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06 Dec 2008 Adventures in blending — 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sangiovese

I started the blending process for four of 2007 vintage wines:  Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Roaring Red, Dry Creek Valley Syrah and Santa Barbara Sangiovese.

We have three distinct Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Vineyard X vineyard, hot fermentation Young-Inglewood vineyard, and a cool fermented Young-Inglewood vineyard.  The Vineyard X wine is tremendous wine — the Transault barrel has provided a pronounced aromas of freshly made fine Italian espresso, black currants and red currants; the mouthfeel is great from front to back with the standard dip in the mid-palate associated with Cabernet Sauvignon.  The two Young-Inglewood fermentations were done to provide good blending components for the Vineyard X fruit.  The cool fermentation provides good fruitiness aromas and flavors with lower tannin extraction while the hot fermentation provides a structure and color component at the expense of very little aromatics.  While evaluating the separate wines, I noticed that the cool fermented Young-Inglewood wine had noticably different (more reddish with some purple) and better color than the hot fermented Young-Inglewood which did not make sense initially.  The cool fermented wine was in a neutral barrel to preserve the fruit purity while the hot fermented wine was in a new barrel to provide ample oak tannins for oak flavor and color fixation.   The hot fermented wine was brighter and clearer than the cool fermented wine.  The new barrel seems to have worked as expected with brighter and more stable color and good structure/oak flavoring.    I was hoping to work out the first or gross blend of the Cabernet Sauvigons to get the blend done and allow time for it to stablize.  However, after evaluating the wines, I have decided to combine the two Young-Inglewood lots into a single lot, do 5% concentration to get the body and mouthfeel to be on par with the Vineyard X wine. return the wine to neutral barrels and reevaluate the wines in January for the next blending step.  The next steps are to determine if the Vineyard X lot should be combined with the Young-Inglewood for a single Cabernet Sauvignon lot or do fractional blending of the Young-Inglewood lot with the Vineyard X lot and try for highly rated “Parker” style wine.  It is a very difficult choice given that in order to sell more wine, I need to get highly-rated wines given my price point or make a better wine in the Lionheart Wines Style.  My initial thoughts are to make a wine more in the Lionheart Wines style — bold, approachable, some agability and fantastic with food.  If we end up with the Lionheart Wine style, there may not be a Roaring Red in 2007 as all of the Cabernet Sauvignon will be used for the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon.

The White Hawk vineyard Sangiovese from Santa Barbara tasted great and has great chemistry numbers (14.47% abv, 3.42 PH, 7.9 grams/liter TA and a low VA).  The acidity is a bit higher than will be in the final wine but it is much better for the wine to have higher acidity at the point than the reverse.  The high acidity provides good protection to the wine by helping the effectiveness of SO2 in solution as an anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent.  A potassium carbonate (e.g. potcarb) trial will be done to determine the final bottling acidity in January.  My initial guess is that we will end up lowering the TA by 0.5 to 0.7 grams/liter.   A sample blend of 5% Vineyard X Cabernet Sauvignon was done with the Sangiovese post postcab adjustment resulting in a very exciting wine — you are going to love it!  The final blend will be done in done in late December or mid-January.

The Dry Creek Valley Syrah from Ray Teldeschi vineyard has been a bit of mystery on where to take it since it was fermenting in 2007.  The wine has been very tight since it was put in barrel.  After 11 months, the wine started to open up and show classic Syrah characteristics of ground pepper, red fruit, black olive, earth and some smoke.   I have been aging the wine in two lots — 1 new Hermitage barrel to add oak structure in the classic French Syrah style, 1 neutral barrel to preserve the fruit characteristic unmasked by oak and the balance of the wine in a stainless steel topping tank.   The Hermitage barrel has provided an abundance of oak with some similar characteristics to American oak — slight coconut and a far amount of Vanillin plus the more standard French spices (warm) and cracker pepper.  After tastings both lots, it is clear that the wine needs to be racked together into neutral barrels to avoid anymore oak flavor pick up.  The oak flavor is good but anymore would be distracting. 

