Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Seducing truckers: the secret to winemaking success

When I was a young genius I was irritated by teachers who wanted me to cure cancer or fly to Mars, so whenever I was asked, "What do you want to be?" I would answer, "a truck driver."

Millions of dead brain cells later, I have been unable to realize this childhood dream. And now winemaker Amy Aiken of Meander and Conspire Wines arrives to tell me that I could have been the center of love and attention every harvest season in Northern California.

Aiken is just one of more than 450 winemakers in Napa Valley who all want their grapes harvested and delivered in the early morning. Big companies like Constellation and Kendall-Jackson might have their own trucks, but all those little guys whose wines you love are competing to get on the crowded schedule of a limited number of trucks.

This is a real-life winemaking situation I simply never thought about. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to somebody making Syrah from Mendocino County and Chardonnay from Carneros and a little Grenache from Lodi, all due about the same time, but never considered the logistics.

"I have four truckers on my speed dial," Aiken says. "Sometimes you get a call from someone who has a good Pinot Noir in Russian River (Valley). The grower can't take the last two tons. He'll say, 'you'll have to show up tomorrow'."

And it's not good enough to just get on the schedule, not if the workers are harvesting on a hot day, which they usually are, given California's fall weather.

"You really want to be the first pick in the morning," Aiken says. "You want to be first on the truck so you can be in the tank by the end of the day. Everything stays cold."

Aiken is a get-it-done type with a master's degree in plant pathology -- plant diseases. She moved from her native Milwaukee to California to work in the seed industry, but at UC Davis she fell in love with Joel Aiken, the winemaker at BV for more than 25 years. When he moved to Napa, she went with him.

They weren't married, and she wanted a job, so she interviewed with Craig Williams at Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

"He asked all these tough questions. The interview went on forever," she said. "I finally said, 'I need a job. I'm here with my boyfriend.' He said, 'Who's your boyfriend?' I said, 'Joel Aiken.' He said, 'Of course you're hired.' I was madder than a cat. I had worked hard to get a master's degree in a male-dominated field and I got the job because of who my boyfriend was."

But Amy has never worked with Joel; they taste together, but she visibly bristles at the suggestion that he might tell her how to make her wine. They're married with two kids now, but she's defiantly her own woman, with her own labels, Meander and Conspire.

So how does she seduce those truckers? "There's a bottle of wine in it for them at the end of the day," she says. If I ever do get that commercial vehicle license, I'm going to hold out for the Cabernet.

Conspire Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($28): Mild grapefruit flavor with a spreading mouthfeel from the sur lie treatment. It's pretty straightforward, but that one note is a nice one. 90

Meander Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($65): Dark cherry fruit with good acidity and some slate minerality on the finish. Very smooth tannins but they're present; the wine's not flabby at all. Nice aromatic notes of blackberry, coffee and dried sage. 91

You can order them here, unless you're a trucker, in which case you should just pick up some grapes for her.

1 comment:

Trucking Jobs said...

this really sounds interesting.. great topic to discuss with.
keep postin