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Things I didn’t learn in college…

Fri Oct 6, 2006

Things I didn’t learn in college or grad school but wish I had:

1- How to use a pallet jack
2- How to lift 50 pounds without injury
3- How to drive a forklift

There were no classes in manual labor at Sonoma State, where I went to college; nor were there any at the University of Oregon, where I went to graduate school. But there should have been. Crush is officially on and, as I battle one-ton bins filled with must (a wine’s skins, seeds and pits) I find that existential philosophy, poetry and a Masters in Journalism don’t help one bit.


Nathan cleaning out a pick bin.

Press, tread, pump, punch
Yesterday was easily the biggest day this season at Pax. In addition to pumping over and punching down tanks of nearly fermented Syrah from Castelli-Knight Ranch, here in the Russian River Valley, we received a few tons of fruit from Dan Schaefer’s vineyard in the Mayacamas Mountains and Grenache from Mendocino’s Alder Springs. We also pressed our tanks of Cattach Syrah, first draining the juice in the tank to barrel and then extracting the remainder of it from the must using a machine that looks exactly like a giant French press. Between all of that we cleaned out the newly drained tanks, shoveling out skins and pits while trying not to pass out from all of the carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation. With all this bustling about, being able to lift, or otherwise move large bins without injury is key. I managed, though it wasn’t really the kind of day to ask for instructions on how to use the pallet jack.

obsidian vineyards

Obsidian Vineyards, Knights Valley

The vines

Earlier this week we drove out to some of the vineyards we source fruit from, to see what the grapes were looking like, to gather samples and, in some cases, to drop fruit from the vines that had raisined or been ravaged by wild turkeys. The trips were the perfect way to start understanding terroir, the way the climate, soil, slope and sun exposure all work together to affect the way a wine will eventually taste. Among the rows the grapes just taste like grapes — a little sweet, a little tart, a little tannic. Fermented, those same grapes exhibit aromas of the very earth they were grown in, often expressing other elements from the surrounding areas in addition to the fruit characteristics.

obsidian vineyards

A Syrah cluster at Obsidian

Driving up the mountain to Obsidian Vineyard, located at 1200′ feet in the Knights Valley appellation, the sweet scent of decomposing sandstone greets you, along with the honeyed and dank aroma of forest floor. Surfacing in various vintages as “wet stone and white truffle” or “sweet purple flowers,” those familiar with the area will recognize them on the nose of the wine. This elementary understanding of terroir really brings Pax’s wines into a new light. Pax endeavors to make wines that are representative of where they are grown. While they are Rhone varietals, they will never taste just like a Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage, they’ll express characteristics of the various North Coast vineyards that Pax sources fruit from. Today’s lesson: grapes, surprisingly, aren’t everything in wine.

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2 Responses to “Things I didn’t learn in college…”

  1. ramon urenia Says:

    funny, I seem to remember a manual labor 101 at SSU, it usually was listed just below kinesology and ultimate frisbee. 😉 love the blog leah, definitely getting a great feel for what crush is like through your blog.

  2. Scott Goldman Says:

    Everything I know about “crush” has to do with either orange soda or a babe I once had the hots for. Wine? Crush? Huh? Go figure I’d be learning from someone so young that, well, I’ve got wine older than her.

    Of course, being a big fan of your dad I did take particular pleasure in seeing the old “my dad was right” refrain in your email. Seems like the older we get, the smarter our parents look. Who knew?

    Well, the music is on, the lights are low, the results of someone else’s crush are on the table and it’s time for me to imbibe instead of scribe.

    Keep up the good blogging and enjoy the crush (of any variety). We’ll look forward to tasting the results sometime.

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