Coming soon, to a sky near you…

Beware the big black undulating cloud in the air. It undulates, it moves from east to west, north to south, and west to east in almost a blink of the eye. No, it’s not Armageddon; it’s just Birdie Ballet, and those grapes the starlings have been eating have started to ferment on the vine.

I know it’s not close to the end of harvest yet, but this wine grape harvest phenomena is worth bringing up now, as a reminder.

My really great friend Ronda Boyd came up with this name. I’d like to take credit; but… alas… I can’t. Credit goes to RB. We experienced this during my first year in the wine business at Belvedere Winery, and she coined it at that time. It’s not something one easily forgets.

The first time I ever saw this manifestation I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It was while I was driving on Highway 101, and the birds were hitting Chateau De Baun’s vineyards. (Today this tasting room belongs to K-J. Back in 1993, it belonged to Mr. De Baun.)

I remember first spying this black cloud, and I mean a really black cloud, undulating in the air and moving with the swiftness of a Superman flight, as I was headed home from Santa Rosa. I wanted to pull the car over, but knew better than to do it on Highway 101. What I first saw was a huge black mass in the sky… a moving form, flowing in wave-like patterns that reminded me of Silly Puddy come to life and then gone mad.

It had the effect of elastic that was sometimes thick and sometimes thinned out, like a sky monster that was rising and falling at the whim of some unknown leader bird, if that’s possible. It was billowing and heaving, rolling into a gray mass, then contracting into a black goop. It was something right out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

It’s worth nothing that “The Birds” was filmed just 25 miles west of here, in the coastal town of Bodega Bay. It can’t be by coincidence. I have to believe that Hitchcock was inspired by being up here during Birdie Ballet season.

So, now that you’ve got that background, imagine my amazement when I just spied Birdie Ballet on a label. What an amazing thing. I couldn’t help but Email the proprietor of this brand, Andrew Jones. His brand is called Field Recordings. (Isn’t it lovely for me, too, that Andrew makes an artisan Petite Sirah?)

You know… PS is a winemaker’s wine.

  • If it weren’t, then why – with only 9,000 or so acres in California – are there now 800+ wine brands with PS being the lead variety?
  • That’s a tenth of the wine labels in the US, with the new number being over 7,000 for all wine brands. Pretty darn good, considering it’s not thought of a major player.
  • And, why do about 90 percent of these guys only produce less than 1,000 cases a year, selling most of it out of their tasting rooms or over the Internet? Because these guys don’t even care about sending their PSes out to wine writers and critics. It doesn’t matter to them. They’re going to sell it, regardless of what anyone thinks.

Andrew told me that he likes the nickname Birdie Ballet… So do I.

His labels are flocks of starlings… Just what first turned me onto this spectacle.

He wrote:

My day job is representing a grapevine nursery. All the wines we make are grown by people I work with in developing vineyards. We picked the starling flocks to really explain our name and concept. From a distance (15 feet away) they look like sound waves or close-ups of abstract elements.. but as you look closer this thing (which you can’t really tell what it is) it isn’t ONE thing… but many. Much like a vineyard, with individual vines and microclimates. From the many singular elements comes one voice, the vineyard site. Each bottle of Field Recordings represents that: the flock, the abstraction, thousands of vines, teams of people and it all leads to one bottle. This one recording.

I wrote back to him:

I love your stories included in this Email. You’ve captured the heart and soul of Birdie Ballet… It’s a rare phenomenon, most especially when not living and working in a vineyard to see and experience it. I hear the birds chirping and getting ready to dive, but am never right there to capture it these days… Mostly chained to my computer, unless I force myself to get out.

I always marvel at the black mass in the sky. Mostly I’ve been on 101 when I’ve seen them, which means I can’t just pull over and photograph them. I need to stalk them next year, or have someone close by to tell me when they’ve arrived.

Watch the skies, People, and I suggest you don’t drive under this phenomenon, if you can avoid it…

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