes in handy.
Another of Cousin John’s identities — he’s a forager. He runs around Sonoma picking things and making foodstuffs out of them. Or more often making alcoholic beverages from them. Sometimes he hits (his Walnut cordial), sometimes he misses (we’re not talking about that strawberry wine fiasco). But he’s a guy who could live off the land if he needed to. He’s also the kind of guy who will work for grapes. So we just had to set aside some crushed grapes for his own little fermentation and he was happy to help. More on that later because Cousin John’s idea of winemaking is a little more radical than ours.
Anyway, another great thing about Cousin John showing up was that I could finally take pictures of our process, such as it is.
Speaking of grapes. We had loads this year.
Remember I told you Cousin John has a different philosophy of winemaking than we do? Well, let me put it this way. Remember this dude, Mr. Natural?
When I say Cousin John is Mr. Natural Junior, I mean he ferments the way the Sumerians would. He don’t need no steenkin’ UC Davis yeast, he don’t need no steenkin’ sulfite, he don’t worry about no steenkin’ clean practices. Actually, I couldn’t bear to take pictures of Cousin John crouched in front of his bin of Cabernet combing through the grapes and crushing it with his bare (and unwashed) hands. Given how Andy makes me practically do a surgical scrub up before I even contemplate looking at our fermenting grapes. Well, let’s just say Cousin John’s method is painful to my eyes. But Cousin’s John’s Cab will be fermenting on the our crush pad, so we’ll see who makes the better wine in the end.
Hey, Cousin John’s Cab. That sounds like a Grateful Dead song!
Come drink Cousin John’s Cab
As natural as the tide
Drink it plain or with a scone
Cousin John’s Cabernet stands alone.
Okay, digression. But it’s not out of context to think of counterculture figures when you are around Cousin John. Here’s another example: we went for a walk down our redwood creekside trail to show Cousin John the Miwok or Pomo grinding stone we’d found. The Native tribes around here traditionally subsisted on a flour they ground from acorns. So wherever you find a seasonal creek and oak trees in Sonoma, you often find a grinding stone. Well, Cousin John put on his Indiana Jones hat, started rooting around in the moss and found half a dozen more on the same site!
Actually, there is technical term for these things that isn’t “grinding stone”. (John says that would be something portable.) These would have been grinding spots developed on migration routes and used over centuries by numerous tribes.
After this adventure, we ended the day with a cassoulet I’d been slow cooking all day.
Did I mention how much I like Cousin John?
Note in the interest of full disclosure: Cousin John is not my cousin, but the cousin of my eccentric friend Julian. But after today, we’re adopting him.