Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Day 1 — Wine Writers Symposium

By Jessica Yadegaran
Tuesday, February 20th, 2007 at 2:10 pm in Uncategorized.

Working the vines

It’s Tuesday, my first of five days at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa. There are 36 of us — newspaper writers, magazine freelancers and bloggers from around the country who get paid to sniff, swirl, slosh and sip our way into publications. We’re here to nurse the writing juices out of ourselves, take a step back and perhaps appreciate the process as much as the final product. Among our instructors are the world’s best. Writing coaches Don Fry and Antonia Allegra; pioneer Steven Spurrier; and writer Eric Asimov of the New York Times. I also recognize Alder Yarrow, the San Francisco food and wine blogger.

Working the vinesWe’re spending the morning at the Napa Valley Reserve, with gloves and expensive Swiss shears in hand. The morning sun has landed on acres of six-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon, and that’s where we find ourselves. Vineyard manager Mary Hall is guiding us through the art of pruning, that counter intuitive exercise of reducing a crop by as much as 90 percent to yield and concentrate the best fruit. It’s only February, and this exercise, this back breaking work, will happen many more times this year. Off these menorah-like vines, we’re snipping last year’s shoots to prepare for this year’s bud, which won’t see harvest until the fall, and won’t see a bottle for at least another two years. When we’re done snipping, there should be two buds left on each shoot, and four to five buds per arm.

The work is physical, draining, and invigorating all at once. My stance is like a wrestler, or a yogi in half moon. I have to use both hands to cut the base of many of these shoots. My body is not made for this, and I feel for the $12-an-hour farm workers. Immediately, I find it difficult to cut a living thing, especially when I see the sap rise once the wound makes contact with the air. A split shoot looks sort of like an eye and the water dripping out, a tear. As I step right and snip, I begin to get into a rhythm, and I make a mental note now to remember this moment when I take my next sip of wine. It may not be the greatest, but the labor, love and sweat that goes into each and every snip snap certainly is.

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