by Michael Busselen
Waiting for the vines to mature
Waiting for the grapes to ripen
Waiting for the fermentation to be complete
Waiting for wine to age in the barrels
Waiting for the wine to mature in the bottles
Waiting for the county to give us a permit
Waiting for the repairman to come
Waiting months for the well company to drill a well
I’ve had a spend a lot of time wearing my “patient pants” in the last two and a half years. After more than 30 years in my previous career responding to events and demands in hours if not in minutes, the grape growing/wine making business is all about long horizons. In my old world the deadlines we “in one hour” or “close of business” or “first thing tomorrow” or “by the end of the week.” Now I am getting used to hearing “in 90 days” and “in a year” and even “in 3-5 years” and “in about 20 years.” At times I feel like I need more than just patient pants – maybe patient overalls.
So when are we going to make Woodhawk Vineyards cabernet people can buy?
Vines were first planted at Woodhawk Vineyards more than 20 years, but Woodhawk Vineyards has never produced wine commercially. That will change this year. We will be producing our 2023 cabernet at a neighbors winery. J. Rickards winery is just down the road from us, and the owner Jim has a nice side business producing high-end custom crush wines for some of his smaller neighbors. By the time the wine goes into the barrels we’ll have what is known as an alternating proprietorship, which will allow us to legally produce our wine in Jim’s facility but then sell it commercially ourselves.
We’re going to start small – just two and a half tons of grapes for the 2023 vintage, which should give us about 150 cases. That translates to 1800 bottles of wine. We produced a very small “hobby” vintage this year to test the quality of our grapes, and it has turned out really nicely. It’s still in the barrels and will see bottles likely late this year. But our winemaker Rob Davis thinks we have tremendous potential – and so do we.
Waiting for the compressor repair guy
Sometimes I find myself waiting because of mistakes I have made. A year ago I ordered a giant commercial air compressor and had it installed in the barn. Its primary use was to drive the wine pump I had purchased to make the 2022 “hobby” wine – our first. Compressor in place – check. Wine pump acquired – check. Pipes and hoses to deliver the air from the compressor to the pump – check.
So on that fateful September day, when it was finally time to pump the initial juice out of the fermentation bin into the first barrel I excitedly hooked it all up, fired up the compressor and fired up the pump. It all worked – we pulled the cleaning water through the pump and hoses and were ready to put it to work on the juice.
But then a racket began. A loud, metal on metal, noise. Emanating from the room where the compressor was located. And it got louder.
I shut down the compressor and my wine maker Rob and I went into problem solving mode. Clearly something was wrong – the compressor was binding up. Our solution – adjust the spacing for the belt as it must be too tight. And apply some WD40 to the moving parts. Fifteen minutes later we had the adjustment made. We fired it back up – and it sounded just the same as before. The painful grinding, scraping noise got event louder. And then the compressor simply stopped.
The juice needed to be pumped and Rob shot home to get his much smaller pump and portable compressor. While he was gone I sat down with the compressor instruction manual, trying to figure out what was wrong. Rob returned with his pump and we successfully got the wine into the barrel.
That night, with a glass of wine in my hand, I picked back up the compressor instruction manual. It fell open to the “installation” section, and there on page four I realized what had gone wrong. This giant commercial compressor was lubricated by oil – and it was not included with the purchase. You had to buy your own – and I had just run the engine without oil and frozen the engine. Goodbye compressor. And months later when we finally found the parts and he appeared, hello repairman.
Waiting for vines
Take for example the vines themselves, or in this case a few hundred that are infected with a virus called “red blotch.” The vineyard had widespread red blotch about eight years ago. When the most recent vines were planted six years ago a major effort was undertaken to insure that the new vines were free of red blotch, including careful testing of the vines. Several different combinations of rootstock and clones were planted, and all appear to be free of the disease except for a very small patch that contains one unique combination of rootstock and clone. It’s amazing to see in the vineyard – whole rows with the blotch but then two rows over – not a single victim.
So we need to replace the infected vines. Pull out the old ones, plant the new ones, and then wait. For four to five years for the vines to once again be mature. For the grapes to match the quality and volume of the non infected vines that sit just two rows away. Four to five years.
Waiting for permits
And then there is the permits to move from growing grapes to actually make a small amount of our own wine. The county permits – which will take at least a year to obtain. The state permits. The federal permits. Our initial application to the county for a “conditional use permit” was over 100 pages – to which they responded 30 days later with six pages of additional questions. Answering those questions will ultimately create at least another 60 pages of content. And then there will be more questions – as this goes on for about a year.
So how long do we have to wait??
Put on your patient pants. Our 2023 cabernet will go into the bottles in late 2024, and likely not be released until 2027 or even 2028. I grew up hearing that Paul Masson would “sell no wine before its time” and while I’m not sure the jug wine business stuck to that script we are very much on board. But we now have over a hundred data points saying our terroir is superb, our grapes very high quality, or winemaker among the very best in the business, and our commitment to quality unchallenged. It will be worth the wait.
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