January 24, 2019 10:14
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.
February 27, 2018 15:30
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.
March 11, 2016 17:10
The act of going winetasting, driving from winery to winery, especially during an industry wide event like Barrel Tasting, needs what I call tricks of the trade. Previously we’ve looked at how to taste wine from a barrel; while tasting to swirl, sniff, sip and especially spit or pour out the remainder in your glass and presented a video, made by the Wine Road, to give some friendly advice on what to do while tasting. The reason? Responsible hospitality both on the winery’s part as well as the visitor-that would be you.
A few years ago we tried to get the idea of responsible sipping across to our visitors at major events by creating four signs that followed the Burma Shave signs which were popular throughout the US beginning in the 1920s. (Hey we were founded in the 1920’s too!) These used humor to sell their product, shaving cream, as people drove along the highways and byways of the U.S. We used humor to get the point across, that it is really okay to spit or pour out the sample of wine, as tasters entered our barrel room.
The reason behind limiting the amount of wine is because it allows the taster’s palate to last longer throughout the day, known as palate fatigue, and to be responsible for the amount of wine consumed. Sometimes it is hard for tasters to understand why we think it is the right thing to do but trust us, we have a lot of experience with this subject. So take a look at our Burma Shave-inspired quip and remember the next time you have some vino in your dino to do the right thing for you and your palate.
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.
March 4, 2016 17:18
Barrel Tasting Weekend is here, the annual event sponsored by the Wine Road. Begun 38 years ago with a few barrels scattered around northern Sonoma County, you brought your own wine glass and bellied up to educate your palate. Today the event is successful and draws visitors from all over California and the U.S. It has evolved, changed with the times and at many wineries you can now buy futures.
So what is it about tasting a wine from a barrel that educates your palate? If you plan it right, by reviewing what each winery in the area offers, you could do a few things like focus on a varietal or a sub-appellation, drill down to either white or red wine, take a look at a specific vintage. By tasting wine thieved from the barrel you’ll be met with some young wine issues including heavier tannins and that awkward teenage stage where the wine is still developing. This is also the time to ask questions about what type of oak, how long the wine will age as well as other winemaking info.
We are offering our Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon that has been in the barrel for over one year. It will age an additional 4 months before bottling. It is still reaping the reward of time in the barrel-the most important feature of aging. Slowly over the months the wine has slowly, painstakingly oxidized where the water evaporates making it more concentrated. The process also softens up the tannins in the wine, making a more palatable, if you will, Cabernet. Either way, you will end up with an education. A toast with some 2014 Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon (our barrel feature) in my Dino.
Montse Reece, our winemaker, thieving samples for Barrel Tasting a few years ago.
March 2, 2016 17:21
Swirl, sniff, sip and spit was the phrase used in the 1980s and 1990s by our Sonoma County Wineries Association to help people in a humorous way to taste wine responsibly. Easy to remember not always easy to do especially the last word.
When visitors stop by tasting rooms they happily swirl the wine in the glass, take a sniff to enjoy the aromas and then sip a bit of the wine to get the full enjoyment of the tasting experience. Spitting, not so much. They ‘don’t want to waste the wine’ or are uncomfortable spitting something out in front of others. I am here to say it really is the best thing you can do in order to maintain yourself at a good pace at each winery. Getting blotto by the end of the day shouldn’t be your goal. Getting educated about what you like and don’t like, trying new wines, spitting or pouring out what is left in your glass is completely acceptable at any tasting room anywhere in the world. I prefer to bring a plastic cup with me-the popular red cup is great because it isn’t see-through. Many tasting rooms offer cups to use as an important responsible hospitality tool. As we get ready to welcome our visitors to Barrel Tasting over the next two weekends, I’ll be reminding everyone not to be afraid to swirl, sniff, sip AND spit. Cheers with a splash of vino in my Dino-the original plastic cup!
Swirl, sniff...sip and spit.
February 18, 2016 17:37
Today I’m going to divert a bit and talk about barrel tasting. The reason? Our own Sonoma-grown Barrel Tasting is in a few short weeks so I thought I’d share some advice when it comes to tasting wines straight out of the barrel.
First of all, at our winery, you’ll be trying wine that is thieved directly out of the barrel it is aging in. The barrel room is 55 degrees or even cooler during the winter months. Once you have the wine in your glass try warming up the bowl of the wineglass with your hands. This will release some aromatics from the cold liquid and help you determine the fruit or subtle oak notes developing in the bouquet. Swirl the wine, appreciate the color and release the aromatics.
If your nose becomes overwhelmed it becomes deadened to the nuances in your glass. Much like passing a perfume or cologne counter and smelling too many inhibits your olfactory senses. My recommendation is to turn your head and inhale some fresh air or smell the back of your hand (!) especially if you haven’t slathered on some perfume or cologne. This gives your nose a break and readjusts it so the aromas can be enjoyed.
Next thing is to take a sip. Now just a sip-you’ll have many wines to enjoy besides ours at Pedroncelli. You decide if you want to spit and remain a responsible taster. Taking one of those plastic red cups along (you know-the ones that typically hold beer) and spitting into them helps or we’ll have convenient spit buckets around the barrel room for you to use.
Lastly you are at the winery, in the midst of knowledgeable staff, ask questions! We would be happy to answer any and all your inquiring minds have about our wines and vineyards. A toast to barrel tasting with some of our Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon-our featured barrel sample this year!
For more on winetasting here are some great tips sponsored by the Wine Road-the handsome guy from Pedroncelli gives some great advice!
March 5, 2015 16:53
Barrel tasting, a term which has been around since barrels were invented, refers to tasting wines throughout their time in barrel. Each year we participate in an event that features hundreds of wines thieved out of the barrel for educational purposes. We believe you, the taster, will gain a better understanding of what goes on with the wine as it ages. Many of us will either feature the 2013 or 2014 vintages depending on the winery (we’ll be thieving our 2013 Merlot) and a younger vintage will display some rougher mouthfeel because the tannins in the wine haven’t been tamed by time. If you read some of my blog posts from January I discussed the importance of oxygen in aging. A little bit over the year or so in barrel will soften the wine and make it more appealing-ready to drink. Bottle aging helps too because again that bit of oxygen exchange also takes place and softens the wine even further. Some questions to ask as you stand at the barrel talking to the winemaker or cellar master might be: What type of oak do you use? How many vintages do you use your barrels? What do you prefer when ordering your barrels, medium or light toast? How long has this wine aged or how long will you age the wine? You get up close and personal with the wine process. There is nothing more personal than having the winemaker thief a sample of his or her pride and joy for you to taste. I’ll be there at the barrel during the weekend-stop by and we’ll discuss the finer points of toast, wood and aging.
January 29, 2015 17:36
The act of ‘thieving’ wine, also referred to as barrel tasting, is an 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, is nothing more than a glass tube for siphoning out a small sample of the wine. You don’t have to be a winemaker or cellar master to thief wine because around these parts (Sonoma County) we have an event that celebrates Barrel Tasting via the Wine Road, the sponsoring organization. Almost 40 years ago a few wineries banded together, Pedroncelli included, to market wines made in the northern area of the county, specifically 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. But I digress. During the aging process, as the water and alcohol dissipate, the wine softens little by little. 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. Enjoy an insider’s look at wine country by attending and tasting for yourself—the first two weekends of March. I’ll be the one at the barrel with my Dino cup.
Learn more about Barrel Tasting Weekend here
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