Postcards from Home

  • The Importance of Aging

    February 16, 2021 14:37

    The Importance of Aging

    In this post we take a closer look at the barrel room and what goes on during the year. If you have visited our tasting room you would see we have a window looking into the process-at different times of the year the view is of the cellar crew taking down each and every barrel about every three months-whether it is to empty them out of the previous vintage, top them off or fill them up with the latest harvest.

    Barrels at Rest

    Quietly aging away, these barrels are at rest. Incremental changes happen over the cellar year. There is quite a bit of work that goes into ensuring each barrel is checked several times throughout the aging process. We have up to 2000 barrels at any given time during the year either being filled or being emptied of their contents. 

    Barrels at Rest

    Polo and CrewBarrel Vocabulary

    There are some fancy words in the world of wine, some of them borrowed from the French winemaking tradition: Bâtonnage, Ullage, Sur Lie. In this photo of cellarmaster Polo Cano and his crew you’ll see them in action as I describe some of these terms:

    We use the word ullage to describe the loss of wine due to evaporation while the wine ages in barrel or bottle. In a bottle you can see the fill line (or ullage) and if there has been too much loss over time then the wine may have had too much oxygen and, in some cases the wine might be bad. The same happens in the barrel but to a larger degree-larger container more loss, meaning a gallon or three over the year. This is often referred to as the angel’s share-the portion evaporating away while slowly oxygenating the wine. This concentration of barrel contents brings a slow softening of the raw red wine. In the case of barrels they are topped up 3 times in the course of their year in barrel and this maintains quality with no spoilage.

    Bâtonnage is the stirring of the barrel. Each time the barrels are taken down for topping the barrels are stirred with a long baton, incorporating the lees and enriching the wine. Sur Lie means the wine in the barrel is aged with the ‘lees’ or dregs, if you will. It is made up of the dead yeast cells and perhaps bits of skin and seeds-small bits. When a wine is aged ‘sur lie’ it is all the better for it, adding flavor components, texture and bouquet.  As the wine makes it way to bottling the lees are left behind, having done their job.

    In the photo below you’ll see a barrel being emptied of the lees.

    Barrel Lees

    Thieving

    The act of ‘thieving’ wine and tasting young wine is an educational process. Using a wine thief, checking on the progress a few times during the year as it matures gives the winemaker a window into how the wine is progressing-does it need more time? Less? The wine thief itself, pictured above, is nothing more than a glass tube for syphoning out a small sample of the wine. If you are trying a wine from the recent harvest be prepared-the tannins are pretty harsh but the silver lining is you get a glimpse of things to come—the fruit components, the acidity, the body—and some of the characteristics will dominate the others. It boils down to a matter of time and winemakers are a patient lot. This equals a nicely aged wine ready to be bottled with many of the rough edges seasoned by time and the barrel itself.

    Thieving

  • Postcards from Home: Winter Chores

    January 22, 2021 14:21

    This month is when the vineyards get their annual 'haircut'-which is a phrase I learned from Richard Thomas, the man I took viticulture classes from 35 years ago. I was learning about the grape side of the business and it was a hands-on experience. We pruned vines on the Shone Farm ranch-I am not sure the vines have recovered from my amateur pruning skills. These photos are all taken in our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard on the Home Ranch. Please note these were taken a few years ago, pre-pandemic. It shows how pruning is done both up close and as the crew makes their way up one of the blocks. It also shows how this is a true skill, honed by many hours of vineyard work.


    Up Close & Personal

    As you can see the shears are cutting away the old growth but not all of it. There is enough left for two buds which will remain dormant until the spring and budbreak. These are the foundation of the next vintage’s crop. You'll also note the former pruning scars on the arm of the vine-these were made years ago and helped to form the vine itself, aiming the arms outward so that as they bear the new crop it will be in the best placement for ripening. Quite a skill to prune with the future in mind. 

    Up Close & Personal

     

    Side by Side

    Don’t you love it when you see the before and after photos of someone’s haircut? I do-it helps to see what was done to make it so different. Here the canes have all been cut away and as mentioned before the 2 or 3 inches left contain the next year’s vintage now waiting for the start of the growing season. For now the vines are content soaking up the nutrients for the next year’s harvest.

    Side by Side

     

    Making Progress

    There are 115 acres of vine to prune over four pieces of property: the Home Ranch, East Side Vineyards, Wisdom Vineyard and Bushnell Vineyard. It takes time because when it rains the crew waits until the soil is less muddy and pruning it by hand is another reason to take it vine by vine. The canes you see being pruned are left between the rows and a chopper will come along and return them to the soil.

    Making Progress

     

    Vines for Days

    The view from above shows a large section of our Home Ranch with the Sangiovese to the west, Cabernet Sauvignon to the south and Zinfandel as far as the eye can see. Each and every vine will be pruned by the time Spring rolls around.

    Vines for Days

     

    Just for Fun: Jasper in the Snow

    I love this shot of Jasper looking out over the expanse. While it isn’t our vineyard, nor is it anywhere near Dry Creek Valley, the majesty of the pines, beauty of the snow and the peaceful time of day this was taken all come together as I look through Jasper’s hopeful eyes-maybe a squirrel, maybe a friend or maybe just a nice walk together up the hill.

    Jasper in the Snow