I spent a very enjoyable last couple of days culling through our 2006 Ghielmetti Vineyard Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot lots. I take a glass and a plastic cup and a wine thief and my clip board to the barrel stacks and a taste a sample from each barrel, write notes and grade each wine. Depending upon how far along in their lives the wines are, I am looking for different things.
At this point with the 2006 vintage, I am tasting wines that are pretty close to being where we want them for release. And boy did I find some spectacular wines, too. In part because of the success of the La Rochelle project (with its multitude of small lot wines), but mostly because we now have the right vineyard bearing a wide variety of wonderful fruit, we will be releasing very small lots of wine for all of guests that particularly display varietal typicity, deliciousness, interest, and world-class quality.
I have had the growing sense lately that the decisions I have made regarding, especially, the amount of time some of our Bordeaux varieties spend in wood, need to be revised. Generally, we use a fairly high percentage of new barrels, and it has been our practice to keep Cabernet in barrel a full two years. For the first vintage or so of the other Bordeaux, the practice has been the same. After tasting through these lots, however, I have found some wonderful fruit characteristics showing through at 18 months in barrel that may not be there at 24.
Though we have wine making protocols, they are not recipes. Each vintage is different and requires modified thought processes to make successful wines from them. I think it may play out, however, that we see a more general move to reducing time in barrel (or a higher percentage of older barrels) for more of our wines. Later this year expect a single barrel each of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot in the Barrel Room in both 750ml and magnum formats.