Monday, October 30, 2006

Winemaking step #5: pressing the wine

The other Saturday, we came back to Crushpad to press our wine. The brix had fallen below zero and the wine was completely dry. To press the wine, Crushpad has now a sophisticated pneumatic EuroPress that works by softly pressing the grapes or the must through a membrane by means of compressed air.

The wine press

We first positioned our barrel above the press and opened the top. Then, as we were carefully turning the barrel towards the funnel of the press, a heavy flow of juice and must got released from the opening of the barrel. Fortunately, most of it went into the press but some got scattered all over the floor!

Positioning the barrel above the wine press

The flow of must and juice being dropped into the press

The juice dropping into the press pan

There was still plenty of wine to fill a full wine barrel, blending the free run juice with some light press wine for added aromas and backbone. The wine had gained in complexity since the last time I had tasted it. It had also more length although it was surprisingly round for such a baby wine. We also squeezed out some more wine from the must that was darker and harsher. This press wine went into another barrel that will be used later for "top off".

Pumping the wine into the barrel

The wine is right now in a neutral oak barrel to complete its malolactic fermentation. In a month or so, we should rack the wine off its lees, transfer it into a new oak barrel and finally leave it to slowly mature.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tasting the wines of the Russian River

“The world possesses many great wine rivers that have writ their legends large in the epochal story of wine and the vine: the Loire, the Rhine and Mosel, the Rhône, the Dordogne, the Saône, the Douro.
   Among this exalted company, the Russian River deserves a place.”
A Wine Journey along the Russian River, Introduction.

This book by Steve Heimoff, West Coast editor of the Wine Enthusiast, is what inspired me when I was looking for a wine tasting theme, in order to raise money for Gunn High School's excellent music department. As he explains in his introduction, the Russian River is unique in several respects, perhaps the most important one being the distinct weather zones it passes through. It is remarkable that some days, Jenner, which is at the mouth of the river, is 60 degrees cooler than Cloverdale, located north of Healdsburg in the Alexander Valley. Consequently, Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grow best in the warm Alexander Valley AVA. West of the river, the Dry Creek Valley AVA is best known for Zinfandel. Then, south of Healdsburg, the river suddenly turns west towards the ocean. This part of the river defines the Russian River Valley AVA where the weather tends to be cooler, especially near the Pacific coast, and where Burgundian varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay excel.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2004 Jordan Chardonnay Russian River Valley

Jordan Winery was founded in the 1970s by Tom Jordan, a geologist and owner of an oil and gas exploration company in Colorado. Tom Jordan had the vision to create a world-renowned Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon modeled after First Growth Bordeaux, in a wine region that was little-known at the time. Now, the winery also produces Chardonnays that are crafted in a style similar to the white Burgundies. I found the 2004 Jordan Chardonnay Russian River Valley to be a well-made wine with a golden color and a classic California Chardonnay nose of ripe pear and apple. On the palate, it was creamy and not overly woody with a well balanced acidity.

• 2005 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

Hanna Winery has 252 acres of vineyards in the Russian River Valley (for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir), Alexander Valley (for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and Sonoma Valley (for Bordeaux varieties, Syrah, and Zinfandel). The 2005 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley is sourced from the cool Slusser Road vineyard, a low to no irrigation vineyard with a soil of deep rocky clay loam. The wine was very pleasant with an aromatic nose of grapefruit and pineapple and a crisp and fresh palate.

• 2005 Elizabeth Spencer Rosé Sonoma Coast

Elizabeth Spencer Wines is a two-person operation run by wife and husband team Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham. He is a former wine distributor and she is a former winery sales manager. The 2005 Elizabeth Spencer Rosé Sonoma Coast was inspired by the Rosé wines of the South of France. The fruit comes from vineyards located north of the San Pablo Bay outside of Petaluma. The wine was cold fermented to preserve the wine's bright fruit flavors. It showed a deep pink color and a unusual smoky nose. On the palate, it was dry, fruity, with a zingy acidity.

• 2003 Porter Creek Pinot Noir Fiona Hill

Porter Creek Vineyards is a father and son operation. The winery is certified organic but Alex Davis the winemaker also uses biodynamic preparations to farm the vineyard and is working towards biodynamic certification. He produces vineyard-designated Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Viognier from the Russian River Valley and a Carignane old vines from Alexander Valley. The 2003 Porter Creek Pinot Noir Fiona Hill comes from the steep, hillside Fiona Hill vineyard located at the entrance of the winery. It had a medium brick-red color and a nose of fresh sweet cherries. On the palate, the wine had a earthy character with some good acidity and a smoky finish.

• 2004 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Merry Edwards Wines was founded by Merry Edwards who started making wines more than thirty years ago because she was fascined by food chemistry and yeast fermentation. She mostly produces Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations plus a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc. The 2004 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley is a blend from five Russian River Valley vineyards separately vinified. It had a deep garnet color and an aromatic nose of sweet red berries. On the palate, it was rich and well-balanced with a complex finish. This was the group's favorite Pinot Noir.

