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Jason Joyce
 
October 12, 2011 | Jason Joyce

A New Friend

   As a winery grows, the most pressing concern on the wine making side is how to expand production without loss of quality.  The key reason quality can differ as growth takes place is the choice of new vineyards.  In that spirit, it has taken 3 years of patience to find another Chardonnay vineyard here in Paso Robles that we felt comfortable with.  The 2011 vintage marks our fist attempt to get to know this place.  (People commonly claim that the French word Terroir has no translation to English, I disagree.  To me it means place, as in "It's almost as if that building is of this place."  Writing this blog has reminded me that the English language can be as beautiful as any if used with consideration.)  

    The only comparison I can find to this type of nervous excitement is a first date.  When all possibilities are still available, your dreams framing what could be.

 

         Am I So Lucky?                      

Are You As Grand As This Place?

 

What Have You To Teach?

 

Can We Capture This?

Time Posted: Oct 12, 2011 at 8:40 PM Permalink to A New Friend Permalink Comments for A New Friend Comments (1)
Jason Joyce
 
October 3, 2011 | Jason Joyce

Just Because I Like to Use The Word "Burgundian".

The unpredictable nature of the harvest allows for all sorts of opportunities to the open minded winemaker. The small blocks we farm are tailor made for trying whatever experiment comes to mind during crush. And then, if you let your mind wander, one new idea leads to the next.

This year I wanted to try something a bit different with the Chardonnay. For the most part, every year we harvest the Chardonnay and the clusters are added directly to the press. The juice is pressed from the skins and the wine made from fermenting the juice with no infulence from the skins. I've tasted a few "skin contact" white wines recently and was intrigued. A "Skin contact" white is making white wine exactly like you make red wine, fermenting on the skins as opposed to just the juice. I'm not exactly sold on the concept as I feel the goals of making white and red wines are not necessarily the same, so techniques should not be the same. Never the less, I encourage you to go find these wines. Sometimes they are refereed to as "orange wines" due to the slight coloring the occur. Another way to find them is to look for "skin contact" or "on skins" in the production notes. It is always interesting to taste something that is done in a different way, a great example for tasting what skins add to the wine.

What I was interested in about fermenting white wine on the skins was not the skins, but the potential for carbonic maceration. I seldom "crush" berries during harvest. That is, use some mechanical device to crack the grape skins and release the juice. I use a lot of whole berry fermentation. Leaving the berry whole encourages a slightly different form of enzymatic fermentation within the grape itself. This type of fermentation is known to produce a more pronounced fruit character in the finished wine. Those of you who have tasted Paso Robles wines know that they tend to be big in all aspects. Using this technique to increase the fruit character allows the finished wine to remain balanced, not clunky or harsh due to the acid or tannins dominating.

In this spirit, a section of our estate chardonnay was destemmed after harvest, and the whole berries allowed to rest in our cold room under a blanket of CO2. After 48 hours, the grapes were pressed and the the juice treated the same as our whole bunch pressed Chardonnay. We'll see some time in spring how the flavors differ from the methodology.

A bonus feature of this method is that we ended up with a bin of chardonnay skins. This allowed for the next little experiment. Some of these skins were tossed into one of the Pinot Noir ferments that was just getting started.

It has been rather common to add Viognier skins into Syrah ferments, adding delicate mid-palate flavors to the heavy Syrah. Pinot Noir is a much more delicate varietal, so it will be interesting to see what the Chardonnay skins add to the flavor.  Now, if I had a 20+ ton tank of Pinot Noir fermenting away, it would be rather insane to just chuck in the Chard skins and see what happens, because there is no guarantee that this will work. It might be beautiful, it might be horrible. When you have several 1.5 tons ferments going on, the risk is not that great. The small size of our ferments allows for this exploration without risking the farm. So, we'll see what happens.  I'll keep you posted on any other ideas that pop up over the next couple months.

