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Paradise Lost, and Found, at Super Store

December 2008
by Morgan & Moore

  • Even the latest technology couldn't help the panicked California growers and winemakers who skipped town for Labor Day weekend only to return to a "Brix nightmare."
  • Author Daniel Moore dreamed up the ultimate solution for those who need help fast during the high-tension crush--a Wal-Mart designed for winemakers.
  • The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium on Jan. 27-30 is as close to Moore's dream as it gets.
When late August temperatures in both Napa and Sonoma counties hovered around 100°F for two weeks, all the technology in the world couldn't help certain panicked growers and winemakers who skipped town for Labor Day weekend only to return to a "Brix nightmare." What were they thinking? Last we heard, grapes don't go on vacation. They just keep ripening.

As a result, some very renowned vintners found themselves asleep at the Labor Day wheel and shifted into scuffle mode with mixed results. (We found ourselves scuffling a bit, too; our custom crush facility closed for the weekend.) Fortunately, West Coast weather cooled down and made the end of harvest less crazed than the beginning. Still, after the Brix nightmare, we can't help dreaming about the "perfect" harvest. In fact that's what Daniel did, literally, during one particularly vivid catnap in between the long hours and high tension of the early harvest heatwave.

Daniel says: "Everything seemed normal at first as I drove my pickup through the Russian River Valley. But suddenly I realized I could find my entire harvest product and technology needs at Wal-Mart. Just knowing I could drive five miles in almost any direction for a one-stop winemaker's shopping paradise afforded me endless and joyful possibilities. To begin with, there is nothing like enjoying a quick Krispy Kreme doughnut followed by an espresso at one of the ubiquitous Starbucks that are part and parcel of the big-box store experience. My mouth--even in its dreamlike state--was watering at the thought.

"But first there was the business of winemaking. I entered the store and was bathed in the feng shui of fluorescent-lit aisles. Wheeling my cart past the latest and greatest in the wine additives, I headed straight to the de-alc counter and was told to take a number. At the yellow number dispenser, I pulled 97 only to realize that No. 17 had just been called. Dismayed by the wait, I rolled my cart to the purified water section and decided on some nifty water additions instead! Farther along the aisle, I found an end cap display of dry ice! (Did I mention that this was paradise?) Unfortunately, the 600-pound ice tubs had no casters, but the store was having a 2-for-1 special. What a drag. How was I supposed to load them in my truck? Still, I grabbed the discount coupon and made a mental note to return when I'd finished my rounds.

"All this shopping had made me hungry, and the smell of French fries led me to an In-N-Out burger stand near the store entrance. I went for the 'double double animal style.' (If you're not from California, relax--'animal style' is just the name of the burger.) Munching contentedly on my burger, I noticed two greeters at the entrance who eerily reminded me of Ernest and Julio Gallo. It was a vision that inspired me to continue my quest for the latest and greatest technology.

"I felt myself dreamily drawn to the grape-sorting systems on display in all of their shining and vibrating glory. And there it was--under a banner that read 'Perfect for Lazy Grower Syndrome'--the most extraordinary sorting table blower system I had ever seen. Throwing caution to the wind, I made the purchase. After all, why should I expect some grower who charges from $6,000 per ton to cull excess leaf material in the vineyard?

"In the next aisle, the in-house wine lab was bustling as they demonstrated their latest product advancement: stuck fermentation fairies! They came 11 fairies to a pouch, and each pouch had enough fairy yeast to restart 600 gallons of wine--with no need for sugar water or doubling volume.

"Feeling somewhat spent from my capital outlays, I redeemed my dry ice coupon and hit the road. The cash register spit out my receipt, and I noticed on the back, in big, bold letters, 'You have just earned 89 points, thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart!' Pushing my heavy cart a lonely half-mile back to my truck, I had a haunting thought. Could I have earned 94 points by shopping at Target? I woke up in a cold sweat."

It's apparent to the other half of M Squared wine consultants that Daniel needs some serious post-harvest R & R. Maybe he does have some deep-seated psychological issues revolving around hamburgers and dry ice. It's not clear that Freud would have much to say about sorting tables, since he probably never saw one. But the great psychiatrist did have a few things to say about fairies. That's for your own research, however.

What's clear is that Daniel needs help--he may even be suffering from post-traumatic harvest stress disorder. So we're hoping to find a specialized winemaker psychotherapist in the neighborhood to help him through this difficult period. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. With the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium coming up Jan. 27-30, Daniel may actually be able to relive his dream for real. (Do vendors take credit cards at Unified?) What could be more satisfying than trolling the exhibit hall for the latest and greatest in winemaking technology accompanied by some of the worst catered lunches imaginable? (The only thing worse is what's served at the sandwich bar near the bathrooms. Where's that In-N-Out Burger when you need it?)

Well, Unified's no paradise of course, but the techie stuff is fabulous, and we love seeing all of our friends who attend as well. Daniel is still hoping to meet a few stuck fermentation fairies there this year! Is there a psychiatrist in the house?

Jeff Morgan of Napa Valley and Daniel Moore of Sonoma County are par tners in M Squared Wine Consultants,, and jointly own and operate SoloRosa and ZMOR wineries. Morgan also makes two kosher Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines: Covenant and RED C. To comment on this column, e-mail
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