Saturday, September 25, 2010


Four years and 4 months after my first machete swipe to disentangle and free the dying vineyard, Sally and I have harvested our first wine grapes. Now the proof is bubbling in the vat!

Rewind to Wednesday. Weather satellite shows a low pressure bowling ball rolling from Spain over Sardinia, headed for a perfect strike in Tuscany. Big rain is expected to start Friday and fall all weekend. But the grapes at Tana Lepre are in the zone for sugar (22 -24 Brix) and acid (pH 3.2 - 3.3). The back-up grapes Elisabetta offered at the ancient pieve San Stefano in Castelmuzio are even riper and the birds are eating them fast. "Vendemia tomorrow!" I tell Sally, who's just returned from Rome. "First thing in the morning."

Full moon. Storm coming. Fiat throwing a white plume of dust down a twisting dirt road. This was the opening shot yesterday morning at 7:30 a.m. By 10:00 a.m. we had gotten all the grapes at Pieve, about 250 liters of bunches, and we dropped an equal amount on the ground thanks to oidio.

Back at Tana Lepre, while Sally and Alesio culled imperfect grapes and sorted bunches, I single-handedly harvested what was ripe in the upper vineyard, about 8 rows, throwing half to the ground because of oidio. By 4:00 p.m., the trees were swirling and the first spritzes of rain were hitting the ground, but the harvest was complete. We had a total of 350 liters of Tana Lepre grapes including the 50 liters of appassimento malvasia (see earlier post), and a little colorato for color. The 230 liter vat was full of bunches to be crushed a piedi (by foot). The 100 liter vat held the most perfect bunches, to be stripped a mano (by hand) for the whole berry carbonic maceration that will gives extra fruit nuance to the blend. After crushing and adding the whole grapes and passato malvasia clusters to the big vat, we had 175 liters of that sweet grape slurry vintners know as "must." Every drop of it organic.

Threshold crossed at last. But this wasn't just the culmination of 4-plus years of work, it was the penultimate step in a lifetime of garagiste wine dreams. The Tana Lepre vines were planted 40 years ago by the village butcher of Montisi, one year after I made my first batch of wine as a kid. I have waited exactly that long to create my first wine from noble vines I've nurtured myself. And now, with the harvest finally in after a difficult year of homebuilding, disease and broken bones, I can breathe again. Just in time to savor the perfume of wine fermenting in the cantina!
A domani!