The Scholium Project is the brainchild of Abe Schoener, a former professor from St. John's College and someone I am lucky enough to call a friend. I have always wanted to participate in a wine grape harvest and began pestering him over the last few years for the chance to help out. Having grown up in California near enough to Napa for school field trips there from a young age, it was in my blood. In retrospect deciding to participate in the harvest, is most closely aligned with waiting for the birth of a baby. Abe and I exchanged many e-mails and calls. The conversations were filled with guesses about the weather and when it might be right to harvest. As luck would have it I was attending a birthday party for another friend in Marin County in early October, and the grapes cooperated. I woke up the morning after a wonderful celebration and I hit the road to Scholium’s home base on the river in Napa. A small group of us gathered early that foggy morning. Most of us were meeting for the first time over coffee while gathering the supplies needed, bins, clippers and gloves.
A caravan collects and we’re headed out to the groves to began the harvest. Abe works with many growers and different grape varieties for the brands vintages. This is part of what makes his wine unique and so special. He processes the wine in his own winery, but the grapes come from various spots throughout the valley. I realize while we are in the vineyard picking that Napa is good for the soul, there is something about the place that is peaceful and chaotic at the same time. It’s almost like the ground knows the value of the crop it supports both economically and emotionally. We pick hundreds of pounds of grapes and head to the winery to set-up for the processing. We load the haul into a contraption that primarily operates as a boa constrictor to the grapes. Abe makes the most amazing “orange” wine which I have come to learn is white grapes put through a skin-on fermentation and this is the process we were working with. Wine making is a science with a bit of magic thrown in. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. There were test tubes and thermometers and conversations that bordered on sounding like the biology classes I remember from long ago, but even with all that there’s the sun and the air and the variables that all need to come together over weeks and years to birth a beautiful vintage.
The moment has come and I GET TO STOMP GRAPES. Not in a barrel like on I Love Lucy but still! I recommend that this is added to your bucket list. It’s freeing and fun and productive all at once, and you’re part of something that won’t really come to life for a year at least. I love the cooperative work style that is a part of the culture Abe had created, everyone including him is learning all the time. After we finished the days pressing we check the development of the rest of the seasons work. There was more stomping and a lot of conversation contemplating the progress each barrel had made and what it might mean to each vintage’s future life. We then hit the road to go look at the ripening progress of some other more precious varieties with the idea that the upcoming pressings could be scheduled…or not depending on the verdict.
It was a perfect sunny day in Napa, I learned so much more than I expected to, and I felt the magic. Abe pens the most amazing newsletters which are worth signing up for, the wine is supremely good and it’s worth a visit to their digital world for the knowledge to be gained alone. There are forward thinking retailers and restaurants that stock the wines, however I think it’s more fun to digest the information on the site and ask the winemaker directly if you have questions. I’ve got two cases waiting for me at home in LA and I can’t wait to find excuses for dinner parties just to be able to partake of the wines with my friends. Especially the 2011 Prince aka “orange wine."