Harvest 2019 culminated in drama, but now that the smoke has started to clear—metaphorically and in reality—I’m able to reflect back on my 11th harvest for Tessier.
2019 was a slow and steady growing season, and despite a few heat spikes towards harvest we enjoyed lots of nice weather, allowing the berries to ripen slowly. Most harvest dates were about one to two weeks later than last year. Tessier’s harvest began with a bang on Wednesday, September 4! A huge double pick out of El Dorado’s Fenaughty Vineyard was delivered by two trucks: Grenache for the Femme Fatale Rose’, and Syrah with about 10% Viognier scattered on top. I trampled the Grenache for a hint of color before loading it into the press, and the Syrah was fermented with 16% whole cluster.
Four days later, on Sunday, September 8, I was driving a 22-foot truck heading south from Berkeley in the total darkness of 3am. First I had to make a drop of bins for the Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir pick later in the month, then I cruised down to Zabala Vineyard in Arroyo Seco to start picking Riesling at dawn. Heading out to the rows to pick the grapes was a bumpy ride with the trailer—this vineyard is all rocks! Due to our cool May weather, it was a tough growing year for this Riesling, and some botrytis set in along with undeveloped berries. I was feeling hopeful, though, as I loaded up my three tons of fruit and headed to Healdsburg, cranking “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and other good ‘80s tunes. With some surprise, I reflected that I’ve now lived in California longer than I did in my native state of Michigan—and I remain in love with California. It’s so damn pretty out in these vineyard sites!
Once at Moshin Vineyards, we destemmed the Riesling to bins and left them on the skins for three days. My intention was to get more terpene extraction, which comes from the skins and smells like chamomile flowers, starfruit, and clove aromas.
On Wednesday, September 11, I was back at the wheel of a rental truck and headed north along super curvy roads to the Anderson Valley to collect my Filigreen Farm Pinot Gris—new to the Tessier portfolio. I love love love Filigreen Farm...it’s over 100 acres of magical happiness. Every time I visit, there’s a new crop to sample and the pristine pond to cool off in while I wait for the fruit to be picked. The organic/biodynamic Pinot Gris from here is such a pretty, coppery/pale-pink color, it was almost sad to trample it. I left it on its skins for three days before pressing to tank, where it became super foamy, tasting of plum, red apple, cinnamon, and white tea.
After this harvest ramp-up, fueled by adrenaline, ‘80s radio music, coffee, and outfitted in my trucker gear—a Goldbud hat and leather driving gloves—I down-shifted, quietly celebrated my birthday, took a deep breath, and collected myself.
The next Tessier harvest wasn’t until Tuesday, September 24. Having driven a small box truck up to the Anderson Valley the night before, this time for my Pinot Noir pick, I decided to stay the night in the town of Philo so I could sleep two hours longer the next morning—yay! The day started out chilly, but it sure warmed up later on...The Pinot crop at the Home block from these 73-year-old vines was bigger than last year -1.5 tons instead of the usually 1 ton, so I decided to do 50% whole cluster rather than the 100% whole cluster I did in 2018.
By Thursday, September 26, the harvest train was back in high gear, bringing in Trousseau Noir from San Benito’s Stiletto Vineyards, which thankfully was trucked for me to Healdsburg. This is another first for Tessier, and I’m so excited about it; Harrington Wines did a great job with this fruit, so I thought I’d give it a go. I decided on 50% whole cluster, as our first data point, and employed the technique of foot stomping to manage the fermentation. I was so happy when it started smelling of strawberry, rhubarb, and guava!
The next day, Friday, September 27, saw a delivery of Gamay Noir from Barsotti Vineyard in El Dorado County. This fruit is always perfect, so we can do 100% whole cluster and it doesn’t even go on the sorter, just directly into fermentation bins. Once it starts fermenting, we foot stomp two times a day. Simple.
A couple of days went by with no fruit, but then (and this is where things start getting dodgy) Wednesday, October 2 brought Cab Franc from Camino Alto, El Dorado. The delivery truck containing the grapes broke down en route to Moshin at River Road, so they had to dispatch a tow truck to fetch the delivery truck—a first for me! It caused a delay, for sure, but no one was hurt and upon arrival the grapes were still cool to touch. Camino Alto is a new source for Tessier Cab Franc, and I’m very excited about the expression from this high-elevation fruit. We did 16% whole cluster and fermented in tank with daily pumpovers.
On Saturday, October 5, my Pinot Noir from Saveria Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains was ready to come off the vines. I arranged for a trucker to bring up the fruit (since my bins were there) and at the River Road exit off 101, he got a flat. Thankfully, it was fixed with ease and caused only a minor delay—reminding me that it’s important to be calm and flexible during harvest because nothing happens in a timely fashion. For this beautiful Pinot Noir fruit, we did 25% whole cluster and took the juice to be fermented separately for the Femme Fatale Rose’.
Our last pick was on Saturday, October 12, beautiful Mourvedre from the Goldbud Vineyard in El Dorado...and guess what? The truck broke down again on the way to the winery! Luckily, there was already another truck en route to Santa Rosa, so they moved the load to the functioning truck and made the delivery in a pinch. We did the usual protocols, which is 25% whole cluster to fermentation bins, followed by foot stomps. All in!
By Wednesday, October 23, fermentations were going, I was pressing and barreling, and we were getting close to wrapping up—but then the winds picked up and the Kincade Fire started. This was all too reminiscent of the 2017 fires in Sonoma/Napa. I worried about my wines, the winery, my friends and co-workers and felt powerless as the wind blew and I checked my phone for more updates. It is draining and on top of all that, my 10th annual release party was October 27 in Oakland, right at the pinnacle of the fires! I remained calm and thought- the show must go on- so much planning had gone into this event and at least we could give a safe place with power to chill and be together. Bunches of people weren’t able to make it, but in return a bunch of Sonoma evacuees and Moshin interns made it down to celebrate 10 years with me.
Moshin Vineyards was evacuated and power was shut off at the winery until Halloween, when I was finally able to resume my work, pressing the Mourvedre and Cabernet Franc to barrels. I was finished by day’s end.
During Harvest 2019, Tessier brought in 24.76 tons of fruit, all sustainable, Roundup-free, tending towards organic, and even some certified organic and biodynamic! So much thanks to the lady foot-stompers and the team at Moshin for all of your hard work.
“When you're by yourself
And there's no one else
You just have yourself
And you tell yourself
Just to hold on”
-Hold On, John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band, 1970