Time Posted: Oct 3, 2011 at 4:20 PM Permalink to Just Because I Like to Use The Word Permalink Comments for Just Because I Like to Use The Word Comments (3)
Jason Joyce
 
September 27, 2011 | Jason Joyce

A Winemaker Comes to His Senses

   I firmly believe there is single most important job for a winemaker, deciding when to pick the fruit. The best a wine will ever be is the moment you pick it.  All you can hope to accomplish is to lessen how much it degrades. The techniques you read about in the produciton notes of your favorite wine cannot improve the wine, they represent only our best efforts to fully capture and express what is within the fruit. Since determening the pick is such an important task, I'm surprised how little attention it gets.

 Vineyared Manager Martin Getting At The 2011 Pinot Noir

    The how and why of picking dates is different for each winemaker. The separate routes taken to this end represent most of what is the underlying character of the wines produced by different winemakers. The routes are plentiful due to the mass of information available and the varied interpretations of that information.
    You can break up most of the information into two rough categories, vineyard observation and lab data. The safe thing for the modern winemaker to say is that both forms of information are equals.   But from what I see, most people lean towards one or the other. On one end you have the winemaker who reads only spreadsheet charts and can track the exact optimal moment of balanced sugar, acid, polysaccharides, phenolics, anthocyanins, etc. If you have 5,000 acres of fruit you are responsible for, it is pretty impossible to go "walk the vineyard" and decide how it's tasting. On the other extreme you have the winemaker who eats the fruit in the vineyard and looks at the vine for changes in shoots, leaves and stems. This really works best when you have a single vine in your backyard.  So where you ask do I find myself in this continuum?
    Being an organic chemist by training and trade, one would expect me to be most smitten with the data avalanche of the well-stocked winery lab. At first, that made most sense to me. But the more harvests I undertake, the more and more the vineyard and tasting the fruit have started to dominate my decision-making. The main reason I have made this change is a newfound belief that this decision is what we humans are designed to do.
     When I was working in biotech as a multi-step organic bench chemist, most of the PhD's working there were Soviet trained. With this Soviet training came some "old school" techniques. The PhD I worked most closely with often made decisions about the success or failure of a reaction base on smell. The sane thing to do is to run a sample in the GCMS. But this takes about 20 minutes start to finish in a busy lab, and smelling the reaction is instant to the trained chemist nose. In fact, the history of organic chemistry pre-dates the analytical tools of the lab because early chemists could look at, listen to, feel, smell and taste their reactions. These senses of ours amazingly powerful, they easily rival large instruments costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they are never more powerful then when being used for their actual purpose.
    The tasting of ripening fruit is an example of one of those actual purposes. Think about your sense of taste for second. Why should you want to taste things, what's the point? Well, first and foremost it immediately tells you if something is good or bad to eat or drink. If you could not taste salt, how could you tell if water was fresh and drinkable, or like the vast majority of water available to you, salty and dangerous. Without sour, bitter, sweet and Umami (wait, what?  I think I missed a memo.) how could you tell if fruit is going to be a nutritious snack or a belly ache waiting to happen? This to me is the whole point of our ability to taste, so we know when fruit is good to eat. Lucky me, to have such an amazing tool to help me with my job.
     The whole process is incredible to me. The vine wants to spread its seeds around. It decides to surround its seeds in a tasty treat so that animals will eat them and the seed will travel with them. The danger for the plant is the animal wanting to eat the fruit before the seed is ready. So while the seed matures, the fruit needs to taste unpleasant to the animal. Thus the young grape is extremely sour and bitter with very little sweetness. Once the seed is ready though, the fruit quickly loses bitterness and acidic flavors and becomes more and more sweet. At a certain point there is a perfect balance that may not be the exact best moment to eat the grapes, but is the exact best moment to make perfectly balanced wine.
     Standing in the vineyard, eating grapes in the morning, the tuned winemaker sense machine can accurately determine brix and pH along with skin tannin and color and many other chemicals. It is a fun test to make a best guess as to the pH and Brix when tasting fresh must. The winemakers I learned from would have no problem producing a number that was within 1 Brix of a hydrometer and 0.2 pH of a probe.
There are even some things that only tasting the fruit can give you. Like tasting the difference between crisp and mushy watermelon, the consistency of the pulp is one of those vital things that I have never seen determined in a lab. (Note to self, build a little spring tension device that produces a "firmness" number, sell to wine labs, retire.) Things like cane and stem lignifications and leaf color change can only be determined by actually visiting the vine. I cannot see how it is possible to be absolutely confident you are picking the fruit at an optimal moment without spending time in the vineyard using your senses.  Because really, that is what they are there for.
 

