This is a special moment for Foot of the Bed: Our very first grape-to-bottle release is ready, a Syrah whose gestation began with grapes we picked ourselves more than a year ago. As the 2018 harvest grew to a close, vineyards across the state were reporting crops that were both high quality and high in quantity as well. A colleague mentioned that a special, cool-climate site with beautiful Syrah would be ready to pick in a few days. He asked if we would be interested in purchasing one ton of grapes. Without hesitation, we said yes.
The Feingold Vineyard sits on a north-facing slope of Sonoma Mountain overlooking the town of Glen Ellen. This aspect and altitude mitigate warm summer temperatures, preserving freshness in the grapes. The vineyard has always been farmed organically and has been certified as such by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). The end of the 2018 growing season featured cool, dry conditions favorable for long hang time, resulting in maximum flavor development without the risk of diminished acidity or spikes in sugar that can occur in hot weather.
In 2018, on a crisp October morning, we headed over the Golden Gate and up to Sonoma Mountain where we picked the grapes under blue skies with a slight, brisk breeze coming through the vineyard. With the truck loaded up with two half-ton bins, we were off to our home base, Purity Winery, over the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, while keeping our eyes glued to our mirrors, ever watchful of our precious cargo. We dropped off the grapes and rushed off to a charity event in Oakland and late that night, headed home over the Bay Bridge. We are commemorating that day by calling our wine Three Bridges.
Returning to the winery first thing the next day, we decided to de-stem half of the grapes with a machine, while fermenting the other half with the stems intact. The grapes without stems would produce a more silky, fruit-forward wine, while the bin with the stems remaining would yield a wine with more tannin and acidity as well as some crunchy, herbal tones. By blending these together later on, we hoped to achieve a very balanced Syrah.
Purity Winery is not just the place where our monthly wines are bottled, but is also a vibrant community of small-production winemakers who share equipment and the space. Most of these producers opt for low-intervention techniques, including the use of only minimal amounts of sulphur. So-called natural winemaking is certainly worthy of its own blog post, but a few of its features will be briefly noted here. For us, it was important to take advantage of the opportunity to express this incredible Syrah vineyard in the most honest way possible. While most wines worldwide are inoculated with a cultured yeast selected for specific qualities, our wine was to begin fermentation once the ambient yeasts carried in from the vineyard and already existing in the winery kicked in. This is somewhat risky, as it gives winemakers less control over the fermentation process. In order to give the grapes a little nudge to get fermentation going, we rinsed our feet and gently tread on the top layer to release a little juice. Within the next couple of days, beautiful purple bubbles appeared, indicating that the conversion of grapes to wine was progressing nicely.
Since the color, flavor, and structure of red wines is derived from incorporating the pigmented skins into the clear juice, the wine would need to be “punched down” twice daily for the next couple of weeks. This consists of pushing into the bin a pole with a flat piece of metal to push down the “cap,” or layer of skins that are pushed up to the surface by the carbon dioxide resulting from fermentation. While most wines made around the world rely on an addition of sulphur at this point to contain the growth of any unwanted bacteria, we relied solely on these punchdowns for bacteria control, as the anti-oxidants in the skins starve the bacteria of necessary fuel. Although completing punchdowns is certainly labor-intensive, keeping the wine safe and extracting great qualities from the skins makes it very rewarding as well.
Once all of the sugar had fermented out of the juice, it was time to press the wine away from the skins using another piece of machinery. Much like de-stemming the grapes, pressing the wine is a short process with an incredibly long clean-up time. Hygiene is key when crafting a wine without the addition of sulphur, so no shortcuts can be made. The grapes are loaded into the press and juice immediately begins to fall through mesh holes into the container below. This is known as “free-run juice” and has a softer structure than the “press wine” that comes once the press begins to squeeze the skins. We separated and saved some of the press wine to use for topping up the barrels every couple of weeks for the next year, an important task for keeping potentially harmful oxygen from accumulating in the barrel as small amounts of wine evaporate.
Our two barrels rested in ideal conditions at the winery along the Richmond waterfront without any sulphur or filtration before being bottled this fall. No additions were made throughout the winemaking process and nothing was taken away, either. We are thrilled by the result: a medium body, bright red fruit and acidity, and smoky, meaty aromas and flavors. For us, it is the ultimate expression of Syrah from that vineyard, harvested on a day that we crossed three bridges.
We are thrilled to offer this wine as a set of three bottles for $75, available here.