Saturday, August 9, 2008

New Wines Soon

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.


Michael said...

I always enjoy hearing your winemaking insights be it in person or cyber space. You and the team at SK are as enjoyable as the wine you produce. While the former is not superfluous and certainly worthy enough of visiting the winery it is the latter that usually draws me in. After all, when I think of SK words like quality, attention to detail and respectability come to mind.

This evening we enjoyed an ’03 Home Ranch Cab on the back porch of a friend’s house. Business, life, ex wives, new cars, new beginnings etc. were the topics as the sun set and eventually my friend Dan wanted to know a little more about what we were enjoying. Much to his surprise this fine Cab came from Livermore. And it was in oak for over 2 years, which got me to thinking...

If the fruit in the Bordeaux varietals, for example, are showing nicely now after 18 months, how will that show in the bottle when released, after 6 months and again in 1 year compared to 24 months in oak?

If the 2006 vintage Bordeaux varietals in barrel were left for an additional 6 months, what is your best guess as to how they might be different?

Is a similar revisiting of the time in oak going to be applied to any of the other wines in the SK line up?

Also, you indicated the amount of time in wood is a paramount decision that is being revisited. Does that mean you have a sense that other decisions in the overall process need the craftsman's hand as well to fine tune this organic process?

I’m sure these winemaking decisions aren’t taken lightly, as your passion would certainly not allow it, and may even span several vintages. I look forward to hearing, and reading, your insights and ideas while I wait for the chance to try the 2006 wines firsthand.

Steven Mirassou said...


Thank you for your kind words, and you've asked some great questions.

The "revelation" of the three wines I wrote about reflects a change or preference that has been percolating a while. This is not say that it is permanent by any stretch or that I won't be struck by the excellence of a "woodier" version of that same wine a month from now or next vintage.

Re: your questions: I think that a wine that is fruitier when it goes into bottle will show that quality longer than if it had more wood going into the bottle. The 2006 Bordeaux varietals and blends will probably be a touch more structured than in 2005, allowing the wines to age longer with more fruit and acidity in the first several years of their lives. Had there been more wood, the youth of the wine would show less fruit/fruit acid character but would eventually find equilibrium in its middle age.

I don't think that the oak situation is an either/or question with our wines. The key is to try to make a wine that is balanced in respect to fruit, wood, acid, and tannin. Each vintage is different and it is the fruit, ultimately, that will determine how long a barrel aging regime it has.

in an effort to continually learn more and make better wines, we review our processes constantly. I am definitely looking at extending maceration times on 2008 vintage Bordeaux, doing more extensive cluster thinning in the vineyard this year, and focusing our oak barrel program on fewer coopers this year. Hopefully in 6 months, I will be able to report that this evolution was indeed beneficial and that we will all be able to enjoy even better wines moving forward.