  

Time Posted: Sep 27, 2011 at 9:16 PM Permalink to A Winemaker Comes to His Senses Permalink Comments for A Winemaker Comes to His Senses Comments (2)
Jason Joyce
 
August 12, 2011 | Jason Joyce

In The Vanguard On A Sphere

"Well the Universe is shaped exactly like the Earth .  If you go straight long enough you'll end up where you were."     - Isaac Brock

  August is the month of pre-harvest rest and reflection in the cellar. With this in mind I headed out to the local movie theater last night to catch a film with a friend. This writing I guess is an attempt to explain why I loved Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary about the New York Times fashion photographer. The unadulterated passion for and mastery of subject, the honesty, the modesty, these are all the characteristics I can only hope to bring to my own work. I don't think I’ve seen a more inspirational embodiment of my ideal in this funny little world we must work in. Sacrifices of life that must be made to keep to that ideal are too vast to follow myself, but I love to be reminded that there are so many paths to so many pinnacles.
      It also reminds me of one of the underlying features of wine and wine making that I love so, the all encompassing nature of the craft. Try as I might, it would be extraordinarily difficult to apply lessons from the life of a Spartan fashion critic to my previous path of synthesizer of research pharmaceuticals. With wine though, whatever idea presents itself, there seems to be a relationship one can find to expound upon. One of the sub-currents of the film that fascinated me was that of the cyclical nature of the fashion world. How styles and designs come in and out of being the leading edge of the day. Along with that, one begins to see the cyclical nature of all those industries that are based upon aesthetics and taste. Styles of dress, art, writing, music, film, design, architecture and yes, wine all seem to be progressing in a self-referential way that by nature must look back upon itself as it moves forward.
      Beyond the obvious agrarian cycle of wine production itself, there are other cycles in the wine industry we must confront. Varietals go in and out of vogue. What is considered balanced is a moving target because it has no true definition, being rather one of those Justice Potter Stewart subjects that you know when you taste it. Regional styles get acclaim, then become passé and fade. The techniques of the winemaker, from the treatment of the fruit to the materials of the containers are all in constant flux. From this we get the ideas, trends, and styles of wine that come, go, and then return.
      This all flashed through my mind today when a taster asked me what "my goal was" when making the 2007 York Mountain Cab. I was stuck on the basic response of "just trying to make the best wine I possibly could." (Sadly, in all honesty, this is still the best answer I can give without writing a long blog post about it!) But so much more was at play than just trying my best. The hundreds and hundreds of discussions and reactions I've been privy too involving our 2005 and 2006 Cabs obviously had some say. The lessons from the winemakers I learned from and the opinions of friends and peers all manifest themselves somehow. Even the monthly tracking of inventory depletions creates a most stark criticism which is difficult if not impossible to simply ignore. All these factors create the context from which my personal expression comes forth.
      This frees me from worrying too much as we plan for the emmient harvest. The pre-season is done, it is time for the real games to begin. I've spent the last 9 months in reflection of all my previous harvests and in adding new life experience which are bound to bring new influence to what will come. Decisions about ripeness, acid, brix, stems, soaks, temperatures, extractions, pressing, oak, racking, oxygen, which beer to drink while hosing down the destemmer must all be made. All of which are choose your own adventure questions leading you to a mysterious outcome. The past is our only guide, thus in showing the way will make itself known. It cannot return in whole though, being more the candle casting light unto and creating shadows of the current vintage. Just like life itself, despite all the best plans and forethought, making wine is an act of constant improvisation.


