March 13, 2006

Winemaking update

After five months élevage, I’m pleased to report that I haven’t yet screwed up the wine I started making last fall in my garage.

Honestly, in my early years of homebrewing, I can’t tell you the problems I faced. Some of them with my encouragement, just to see what would happen.

My best wine to date was a very – very – modest 2002 Willamette Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 2002 was a nice harvest, and the last weekend in October I learned the true meaning of something being “ripe for the pickin’” – cabernet of all things, on Ribbon Ridge.

But it was ripe...enough. Around 22.5 brix with some nice flavors, if heavily varietal in a pleasantly cabernet way.

The wine turned out light – I only made 3 gallons and you won’t get much flavor out of that. But I did nothing to the wine aside from adding a little sulfur and letting it soak until fermentation started naturally. And it turned out sound. All 15 bottles. I still have a few.

With this year’s wine, I did things in the manner I was learning while working harvest.

When I last reported, my 2005 Pinot Noir from Courting Hill Vineyard was resting in my basement in a 4-year-old, 50L Slovonian oak barrel with 5 liters of topping wine. I’m down to less than half of that, probably due to my cool but dry cellar. I’ve been religious about topping up the barrel, and sampling the wine as it really becomes finished wine.

What is “finished wine?” After pressing, the new wine is raw and hard, having not gone through the softening malolactic fermentation nor seen the beneficial, slow oxidation of cask ageing.

Wine is finished when the winemaker decides, though the keys are biological stability and a flavor and aromatic profile that just seems right. Sometimes there’s also the fact that you need to free up space for new wine.

Over time, even my modest Pinot Noir has become more round on the palate, with greater length and an overall sense of harmony. Slowly I can see the finished wine emerge. Grand cru stuff, this will never be. More on the gamay side with brightly acidic flavors, but with some sweetness if not much soil character. Already it’s something I’d be happy to drink, which is saying something.

Most people ask me when I will know when to bottle. I don’t really know. I hope I can tell through tasting, but I can’t see holding it beyond August. This is a wine for early drinking, I think. The fresher the better.

No comments: