Napa Valley Gets a Dose of Orgasm

by Roy Piper  Oct 7, 2013

“What happens in the nest eventually makes its way out of the nest.” This is one maxim I have found unalterable and true since learning to OM. As a winemaker in Napa, I have found the tenets of OM have increasingly influenced my view on grape growing and wine making, as a profession.IMG_6074

Grape growing is, first and foremost, farming. Once the grapes have changed color from green to purple-blue in the late summer, the big decision is choosing when to harvest. There is usually a one month window to pick the grapes of various varietals (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in September, Cabernet and Merlot in October), but determining when inside that window to pick has enormous ifluence on the quality and style of the wine produced. Too early and the flavors might be herbaceous and green; too late and they will be pruney and over-ripe. There is no exact science to it—but that doesn’t mean winemakers don’t apply science. Bags of grapes are taken to labs for testing in the weeks leading up to harvest to determine ripeness levels in an attempt to determine the “perfect” time to pick. There is a lot of number crunching in winemaking.

Since learning OM before the 2012 harvest, I have progressively moved away from such an approach and increasingly use only my own instinct to make the picking decisions, based on sensation alone. What is the vine trying to tell me? Are the leaves starting to turn yellow? Are the seeds inside the grapes turning brown? Are the skins of the grapes softening? What is the weather like in the coming week? How do the grapes taste? I consider all these factors when deciding the pick, and there is no actual formula I use. More and more, I just look to see how I feel in my body about it and then make a decision based on my sense of turn-on and before I sense the flavors have peaked. Relying on “turn on over technique” and “anticipating peaks” are two OM tenets that have replaced my traditional emphasis on data.

Once grapes arrive in the winery, the goal is to successfully ferment the grape juice into wine. Although most wine making methods are roughly similar, there are many interventions into the fermentation process that can alter the style of the finished wine. Most winemakers prefer not to discuss these techniques because they interfere with the public’s fantasy about wine making being a purely romantic endeavor. The fact is, high-end wines are as much “sculpted” as “made.”

This year, I’ve decided not to use any technique that would cause the wine to come out a certain way or fill a personal preference. I have reduced the amount of new oak barrels I use on my wine so that the natural fruit flavors are enhanced. I wish to reduce the impact of other decisions that would mask what the grapes are trying to naturally express. I have preferences in wine I drink, but I want the wine I make to express itself, not live up to my ideals. I can feel how OM being a “goalless practice” is making its way into my wine making. If the juice is powerful and concentrated or elegant and delicate, I will get “into approval” with that and let the wine be as it wishes to be, and “stroke the wine in the direction it is going.”

I started my career all over in wine in 2005 at age 38 with no experience, turning my back on the world of finance. The idea of working closer to nature and being involved with making something I could never fully master or control was very appealing. It mattered more to me than making money or crunching numbers. I wanted to trade-in “control” for the unknown and variable natural world. I wanted to ride the edge of surrender, something the farming industry will eventually force you to accept—or break you.

Just as OM makes me a conduit for orgasm and the involuntary, I increasingly wish to be a conduit for the involuntary expression of nature through wine. Plant life, soil, sunlight and rain combine to produce an elixir that has brought people together for over four thousand years, and I have fallen in love with it all. To help this natural expression, I will need to increasingly jettison my notions, my controls and investment in outcome, and instead let nature take its course. I am only a conscious conduit. For me, this is what being “well used” feels like.