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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.

05 Nov 2008 It is coming up rose…

Last night, I did an experiment of combining the still fermenting rose batches (White Hawk – Sangiovese and Syrah bleeds + Thompson Syrah bleed) to see what the result would be like and get some initial chemistry numbers. 

The results of the combination were quite good.  The White Hawk Rose is a deep lavender color (so rose is a bit of misnomer at this point), good fruit characteristics (currant, cherry, strawberry), good aromas (floral – violets, candied rose petal), nice crisp acidity but has a hint of a slight bitterness on the finish; the Brix level is currently at 0.2 Brix where -2.0 Brix should be roughly dry.  The Thompson Rose is not as far along fermenting (3.5 brix) and has sweet fruit especially strawberry but no bitterness on the finish.  When I combined the two in amounts equal to a straight combination of the current roses, I got a very lovely rose that is quite enjoyable, crisp acidity, nice sweetness (too high at the moment) and a complexity of aromas and flavors that I was not expecting.

The chemical analysis indicated the following: 17 grams / liter of Fructose/Glucose, TA = 6.3 g/l, pH = 3.53, alcohol % = 13.1, Malic acid = 1.16 grams/liter and VA = 0.53.  The sugar level will come down as the roses continue to ferment.  The acidity and pH are great.  The alcohol level is a bit high as I was trying for 12.5% but that can be adjust right before bottling.  The VA is just fine but needs to be watched.

I am going to let each of the roses finish fermenting individually, then rack them into a single tank and then make final adjustments prior to bottling.  The rose will probably be bottled in January due to the bottling schedule at Crushpad is already backed up into December even with harvest just wrapping up. 

I think everyone who gets to try to the rose will be pleasantly surprised.  Next harvest, I am  planning on making a rose for sale.  This year’s rose maybe just for wine club members as a thank you gift.

26 Oct 2008 To bleed or just dilute ?

One of the key questions a winemaker asks him/herself is whether you should do a bleed on the processed grapes before innoculating with yeast to start the primary fermentation.  A bleed is the removal of some of the liquid (mostly sugar and water) from popped/crushed grapes as part of a brix adjustment.  Generally, a bleed is used to lower the sugar amount / potential alcohol by bleeding some liquid out roughly 12 to 18 hours after processing while replacing it with the same volume of water.  If the grapes are very juicy (lots of water in them, you may want to remove some liquid to help increase the ratio of liquid to skins for better concentration.  This approach is done for varietals such as Merlot, Syrah and cult Cabernet Sauvignons.

I decided to bleed both Syrahs and Sangiovese to go for a better skin to liquid ratio after the water adjustment to lower the potential alcohol into the target range.  Normally, wineries will just pour out the bleed liquid.  The bleed was such a lovely violet color and smelled so good that I decided to try to make Rose or Violet in this case.  I kept the White Hawk fruit bleeds together (60% Syrah and 40% Sangiovese) and put the Thompson Syrah bleed in a different vessel.  The White Hawk Rose is coming along great with fantastic aromas and flavors over a slow cool fermentation; I am very happy with this so far!  The Thompson Syrah only started fermenting a few days ago, so not sure how it may turn out.  If both Roses are good and blend well, I will make one Rose that will only be available to Wine Club members.

I will keep you up to date on the Rose progress in future posts.  Note: I am tickled pink that Rose is working out as I hate to waste good juice.

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.