A key goal of this blending / tasting session was to see what the gross blend for the syrah would be to enhance the aromatics, provide a layer flavor/aroma profile and make sure to have a long balanced finished.  The initial thoughts were to use the traditional blenders with the syrah: Tempranillo (Spanish style), Grenache (French) and Viognier (Australia and some French).  I would like to try Mouvedre but I do not access to any.  The Tempranillo was very interesting by itself but when combined with the Syrah it highlights the worst of each wine — so the Tempranillo was ruled out.  The Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard Grenache is a great blending component; it has bold and pleasant aromas of ripe pumpkin, cracked pepper (white and black), strawberry, cranberry and rhubbarb.  The Broken Leg Vineyard Viognier from Anderson Valley is also a good blending component by providing a nice aromatic lift of apricot, orange blossom and tangerines.  After several blends being tried, the target blend of 6% Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard Grenache provides a good complexity of aromas and flavors that compliments the base Syrah.  The Grenache will be blending in during the rack and return to neutral barrels for the Syrah.  The Viognier provides a good lift to the aromatics and enhances the mouthfeel and finish of the syrah.  The Viognier will be blended in January after the Grenache has had time to integrate into the syrah.  It is best to take the blending in stages to make sure the blend in your glass works in the barrel.

Overall, I am quite happy with the wines.  I would have liked to get all the gross blends done in December but the wine indicates patience and several steps are going to be required to produce the best wine possible.  Naturally, I am going to listen to what the wines are indicating not my will.

12 Nov 2008 Clonal selection — how important is it?
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I was asked a few days ago about clonal selection for a given varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon, and what difference it really makes in a final wine.  My initial impression was that clonal selection of the cultivar(varietal) from a given site is not that important.  However, after thinking about this for a day or so, I have a different point of view.

My initial thoughts were based on key assumption — the vineyard was planted with the exact perfect clonal selection and rootstocks for each block’s soil, weather, water and temperature conditions.  This is a very large assumption on my part.  It is nearly impossible to get the perfect match of clone, rootstock, capopy management, water regime, nutrient regime, etc the first time for a vineyard manager.  There is a reason why it takes decades to determine the best varietals for a given area/vineyard, let alone a specific set of clones.

From a winemaking perspective, clonal selection is very important when a vineyard is young as some clones match up better with the specific growing conditions than others.  Each clone is going to express different elements more boldly than other clones.  Clonal differences such as cluster density and cluster size make a large difference in areas that have rain during the ripening season, heavy fog, etc — a loose cluster will be able to dry out more easily and have a lesser tendency to develop fungal issues than a tightly packaged cluster would be able to dry off.  Each clone is going to bring different nuances to your finished wine.

For each wine, I have a particular style and flavor profile that I am looking for.  I will try to select a mixture of clones when possible to give me more flavors / aromas / tannin profiles to work with for the final blend of the wine.  It is the same concept as a painter wanting to have more shades of a autumn colors when painting an Autumn scene — more gradiations, great more depth and interest in the viewer.  A wine from a selection of clones should have a more layered and complex profile than a wine from a single clone.  If a specific clone gives you just what you are looking for, then fabulous — enjoy the great wine!  If not, you will need to either make up for the missing element by blending in wine from another location or use some additional clones of the same varietal.

From a growers perspective, clonal selection is very important but for slightly different reasons.  Clones are selected based on the easy of growing healthy grapes (cluster size, cluster density, flower period, degree of millerage, evenness of ripening), yield, heat tolerance, drought tolerance, etc.   The type of grower makes a large difference on what elements they focus on — a bulk grower is selecting clones for highest yield, highest disease and fungus resistance, larger berry size; while a quality grower is looking for small berry size, low yields of highly concentrated berries, particular tannin profiles, rarity of the clone (premium value for a desired clone), etc.

Cabernet Sauvignon Clones (note all of this is subjective to each person’s palate and desired style):
Clone 7 according to Winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus of Chappellet Winery: considered perfect match for our rocky, volcanic soils.  The fruit it produces is valued for the rich, forward blackberry and casis flavors and balanced tanninns.

Clone 337 is considered to be one of the best selections for Napa Valley high-end wines.  Yet, Clone 337 has shown some poor terroir results in Sonoma County hillsides if the cultivar was matched with the wrong rootstock and had low water availability.  Clone 337 is considered to be quite fruity and has a depth of flavors.

