Swirl n' Spit
David Coffaro Vineyards
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: No one knew exactly when it would happen, but the day was coming. Dave Coffaro could feel it each morning he walked the vineyards, plucking riper and riper grapes hanging heavy on the vines. Not today, he'd think, but maybe, just maybe, tomorrow or the next day.
The crush was coming. But when it would start was a gamble played out by every winemaker for hundreds of miles. Like a game of chicken with Mother Nature, winemakers leave grapes on the vine for as long as possible, letting them soak in sunlight to reach the perfect level of sugar and acid. Late summer can be fickle, however, and an unexpected rainfall or cold snap can demolish a vintage in a day.
On the first Friday of September, Coffaro knew the day had come to start harvesting his Zinfandel grapes. At dawn, a small crew moved into the vineyard with sharp cutters, and within a few hours, they'd harvested nearly a ton of grapes. Over the next few weeks, as the crush continues, crews will harvest the different varietals and different blocks, which all come into ripeness at their own time.
Whether or not Coffaro's timing is spot-on won't be known for months, possibly even longer, as the grapes age in barrels and then bottles. If they're harvested too early, the wine can be tart; too young, too acidic; too late, and the sugars overpower the gentle balance.
Back at the winery, Coffaro moves the grapes through the de-stemmer, crushing bunches into a dark pink juice and letting large steel vats ferment in the open air for up to two weeks. He is optimistic but reserved about whether this year will be merely good or truly great. Like most winemakers, Coffaro knows a trick or two about maximizing the grape's potential by adding or subtracting different elements in the winemaking process. Even when the grapes aren't perfect, he can improve the taste of the wine as it moves through the production process. But ultimately, whether a wine is truly outstanding has much more to do with the growing process and picking the grapes at just the right moment.
So, as the crush continues throughout the valley, Coffaro and hundreds of other winemakers weigh the odds, take their chances and look to the sky for signs of clouds and rain--and maybe a sign or two that the moment is right for harvest.
Spot: Coffaro specializes in unique red blends and Zinfandels. A longtime Dry Creek Valley resident, he's known as something of a character, keeping an online diary of his daily winemaking activities. You can read it at www.coffaro.com/diary.html. The winery itself is open by appointment only, but well worth the trip to chat with Coffaro and his young winemaker, Brendan. Call 707.433.9715 to arrange a visit. Coffaro wines can also be found at Plaza Farms in Healdsburg.
From the September 21-27, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.
© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.