This month I had the opportunity to work behind-the-scenes for a few days with Javier Alfonso, owner, winemaker and chief janitor (his words) of Pomum Cellars in Washington state.
I helped check on the grapes, met with the farmers, brought grapes back to the winery for processing, hand sorted, crushed, did a lot of rinsing and cleaning of bins and supplies (I had no idea how much cleaning was involved!), added yeast, punched down, rinsed and cleaned some more, checked brix, pressed and, oh yes, tasted some delicious wine in a matter of a few days.
My head is still spinning from all I learned, and I would bet Javier is still recuperating from all of the questions I asked him.
Here’s how it went:
A friend had suggested I contact Pomum Cellars, knowing that they rely solely on volunteer labor during crush. I sent an email and hoped for the best. A few Tuesdays ago I got word that they would welcome me as a crush volunteer, provided I could get to the winery pronto, and provided I was really ready to work and get messy.
I ordered a pair of rubber boots from Zappos, packed up my cooler weather clothes and was on a flight out of Houston Thursday morning. I was ready to get messy alright, provided I could still take photos!
Once the plane landed, I learned that Javier had already left for the Yakima Valley. He emailed directions for my 3 and a half hour drive over the mountains, and I embarked on the second part of my journey, almost giggling the entire way and feeling like I was on a treasure hunt following breadcrumbs… or grape leaves.
I was amazed by the gorgeous mountains I saw through my drive and tried to snap a few photos while keeping the car on the road.
Once I arrived in Zillah, I checked in to my hotel and was invited to join Javier and the others for dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I had no idea whom I would be meeting, other than Javier. I texted a description of myself and hoped for the best.
As I walked across the parking lot, thinking to myself how crazy this whole experience was, and how risky it was for a woman to travel all this way solo and not really know whom she was even meeting, I heard my name, looked up and was greeted by a friendly face. It was Javier.
He introduced me to Cathy (his mom) and Roberto (his brother), and did so with great gusto in rolling the R in Roberto’s name. I, in turn, tried my best to roll that R right back, and it was then that I realized this family had some knowledge of Spanish. Right away I learned about his family’s Spanish heritage and hoped they didn’t laugh inwardly at my awful attempt at the R rolling.
Cathy grew up in the Yakima Valley, met her husband, who was from Spain, there and moved with him back to Spain, where they started their own family. Javier was born in the Yakima Valley, but lived most of his life in Spain where generations of his family grew grapes for wine.
He returned to the United States in college, met his wife Shylah, and pursued a career in engineering, dabbling in winemaking here and there. His hobby grew and grew and soon he was making more wine than he and Shylah could drink themselves or give to friends, so he decided to become licensed and launch his winery officially.
Winemaking is definitely a family affair at Pomum Cellars. Roberto and Cathy, who live in Spain, fly in each year for three weeks to visit and help with crush. Javier’s sister, Ana, also gets into the act by managing the tasting room in Woodinville, Washington.
Pomum, which is Latin for fruit, makes about 3,000 cases of wine each year, retailing for about $16-38. Javier also has another label for a few other wines, as well.
Javier is quite particular about every aspect of his wines, and I could not have hoped for a better teacher for my experience. He answered question after question with enthusiasm and let me try out every aspect of the winemaking that happened while I was there.
I look forward to sharing what I learned with you in the next few posts.
Tomorrow, I’ll share about our visits to the six vineyards where his grapes are grown.