H o w W e F e r e m e n t,
M a n a g e t h e C a p,
a n d P r e s s.
I may never know,
when it comes to how we came to developed our fermentation style,
which was the Mother-of-Invention:
Necessity or Soul.
We ferment outdoors. And being outdoors enough of the time
is a big part of the recipe for good physical and mental health.
In fact, it is a necessity for us because it soothes and strengthens the soul.
So it's a natural start of deciding how we are going to do things.
Add to that, the grape's way of being.
They have been outdoors their whole life.
To suddenly bring them indoors where the temperature is constant,
where it's dark, where they are going to spend two years in barrel,
may just be a little too much of a shock for their soul.
It may be better to make the transition more slowly, so we do.
If that, then what fermenter shape and size?
The fermenters are shallow, not deeper than a foot and a half
of fermenting grapes, and four foot square.
They are the ideal size to give off and retain the heat of fermentation.
The fermenter size also dovetails beautifully with our Specific Barrel bottling style.
Each fermenter gives one and a half barrels. So when it's time to press...
Fermenter #A gives a full barrel (Barrel #1) and then a half of barrel (Barrel #2);
Fermenter #B then finishes Barrel #2 and gives Barrel #3. This way, each fermenter
gives us a unique barrel and gives us one barrel which is a marriage of two fermenters.
And unless the wine demands otherwise, this moment of each fermenter
being pressed in such a fashion, creates each barrel's identity.
The barrels are racked and treated like a separate lot for their entire cellar life.
The fermenter size is not only ideal for the
Separate Barrel Bottlings, it is ideal for another reason:
As the grapes ferment, they catch little bubbles of carbon dioxide and
are driven to the surface. One skin lifts the next skin higher, until a good
percentage of them are high-and-dry, without the benefit of the juice which
extracts the aroma, color, and tannins from the skins. This formation is the cap.
Now the question arrives, what is the ideal way to re-moisten these skins?
Now the plot really thickens... if you will, let me explain it this way --
At every step in winegrowing, a person is presented with a higher quality method,
and a lower quality one. That is easy to grasp, although I'm always shocked
at the number of people that go with easy or cheap as the guide on the decision-path.
This is the part that fewer people grasp, and I myself resisted it for a long time.
At every step there is not only a higher and lower quality choice, there is a
masculine and feminine choice on how you are going to do things.
Call it yin and yang if that is better for you. I know this
is a touchy subject. But given that males and females
exist, why wouldn't their ways of doing things
exist? Particularly as it relates to each
varietal, if you think about a
given grape, doesn't it
say boy or girl
So given these archetypal tendencies, I don't want to miss the boat on something
that I now know greatly influences winegrowing. Therefore I consider it
and I act upon it when it makes sense. For example, let's go back to the cap.
What is the best way to re-moisten the skins?
To take off your clothes and jump in?
If just the two of us could drink all the wine we make, I'd do that in a microsecond.
But it galls me to see someone, even with their little speedo on, in a food product.
So as is the case with cooking, we use our hands, not our bodies.
Which hand do you use?
If I were making Cabernet Sauvignon, I would use my right hand.
For Pinot Noir, I use my left because it just feels more in tune with the wine.
I go around in a spiral motion,
pressing each handful down into the warm wine below.
Then starting in the center again, I reverse the spiral and proceed.
Lastly, reversing the motion again, back to the initial counter-clockwise direction,
I roll the cap with my hand and forearm while walking all the way around
the fermenter. As a finishing touch, I touch the surface and pause, and
then, depending what the wine feels like, I smooth the cap going
to the left or to the right in one last spiral path.
Sounds kinda woo-woo doesn't it?
Yup, I don't deny that it sort of has that new-age take on things.
But I made this up myself.
Based souly on what felt right, which is a necessity to me.
It is like this... we sell wine that merits a high price, it is a luxury.
It should be made in a luxurious fashion, and it is.
Taking the time to consider the deeper orders of quality
is a luxury that most winegrowers don't have.
