LUMEN has officially kicked off the 2019 harvest with an early pick of Pinot Gris from Sierra Madre Vineyard, and Lane has once again donned her magic yellow boot. What seemed to me like a late year for harvest got a chuckle out of Lane. “This is a normal year,” she said, which made me realize that the last six years that we have worked together have been abnormally early. “Newbie,” I thought to myself. While our other grapes are still at least a few weeks out, Lane has once again earned her nickname “Low Pick Lane” by being in the vineyards long before anyone else.
We deliberately picked this lot of Pinot Gris early in order to make an orange wine, following the guidance from one of my favorite fellow winemakers, Ryan Beauregard of Beauregard Vineyards, who has made a stellar Pinot Gris orange wine in years past. And what is orange wine? It is one made from white grapes that are treated like red grapes. In other words, we ferment the juice on the skins, with regular punch-downs, to extract extra tannin and flavor. (White grapes are normally pressed and separated from the juice as soon as they come into the winery.) Many of the orange wines I have tasted as the wine director at Pico Restaurant are pretty funky and weird. Ryan’s wine was an exception – elegant, balanced, full of fruit and minerality – and far more interesting than most rosés.
While the orange wine bubbles away in the fermenter, Lane and I are wandering the vineyards in anticipation of our next pick. We are picking samples of the fruit in many of the vineyards – mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris (as the Grenache varieties are still a long ways off) – and taking the samples back to the winery, where Lane stomps the grapes with her magic yellow boot. Okay, I admit, sometimes I wear the yellow boot, but it doesn’t fit me very well. The boot has been with Lane since her winemaking start in the early 1980’s.
We then test the juice for sugar and acidity and then most importantly, taste it. We base our decision to pick almost completely on the flavor maturity of the juice, always aiming for lower sugar and higher acidity. That makes for more scintillating and age-worthy wines.
This marks the first year that Lane and I are really stepping outside of our normal comfort zone to make an orange wine. There will only be 40 or so cases, and only available to our wine club. So if you want to try it (release date April 15, 2020), sign up today!