Clone 7 is considered to be rustic (aka rough tannins) compared to Clone 337.  Other say that Clone 7 is just fine when not grown on hillsides.

My conclusion is that clonal selection is very important for growing the best possible fruit for a given location with the realization that each person’s view of what is the best is subjective.  Some combinations of specific clones on a given site will produce more concentrated and healthier fruit that others.  If that combination produces grapes that suits your wine style, then you are a very happy grower/winemaker.  If not, you need to either try another combination or look at a different location to grow/source your grapes from.

26 Oct 2008 2008 harvest is coming to a close

2008 will probably not be considered a great vintage due to the rough growing season especially in Northern California — frost at budbreak / fruitset, early hot weather, little rain and a cool growing season.  The quality of each AVA will vary greatly with the level of vinicultural practices used.  The main issue was frost-protection in part of the Russian River valley, Napa Valley and the Sonoma Valley; Santa Barbara was skipped from much frost damage.  If frost damage happens early enough in the season, the vines will lose initial shoots and flowers but the vine will push a second set of shoots and flowers.  The second set is behind the first set by 3 to 5 weeks depending on condition, yet fruit from both sets will start to change color at the same time.  If the vineyard manager did not drop the second clusters before veriasian, it will be impossible to differentiate the unripe clusters when harvesting the fruit.  The resulting mix of ripe and unripe fruit would produce a terrible wine! 

The frost and cool growing season resulting in much lower yields than in past years.  We lost part of our Bohemian Pinot Noir allocation due to early frost damage to the vineyard.  If the vineyard management was good, the fruit could be quite nice especially from the Santa Barbara County area.

The Crush phase of the 2008 harvest is coming to a close for Lionheart Wines with the last fermentations starting to kick off today.  The Crush season started early at the end of August with an early high-temperature spike that forced some growers to bring their fruit in earlier than expected due to sugar levels and raisining of the berries.  The Crush is ending at a more gentle pace that the start which is always appreciated considering the long hours in the winery up to this point. :)

Initial thoughts on our 2008 Wines:

  • 2008 White Hawk vineyard, Sangiovese, Santa Barbara County — this wine is going to be spectacular!  The fermentation was well-behaved and cool resulting in fantastic aromas and flavors.  At the pressing, the wine could be smelled all over the winery with many people commenting on what was the wine and how do I get some!
  • 2008 White Hawk vineyard, Syrah, Santa Barbara County — the wine has fantastic fruit flavors/aromas with the distinctive pomegranite and orange peel notes.  The syrah was co-fermented with Viognier and Marsanne with some very nice complexity and enhanced aromatics.  The wine is going to be blended with Syrah from Thompson vineyard resulting in a syrah made in the 2006 style — big fruit, some jamminess, good structure and begging you to have it with lamb!
  • 2008 Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon — the first fermentation went well with the results not clear until pressing happens on Monday.  The second fermentation is kicking off today and should be basically done by next Sunday unless I decide to do extended maceration for mid-palate complexity.  The wines should be quite nice and done in the 2006 style when the final blend comes around.
  • 2008 The Angel’s Share, Saralee’s Vineyard, White Rhone blend — the Marsanne and Roussanne have just recently started to fermented coolly.  It will take several weeks for the fermentations to be completed but the racked juice tastes very good and already has great aromas.
  • 2008 Gap’s Crown, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast – the wine is currently going through malolactic fermentation.  The overall quality will not be clear until malolactic fermentation is complete but initial indications are that it will be a good blending component for our Sonoma Coast blend. The wine is a co-ferment of clones 115 and 828 fruit.
  • 2008 Bohemian, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley/Sonoma Coast –  the wine is currently going through malolactic fermentation.  The overall quality will not be clear until malo. fermentation is complete.  The wine is a co-ferment of 115 and 667 clones; the aromas are very nice and similar to aromas/flavors in our 2007 Pinot Noir.  I will be blending in some 777 clone wine after malolactic fermentation completes.

Unfortunately, I was not able to secure some of the McGinley Roussanne for this year.  I will be taking immediate steps to remeady that situation for next harvest.