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Monday, May 11, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowds: New Book Explores Wines' Crushing Reality

There’s a perpetual myth that being a winemaker is sexy, cool, and that all a winemaker really does is jet off to exotic locations to eat and drink with people who are impossible tanned, flush with cash and orbit in the highest echelons of society. Seriously, if that’s the case I’ll quite wine writing and start wine making. The reality is that making wine is farming, it’s cleaning up crap, putting out fires (sometimes literally) and hoping you make the correct decisions because you can’t go back and fix a wine once you’ve screwed it up – and you only get one chance each year. In Chris Weir’s new book, The Mad Crush, he details one specific vintage at a small winery, Saucelito Canyon, located in the upper Arroyo Grande Valley in San Luis Obispo County. If you haven’t heard of it you’re in good company as their story is somewhat typical of the majority of wineries in the U.S. – that is to say, small, under the radar family operations struggling with a shoestring budget. Compound that with where Saucelito Canyon is located - in the middle of nowhere (I’m not kidding) - that they ran off generators and that the vineyard was 115 years old when Weir was working that harvest.
The historic vineyard
Weir reflects on the 1995 vintage, its shortcoming, problems, amusements and its final wine. I have a soft spot for Saucelito Canyon and have been to the property many times, though it’s not open to the public except for once each year.
#1: This is truly a historic vineyard, with own-rooted Zinfandel vines planted in 1880, and there are very few of these old vineyards still around.
#2: This was one of the very first places a young wine writer (me) ever visited and realized the breadth, depth and complexity of wine.
#3 – This is where I got engaged to my wife. I could wax poetic about the spiritual ambience I feel about this property, but Weir mixes both the sentiment of the place and the unsexy reality of out of date winemaking equipment quite well. “In loftier moments you could call winemaking an art,” he writes. “Practically speaking it’s a craft. But toward the end of the crush, there’s little time or energy left for elegant thoughts. Your brain is foggy, your spine aches, your hands are scored and stained red, and shit just needs to get done.” Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. This is an easy read, a fun read, and one that will set you straight on the glorious and grunt-laden world of winemaking.
Me and the Mrs. at the vineyard, May/2015

The Mad Crush
by Sean Christopher Weir
158 pages, 15 photos
$11.95 Paperback, $9.95 Ebook

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