Veni, Vidi, Vici: I came, I saw, I conquered. Well maybe not exactly CONQUERED. Perhaps a better phrase would be Veni, vidi, vixi — I came, I saw, I lived. (As we head into our third year of the COVID pandemic, that’s saying something!) For three years now, since January of 2019, I have been coming out to the vineyards of Ventura County to do hands-on learning about how wine grapes are grown and made into wine: viti (viticulture) and vini (vinification). Here’s the year 2021 in review, plus a few other highlights of 2021– Veni Vidi Vixi Viti Vini! I came, I saw, I lived, I grew grapes, I made wine!
In December, following the vigors of producing a harvest, the vines recharge, then go to sleep, and rest. During this dormancy, we begin to prune. In the cellar, the 2021 wines are resting too — and some of the 2020s, and even older wines waiting their turn for bottling. In this year of disrupted supply chains, the materials and equipment for bottling hasn’t always been available: in particular, glass has been in short supply.
But there’s still lots to do while the vines and wines rest as I’ve learned in my three years as a “cellar rat” at Clos Des Amis. In January 2019, I started going out to the winery on South Mountain between Santa Paula and Fillmore in Ventura County as well as various vineyards in Ventura County to learn the fine arts of pruning, picking, pressing, fining, filtering, blending, bottling, and more.
Here’s the year in review based on what I experienced at Clos Des Amis and as a wine writer:
- December: Fining, Filtering, and Farmer’s Marketing
During December, three goals were realized: to fine and filter the chardonnay, to remove and wind up for next year the netting off the vines, and to sell wines at the Santa Paula Farmers Market which features ONLY produce from around Santa Paula. They are so strict that Clos Des Amis can’t even pour and sell their Chambang! which is grown just a few miles west.
With most major events like wine festivals cancelled due to COVID, it’s hard for consumers to discover a small winery like Clos Des Amis. Many smaller wineries don’t have the overhead for an expensive store front tasting room, and in fact, during COVID some of these closed like Labrynth’s tasting room in downtown Ventura. That’s why it’s so great that they can share their wine at the new Santa Paula Farmer’s Market held on Friday nights.
A second goal at the winery in December was to fine and filter the 2020 Chardonnay so that it could get bottled and released.
Since Clos Des Amis is such a small facility, much of the work is done on the minute crush pad which is basically outdoors ruling out a lot of activities during rain– which we’ve had an abundance of in December 2021.
In fact we’ve had more year this December than we had last year– 200% more this December than on average! But with clear skies, it happened, and I got a chance to see the process for myself, and learn about it. More on this in another post.
Dealing with bird netting is major the bane of the vineyard. Getting it on the trellised vines to protect the ripe grapes from the birds and then getting it off again in such away that it can be used again is literally a pain and I’ve done my best to avoid this task.
Clos des Amis winemaker Bruce Freeman is one of the most inventive people I know. Why work hard when you can work smart? So he invited a device that winds the netting around a spool. With one person “driving” the device, one person monitoring it as it winds on, and two people releasing the netting from the vines, this onerous task went rapidly. I would LOVE to show you the prototype but then I’d have to kill you! Just kidding, but although I have photographs of the device being developed, I swore myself to secrecy and those photos won’t see the light of day until Bruce is ready — and by that, I hope he gets this patented and can make some money off of it!
So what happened the rest of the year?
Click on the links for the full story, or just catch a snapshot from the synopsis.
- November 2021: Artistry and the Clos des Amis Field Blend Bottling: Ventura County Vineyards November 2021
In November, we bottled the 2020 Field Blend, and I reflected on that vintage and harvest. When we picked many of the grapes in the blend, we were joined in the vineyard by Musikaravan! I also helped pour at the first Focus on the Master event held during the COVID pandemic.
For October, I focused on picking the baby albarino with Gretel. This is her “baby” — she wanted to make albarino, so she purchased the vines, planted them, and has cared for them. The deer care for them too but we were able to get enough for a first vintage. When there’s a really small crop, one way to get the juice released from the grapes is to use a small basket press that you have to crank down manually. Typically, a larger press works pneumatically with electric power — or at Clos Des Amis solar power–where a bladder in the middle that fills with air and presses the juice out of the grapes.
In September during harvest, I was thinking a lot about how vineyards grow grapes where once the Native Americans like the local Chumash hunted and harvested. Learn more about the Chumash in this post.
Many years work culminate in harvest– from planting the baby vines, to caring for them, then picking the grapes, pressing the juice, and getting it into the right sized tank. There’s lots of chardonnay this year and it’s tasting great!
Before you can bottle, you need to blend. One of the goals is to make the best blend possible and use the wine in the best way. It’s fun to compare the components alone and together in different proportions. In larger wineries, blending isn’t just between different grapes but also different vineyard blocks and barrels.
June was a quickie since I was just getting going with visiting wineries for the Slow Wine Guide. Clos Des Amis is just a little too small, and I focused also on wineries that are certified organic and biodynamic visiting almost 30 wineries in two states, five regions, and multiple AVAS.
We tasted a lot of different Chardonnays, including one from Clos Des Amis, and compared them for 2021 Chardonnay Day. In the vineyard, we did a lot of leaf pulling and de-suckering to allow plenty of airflow to combat powdery mildew. You would not believe how many times each grape vine gets hands-on care!
All hands on deck for bottling day! We bottled the 2020 rose and the 24 or so cases sold out almost immediately.
I’d long heard that Pinot Noir goes with paella– and I put this theory to the test!
- February 2021: Works of Art: Open That Bottle Night
In February, Gretel and Bruce were featured by their distributor VeroVino in a Vero talk. I used my notes from that to write this article– and for “Open That Bottle Night” — where you open a bottle you;’ve been “saving” for the right occasion, perhaps for too long– I decided to open the bottle that my husband wanted, and that I wanted to open, one from Clos Des Amis!
