Monthly Archive for December, 2011

Last Days of Pressing

You can’t say that the harvest is over until the final pressing. What is being pressed today are small lots of wine, mostly in 1 ton bin fermenters, wine held on its skins for an extended period of time – over 2 months since picking. Small lots of Lagrein, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, all selected, by Winemaker Bruce McGuire, first, because they are the pick of the crop and second, they have shown in the past to benefit immensely in complexity and depth from this contact.

These wines were picked in October, they were fermented dry, but then instead of pressing were kept with their skins. Every day the cap was pushed down to increase wine and skin contact. I tasted the Lagrein straight out of the press and I was amazed at its balance. It did not have the normal bitterness that red wines have at pressing. This, according to Bruce, is the secret of extended maceration moving the bitterness to the back of the palate. It takes patience and patience is the key to wine making.

The photos show the activity at our crush/press pad including one from the Tasting Room, a much more comfortable observation post on a very cold morning.
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Finally the front of the Winery looks normal again

Two months ago, in the middle of harvest, someone pressed the accelerator instead of the brakes in front of the winery. The SUV took out two large columns, the front door, a side bench and a window. This happened at closing time – no one was hurt – unless you count the embarrassment caused to the driver. The driver was a young smart woman picking up her child, she had not been inside the winery.

The front doors were hand fabricated and the columns were from a mill in Montana that specializes in large wooden columns, in this case 12″ in diameter and with a special hand finished look. Gary Adkins, who has done all our cabinet work, was able to trace down the mill, build new doors and yesterday he and David installed the doors and the columns.

I wanted to take pictures and show the before and after but, unfortunately, they did such a good job I took pictures of the wrong columns, also embarrassing.

The picture I am showing is an older image but you get the idea. Click the image to enlarge.

Primitivo

New in the tasting room this month–and my current favorite on the tasting list–is the 2009 Primitivo. The name Primitivo is Italian for Zinfandel, an ancient grape that originates in Croatia under the name Crljenak Kastelanski. In Italy, Primitivo is the pride of Puglia (the “boot heel” region of southern Italy) where it was brought from Croatia in the mid 1700’s.

A priest there gave the variety the Latin name Primativus when he noticed it was the first in his vineyard to ripen. For several hundred years Primitivo was used primarily as a blending grape providing body, color and flavor to red table wines of the Puglia region. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 1900’s that it truly made a name for itself as a varietal wine.

In fact, finding a bottle of Primitivo on an enoteca shelf anywhere north of Rome prior to the 1980’s was a rarity indeed. Today Primitivo is exceptionally popular and can be found in wine shops and fine restaurants around the globe.

Exactly how our Zinfandel got its name remains unknown. The grape was first imported to the US in 1829 through Long Island from the imperial nursery of Austria in Vienna without any record of its name. By 1830 New England growers were already referring it as Zenfendel and Zinfindal.

In 1852 the grape was shipped to California at the request of former gold rushers who had become farmers. By 1859 Zinfandel was a predominant vine of both the Napa and Sonoma growing regions. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s when California growers started importing Primitivo vines from Italy, thinking they had something new to experiment with, that geneticists at UC Davis noticed the two were identical.

Primitivo is typically high in alcohol, full-bodied and fruit forward with deep red hues and rich, full flavors. Our 2009 vintage is precisely that, which makes it the perfect wine to accompany many holiday dishes, especially rich, fatty poultry slathered in gravy and cranberry sauce.

This wine also pairs beautifully with gourmet Mexican dishes such as chicken in spicy chocolate Mole Poblano (pictured), a combination I recently devoured with much gusto at Dos Carlitos Restaurant in the heart of downtown Santa Ynez. The staff was friendly and professional, the ambience majestic, the food delicious, and the Primitivo first-class.
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Carlos Mascherin, Santa Barbara Winery

Bâtonnage

This week in the cellar we paid each barrel of Chardonnay a visit to stir its lees. This practice is known widely in the wine industry by its French name, bâtonnage. Lees are the sediments which gather at the bottom of a barrel or a tank containing fermenting juice or aging wine.

They are composed of various grape fragments, inactive yeasts and compounds that have crystalized, become heavy and sunk to the bottom of the barrel. A bowed wand with a paddle-like end is used to manually stir the lees in barrels and puncheons. Stirring the lees helps wine develop structure and complexity as well as voluptuous flavors and rich aromas.

