Tag Archives: Wine

Vintage 2016 Update

I’m trying to tell my inner CA winemaker to shut up. It’s raining and it’s going to be raining for 5 days. Then we have 3 days of warm and sun and then more rain. Do I pick everything in the window or do I hold out that we might get an Indian Summer mid October. Such is the life of an East Coast winemaker. We, like the folks on the west coast have a general guarantee of weather. Usually it will be less than ideal for harvesting so we all turn into gamblers. Some pick early, some pick later but we all get to compare results at the end which is what makes it fun. 

This summer has been amazing for the vinifera grapes. The severe drought has made berry sizes almost 25% smaller which should make for very concentrated flavor however acids have been dropping rapidly. I’m off to cruise through the Riesling and some of the Cab Franc this morning. Hopefully they will hold up through the next few days of rain in order to fully realize the gift that nature has given us as a vintage this year. 

Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over…

One of the most common questions that I have encountered over the past few weeks is “What did you change?”  What did I do differently this time that I didn’t do the other 5 times that I sat the exam.  It’s hard to pinpoint an exact one or two things.  In truth, I changed a whole lot about what I was doing, however it’s hard to say if changing these things would have made a difference if I hadn’t done the other things that didn’t work the first 5 times.

Anyway, here are the things that I thought made the most difference.

I went all in. I said to myself “I am NOT doing this again!”

Having multiple attempts gives one a certain level of comfort.  You end up mentally saying to yourself “Well, I’m going to give it everything but at least I have X more attempts if I don’t pass.”  As soon as you start to mentally say “if I don’t pass” you are not going to.  I went into this year with the personal objective of all or nothing.  If I only passed half, I still was done.  There would be no more attempts.   This personal goal gave me extra urgency to get it done in one shot.

I changed Mentors

I have been fortunate to consider many MW’s my mentors even beyond the formal “mentor program”.  This year I was taken under the wing of DC Flynt, who whipped me not just into tasting shape but SUPER READY, EVERY POINT COUNTS, DON’T THINK THAT EVEN A TINY SLIP WILL GET YOU BY tasting shape.  He nit-picked every word, phrasing, and structure of my answers.  I didn’t do more tasting than I did in previous years but the tasting that I did was far more highly scrutinized to the point where my answers were scalpel sharp and short.  Get in, get points, get out.  Done.

I gave up doing Theory Essays

Now don’t for one second think that you can come into this program and not write a single essay and pass the theory on your first try.  You can’t, so don’t think that is what I’m saying.  I wrote essays for EVERY SINGLE QUESTION from the exams 2000-2011 during my first few attempts and I passed in 2012.  The fish bowl technique is fantastic for getting to know what you need to know.  I just was at the point this year where I knew I could hammer out an essay in the time limit easily if I had a great mind map.  I wrote the three or four required essays for the formal Assignment Marking Scheme but that was it.  Everything else was was mind mapping.  I fishbowled the questions from 2012-2015 and mind mapped like crazy.  No essays.  You cover more ground in a shorter amount of time and I was able to go into the exam ready to cover whatever they could throw at me.

I was Hypnotized

No Really!  I was!  I went to a Hypnotist at ROC Hypnosis (See her website here) and she helped me understand what was holding me back mentally.  It took two sessions which were incredibly enlightening and relaxing.  She asked me questions like “What would be the worst thing that happened to you if you passed?” I had never contemplated that before and it opened up some mental blocks that I had put on myself that I had never thought of.  I was able to mentally let go of all the stress and worry that was holding me back.  It was incredible and I highly recommend it.

I Prayed

LOTS!  I am a Christian and I believe in the power of prayer so I spent two hours in the Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church the Monday before the exam.  I attended mass, sat and meditated, read scripture, and even prayed to St Rita, Patroness of Impossible Causes, because I knew I could not accomplish this task on my own. I am not Catholic but this particular day it felt right like the right place to be.  Now I’m sure there are some who will read this who don’t believe, that think this was just something to make myself feel better.  I will not judge you for it because everyone is entitled to their own system of beliefs.  I also am acutely aware that I am not perfect, so I try to be as good of a person as possible and not bible thump on a regular basis.  However, I can tell you that I had not prayed as fervently in the past as I did this day, with a desperation that I can truly say I had not felt before any of the other exams and I felt that God was with me in those hours and finally gave his blessing for me to pass.

So that’s it. I did the best I could and really went for it.  I removed every mental block that I had put on myself and had nothing else to lose.  I put it all in God’s hands and gave up the thought that I could accomplish this impossible task on my own.  I’m so thankful that I got good news finally and am so excited (and still pinching myself) to be a Stage 3 student!!!!

