Calcareous is heading down south for the VinDiego Wine and Food Festival next weekend. We are on a panel talking about Bordeaux varietal wines from Paso. To get ready for one of these I like to jot down general ideas and concepts so they are fresh in the mind. Then, once the seminar begins, it is always best to just speak freely and let things go organically. That is the only way to keep things engaging for the audience and make it feel more like a conversation over wine and not come winemaking 101 lecture. Anyway, I decided to share with you my thought scribles I wrote down as my cheat sheet as a kind of behind the scenes. Sadly, I got double booked and have to be Phoenix during that weekend. Luckily for those in attendance though, Associate Winemaker Tyler Russell will be attending in my abscence. We strongly share a general philosophy in winemaking and presentation style. Speak to what you know and believe, and you will speak something of value.
The only crop thinning we perform is on the Malbec, which is a minimal green drop right at veraison. Thus the soils here produce an extremely low yielding vineyard by nature. West Paso land is of such poor agricultural value, it can’t even be used as grazing land in a commercial sense. Thus it has been sitting around waiting for the wine industry.In The Vineyard
The Malbec much more productive due to varietal diefference, but mainly due to planting on only flat part of vineyard, thus the block contains actual top soil. This allows for more vigorous growth. Even with almost double the yield, the stunning quality of the Malbec produced on the property (it is now a main component of the Lloyd, actually biggest in 2010) has cemented our non-interventionist farming style. Unless something extreme happens, trust the vines to produce their fruit as they wish, our job is to work with the vines, not against them. Applying a pre-concieved plan or notion is always a quick road to disaster. Work with your site, this is the only way to stay true to place ( I use Place instead of terroir because I’m from California, not France) and produce a genuinely unique wine.
We harvest almost exclusively on flavor in the vineyard. Analysis is only used to help reference how best to meet the needs of the fermentation. For our Bordeaux varietals, brix ranges from 24-29 brix with pH’s 3.2-3.6. The mix of climate and soil and Calcareous produces complete physiological ripeness while still maintaining very strong acidity. This is the very reason why Calcareous exists as a vineyard and winery.
There is never an established protocol in the cellar as far as production goes. Every lot, every vintage is unique. Just taste, see and feel the fruit, it will tell you how it needs to be handled. In most cases we use open top fermenters ranging from ½ ton to 5 tons. This allows us to stay open to the needs of the fruit and yeast. We are then free to use punch-downs, pump-overs, or delastage as needed, being as reductive or oxidative as will most enhance the fruit. Complete physiological ripeness of skins and pips (brown seeds) allows for extended maceration (25+ days) with no fear of green tannins. Most winemakers go to extremes to avoid seed tannin, we embrace it. (In trials, the past few years, the press fraction of wines have proven superior in blind tasting due to superior tannin structure). These tannins produces a natural toasted wood element in the wine without over use of oak tree tannin. French oak barrels can lend wonderful flavors to the wine, but they do not speak to place. Thus we only use about 20% new oak in our lots.
Broke up, and I'm relieved somehow
It's the end of the discussions that just go round and round and round, and round, And round, and round it shouldn't have been anyway - Issac Brock
Wherever exists some topic that is written about and discussed endlessly, there arises a desparate need for controversy to keep the discussion going. The world of wine definitley falls into this pattern. And true to form as in other worlds, I always find that the "controversies" concerning wine are rather boring and not all that important. In the short amount of time I have been in wine, there are two topics that just will not go away. The first thing people just love love love love love love love to talk about is alchohol levels and ripeness. It's a strange one way debate though as I have never encountered the enraged drinker of fruit driven big full bodied wines lamenting the mere existence of acid driven "elegant" wines. That seems to ring the alarm bells of a created controversy to me and one that demands little attention. This "debate" just seems like a complete waste of time and energy to me. Wines exist in the full range of flavors and styles, drink what you like and let others drink what they like. As George Saintsbury, one of the godfathers of wine writing said:
"The hardest thing to attain... is the appreciation of difference without insisting on superiority"
The problem is that taste in wine is akin to taste in clothes or music, it has become a cultural proxy for establishing your ability to discriminate true quality. It goes back to a great scene in one of my favorite movies, "How to work out what makes good things good is hard isn't it?" And the importance of taste in today's world explains why things can get personal and defensive when talking about wine.
The other topic which is at least somewhat interesting, but again not nearly as important as the time and effort dedicated to it its continuation is wine bottle closures. It is interesting mainly due to it being part of the core idea of wine drinking and the importance of ritual. The cork vs. screwcap story is almost an allegory for the moral debate on souls and brain chemistry. The feeling of "Is there more to this or is the simple explanation the truth?" Screwcap advocates will site the evidence that screwcaps are superior in all regards in terms of performance and ease of use. It represents human science outpermforming nature and all the back slapping that comes with that. The cork set sticks by tradition and likes to say, "Hey man, a cork just feels right." I myself have always gone with the cork. It might not be perfect, but for a completely natural product, it is pretty damn good. And then an old college friend sent me a video in the comments section of this very blog. I thought it was eloquent enough that I should share it up on the front page, and as good a reason as any to stick with putting corks in the bottle, worts and all. And just live with the fact that if you get a tainted bottle, let me know, we always gladly replace them with a fresh bottle.