Photo by Lara Kastner
To read other posts in Grant Achatz's series about wine pairings, click here.
SQUAB Thai peppercorn, strawberry, oxalis
with SYRAH or COTE ROTIE
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the small size of La Jota required me to be involved in every aspect of the wine-making process. Upon taking the job I expected the winery to be technologically advanced, with the most modern machines for pressing, pumping, and bottling the wine. After two years in the Napa Valley I had been on a quite a few winery tours, and I assumed La Jota would be similar in their proficiencies. The reality was, it was as far from my expectation as possible...in the best way.
On my second day I walked into the office to find Bill sitting at his desk doing some accounting, He welcomed me as I pulled up a chair to hear what was on the agenda for the day. He paused. A smirk came over his face as he said, "You are going to crush the pinot grapes in the fermenters outside." Wow, I am pressing grapes into wine on my second day...this job is pretty cool.
I clapped my hands together and said, "Okay, show me what I have to do!" Bill's smirk widened to a grin as he reached into a drawer of his desk. He tossed me a pair of purple swim trunks while saying, "You'll need these." I figured somewhere in the process grape juice would be flying everywhere and he was trying to spare my jeans from stains. After all, I'd seen the two-story tall closed tank stainless steel fermenters when he gave me the tour the previous day, and it must be messy getting all the juice out of those things...
At this point I am figuring it out but wouldn't let myself believe that he was going to make me take my clothes off and wade around in the warm grape bog.
As it turns out, grapes typically get crushed before going into the fermenters, unless the winemaker is utilizing a technique called carbonic maceration, in which the whole fruit is encouraged to begin fermenting inside its own skin. Bill used this technique for his pinot noir grapes from the Sonoma Coast. This type of fermentation normally develops flavors of bubble gum, banana, and cherry, while also reducing malic acid and increasing the chances of a higher alcohol content.
He led me outside and down the hill to the back of the winery. We approached three white plastic tubs that were chest-high and six feet square. He glanced at the shorts and told me to put them on as he lifted the lids off the tubs.
At this point I am figuring it out but wouldn't let myself believe that he was going to make me take my clothes off and wade around in the warm grape bog. "There are a few bees on the surface, and the cap will likely hit you about waist high...so...you aren't allergic to stings, are ya?" The original smirk that evolved into a grin transformed into a toothy smile. I glanced into one of the fermenters and shook my head at the swarm of bees gathered on the top. Every second a few more would drive bomb-kamikaze-style into the vat of sugar. The romantic notion of crushing grapes under foot in the middle of wine country vanished instantly.