By Sara Schneider, Sunset wine editor
We just got the call—our grapes are ripe! They hit 25 degrees Brix yesterday, so we’re picking on Thursday.
Turns out the decision about what kind of wine to make wasn’t so easy. Winemaker Michael Martella offered us a laundry list of grapes from Thomas Fogarty’s sources, but everything had pros and cons. Pinot Noir would probably be the best red for our veggie-heavy one-block menu, but it’s notoriously hard to make … Sauvignon Blanc would be a great white match, but the Santa Cruz Mountains region—our local source—doesn’t grow it so well.
We went with Syrah for red, partly because it’s not a bad red choice for our earthy, herby menu and partly because I’m getting really interested in Syrahs from cool regions (which these mountains are), but truth be told, mainly because we might have half a chance of making a decent wine out of it. We decided to make some Chardonnay too, because we really want a white wine with our feast. But we may make it completely without oak (chips, in home winemaking terms, unless you want to spring for an $800 or $900 French barrel).
In the meantime, I descended on Dan Brenzel, husband of Sunset's legendary garden editor, Kathy Brenzel. He’s been making wine for years, and what a resource! Dan had pulled out all of his equipment—hand-cranked crusher/destemmer, press, food-grade plastic fermentors (i.e., garbage cans), glass carboys, thermometers, hydrometers … He’s getting ready to make wine too this year, but he’s working with different varietals, so we can probably juggle equipment. We thought we’d have to buy, beg, and steal, but he’s generously letting us borrow. Serious dollars saved there.
Here’s the plan: On Thursday morning, we take the old Sunset van up to Fogarty. With only two front seats and zero padding, it has plenty of cargo room and wouldn’t be bothered by a hosing down after the job. Michael will lead us to the vineyard, where we’ll pick 500 pounds of Syrah. (Note to self: Get some of those plastic binlike things that restaurant-supply stores sell, to pick into, and remind Team Wine to bring their garden clippers from home, because Mike’s staff will be using all of his official hooked grape-picking knives—must find out what they’re called.)
Then we’ll have a picnic. Team Wine is all about enjoying every part of this project—just not too much, because the real work will be looming: an afternoon of crushing at Sunset. Stay tuned to see if we go the mechanical route or foot it!