And, if you still have the inclination, consider this sort of quality consideration:
Despite the romantic notions above, winegrowing is often just plain-old-hard-work.
As such, sometimes you need something to keep you going, something that inspires.
It comes naturally to us to consider our wines as our children. And just like
parents throughout the centuries, you can do 'it', because you are doing
it for the kids. So they do become kids to us, our babies.
Picking the grapes, lugging the boxes, placing them in the crusher...
and particularly their time in the fermenter,
is the only time you can get physical with
and hold these babies.
As I roll the skins, the cap, with my hand and forearm,
I take that only moment, that only open window,
to develop a relationship with these grapes.
That gives me a great feeling; a connection that I couldn't get in any other way.
That is a huge reason we manage the cap as we do.
Yes, it is an ideal way to extract tannin, but that's technical.
What is formed is a relationship that is so strong,
we never consider this or any subsequent method we use
(many of which are impractical, expensive, or difficult)
to be something that is an imposition.
If you really love a baby, it will never be an imposition.
You bet! But never an imposition.
Such are our wines.
Hey! You say. But how about the technical? Yes, you are most correct,
the technical is important too. So here are some of the fun-facts:
We use pure cultured yeast and malo-lactic bacteria. We do it for this reason:
If you were to study the yeast and bacteria that predominate on the
waxy bloom of the grape skin, you would find out that there is a
different one that predominates from the previous year.
In other words, if you do not inoculate, but use the 'bugs-of-the-year',
it is not an expression that is unique to that vineyard site year after year.
As such, I look at the risk-benefit of native vs. pure cultures without the
mantel of thinking that I am expressing the terroir by using native fermentations.
In my opinion, the best reason to use native/spontaneous fermentation is
to force the winemaker to pay attention to the fermentations.
To worry, to sweat over them as they do nothing during their lag phase,
The hidden plus is this is another way to get connected through mortal concern for
this batch of grapes. My feeling/knowing is that I am already connected,
and this sort of microbiological Brinkmanship, is not my cup-of-tea.
That is why we use pure cultures.
We press in a small vertical basket press that has a pneumatic balloon in the
middle of it which expands and presses the grapes out to the side to form a thin cake.
We press up to 45 p.s.i. and immediately join the press-wine to the free-run.
We lift each bucket of wine up and pour it into the barrel.
The timing of the pressing is close to the end of primary fermentation and
is determined by the look of the cap. If left for a long enough time,
the cap will 'die', which is to say, the skins will give up their life.
To determine this is to look at it with the eyes of experience.
So what we try to do is press at the first indications that the cap is capoot.
It is almost always the case that we have the tannin structure we want,
before the wine gets to zero degrees Brix. Tannin structure is always tasted
relative to the top structuring priority: acid. Acidity creates the longevity of a wine,
not the tannin. The tartness of a wine is what makes it such a divine match with food.
Deminishing the acidity in a wine by waiting too long to pick, is great if you
are making a beverage that is to take the place of pre-meal cocktail.
But this is not how to structure a wine that will age over the decades in a good cellar.
Which is to say, first we structure the wine with the acidity, then the feel,
then the tannin. So we press by taste and perfecting the structural
attributes of the wine that allows it to age gracefully,
we don't press by the numbers.
As mentioned, the wine is lifted to the barrel, and that is where the
fermentation continues. We listen to the barrels, and when the
ping-ping ping of tiny bubbles coming to the surface subsides,
then we rack. This is the first rack, and at this point we can
consider that the crush is over and the holy days are on
their way to bring fun, frivolity, and deeper thought.
As I read this I am amused by this thought:
How many other industries reveal all of their trade secrets?
Not many. But not to worry. If someone else did it just like we do,
their wines might be better, and maybe not. It must be something else
than what we do, how we do it, and when we do it. Yes:
It's the relationship to the grapes.
And how do you get a good one of those?
Well... it helps to like the gray hair you have.