In terms of pairing, “At home I serve my Russian River Valley Pinot with all manner of fowl: quail, squab, Guinea hen, duck, goose and pheasant.” wrote Merry Edwards on her website, “The wine's substantial fruitiness pairs well with any meat that favors a fruit stuffing or sauce, like rabbit or pork. My husband Ken's paella with lobster and saffron is a delicious foil for this main course of Pinots.”

• 2002 Lancaster Estate Red Wine Alexander Valley

Located at the southern end of the Alexander Valley, Lancaster Estate was founded by Ted Simpkins, a senior executive with Southern Wine and Spirits with a vision of producing world-class Bordeaux-style wines. The 2002 Lancaster Estate Red Wine Alexander Valley is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot. I decanted one of the two bottles that we were going to taste and served the two wines, decanted and non decanted, side by side. Overall, the wine had a dark color and a nose of blackberry and blackcurrant. On the palate, it was rich with an opulent texture. But the decanted wine was found smoother, more polished than the non decanted one. We also noticed that the decanted wine was warmer, which was maybe the main reason the two wines were different.

• 2002 Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley

Chateau Souverain, now owned by Beringer Blass Wine Estates, is recognized as one of Sonoma County's best wineries, producing high quality wines at a very reasonable price tag. The 2002 Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley
showed a deep purple color and a nose of dark berry fruit. On the palate it was full bodied, balanced, with a reasonably lengthy finish. As for the Lancaster Estate Red, the group preferred the decanted bottle although the aromatic differences between the decanted and the non decanted wines were more subtle.

• 2004 Hartford Zinfandel Russian River Valley

Hartford Family Wines is a Russian River Valley winery specialized in the production of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Old Vine Zinfandel. The 2004 Hartford Zinfandel Russian River Valley comes from dry farmed, low yielding old-vine Zinfandel vineyards (average vineyard age being about 75 years). The wine had bold aromas of red berries on the nose, an intense, full-bodied palate followed by a very long finish. This was everybody's favorite Zinfandel.

• 2004 Amphora Zinfandel Mounts Vineyard

Amphora Wines is a Sonoma County family-owned winery that produces handcrafted Dry Creek Valley wines including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. The 2004 Amphora Zinfandel Mounts Vineyard was hand harvested from 35-to-40-year-old head-pruned vines from Mounts Vineyard on the west side of Dry Creek Valley. The wine had a dark purple color and a nose of black fruit. On the palate, it was dense with some good acidity and a nice long finish of licorice.

“Suddenly, a huge wave, the kind they call a sleeper, easily twenty feet high, came in and exploded, one of those rogues that gather strength above long offshore troughs and then break with tremendous force against the steep beach face. This one was so near that it soaked my pants. Startled, I backed off and headed home.

   It was sunny when I left. At Cazadero, the sky suddenly darkened and the rain came pouring down—but that was exactly as it should be. Ten minutes later, at the Farmhouse Inn, the sun reemerged and lit up the vineyards, bare of grapes till next year.”
A Wine Journey along the Russian River, last chapter.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Winemaking step #4: getting ready for the pressing

The Brix measurements of our fermenting wine had been decreasing rapidly these last few days. Therefore, we expect the wine to be dry soon, maybe by the end of the week. At this stage, the wine has an intense dark purple-ruby color. It is still sweet but the alcohol is now very noticeable. The palate has nice tannins, some good amount of acidity, and hints of toasted oak.

Brix is measured using a Brix hydrometer, an instrument that determines the specific gravity of a liquid using the Principle of Archimedes. A Brix hydrometer is calibrated to read in degrees of Brix, or percent of pure sugar, at a temperature of 20°C. It provides a good indication of when fermentation is complete and the wine dry, usually when the reading is -1.0° Brix or less.

This Brix hydrometer also measures the temperature of the liquid.

Crushpad has a new Wine Community software called Crushnet that allows me to have real-time access to my winemaking status. Conveniently, the data is also sent to me via email where Brix and temperature measurements are displayed on a graph:

My next visit to Crushpad will be Saturday morning and this time, we'll be pressing the wine. Stay tuned!

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

WBW #26: Where's Wino?

With the 26th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday hosted this month by Beau of Basic Juice, we are off to a new adventure: we have to play Where's Wino?.

The rules are simple: first, we sample a white wine from New York, Oregon or Italy, or a red wine from Washington, Spain or France; then, on October 11th, tasting notes of the participants' wines are published on Beau's blog, without revealing the origin of the wines; finally, participants are invited to guess the origin of the submitted wines and someone will even win a prize!

Do you want to guess my entry?