      This fact, along with the rarity and one time nature of the vintage create such a unique excitement. A new start, all possible outcomes are again out there to be reached. This explains the butterflies in the stomach feeling that walking in the vineyard invoked this morning. The arrival of veraison, like the firing of a starting gun has officially set harvest in motion. It is time again to create the best possible wine we can, and I can't wait to try.

Time Posted: Aug 12, 2011 at 3:59 PM Permalink to In The Vanguard On A Sphere Permalink Comments for In The Vanguard On A Sphere Comments (7)
Jason Joyce
 
July 11, 2011 | Jason Joyce

The Complexity of Simplicity

      I hate to dampen my general wine know-it-all credibility, but the last time I was in France, the Euro was just an exchange unit. The Franc was still the currency of notes and coins. My joy for and impression of the French was greatly increased upon receiving my first 50 franc note. What a country, the Little Prince right there in my hand. For whatever reason, my country would never embrace Max on the 50, and I feel we suffer a bit for this. A culture that embraces the importance of its artistic contributions right along with the political is a grand and confident culture indeed.          

     This image did its job, and I tracked down a different book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry at an English language book store and learned why France would hold this author in such high regard. I was forever changed by a quote I found in that book. A quote that I would suspect came from Japan or Sweden, but in fact was French. “Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.” Translated in the book I read as “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This hit home with my own fledgling design esthetic and is still with me now when I consider making white wine.

      I get a lot of surprised looks and disagreement when I tell people during conversation that I feel making white wine is much harder then red wine. I don’t mean physically harder, as minus the punch downs, whites are quite a bit less taxing on the body. But as for making decisions that must be correct, whites are much more demanding. I’m not the type of winemaker who will go on and on about how my immense cellar skills will take terrible fruit and craft perfect wines. I am of the firm belief that the ceiling for the quality of a wine is set the second you pick it. My experience is that my chief responsibility as winemaker is to not allow the wine to weaken in my hands once I have taken on stewardship from Mother Nature.

      With red wines, you can get away with not perfectly timing your pick. You can adjust the length of cold soak and fermentation based on the ripeness level of skins, seeds and stems. You can hit your wine over the head with oak to fill holes in the nose or palate. You can just let the fruit hang for a long time in the vineyard and call it your “big, heavy, ripe style” and no one bats an eye. Whites are not so. White wines are like an ink on paper painting or calligraphy, if your lines are not skilled and beautiful, there’s no distracting with pretty colors to hide this fact. Any mistake made in the vineyard or cellar is plain to see, smell and taste. White wines, and roses for that matter, are a stripping away of everything that is possibly superfluous, leaving only the purest form of the wine behind.

      Because of this I take immense pride in our white wines here at Calcareous. In particular, I stress over our white Rhone blend more than any other wine. After years of trying various varietals, I have narrowed the blend down to a yearly mix of Viognier and Marsanne. The Viognier sees no oak, as it is settled, fermented and aged in stainless for its life in the cellar. The Marsanne sees a single new French oak barrel, the balance being fermented in barrels used at least two times before filling with Marsanne. The two components are kept separate until a blending takes place a month before bottling.

      This month we released our 2009 Viognier-Marsanne blend, and I could not be prouder of the wine. It took home Double Gold at the San Francisco International, then popped up last week on Steve Heimoff’s top ten of the week posting (the second straight vintage of our flagship white that Mr. Heimoff has so blessed). I also could not be prouder of Paso Robles in general. The creation of more serious white wines coming from the area is as bold a declaration of vineyard and cellar quality as any other critique. In last month’s Wine Spectator article on exciting new California Whites, Paso Robles was probably the single region getting the most acclaim. Local white wine champions like Caliza, Denner, Tablas Creek, Terry Hoage and Villa Creek were all rightly given their due for showing we here in Paso Robles have more up our sleeve than just powerhouse reds. So enjoy the summer months with these fine examples of our craft in its purest form.
 

