I did not want to hear what I knew would be bad news. But she delivered the feared message anyway. The lady at the farmers market from whom I'd been buying perfect peaches from for the last month nonchalantly announced that this would be her last market for the season. No more perfect peaches until next year. Sad news indeed.
These peaches were so juicy and sweet that I had to eat them over the sink. I would savor every morsel down to the pit then wash my sticky hands as I contemplated eating another. With each luscious bite of these delicate wonders I thought with pity about all the pastry chefs in the world. It must be hard on them to realize that with all their years of training and talent that nothing they can conjure up can surpass the pleasure of an unadorned perfectly ripe peach. Any addition would actually be a subtraction distracting from the purity and lush layered flavors of my simple peach.
When Mother Nature delivers perfection to you, you should leave it well enough alone. When something is perfect any additions only take away from that perfection. We don't add movements to Beethoven's Fifth, add another chapter to Moby Dick or splash some more paint on a Jackson Pollock. Yet when it comes to food and wine we can't seem to resist. More is not always better.
In 1984 my tastebuds received enlightenment, but it was not from a wine, it was a peach. In that year I had been invited by Neil and Maria Empson to join them on a tour of all the wineries in their Italian portfolio. This experience was a culinary and vinous voyage of discovery. I was immersed in amazing wines, foods and people for the better part of a month in an unparalleled educational opportunity. Yet among all of those incredible taste experiences the one that sticks to me the most is a single perfect peach. We were having one of those idyllic Italian lunches on a gorgeous day in Piemonte with Bepe and Tino Colla. In the Italian way, fruit was served instead of dessert. I don't know if it was the peach or the growing enlightenment of my tasting ability, but this beautiful white Italian peach seemed to just explode on my palate. My mouth still waters just writing about it over thirty years later. Each time I have a peach, my mind goes back to that table. I am always trying to return to that experience of a single unadorned peach.
Now it's September in the the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon and it has been literally a picture perfect growing season. While harvest is coming to an end in California and well underway in the Willamette Valley, we are just getting started in our Siskiyou mountain vineyards and only the first fruit destined for rosé has arrived at the winery. The fruit on the vines looks perfect. What should you do with perfect fruit? Simply as little as possible.
At Troon Vineyard the bins of fruit come in and we tread them by foot - red, white and rosé. Then we let the native yeasts start the natural process of fermentation in well used French Oak barrels. Anything we try to add will only take away as nature is only asking us to be stewards of the wine in its voyage from the vine to the bottle. In winemaking we should always be asking ourselves not what we can do, but only what we absolutely have to do.
As I roll my last perfect peach of the season in my hands it is clear to me that the sublime is to be found only in purity. Simplicity is not the same as simple. With focus and clarity the true complexities of experience can only be relished when the extraneous distractions of the world are either removed, or perhaps, more importantly, never added. For me this is the real definition of "natural winemaking".
Tonight after dinner I will savor one last perfect peach. I can't think of a better preparation for harvest 2016.