Roughly each week Winemaker Michael Westrick will offer his incite and expertise in the world of wine. Check out his latest entry.
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As a winemaker I would never, ever suggest, just one week into harvest, that this might be a “perfect vintage.” Why jinx it? Why take the risk of inviting Mother Nature’s wrath so early on when we have so many weeks to go?
So, I won’t. However . . .
We have both lots of Sauvignon Blanc in the barn. Perfect numbers. Our first Pinot Noir came in today and I was just handed the lab report for the lot. Perfect numbers.
By “perfect numbers” I mean the sugar and acid content are ideal for making stellar, well-balanced wine with minimal winemaker intervention. We won’t have to adjust the sugar or the acid and that’s a good thing. Natural is always preferred over making any sort of add or adjustment. Perfect.
And the weather? The forecast is for excellent ripening weather over the next few days then a bit of a cool down that will slow sugar development but will allow flavors to continue to mature. Sunny and dry. Perfect.
Yet I am petrified! How long can “perfect” continue? I’m hoping for about another eight weeks. That’s all I ask. But that is a long time this time of year. There is no reason a heat wave won’t hit us in the near future. The riper fruit gets the more susceptible it is to damage by extreme heat. So, no heat wave, please. Or, heaven forbid, we should get some rain. Ripe fruit, with softer skins, is very susceptible to damage by mold. And mold thrives in moist, damp air. So, no rain, please. Just perfect. That’s all I ask.
This is the life of a winemaker. Faced with perfect conditions for the foreseeable future, here I sit worrying. I’m trying not to think about the weather, though I did just check the forecast again minutes ago, for the nth time today. And its only 10 AM.
The good thing is that, whatever comes our way, I’m ready and that does take the edge off things a bit. This is my thirtieth harvest. If I don’t know how to handle a little adversity by now, there is no hope for me as a winemaker. I keep thinking about the Farmer’s Insurance commercial “We know a thing or two ‘cause we’ve seen a thing or two.” So true. I’m ready for anything. I hope.
The perfect vintage? Could be. Too early to tell but things are looking mighty good out there right now. Though this winemaker, for one, will not ever say that. Not now. Nope. No way.
Harvest 2018 is underway! The first of our Balverne Sauvignon Blanc grapes came in this morning in stunning fashion. We’ve had a beautiful growing season to date with just a bit of a cool snap for the last week or so. While sugars might not accumulate rapidly in the cooler weather, the flavors do continue developing, the result being that I found this year’s Sauvignon Blanc ready to harvest at lower Brix levels (sugar content) than usual.
Why is this good? Because it translates to lower alcohols in the finished wines. You may have heard the adage that “wine grapes benefit from a long hang time.” That means the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the greater the chance flavors will be more concentrated in the fruit at harvest, resulting in a more flavorful wine. While we’re blessed in California with beautiful, warm summers, the heat can sometimes be a little too much of a good thing making sugar accumulation (and therefore potential alcohol levels) run ahead of flavor development. The ideal situation, obviously, is to have maximum flavor development just as the grapes reach that magical sugar content.
For me as a winemaker, a lower alcohol is important as it helps keep the wine “in balance.” Put another way, a wine with an excessively high alcohol will taste “hot” or have an alcohol “bite” to it that may not be pleasing, and that higher alcohol may mask some of the more delicate fruity and floral notes of a wine. Sauvignon Blanc, known for its lighter body and bright, crisp fruit aromas and flavors, most definitely benefits from these lower alcohol levels.
Any winemaker anywhere in the world will always tell you without skipping a heartbeat that “This vintage is the best we’ve ever seen!” Well, you know what, I’ll say that right now about Balverne’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. And we haven’t even made the wine yet! Make a note on your calendars to visit Notre Vue Wine Estate in April of next year to taste Balverne’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. Trust me, you’ll be stunned! And happy you visited!
Keep tuned to this blog to hear about our upcoming Pinot Noir harvest. The weather for the foreseeable future is ideal and the Pinot Noir grapes are already tasting simply fantastic. In fact, I’m thinking this vintage will be the best we ever seen!
A votre santé, mes amis!
At least once a year a winery is faced with the challenge of bottling its wine as it is pretty hard to sell it otherwise. Admittedly this should not be a big deal and generally it isn’t. But bottling is not without its inherent pains and worries. Its not a part of winemaking that any winemaker enjoys. Or is it?
As we gear up to bottle our Balverne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here at Notre Vue this fall, we’re attending to lots of little details and making sure everything is in place for a successful bottling run. We have our labels, corks and capsules. Glass supposedly arrives next week. We are scheduled to bottle just after the glass arrives. All this is carefully choreographed so that everything comes together perfectly and all on time.
We need to make sure the wine is ready, too. Following any final blending we will address the acidity along with the level of residual sugar and adjust each as necessary. The wines will be cold stabilized to prevent them from throwing tartrate crystals and will be heat stabilized to prevent protein hazes from developing. Fining might be done to soften tannins and/or to remove bitter components from the wine. One last decision to be made will be whether or not to filter.
Once the wine is ready and the materials arrive, its time to bottle. Again, this should be pretty straight-forward. How complicated can it be? You fill a bottle, cork it, label it and pack it away, right? Well, yes, that is the ideal scenario. But what if the wine is too cold and moisture is condensing on the outside of the bottle such that the labels won’t stick? What if we’re under- or over-filling bottles? What if the labeler is not cooperating and your margins are off meaning the labels are not centered? Or the labeler is skipping every third bottle? Or the filler is skipping every third bottle? Or some bottles are missing capsules? Or the wrong labels are being used? Or the filter fails? I could go on and on but you get the idea. “Best laid plans, yada, yada, yada!”
But once this necessary evil is complete, however challenging it might have been, the bottling line cleaned up and the exhausted crew headed home, you sit at your desk finishing up paperwork and look up at a few samples of the day’s bottlings each with perfect capsules, straight labels and all filled with delicious wine ready for wine lovers everywhere . . . life is suddenly all good again. Grab a bottle . . . I think you’ll agree!
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