Time Posted: Jul 11, 2011 at 1:19 PM Permalink to The Complexity of Simplicity Permalink Comments for The Complexity of Simplicity Comments (4)
Jason Joyce
 
June 21, 2011 | Jason Joyce

Summer!?!

(View From The Top Of The Top Of The Property)

Oh my, summer has finally decided to show up. After all the craziness, like rain the first week of June, it now feels like Paso. After the cool wet winter and spring, the horrendous frosts, all the what nots and who's fors in the vineyard, things are right where they should be. June 21st and the fruit is set on everything but a couple sections of Mourvedre and Cab. The heat that is hitting right now is like flipping the turbo on; the vines seem to be just exploding. It's exciting to see and the daily morning walks in the vineyard have begun.
I firmly believe that the winemaker needs to spend as much time actually in the vineyard as possible. That to me is the whole purpose of having the vineyard and the winery on the same property. So, from this day forth, my assistant winemaker and I (and Abbie and Salty) will spend the first part of every day walking the rows. Seeing the daily changes is the only way to really put oneself on the same time cycle as the plants. Yeah, you can sit in an office and start reading number off of various probes and data collected by others. But that doesn't let you understand the vintage. To feel the dew, fog, sun, soil and wind the same way the plants do. This is where the understanding comes from. This is where the plan comes from. This is where the great wine comes from.
 

Time Posted: Jun 21, 2011 at 10:21 AM Permalink to Summer!?! Permalink Comments for Summer!?! Comments (5)
Jason Joyce
 
April 13, 2011 | Jason Joyce

Keystone Cooperage

    One of the challenges of working with a newly producing vineyard is that is takes you quite a few vintages to figure out your barrel program.  Winemakers will all have favorite barrels that are kind of their go to options,  but until you get to really know the fruit the vineyard is producing, it's mainly guess work.  Different barrels will add different features to the overall experience of the wine.  Suffice to say, some barrels you smell and taste in the wine.  Other barrels you only feel.  And only developing that first hand knowledge of what the fruit from a vineyard needs will allow you to have a successful barrel program.

     To begin this post in another way, experimentation with barrels is still the name of the game here at Calcareous.  A barrel that I brought in for the first time in 2010 was Keystone Cooperage.  I had asked around few other winemakers in Paso and gotten positive feedback about Keystone.  Solid barrel for Cabs, Syrahs, and Zins was the general consensus.  That can be a bit scary though because those are the big boy wines and are capable of hiding barrel character.  I often talk about how early American coopers made oak barrels for things like salt pork and whiskey.  Nobody cares if there's a bit of woody flavor in those things.  I mean, throw down a shot of Old Potrero and impress the crowd by saying "Oh that's really smooth but the oak finish really overpowers there."  Um, probably not going to happen.  You need all the smoke and wood possible to stand up to the huge flavors in whiskey, so the barrels can be monsters.  Thus American barrels had a bad reputation because Chardonnay can, at times, be a bit more restrained then rye.  Luckily things have changed.

 

   To prove the point, let's decipher all the letters and numbers on that barrel head.  First the cooperage stamp is rather self explanatory. Nice little oak leaf and acorn design there I must say.  Next, most American barrels will now tell you where trees were grown.  The climate that the forrest grows in determines the grain structure of the wood.  Warm regions produce faster growth and wider grain.  Cold forests have shorter growing seasons thus tighter grain.  And when it come to American White Oak, there is a big range of where it grows.

   From East Texas to Maine the great Quercus alba forest covers nearly a third of the country. Keystone is Pennsylvania only, thus you generally get medium to tight grain wood in their barrels.  That is what the "TG" stands for, "tight grain".  Not to produce a full tome on oak here, but generally the tighter the grain, the slower the extraction from the barrel will be.  

