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Winemaker Scott Shirley Reflects on Harvest

Dec 10, 2012
Harvest at JUUSTIN Vineyards & Winery

Apples? Bananas. What is the first word which comes to mind when I say, “Up?” Down. And “Simple Eukaryote?” Saccharomyces cerevisiae. I learned to associate these words while studying Genetics in college; as a Pre-Med student, I had no idea that my eventual career would depend so heavily on this yeast’s ability to convert sugar to alcohol. These laborious little organisms will literally work themselves to death, producing alcohol until they are no longer able to survive (usually around 15% alcohol, but the designer yeast Uvaferm-43 is tolerant of alcohols up to 18%!) All of the grapes may be picked, but we still have a full house of fermenting tanks waiting to be drained and pressed. So, while I reflect on my first vintage in Paso Robles, these busy bodies are still hard at work.

Last Friday, I thanked all of our seasonal cellar workers for their work in making this harvest a success. Their tireless efforts and seemingly unending days of sorting berries, pump-overs, and shoveling tanks have resulted in the best wines I’ve tasted during my past 16 years in the wine industry. A warm summer and nearly ideal growing conditions, with relatively ineffectual frost and rain events, created fantastic potential in the vineyards. Growers from whom we purchase fruit are committed to the same quality that we expect from our Estate fruit and I enjoyed learning the unique personalities of their sites. I’m particularly impressed with the Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot this season, varieties which take advantage of Paso’s heat by attaining ripe, dark-fruit flavors while maintaining spice and complexity.

As our harvest interns say goodbye and the wine-grape growers praise the recent storms for replenishing the aquifer, the 2012 vintage draws to a close. This was the most prolonged Crush I have worked, stretching from the first pick of Sauvignon Blanc on August 21 to the very last Cabernet Sauvignon berry picked on November 16.

I raise a toast to all those involved during the amazing transformation which occurs from berry to glass, especially to my humble co-worker Uvaferm-43!