The color is medium-red. The nose has cherry and plum aromas with notes of smoke. The palate is medium-bodied, firm, spicy, with good acidity and length, and a touch of caramel on the finish. We paired the wine with barbecued pork loin and white beans which brought out the smokiness and earthiness of the wine.

Actually, it's not so hard, good luck!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Winemaking step #3: monitoring the fermentation

I made a quick visit to Crushpad yesterday to check how the fermentation of our wine was progressing. And I got lucky because I came just in time to see the fermentation barrel being rotated: several times clockwise and several times counter-clockwise to keep the cap moist and to extract a maximum of color and flavor.

Rotating the barrel

We then measured the temperature and brix of the must. From 25.5 at harvest, the brix was already down to 23.5 on Sunday. Now, it had reached 21 with a rising temperature of 22° Celsius. The fermentation was doing fine.

I did not want to leave before trying the wine. For sure, this was not the fruit juice that I had tasted last Thursday. The color was eggplant purple. The juice was still very sweet but tasted yeasty and had already some secondary flavors.

I am excited, this wine is going to be good!

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Winemaking step #2: inoculation of the must

Yesterday, I was back at Crushpad for another winemaking exercise. We had destemmed and crushed our grapes two days earlier and since then the must had been cold-soaked in order to extract color, tannin, and aromas from the skins. It was now time to inoculate the must with yeast and start the fermentation.

Our winemaker Kian Tavakoli was ready when I came in. We started talking about yeast. “The yeast that converts sugar into alcohol in grape juice is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae .” explained Kian, “Cerevisiae means beer so it's also used to make cerveza!” he added with a smile.

Now I am realizing that there are many different strains of saccharomyces cerevisiae and each of them has very specific properties. Therefore, choosing the right strain has important consequences for the wine.

Crushpad has many different types of yeast

Originally, the plan was to use Enoferm BDX, a French strain commonly used in California for Bordeaux varieties but there was none left in stock that day so we used Enoferm CSM instead. It's also a yeast strain from Bordeaux and recommended for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. According to the manufacturer's instructions, its optimum fermentation range is between 15° to 32°C (59-89° F) and it does not handle alcohols above 14%. It favors color and phenolic extraction, is red fruit driven, reduces vegetal aromas and adds complexity along with balanced, round mouthfeel. In comparison, the Enoferm BDX had an alcohol tolerance of up to 16%, but making a 16% alcohol wine was not our goal.

To insure a quick start to our fermentation, we prepared a starter. First, we re-hydrated the yeast, mixing it with warm water. Then, we activated its life cycle by adding a small quantity of grape juice to it. In less than fifteen minutes, the yeast colony had expanded considerably and the starter was ready. We then poured the starter over the must to kick off the fermentation process.

Crushpad winemaker Kian Tavakoli is getting some juice for the starter.

The starter is ready to be used

The starter is poured over the must

During fermentation, the yeast cells produce carbon dioxide gas that pushes a cap of skins, stems, and pulp to the top. Whereas physically pushing down the cap in order to keep it broken up and moist, as well as extract color and flavors is a common cap management practice, we chose to put our wine in a special brand new oak barrel placed on a barrel rotator stand. The cap and the juice is thus mixed by rotation of the barrel several times a day, which extracts color and tannin much faster than the punch down technique.

The wine will ferment in a brand new oak barrel placed on a barrel rotator stand.

Next week, I'll be at Crushpad again. I want to taste the baby wine, check how the fermentation is progressing and see the barrel being rotated!

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Crushing at Crushpad

I was at Crushpad this morning because our Ink Grade Vineyard lot had been harvested yesterday and I wanted to participate in the destemming/crushing process. Of course, the first thing I did when I arrived at Crushpad was tasting the fruit. The berries were delicious, very sweet and flavorful. I also noticed how carefully hand-picked the grapes had been. The clusters were very clean and uniformly ripe with very few green or sunburned and shriveled berries. According to the final harvest data provided by Crushpad, the grapes had been picked at Brix 25.5, pH 3.39, and TA 7.5 g/l.

The destemmer/crusher is a machine that gently separates the berries from the stems to avoid bitter tannins, and then slightly crushes them. But before being fed through the destemmer/crusher machine, the grapes go on a sorting conveyor where they are carefully inspected and where leaves and bad berries can be removed.

Our fruit is brought over to be destemmed/crushed

The grapes are dumped into the destemmer/crusher machine

On the sorting conveyor

The destemmed berries

The leftover stems are falling out of the destemmer/crusher machine

The final mix of juice, pulp and seeds called the must

After being crushed, the must, which is the final mix of juice, pulp and seeds, is ready to undergo a cold maceration. Cold maceration is a relatively new technique and a way to increase skin contact and extract color and phenolics. The grapes are thus chilled to 14ºC/60ºF for a couple of days in order to inhibit fermentation.

Now, after cold soaking, the next step will be to come back to Crushpad to inoculate our must with our chosen yeast, the BDX - Bordeaux Red.

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