    The letters "ML" indicate the toasting level.  In this case "ML" means "medium long".  I requested this toasting style which is a lower heat for a longer time.  A medium toast will give you more oak structure instead of the smoke and caramel you get from the toasting process.  Again, that is a decision you need to make based on what you feel the wine from your vineyard needs.  Also, when working with a barrel for the first time, I like to try and taste the wood not the toast.  The toast can be fined tuned, the wood is the wood.  The longer time of the toast gives you a deeper penetration into the wood.  Thus if the wine is in the barrel for 18 months, the toast is deep enough to prevent the wine from interacting with un-toasted wood.  The "TH" is another toasting indicator, meaning "toasted heads"  The heads account for a significant amount of the surface area of the barrel, thus toasting the head as well is an important step if you want to control the impact of the barrel.

    Lastly is "3Y" which means "three years" of wood aging. Once the trees get turned into stave logs at the mill, they sit outside.  Two years is the basic time your average cooperage will allow the wood to age outside.  The longer the wood is exposed to the sun, wind and rain, the milder the "oakiness" becomes.  This is one of those "aha" things the French had to explain about how to make barrels for wine instead of whaling ship rum.  Thus, with American oak that can be a bit more powerful than French oak, I prefer a full 3 years of weathering.  It costs a bit more, because the stave mill needs to have the oak sitting around for an extra year before selling it, but for me it is worth it.

     The last thing about these barrels that you can't see here is that they are a slightly larger size.  I order these barrels in the 265 liter size.  The normal French barrel size is between 225/228 liters depending on the shape.  By having a larger barrel, you decrease the surface area to volume ratio, thus producing a situation with less extraction. 

    This month, finishing my initial tasting trials for these barrels, I have been pleased.  I think Keystone will be with us for a while.  If you stop by the winery, look me up and you can taste for yourself.

   

Time Posted: Apr 13, 2011 at 2:37 AM Permalink to Keystone Cooperage Permalink Comments for Keystone Cooperage Comments (7)
Jason Joyce
 
March 30, 2011 | Jason Joyce

The Clock Begins

    In the fall, the leaves on the vines turn their beautiful colors and eventually fall off.  The vines themselves enter a dormant state, mirroring the farmers and vintners who need a long winter's nap to recover from harvest. 

     Eventually spring rears its wonderful head bringing warmth and sunshine to wake everything up again.  The buds on the pruned vines begin to break open and the great cycle of the vintage begins.  This week at the end of March marks that beginning for the 2011 vintage.

     Now either in tasting notes you have read, or at some winemaker's speech you have survived, you may have heard that not all grapes ripen at the same time.  Here at Calcareous, some grapes we pick at the end of August and some we pick in the middle of November.  And contrary to what some might say, that waiting until November is not some ploy to get the fruit "over ripe" to make big jammy Paso wine.  No, the fact is, each variety planted here marches to its own beat when determining the timing of when its fruit will be ready.  Some vines take their own sweet time, and no other time of year shows this as clearly as bud break.

     Every year, the first grape picked off the Calcareous vineyard is the Chardonnay.  Here is what that Chardy looks like today.

 

    Hope and life spring eternal, literally! An exclamation because you don't get to be literal all that much in life these days.  Now of course, the constant worry of a freeze that could damage these fragile buds is ever present.  Well, not actually.  Here is a tip to any of you out there that are looking to plant a vineyard for your future award winning estate winery.  Plant on a steep hill.  Oh sure, it makes working the vineyard feel like a constant mountain hike, you need crawler tractors, and irrigation and ripening are irregular.  But the big plus, we have never had a frost problem here*.  So these buds will soon be leaves, stems, and flowers.  

    Now, why don't we walk 75 yards due east and see what is happening with the Mourvedre.

     Um, not much.  Mourvedre is always in a race with the Lloyd Block Cab Sauv to see who gets picked last.  And as you can see here, budding is still a couple weeks away.  Not a hint of green anywhere in the whole block. The Mourvedre vines are weeks behind the Chardonnay in general life cycle.  Thus, the fruit will ripen weeks later.  Sure this is a bit of a simplification of things, but it is always interesting to me see the order of bud break as it outlines my general planning of harvest.  

