It feels in some ways that this has been a super long harvest and in others it fells so short. We had the rain on and off for the week in early October but since then the weather has been beautiful. Riesling has been very strange this year. There was a large crop and that led to many vineyards stalling out in the mid-teens for Brix and moving very slowly. The best growers as always managed to produce beautiful fruit regardless.
The barrel fermented Blaufrankisch is settled into barrels (for aging this time) and going through ML. It looks very promising. We finally picked our Riesling for 240 Days last week and it is getting ready to go through primary fermentation. The 240 Days Rose looks and smells like pink Sauvignon Blanc which is super interesting and delicious. It just finished fermentation and will get sulfur this week. Also on my list soon is getting the 2016 Cabernet Franc out of barrels and blended.
I know the snow is coming soon and with it a slow down in my travels but greater focus on what is happening in the winery. The start of the 240 Days of winemaking is upon us!
As a side note, I’m excited to announce my blog has been named one of the top 100 wine blogs on Feedspot, was listed as one of the top 10 wine blogs on 10Greatest.com, and I did a quick interview with the WSET out of London. Find that full article here. All in all it’s been a great week!
I spent a good bit of my Saturday at the Asti Winery tasting room for the Barrel Tasting Weekends for the Northern Sonoma County Wine Roads. This included an event for Dry Creek, Russian River, and of course my stomping grounds the Alexander Valley. I love events like this because I was able to talk to so many great people who loved the wines and really enjoyed learning more about them. There’s always a danger that these weekends will devolve into crowds of drunken people meandering from tasting room to tasting room looking for a cheap buzz. I didn’t see any of the normal signs of that this weekend. It was pleasantly surprising to see the enthusiasm of our guests and that they were so hungry to learn about wine. It’s never a trial to talk to people who are sober and excited about trying your wines. Our barrels were both 2009 Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserves, each a single vineyard; one from the Asti Estate and the other from Stuhlmuller Vineyards in the southern Alexander Valley. Wine Thief in hand, I described the differences between the different ends of the Alexander Valley and pulled endless samples from the barrels for people to taste. As always, the Stuhlmuller was the more open fruit of the two vineyards because the Estate stays very closed and tight for the first 24 months and only opens up towards the end of the barrel aging cycle. Both wines were VERY young as we age the Reserves for 2 years in barrel and another year in bottle before release. Anyway, it was great to chat with everyone and stand out on the patio on such a nice day.
The remainder of the weekend was spent out in the vineyards finishing our pruning and pulling our catch wires apart. The vines are weeping like crazy and we had to be extremely careful because the buds have become very easy to knock off. Bud break is not far away at all. So far we are on target for a normal year of rain which is very exciting after so many years in a drought (not counting 2010 which was cool and wet). Sunday brought a thunderstorm which I loved because it reminds me of the storms on the east coast and today is still quite overcast. The forecasters in California call it “unsettled” weather.
For the uninitiated, every winter the vines must be pruned to remove almost 95% of the growth from the year before. This keeps them from becoming a crazy tangled mess that only a machete would be appropriate for. It is also a figurative “reset button” for the vineyard itself. It doesn’t clear all problems but it definitely helps. Once the ground begins to warm up the vines start to pull up water and sugar reserves through the vascular system (this is the vine’s circulatory system). The pruning wounds have openings to the vascular system and as the water begins to run up through the vine they begin to weep from the openings. This is the first sign of spring to me and it is once the vines have stopped weeping that we really see the first buds pushing for the new vintage.
Next blog I’ll go into a bit of trellis design for vineyards since I’m sure some of you are scratching your head as to what catch wires are.
Over the past week we’ve been finalizing our reserve blends at Souverain both for the Cabernet and the Chardonnay. I’ve more than once found myself staring at 6-9 different lots thinking “anyway we put these together is going to taste awesome because they all taste awesome on their own!” However let’s review how we got to these 6-9 awesome lots.
At harvest, during the vintage these wines were picked (2008 for the Cabs and 2009 for the Chards) we made a decision to ferment all our lots separately. The Chardonnay gets barrel fermented and the best historical lots go into new French oak for primary. Just like kids at a Canadian Hockey camp the most promising ones get the extra treatment. (At this point if you haven’t read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell I highly recommend it!) Same goes for the Cabernet after primary is finished; the best lots get the best oak. This further differentiates them from their other “older oak” lots. Then after a long time of topping and lees stirring for the whites and Malolactic fermentation for the reds the time comes to start looking at what is going to make the cut for the brand. We pull together all the lots and look at them from the perspective of is this good enough for the Alexander Valley Tier. This is our largest distribution of wines consisting of Chardonnay (Buttery Beauties), Sauvignon Blanc (Zesty and Fruity), Merlot (Spicy and Smoky), and Cabernet Sauvignon (Power Punches). If the wine isn’t good enough to make these blends it’s not going to get Souverain put on the label. This is the first cut and most wines are good enough to stay in once they were planned to be in.
The second cut comes a few months later after the wines have had a chance to settle in to their environments (be it oak or otherwise). We then take a look at the entire harvest to determine our best lots and these get a “place holder” put on them to denote that they should be looked at again for possible inclusion into the Reserve tier. We make several Reserves including Chardonnay, Merlot, and of course Cabernet Sauvignon. When it comes time to make the AV tier we go back to these “best” lots and pick out the best of the best. These are the 6-9 really great lots that we’d like to include in the reserve.
At this point we start trial blending on a counter top to see what the best mix would be. We’re trying to maximize the quality and enhance the complexity through blending really good lots together to make really great lots! Any one of these I would have been more than happy to drink by itself but together they turn into something fantastic. Once the blend is finalized we decide how many barrels of each lot we need to set aside and then go and check each individual barrel to make sure it is typical of the quality of the lot. When dealing with only 10-15 barrels in a reserve lot even one bad barrel can cause the entire lot to be less than it should have been.
Once separated these barrels are set aside and babied over an extended aging period beyond what the AV tier saw which can be up to 1 year more in the case of the reds. Once final blending has taken place before bottling, we’ve created our reserve wine! There’s a lot of winemaking power put towards these small blends but it shows in the final product!
They all ended up to be Power Punches!