Harvest starts this week. All of the work in the vineyard, from winter's pruning to summer's hedging, leads up to this final push of ripening and the decision-making around when to pick each variety of grapes.
By my count, Allegro grows about 17 different varieties of grapes, between our vineyards in The Brogue and those in Stewartstown. But there is only one place where we grow my favorite red variety: Cabernet Sauvignon. It was first planted in The Brogue's vineyards, in what we now call "Block 3," in 1973. These old vines have many stories to tell.
Most of the Cabernet grapes have now undergone verasion, having turned the deep blue which indicates that grape-growing has finished and grape-ripening has begun. I love to see the grapes at this stage and have always thought that they resemble little worlds.
These Cabernet globes makes me think of two specific (but quite different) references: Horton Hears a Who!, and Men in Black. In the Dr. Seuss book, Horton the Elephant has to convince the world to save the tiny planet Whoville, which is so small it is carried on a piece of dust. In the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones movie, they discover a marble-sized galaxy hanging on the collar of a cat. In both of these imaginings, tiny worlds are discovered to be in need of protection. While we certainly do a lot to take care of our grapes in the course of a year, they are also out there on their own, vulnerable to whatever weather comes our way during the weeks of ripening.
I'm not suggesting that the blue grapes, born from an unlikely cross between parents Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, contain alien worlds, but they certainly do have mystery within them. How ripe will they get this year? How much flavor development will occur? (When) Will late-season hurricane remnants blow through, or early frosts come, which will preemptively end their season?
In the very best year, the grapes can hang out until their seeds are like grape nuts and their Brix (sugar content) reaches at least 22. The harvest photo here was taken on the first day of November, 2005--the longest we've ever left them hanging! (The grapes are being held by our then-five-year-old son, who is now a college junior.)
In the very best vintages, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are allowed to become so successfully ripe that they get the true "king" treatment in the cellar, being put in the best oak barrels for up to two years, after which they are bottled as our finest--and most ageable--flagship Cadenza wines. I have tasted Allegro Cabernets bottled long before our time here--wines more than thirty-five years old--and the long history is a tasty one.
So we watch and we wait, vigilant as Horton and Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. With sun and luck and thoughtful tending, this mess of a year could still result in a beautiful world of a wine.