The wine is almost finished fermenting. What was once a grape, a perfect circle of sugar and juice drinking in sunlight, is now transforming itself into another existence. Anthony Nappa, our winemaker instills a sense of calm from the time the first berry is picked, continuing through the capricious moments of fermentation and onward during pressing. He is busy with over 30 separate ferments, twelve of which are in small one ton picking bins. It is a time of gentle, quiet, beautiful and subtle change. I dip a glass into each warm ferment and taste the progression of the juice into wine. A few days after picking, the initial flavor of fresh fruit begins to metamorphose into a series of partial flavors, breaking apart and defining themselves. This stage lasts a couple of weeks and then, almost miraculously, the fractured parts pull back together and it begins to become a wine, quirky and nascent. A month later, with the skins and seeds and wine still in maceration, it has begun to knit together, the tannin and fruit cohabitating. In a couple of weeks Anthony will begin pressing to barrel and letting the fruit become its destiny in the winery.
At times I feel mournful as I walk through the vines after the fruit has been harvested and the leaves have fallen. I feel as though farming can be all about taking and not about giving. But as the wine ferments with the cellar doors open the smell of the fermentations must surely be wafting through the vineyard and the vines must know that their fruit is still alive and becoming itself.
November in the vineyard is a time of transformation just as powerful as the spring. It is the beginning of a long rest for the vines and the field they grow in but for the earth below it is the advent of a magical transformation of humus into minerals. This moment of a seemingly barren vineyard is when I spread the compost, giving back what was once taken. The pile that I made from last year’s skins, seeds and pressings plus leaf mulch and grass cuttings from the Inn, and horse bedding from a friend have become a mound of black earth, alive. Before I begin loading the compost into the spreader, I dig in to my elbows, pulling out a spongy handful and take a long deep lungful. Carbon. Earth. Minerals. The compost squiggles in my hands as I feel a few worms slithering and twisting along my palms. The worms are the workhorses of the compost pile. When a worm ingests the compost, the material it excretes contains 50% more nutrients than the original compost could have provided to the plant. Thank you, worms. As I scoop the compost into the bucket loader of the tractor it practically rolls itself into the bucket. It spins out of the compost spreader peppering the vineyard with moist humus and the millions of Red Wigglers, the worms living in the compost. Now the worms will become the workhorses of the land drilling holes in the soil and excreting their nutrient rich gift.
The finished compost will begin the process of mineralizing the soil through the cold winter months. The microbes will migrate into the soil and continue to create the humus and minerals for next year’s crop. This mound of black gold made from the stems and pressings of the 2009 wines enters the vineyard now in the fall of 2010 and will nourish the fruit we will harvest in the fall of 2011. What was once a grape becomes a grape again. A perfect circle has lain itself down here on our 20 acres.