A Leap to Napa Valley
Author: Geordie Willis
In an attempt to live up to Charles Walter Berry’s famous 1930s definition of a wine merchant: ‘The closest link between the people who make the wine and the people who drink the wine’, I recently headed to Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, Napa Valley to help out for a week during the harvest. I’d never been to California before and I must admit that in the few days before my departure, the relentless suggestions from colleagues that this was nothing more than a glorified holiday had started to infiltrate into the sub-conscious. However, on arrival it seemed that owner John Williams and General Manager Jonah Beer hadn’t received the memo and I was quickly put to work.
After a week of pump-overs, leaf-extraction, grape-sweeping and crate-hosing, I was feeling both exhausted and euphoric. Despite the mountains of delicious Mexican food I was devouring each lunch I had lost on average one lb every 24 hours and my hands were bruised, cut and swollen. It was a tremendously rewarding 10 days.
What struck me most about my short time at Frog’s Leap was the daily commitment to excellence. From the overall dedication to sustainable farming (I have seen the benefits of dry farming with my own eyes now) to the speed and efficiency assigned to even the most menial task; I have rarely seen a team work harder. The winery’s philosophy is borne out of an awareness of the soils, climate and surroundings; a respect for the people you work with and an undertaking to produce outstanding wines that deeply reflect the area from which they emanate.
When you next open a bottle I urge you to spare a thought for those who made it, from the pickers to the oenologists, the coopers to the great wine families of the world. Wine is an industry that’s all about people and remembering that can only serve to increase your enjoyment.