In addition, stirring up the lees aids in reducing tart acidity and helps prevent offensive odors from developing. It is most commonly performed on white wines that ferment in barrel, though a winemaker may choose to stir the lees of wines made in stainless steel tanks as well if he finds them too tart or fleeting in flavor.
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Carlos Mascherin, Santa Barbara Winery

Barrels

This year we will be using all available space in the winery filling it with barrels stacked four high. Many lots are still going through malolactic fermentation.

When they are done with malolactic fermentation the wine is allowed to settle and remain ‘sur lie’ (on its sediment) until bottling. Barrels have to be topped every 10 t0 12 days and the wine monitored.

Topping barrels requires a great deal of agility, scrambling up and down the narrow rows might challenge even Spiderman.
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Punching Down

Not all our wines have been pressed. Several tanks are undergoing 7 to 8 weeks of Extended Maceration – when fermented wine is kept on its skins for an extended period of time until, as described by Bruce, ‘the bitterness moves from the front of the palate to the back’. These wines still have to be punched down every day, as well as, covered with an inert gas to prevent damage from oxygen contact. This is Bruce’s assistant Dan punching down.
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The Vineyard in Winter

The leaves are gone. The vineyard is definitely in its winter mode, the temperatures are dropping to the mid-thirty’s at night, there is frost on the ground. This is when the vineyard rejuvenates itself. The image is of one of our Pinot Noir blocks.
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Malolactic Fermentation

This week in the cellar we’ve been checking barrels and testing samples from various lots of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc for evidence of malolactic fermentation.

Malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation, typically performed in the barrel, which converts a grape’s naturally occurring malic acid into lactic acid.

Malic acid gives wine a crisp, bright, tart flavor similar to that of Granny Smith apples whereas lactic acid gives wine a soft, toasty, buttery quality. In fact, diacetyl, a byproduct of malolactic fermentation, is often used in the production of margarine to make it taste more like real butter.

Chardonnay, Marsanne and Roussanne are good examples of white wines that typically undergo malolactic fermentation. Winemakers often avoid malolactic fermentation in wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio in order to keep them crisp and refreshing.

Carlos Mascherin, Santa Barbara Winery

Wax Sealing

Carlos, here, is practicing the ancient art of twirling. On our larger bottles, 1.5 liters and over, we apply a wax seal instead of the customary metal capsule. Carlos has mastered this ancient art and it is a joy to see him practice it.

First the wax is melted and maintained at a constant temperature, this is important. Next the bottle is dipped into the wax, deep enough to cover the cork. It is then pulled out allowing the excess wax to fall off before twirling begins. There are various schools of thought here, some prefer clockwise others counter-clockwise, but what is important is the signature twirl at the end. The bottle is then dipped in cold water to firm up the wax.

These larger bottles are hand bottled, corked, wax sealed, and finally hand-labelled. The aging process is slower, than in smaller bottles, because there is less cork area for the volume of wine, oxygen penetration is slower and as a result many think the wine is better. You be the judge.

To see our selection of larger bottles: Santa Barbara Winery or Lafond Winery

Fall Colors

These photos were taken by Lise Deinhard on a camping trip, Thanksgiving weekend, at the Vineyard. The autumn foliage colors of New England and Colorado, although not evident in our trees, can be seen in our vineyards and often with spectacular results. In the photo – darker blocks are Pinot Noir, they have already shed their leaves, the others are Syrah, Riesling and Chardonnay.
The pictures also give a sense of the surrounding geography. When camping here you get an additional sense of isolation – cell phones don’t work. Click images to enlarge:

75 gallon Stainless Steel Barrels

Something new, different and exciting in the winery this year are eight, 75 gallon, stainless steel barrels. Making wine in a stainless steel vessel helps retain the wine’s naturally bright acidity and juicy, fruit forward flavors.

Crisp, clean wines such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chablis style Chardonnays do fabulously in stainless steel. Stainless steel barrels, due to their convenient size, give winemakers more flexibility when working with small lots of high-quality wine.

A winemaker can choose to ferment and age some of his wine in varying ratios of oak barrels to stainless steel barrels to later be blended together in order to create a finer, more refined wine than conventional equipment might otherwise allow.

We currently have four stainless steel barrels dedicated to our 2011 Wente clone Chardonnay and old vine Riesling respectively.

Carlos Mascherin, Santa Barbara Winery