Thursday, October 11, 2012

Humble Beginnings

Talk is cheap but action is priceless.
For some time now, DH and I have talked about 'starting a winery' together. This prospect has been met with equal parts enthusiasm & evasion. "So you're buying a vineyard?", inquisitive loved ones inquired. The reality of starting a winery is far smaller scale than that.
In fact it amounted to two half T-bins of tiny-berried, Clone 76 Chardonnay from the Manchester Ridge Vineyard in the Mendocino Ridge A.V.A. in Mendocino, Ca.
The sum of the pick amounted to not even a full ton but .93 ton; a whisper of a start by any man's measure.
Since this is entirely our own project, we quickly realized we would need all our own equipment (i.e. racks, bungs, topping keg, ect.) so we made a quick trip to Napa Valley Fermention Supply. NVFS has been in business just shy of 30 years and is an institution to professionals and amateurs alike. We purchased the needed supplies and what ensued was one of our great follies.
Barrel racks are a relatively easy thing to transport, unless of course your transportation is a Toyota Corolla. Ever the MacGyver and never one to take 'NO' for an answer, DH rigged a bungee cord under the roof of the trunk and around the barrel rack and like that, we were off...verrry sloooowly, back to the winery and back to a fair amount of ridicule. These are our humble beginnings.
After the great jura-chablis debate, we agreed to foot-tread half the lot in order to impart some of that Jura-like, tannic complexity without overdoing it. This ancient process allows the grape skins to have contact with the grape juice before going through the press.
An hour or so later, the lot drops into the press and goes thru a 90 minute, washing machine-like cycle to ensure all the juice is extracted from the grapes. The first part to pass thru is called 'free run', or the juice produced from the foot-tread experiment.

 Next comes the light run, typically the sweetest juice of the lot as it is from the berries with the thinnest skin.
The longer the press runs, the more intense the juice becomes, due to longer contact with the seeds, skin & stems. Some winemakers opt to keep each of these press cycles separate but we are opting to keep the lot together for the entire life cycle of the wine.

Once the cycle finishes, the pressed wine is transported to neutral French Oak barrels to begin fermentation. We opted to use neutral oak because it does not impart the flavors of new oak but it does allow the wine to breathe (unlike stainless steal fermentation tanks).
And that, in a nutshell, is how you start a winery! 
Stay tuned for more!...

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Great Debate; jura vs. chablis

When you ask most people with careers in the wine industry how they got there, there is usually a specific wine that got them there. By that I mean it is usually from drinking one exceptional glass/bottle of wine that makes a person say, "I want to make wine like this" or "I want to sell wine like this", ect. This proverbial bottle can often change over the years but there's always a first.
For DH it was an '06 Auteur Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir.
For me, it was the 2010 Domaine Alain Labet, Cotes du Jura Chardonnay, Fleurs, just a few months ago. (Well, technically it was a bottle of '06 Stemmler Pino Noir drank almost 5 years ago but that has more to do with first understanding why DH had chosen the path to winemaking.)   
VIN JAUNE; oxidizing white wine
I was skeptical at first to drink a Jura wine, assuming all Jura's were 'Vin Jaune', sherry-like wine aged up to 6 years in Burgundian oak and allowed to oxidize over time. The result is an intense flavor not for the faint of heart (moi!).
But while this is the most famous wine from the region, there are some extraordinary Chardonnay producers from Jura as well.
The 'Flueurs' Cotes du Jura Chardonnay is the polar opposite of a Vin Jaune; utterly bright and crisp while still posessing a dynamic tannic profile and complexity.
We bought a cold bottle to accompany our fish sandwiches from Oakland's gem, Market Hall for an impromptu picnic a few months back. It was a nothing day which made the wine shine all the more.
One sip in and I was hooked. I declared to DH, "I want to make wine just like this." He sweetly concurred, "yes, let's." and with that we carried on with our picnic.
*     *      *
As our first foray (together) into the winemaking process is fast upon us, we revisited the Jura Chardonnay conversation more in depth yesterday.
Labet's Jura Chardonnay is made with some skin:juice contact (meaning the grape skins are in with the pressed wine grape juice during fermentation), producing the tannic complexity so distinct in the wine. 
Do note, this skin:juice contact is brief as prolonged contact during fermentation would lead to an orange wine. Most red wines go through the entire fermentation process with skin:juice contact.
While DH loved the Jura wine equally, he felt it imperative to taste it against a Chardonnay produced in a similar process (i.e. neutral oak, low alcohol, native fermentation) without skin:juice contact. 
We purchased the same 2010 Domaine Alain Labet, Cotes du Jura Chardonnay, Fleurs along with a 2011 Vendanges Chablis by Patrick Piuze. 
I whipped up a Thai mussel soup and an heirloom tomato salad to pair with these two crisp whites while we watched the first of the Presidential Debates. Two debates in one night, imagine that.
The tannic structure of the Jura definitely stood out from the Chablis but it was arguably impossible to say which one we preferred. Both wines were high acid, low alcohol so while great on their own, they both paired exceptionally well with food. We'd be happy making both wine styles!
So while we are still unsure of just what Chardonnay we will make this harvest, the debate on the table was far more interesting than the one on the screen! zing!