Mostly in January we were pruning which I felt I’d already covered. But we were all excited about the upcoming Vero talk, and I wanted to get the word out about it, so that’s what I featured.
Here’s a snapshot of 2020 in Ventura County vineyards:
- December 2020: Clos des Amis Wine Club
- November 2020: Local Love –wines and vines
- October 2020: Harvest 2020
- September 2020: Music in the Malbec–Harvest 2020
- July 2020: Birds and the Bees and the Zinfandel Trees
- July 2020: Verasion: Heading toward Harvest
- June 2020: ZOOM BOOM
- MAY 2020:BLAME IT ON…
- APRIL 2020: PASSION
- March 2020: Bud Break, Spring Break, Jailbreak, Chavez Break: Ventura County Vineyards Report March 2020
- February 2020: Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My: New Wood and Old Cars in Ventura County Vineyards
- January 2020: Deadwood
Here are the articles I wrote in 2019, my first year at Clos Des Amis:
- December: 2019 Going Out with a Chambang!
- November 2019: Dormancy and Syrah
- October 2019: Final Harvest and #MerlotMe
- September 2019 in Ventura County Vineyards: Focus on Grenache
- August 2019: Fogust Harvest — Chardonnay for CHAMBANG!
- July 2019: No Sky July and Verasion
- June 2019: June Gloom and Etiolation
- Ventura County Vineyards: May Gray
- April 2019: Leaf Pulling
- March 2019: Gretel Meys Compton, Clos des Amis co-owner, co-winemaker
- February in Ventura County Vineyards
- January 2019: Pruning
And that’s a wrap for 2021!
In addition to 12 articles about Ventura County viticulture and vinification which I published at the end of each month, I wrote monthly on these topics:
- Spanish Wine–on the fourth Saturday of each month in 2021 about a topic for the World Wine Travel groups exploration of various regions in Spain; read the summary here with notes and pairings for five garnacha)
- French Wine–on the third Saturday of 2021 I published about French wine topics; in December, we wrote about two biodynamic cremant
- Wine and Food Pairing–on the second Saturday of 2021, I participated in the themes generated by the Wine Pairing Weekend crew of wine writers (in December the theme was Greek wines.
- Italian Wine–and on the first Saturday of each month in 2021, I shared about an Italian wine topic; see December’s article on Barolo here.
That’s nearly half –60 articles– of the 126 posts I wrote in 2021 averaging 1500 words in each article to bring me to a total of over 190,000 words about wine for Wine Predator!
In addition, I wrote another 10,000 words for the VeroVino blog on these topics:
- Super Natural Wines: the Super Heroes of Sustainability
- Farming for the Future is a Win-Win for All:
Do you want to drink the best possible wine for your palate and for our planet?
- Don’t Say No to Lambrusco – The Fizzy Red Wine
- An American Wine with Italian Roots: The Italian word dolcetto means “little sweet one.” But don’t expect the Ojai Pacific View Dolcetto wine in your glass to be sweet! Instead, dolcetto might reference the Piedmontese hills in northwest Italy where the grape originated.
- Explore the Land of Portugal and Its Wines When the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula millennia ago, they named the area we now know as Portugal “Lusitania,” after Lusus, the son of Bacchus, the god of wine. In addition to providing an appropriate name, the Romans spread winemaking from southern Portugal north, and they added significant infrastructures including extensive aqueducts which are still around today with excellent views of a massive one in the central Portuguese city of Evora in Alentejo.
- Step into Port: You’d think that in today’s world of technology and mechanization there’s no need for wineries to employ people to pick grapes and then stomp them to release the juice from the skins and seeds like they do at Quinta de Valbom. But in the steep sided river valleys in Portugal’s northern Douro region, where electricity was uncommon in the remote wineries until the 1980s, the grapes that go into the finest wines and ports are picked by hand and trodden by foot, making the wines both handmade and foot-made even today at the best wineries including Quinta de Valbom.
- The Rich History & Biodiversity of Alentejo, Portugal: With more than a dozen charming medieval castles dancing on hilltops, the Alentejo (ALEN-TAY-SHOO) region of Portugal is imbued with sustaining magic. Located just 90 minutes southeast of Lisbon in the central and southern part of the country, the Alentejo landscape offers wide open spaces, oak covered rolling hills, historic towns, unspoiled villages, and thousands of acres of olive tree orchards and vineyards. Alentejo produces refreshing, aromatic white wines and lively red wines. Portugal has the highest density of native grapes per square mile of any country in the world, and Alentejo alone has more than 250 indigenous grapes.
- Stepping Back and Looking Forward: Exclusive Interview with Top Winemakers in Portugal
After visiting nearly 30 wineries and taking copious notes (most of them with Sue and with her note taking assistance), I also wrote 15 entries for the 2022 edition of Slow Wine Guide. Some of those wineries have already made it onto Wine Predator with more to come! The Slow Wine Guide wineries we’ve published include these two biodynamic wineries from Paso Robles:
And in 2021 I published one article for Ventana about staying at Waypoint, a vintage trailer park, with the local food and wine we enjoyed while there, and one article about Lodi’s old vine zin at Lucas Winery that was published on Jancis Robinson.
So that’s well over 200,000 words on wine for 2021! And now it’s time to DRINK SOME WINE!
Happy New Year! Coming up, two posts featuring Sue’s memorable meals from 2021, and my Top 21 posts! Plus what’s happening in 2022 including travel with Wine Predator.
What are YOUR New Year’s Resolutions? Let’s make 2022 the year of adventure!
Veni, Vidi, Vixi — I came, I saw, I lived!
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