     You can start to put together a flow chart in your mind of what fruit will go into what fermenters.  There are dreams about various co-ferments from fruit that ripens at the same time.  Last year, the top of a section of Syrah and the bottom of the Merlot broke the same week.  So I thought, why not, during harvest a small 1 ton co-ferment of the two.  If you ever visit in the next year, you can taste that experiment and see what you think.  I for one am in love as these two maligned beauties work wonders together.  Things like that won't happen every year, so by paying attention to the vineyard now, you can prepare for the little bits of magic as they may occur.

    Finally, an aside for those who read my post on pruning.  I mentioned that the ideal goal is to get two buds from each spur position.  This way you get the low yields and concentrated fruit you hope for.  I also mentioned that this two bud thing is a dream.  Sometimes, like in the above Chardonnay photo, you get a perfect two buds and all is well.  Sadly, a lot of the time things look like this Malbec here.

    A solid 8 buds there, and that is only the one side. This means that we will have to go back through in the next month, and pull off all the extra shoots.  So for those keeping count, this will be the second time this year each vine will be visited and adjusted by hand.  There will be many more of these visits over the next 6-7 months.  Hopefully I'll write a little post about each of them.

 

*Please Snow Miser, I am not challenging you.  Please stay down in your cold, yet comfortable low lying areas.

Time Posted: Mar 30, 2011 at 9:51 PM Permalink to The Clock Begins Permalink Comments for The Clock Begins Comments (2)
Jason Joyce
 
March 6, 2011 | Jason Joyce

Cooper Profile #1

    One of the things that connects me most to winemaking at a small family owned winery like Calcareous is the handmade nature of the product. All work done on the vines is done by hand. The fruit is hand picked. And in the winery during crush, the wine making here is defintely hands on. Which all comes to mind this time of year when meeting with the salespeople and coopers from the cooperages that make the barrels we use. Although for simplicity reasons we often categorize the oak used in wine making as French, American or European, reality is much more interesting than that. After all, do we just lump in all grapes as being either French, Spanish or Italian?
      Making barrels is just as much an ancient artisian craft as wine making. Each barrel is hand made and toasted by some one with oak staves, steel hoops, a hammer, and a fire pit in the ground. The way the flavors of the barrel integrate with the wine and the life the wine lives while aging are much more influenced by the person who made that barrel than by just where the tree was grown. In recent years, the barrels of Tonnellerie Meyrieux have become one of my favorites and used in both my Rhone and Bordeaux programs. There might even be an expansion into the world of Pinot Noir.
    If you are ever on a cellar tour and see this logo, you can impress the tour leader and fellow "tourists" (is that the proper word?) with the question "So how do you feel the powerful Meyrieux (pronounced May-Roo) barrels impact the wines made here?"

     Powerful is the key word here. From 2007-2009 these barrels were only allowed to interact with Syrah, the power king of West Side Paso Robles. The method used for toasting these barrels produced wonderful flavors that softness to powerful wines like no other barrel I have ever used. As you can see here, the "House Toast", basically the toast the cooper feels is the best expression of their barrel, is made with Syrah in mind.


     A house with the word Syrah is a foolproof way to tell the sleep deprived english speaking wine maker what to do with this barrel. Last year, after talking with the cooper and requesting a special lower temperature, longer timed toasting regiment, these barrels moved into Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot. And after tasting through the barrels with him this past week, we were both very pleased with the outcome. This year he even had a new brazier designed that will allow an even milder yet deeper toast to the barrel.

     This has led me to expectation of expanding the Meryrieux usage out to other varietals. Cab Franc, Pinot Noir (Meyrieux is located in Villers-La-Faye France after all), maybe even get crazy and put some Marsanne in one. We'll see. But one can not underestimate the importance of tailoring your barrel program to your wine making. And remember to thank the word's hard working artisan barrel makers the next time you taste perfect aging and oak integration in your glass. 

Time Posted: Mar 6, 2011 at 12:01 PM Permalink to Cooper Profile #1 Permalink Comments for Cooper Profile #1 Comments (6)
Jason Joyce
 
February 15, 2011 | Jason Joyce

Is Wine Really Made In The Vineyard?