Best of luck to all that are still striving for the exam!  I hope this helps in some way.

Pressing Issues: Exploring a Small Portion of the Maze of Winemaking Decisions

To press or not to press? That is NOT the question. Rarely does anything in winemaking have an absolute however pressing is one of the few. Grapes must be pressed at some point in the process to release the juice or wine. However, even though grapes must eventually be pressed, it is the when, how and how much that are open to interpretation. What seems deceptively simple on the surface, when explored, reveals a maze of different combinations and outcomes.

White wines are generally pressed prior to fermentation. When pressing prior to fermentation several things must be considered. If the fruit is in excellent condition, hand-picked, and still intact, whole cluster pressing may be the best option. This can be accomplished quite nicely with a basket press or with a more modern bladder press. The latter has the added benefit of being able to control the amount of oxygen that comes in contact with the juice. In the case of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, this is a critical part of the style. By completely blanketing the press itself and the press pan with dry ice (CO2) the juice can be kept in a reductive state (non-oxidative). This, in turn preserves the high toned thiol compounds (think grapefruit and passion fruit aromas) that define this style post fermentation. The recent rise of orange wines with skin contact during fermentation are the obvious exception to this rule. For these wines, as well as other white wines where some skin contact is desired, it may be better to destem and lightly crush the fruit. This breaks open the berries and allows the skin and juice to mingle together, resulting in additional flavor compounds and tannins from the skins to be released into the juice prior to pressing.
Red wines are usually pressed during or post fermentation. The timing depends highly on the style of wine that one is trying to create. Earlier pressing during fermentation will minimize tannin extraction and lead to a lighter style with gentle structure while waiting until fermentation has finished will generally result in a fuller bodied, more structured wine. This is, of course, subject to the general characteristics of the grape variety and vineyard. When I was making Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, I found that earlier pressing helped control the rather aggressive tannins that the volcanic soils of the area seem to generate. If one can control the tannin extraction throughout the fermentation to allow the wine to go dry on skins without over extracting, the resulting wine ends up being both well-structured and generous without being hard or tough.  

 

The decision of how long to allow grapes to sit on their skins prior to pressing is another important one in the pressing process. In more neutral varieties such as Chardonnay, a small amount of skin contact can add extra palate texture and dimension. However, more aromatic varieties, especially Viognier and Gewurztraminer, tend to have higher tannins in the skins so in these cases additional skin contact could bring in bitterness which will then have to be fined out later through PVPP, Gelatin, or Isinglass treatments. For Rosé, the amount of time the juice spends on skins directly correlates to the depth and intensity of color in the wine as well as the resulting texture on the palate. Depending on the color content (anthocyanin content) of the variety, this time on skins can range from a few hours to a day or more. Red wines which have gone dry on the skins can be pressed immediately or they can be left for extended skin maceration with further integrates the tannins and middle palate texture. Each offers benefits to the final style of the wine but extended skin contact can be somewhat risky since the wine is no longer as protected from spoilage organisms, such as vinegar or lactic acid bacteria, as it was during fermentation.  

 

The pressure at which to press can influence the style of the wine as well as the total volume in terms of wine yield per ton of grapes. In Traditional Method Sparkling wine production pressing is one of the first critical steps in defining the character of the final wine. Particularly in the cases where red grapes such as Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier are being used, the time on skins prior to pressing is of the upmost importance. Grapes must be pressed quickly to avoid color or tannins from bleeding into the juice because these aspects can negatively impact the final wine quality. While bladder presses will generally only go to 2 Bars of pressure, some basket presses will climb up to 5 Bars. On red wines these high pressure press wines can be extremely interesting with oily textures and thickly structured palates. In general, high pressures such as this only represent 1% or less of the yield of a ton of fruit but it can add interesting elements to the total wine when used. 

 

Press cuts are another point of differentiation for wine styles. A press cut is a separation of juice or wine during the pressing process. For wineries with old style screw presses, the option of press cuts does not exist, however wineries with basket presses or more modern bladder or screw presses have the option to take as many cuts as they would like. Many Champagne houses only use the first gentle pressing, called free run juice, and perhaps part of the light press but usually they do not use the heavier pressing juice to minimize undesirable roughness in the juice. The defining points between free run, light press, and heavy press depend highly on the variety, the style of press used, and the desires of the winemaker. They can be based on pressure, time in the cycle, yield, pH, which climbs with increasing pressure, taste, or some combination of these.  

 

While all wines have been pressed at some point, the differentiation in style and quality comes from the creative combination of the decisions made from the options available. With so many different variables, it is understandable how two winemakers with similar fruit from the same region can make radically different wines.

Originally written for and published on Snooth.com.