Just look at this gorgeous shade of purple. Ripe and ready to go..these grapes from Eaglepoint Ranch are the reason I made the 2.5 hour drive up to Mendocino County @ 4 a.m. a few days ago.
About 20 minutes east of the Ukiah Valley, approximately 1800 feet above sea level and well above the fog line I arrived at Eaglepoint Ranch. Here, on the 1,250 acre property, approximately 82 acres of vineyard are planted on 30+ separate vineyard blocks. Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Counoise, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are represented on the various sloping hillsides composed largely of red alluvial soils.
As I pulled into a spot next to a grove of oliviers I spotted a tractor coming down the road. Casey Hartlip, viticulturalist/grapegrower, and a.k.a. “Mr. Eaglepoint” made a quick sign for me to hang tight for 2 minutes while he attended to unfinished harvest business.
Considered one of the most respected wine growers in California, Casey Hartlip knows Eaglepoint like the back of his hand. Actually probably better than the back of his hand! Casey’s first harvest at Eaglepoint was in 1977. Over the years he has managed the vineyards at the property..from grafting over certain blocks, to the planning and planting of new vineyard blocks and varietals. Much has been written about the reputation of Eaglepoint Ranch and the indispensable role that Casey has played in shaping that reputation. Suffice to say, that as a newbie winemaker, Casey was incredibly generous to oblige my request for 200 lbs of grapes.
The team mascot at Eaglepoint Ranch is Pee Wee, a 6 year old fox terrier who graciously greeted my pup Sonic. I am certain that Pee Wee is the envy of many pooches. Acres of vineyard land to run through, sun, squirrels, gophers, random rides in the vineyard pickup truck. Life is sweet.
When I arrived around 7:30, harvest was in full swing. The counoise and syrah blocks had just been harvested (all done by hand), and the grenache blocks were just about to get underway. How many pictures of these harvesting pros did I take? Many. How many actually came out? Few. Team Eaglepoint moves fast and furious. It seemed like just about every time I snapped a pic, I was half a second too late!
Here are the raw goods. A cluster of Eaglepoint Grenache that was soon to make it into one of my assorted bins. Casey indicated that the grapes were smaller this year than general. Grenache has a tendency towards thinner skins and a healthy skin to juice ratio, resulting in lighter pigmentation in the finished wine. Considering the size of this years grapes and amount of skin to juice ratio, I suspect that the finished wine is going to be pretty deeply colored.
Back at home base, and with the first drop of grenache grapes in, it was time for me to pitchfork 200 lbs of grenache into my bins. 15 minutes later, loaded up with my grapes and one tired dog, I bid au revoir to Casey and started my drive back to Oakland.
Thank you Eaglepoint Ranch and thank you Casey. Now let’s see how I do with this beautiful fruit!
Next up: Winemaking 101 chez mumu!