This time of year, things are a bit slow and predictable in the cellar. The usual week consists of a blending trial here or there in preparation for the spring bottlings. Some topping and checking of SO2 levels is sure to follow. It’s a good time to do barrel evaluations in preparation for the onslaught of barrel salesmen coming in March. And finally, keep tracking malolactic fermentation of the 2010 wines. So, not much too really talk about in a picture page format as far as cellar activities. If you doubt me, well, here is the chromatography.

     Never mind the big drop of DAP there in the middle, I got a bit too excited. Looks like the Estate Grenache, Block 6 Syrah, and maybe the Glen Rose Syrah are ready to go. Yeah, that’s the stuff of award winning blogging eh?
      So instead, I’d like to talk a little about something else happening right now that has a massive impact on wine quality for 2011. We started pruning the vines last week. The way a vine is pruned is the first step you take in influencing the fruit of the next vintage. Pruning basically outlines how much fruit we want each vine to produce, while also limiting the amount of energy used in vegetative growth. Here is what the now dormant vines look like; this is Malbec in case you were wondering.

     (These vines were planted in 2002! Things grow slowly on limestone.)

      Ah, the blank canvas for the pruning shears. It’s time to get to work creating a grape producing masterpiece. Once we are finished, it should look something like this.

      Well, sure, it looks like we hacked away at the thing to leave a vine with a bunch of little stubs. But there is quite a bit of thinking that goes into this. The first time I had to prune I was worthless. I stared, measured, counted my fingers, talked to the vine, everything to make the perfect prune. I was slow to the point of just being in the way. And to top it off, even with all my science and thinking, I was still making bad decisions. After a couple of hours though, the Zen of pruning begins to set in. The points where it is best to clip start to organically appear to you. I’m still no Edward Scissorhands like our vineyard manager Martin, but I can hold my own now.
      For the home ranch, we use a cordon training system. The central vertical trunk splits into two permanent horizontal parts. This horizontal part is called the cordon. On the above photo, there are 5 nubs on each side of the cordon. Those nubs are the permanent spur positions, the locations where we will allow the yearly vegetative shoot growth.


Here is a close up shot of a spur position before pruning.


      As you can see, two shoots grew from the spur position.  This is our first and foremost form of growth control. We want to limit things to 10 Spur positions per vine, thus 20 shoots per vine. And since each shoot will typically only produce two clusters per shoot, we would have 40 clusters per vine in a perfect world. You never get that much fruit, but if left untended until harvest, that would be your max. It makes the fruit dropping that takes place at veraison much easier when pruned like this.
      So how do you get the nice perfect two shoots of growth from each spur, well here is a handy photo to demonstrate.

     This is not an ideal spur here. The buds, the two white bumps, are too far from the cordon for my liking. But this photo nicely demonstrates the two buds per spur position pruning goal. Ideally, your buds will be really close to the cordon so that each year, the spur becomes a nice tight knot on the cordon. If you see a vine with spurs that are growing way away from the cordon, you got some lazy pruners, possible poor growth, and some angry grape pickers during harvest.

   Here is what happens when you let your wine maker learn pruning the previous year.

   An ugly mess with buds all over the place.  Now we will have to come back after bud break and knock off all the excess shoot growth.  I let Martin handle this one this year, and he already did a great job of getting it under control.  After pruning next year, that spur position will be beautiful.
      In my humble opinion it can not be overstated how important vineyard practices like pruning are in determining the final product, the wine. With each cut, we are impacting how the vine will grow, how it will produce fruit, and how healthy it will be. It is a common throw away line in wine maker bios about how “the best wine is made in the vineyard”. This is what is meant by that. Pruning is a back breaking, hand killing endeavor that needs to be carried out as carefully as any sorting, punch down or pressing that happens during harvest. When done correctly with proper care, the foundation for great wine is laid.



 

Time Posted: Feb 15, 2011 at 11:35 AM Permalink to Is Wine Really Made In The Vineyard? Permalink Comments for Is Wine Really Made In The Vineyard? Comments (6)