By Darren Delmore
(For those of you who didn’t read part one about how you can make wine from a single vine, I once made 2.5 bottles of varietally correct and quaffable Roussanne from my mom's oceanside vine, hand bottled and labeled in time for Mother’s Day.)
As harvest 2021 was ripening along, my mother kept texting me photos of the crazy Roussanne vine taking over her backyard. At random hours, spaced out among days, sometimes well after 2 am, a photo would come through, often with a simple question mark, or “I think these grapes are going bad," even the simple "HELP.” The main complaint used to be that the vine, purchased in a pot at Tablas Creek back in 2007, had blossomed to prolific proportions and obstructed the ocean view from her bathroom window. At 74 years of age, she still runs the oldest Italian restaurant in SLO County, yet the backyard vine seemed to be of a much higher importance.
Then a texted photo came my way, showing a big Roussanne cluster with some bunch rot happening in its center, so I stopped by her gated community by the beach and had a look. A second vine that I’d put in the ground in 2009, from a simple hard pruning, was having its Coachella moment. Thirty gorgeous clusters raging beneath a healthy green, head trained canopy. I hadn’t sprayed the vines with sulfur or done anything but a timely winter pruning, and perhaps the dryness of this vintage kept the coastal mildew and rot mostly at bay. “Yes mom, we are going to have a vintage!” I announced. Together, my mother and I pulled bird netting over the vines and tied it to the trunks. The clusters on the original vine were already showing the classic gold and rust-spotted freckles of Roussanne, and I cut off the cluster that had the documented rot, leaving the rest to ripen.
Cut to the third week of October, and after taking my son to a gymnastics session in SLO, I had one hour to spare, so I hauled down to Shell Beach with shears and two buckets. I texted from her driveway: “I’m here for the grapes." She came out into her backyard five minutes later adorned with new fabric gloves, a hat, shades and even sunscreen on, to pick these mere two vines. We pulled the netting off and saw that the extra hang time allowed the second vine’s fruit to catch up. “This is the best these have looked in years,” I said.
“Look at these grapes, Darren!” She was excited.
“You take that vine, mom, I’ll get this one.”
We filled two buckets and a tote with coastal Roussanne, tidied up the netting for next year, and I sped off to pick up kids and prepare my lower back for “the fun part” of making small batch white wine at home.
I’ve met avid home winemakers in Paso Robles with all kinds of custom contraptions to make the pressing process easier, but perhaps the stubborn, hard working side of my mother is fully alive within me, and I chose to hand crush and press in the buckets, till a good portion of the juice was visible, then poured the buckets nearly upside down, holding the skins in, through an appropriate pasta screened funnel, into a glass carboy.
I’m sure drilling holes into the bottom of one bucket and pressing downward over a second bucket or larger funnel is probably the smarter way to go. But in the dark in my backyard, sweating, grunting, cussing, promising never to do this again, and surely raising suspicions from my new neighbors, I filled a 3 gallon carboy and part of a one gallon growler, putting on the plastic air locks and tucking them away in the garage. The skins went into the green waste bin. My wife thought I was insane.
Days later, the tell tale “Bloop bloop bloop” sounds from the corner of the garage proclaimed that natural fermentation had begun.
After a few weeks, the bubbling stopped, and a thick layer of white sediment had formed at the bottom of each glass container. I elevated the glass up on some cases of wine to settle overnight, then the next morning, using a simple food grade hose, I siphoned the clear wine into a clean 3 gallon carboy, and chucked the sediment. There was a small amount of the wine in the hose, so I drained it into a glass and tentatively smelled it, expecting a bouquet of formaldehyde and kerosene at best. But lo and behold, there was honeysuckle and some ginger… it was Roussanne all right!
Mama Del Old Vines Estate Roussanne 2021 was happening.
As temperatures were forecasted to dip to 27 degrees on December 11th, I added a pinch of sulfur to the wine and put the glass carboys of wine outside on a towel. Cold stabilization done the natural way. The cold temps would in theory precipitate some crystals out of the wine to cling to the glass, hopefully adding a touch of clarification.
December 13th, using the hand corker I’d bought years ago at Doc’s Cellar in SLO, I hand corked 10 bottles of my mom’s Roussanne, labeling the back accordingly. Just in time for her 75th birthday on December 16th.
The big reveal came at the Madonna Inn, where we took her for dinner. I pre chilled the first bottle and agreed to a corkage fee that was a bit flattering for such a homemade wine. The server poured it into the inn's trademark goblets. I watched my mom for her reaction.
“What grape is this again?” she asked, swirling the white wine and looking a bit concerned.
“It's still Roussanne.”
She swirled it again, put her glasses on, and studied the custom back label. Then she lowered her nose in the glass. “It’s oaky, isn’t it?”
“Impossible. Do you like it?”
“It’s… it’s... I don't know." She sipped it and scowled. Maybe I'd rushed things. The acids were omnipresent, though it still smelled varietally sound. Besides, here it was, the fruit of her backyard vine, turned into a clear, packaged and labeled wine in less than two month's time.
"It's... it's different, Darren."
"I don't know."
I shotgunned the entire glass and resigned myself over the Gold Rush Steakhouse menu.