• Barrel Background

    January 24, 2019 10:14

    Barrel Background

    Winter brings our activities inside so the cellar crew is hard at work transferring last year’s vintage, 2017, out of barrel and bringing in the 2018 vintage to rest for a year or more. We also have our site set on Barrel Tasting which is an annual educational event held the first two weekends of March. Join me for a bit of barrel background.

    We’ll start with ullage (hint-it’s not a town in Sweden) and it is what happens to wine as it spends time in a bottle or a year in the barrel. Ullage describes the loss of wine due to evaporation while the wine ages. When someone asks me about their 1974 Cabernet and they want to know if it is sound one of the first questions I ask is to describe the fill line on the bottle. The high or low level of the wine in the neck of the bottle tells me if there has been loss over time and possibly determines spoilage because too much air has oxidized the contents. It is the same in a barrel except instead of an ounce of wine lost it is closer to about a gallon every 3 months. The cellar crew helps to prevent oxidation by taking down each and every barrel and topping it off every couple of months. However even at this cost (in wine) the act of barrel aging does concentrate by the slow vaporizing of water and alcohol. Why do you think a barrel room smells so good? It’s all about wine vapor. Oak (and cork) is permeable and ultimately, even though a little air is a good thing, the benefits of concentration and slow development outweigh the loss of product.

    The act of ‘thieving’ wine is part of the educational process. Usually the winemaker will taste the young wine while it is heading into the barrel and then, using a wine thief, will check on the progress a few more times during the year as it matures. The wine thief itself, pictured below in a painting by Richard Sheppard, is nothing more than a glass tube for siphoning out a small sample of the wine. During the aging process, as the water and alcohol dissipate, the wine softens little by little, concentrates a bit more. It will take on aspects of the oak as well as loosen up its' grip. 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. Winemakers are a patient lot. Time in the barrel equals a nicely aged wine making it more ready to drink upon release.

    Insider tip: You don’t have to become a winemaker to thief wine around these parts (Northern Sonoma County) because we have an event that celebrates Barrel Tasting via the the Wine Road. 40 years ago a few wineries banded together, Pedroncelli included, to market wines made from the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys, to locals and visitors alike. Today guests buy tickets, roam the wine roads, taste young red and white wines and learn more about the process of aging. We usually pair the barrel sample with the current release for comparison’s sake. Sometimes we throw in a library vintage of the same varietal-all in the name of educating one’s palate. Enjoy an insider’s look at wine making by attending and tasting for yourself—the first two weekends of March. It is the focus of aging wine that brings great development and style. Time in the barrel is as important to wine as is the source of grapes.

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  • Barreling Through The Years

    February 27, 2018 15:30

    Barreling Through The Years

    Barrel time in wine country is important enough to have its’ own celebration in the form of two Barrel Tasting weekends in March. 41 years ago the Barrel Tasting, originally sponsored by the then Russian River Wine Road (now simply Wine Road) a group of wineries located near the Russian River, began as a way for people to discover northern Sonoma County. 41 years ago there were less wineries hence wines to try-it was at the beginning of the wine renaissance here. Today you have the joy of discovering new and old friends in the mix with over 100 wineries thieving samples out of the barrel for you. The event takes place between Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.

    Back in those early years there were less than 30 wineries participating. I have been here for 33 years and have worked a majority of those weekends. We went from trying to keep up with cleaning glasses to having folks ‘BYOG’ followed quickly by the first branding efforts with an official logo glass for $5. Numbers of wineries now range over 120 participating! Futures were added later on and not much has changed except the number people attending going from 100 to 25,000 at the peak in 2008. These days we see less people than at the peak-much less-which in turn gives us more time for visitors to taste and ask questions. Winemakers and cellar crews stand at the ready to talk about the wine and process of barrel aging. Join us this year as we feature the Past, Present and Future of our Alto Vineyards Sangiovese-a library release, our current 2015 vintage and the 2016 still in barrel. A splash of Sangiovese in my Dino with a toast to 40 more years of barrel tasting.

    **You still have time if you want to attend, tickets are sold at the door.

  • American vs French Oak

    March 9, 2016 17:14

    Barrel tasting continues this weekend across Northern Sonoma County via the Wine Road's 38th annual event. I have written about how to taste from a barrel, how wine in a barrel changes, and today I’ll focus on oak sources.

    Our oak barrels, all 2000 of them, are a mixture of American, French and Hungarian oak. The reason for using three types of oak comes from their ‘flavor profile’ and we match it up with certain varietals. For instance American oak and Zinfandel have always paired well together and we only age our Pinot Noir in French oak. But why is this? You should also take into consideration that we do not use 100% new oak each vintage-more like 25% which also influences the wine’s flavor profile.

    There are subtle but tangible differences between the three types of oak. We use medium plus toast across the board. This means the barrel is toasted to a medium char and the heads (or ends) of the barrel are toasted too. This brings out what we call the toasty, wood fire-like aroma in all of them. The American oak can be a bit more reserved when it comes to its’ profile with less fruit aspects and more toasted oak influence. Since Zinfandel is already fruit forward it makes sense to pair the American oak with this one. Pinot Noir, while showing fruit, benefits from the almost perfume-y aromatics of French Oak. We don’t use a large amount of Hungarian oak but it is similar in profile to French oak.

    It all comes down to the bouquet-both of the varietal as well as the oak. If you have ever walked by a coffee roaster think about those aromatics because they are close to what you can smell of the oak influence in a finished wine. Or the next time you are camping, take in those aromas as well and develop your olfactory memory for toasted oak. I'll 'toast' to oak and its wonderful layered influence in our wines.

    I couldn't resist using this photo of my uncle from a few years ago-he is surrounded by a friendly group of barrel tasters.

    A typical March day outside the Barrel Room. Making way for a new vintage to be aged within.

    Barrel Room

  • Winery Ops

    April 22, 2015 13:49

    The sustainability efforts were just a whisper in 1986 when we built our Barrel Room. It houses 2000 of our red wine barrels and is not an air-conditioned building. A barrel room does its best work when it is kept between 55-60 degrees. How do we keep our barrel room cool? The large room has vents on the outside walls that automatically open at night to allow the cold air in and close by sun up so the chill stays inside. This has helped us maintain the right atmosphere to age wine as well as keep our carbon footprint even lighter. In fact our cellar, built in the early 1900s, is not air conditioned either. It has some help with the temperature controlled stainless steel tanks but they don’t chill wine tanks down every day –and the building maintains the cellar chill year round. Other ways we strive for sustainability at the winery include simple things like energy efficiency (we changed the lighting in all warehouses to turn on when someone is working in the area), recycling and composting, and water conservation. We like to say we have been sustainable for 87 years and our goal is to maintain it all for future generations. We achieve this goal by looking at the options we have to make not only the vineyard but the winery operations better with each passing year. A toast to Earth Day and keeping our sights on being good stewards of the land.

    For more about Earth Month visit Discover California.

    One vent on the side of our Barrel Room-doing its part to lighten our carbon footprint.

    Barrel Room Vent