June 10, 2008


I'm going to take some advice from a friend. Despite the serious increase in email I get from readers any time I "go negative" with a wine review, I think I'm better off focusing on more positive things. Like me. This is a blog after all. It's all about vanity, right?

So a few weeks back I recruited another friend to help me bottle my lone barrel of 2006 Pinot Noir from the Wahle vineyard in the northern Willamette Valley's Yamhill-Carlton AVA. In case you're not up on me and my every move, I got a 1/2 ton of mostly 30 year old Pommard and Coury clone Pinot Noir, with some 777 grafted some years ago onto 30 year old chardonnay roots from this historic local vineyard that's otherwise mostly in commercial production. These were excellent grapes for a homebrewer like me to be working with, and if I'm lucky or really nice or something, I hope to work with them again in the future.

Despite some challenges, the wine has turned out pretty nice. The short story is that my wild yeast fermentation turned stinky after several days, but I added some yeast hulls to feed the yeast and vigorous stirred the fermenting wine to aerate things. Happily, the stink went away. Then it came back in early 2007, so I intervened again to rack the wine off its smelly gross lees to again give the wine some air that helps the bad odor to go away. Again, the wine regained its freshness. However, I made a mistake by continuing to rely on naturally present lactic acid bacteria to complete the important malolactic fermentation that following spring. Turns out once I racked the wine, I probably should have innoculated with a cultured bacteria strain to help ML happen and finish. Instead, I waited all spring and summer for ML to finish, only to test in September to see if malic was done after lots of prickling noises in the barrel but no dramatic change. Nope, not even close. At that point, I innoculated and ML perked up and then finished fairly quickly. The concern -- I hadn't sulfured the wine in more than a year since harvest, which can lead to oxidation (stale aromas and flavors) and/or volatile acidity (vinegar or nail polish notes). Also, I didn't keep the barrel too cold in order to help ML progress. Happily, neither issue really presented itself despite lots of worry and hand wringing. A professional chemistry panel of the wine shows a slightly elevated VA level, but nothing to worry about. Certainly nothing anywhere close to legal limits, were this commercial wine. The lesson is that either I should have let my wine ride in the first place rather than intervene when the early 2007 smell showed itself, or I should have innoculated after racking. Racking and not innoculating was dumb. If you email me that (thanks to those who already have), I simply can't thank you enough for the help.

For the record, this year my barrel of 2007 Pinot Noir started smelling. Instead of racking, I stirred the barrel periodically with a copper pipe to help bind the stinky compounds as my professional winemaker friends suggested I do. Well, well, well, that worked and a recent chomatography test shows that ML is done in that wine. Time to rack, sulfur and put that one to bed until bottling sometime this fall and winter. I'm learning.

Back to 2006 wine. After finally sulfuring in late 2007 - a good dose mind you to bind what oxidation was present and otherwise protect the wine until now -- I patiently let the wine rest until early May, 19 months after harvest when it was finally time to bottle. So a friend who's a beer homebrewer and general good guy pitched in (yes, a yeast pun) to help bottle the wine with a makeshift and downright weird ass, haphazard method.

Because I have no pumps nor any vat of significant size to bottle from, and because I wanted to touch up the wine with a final, minor hit of SO2 but failed to do so before bottling day because of general life complications, I had what may or may not be a genius idea. Why not carefully rack the wine from barrel into a series of 5 gallon carboys, adding a precise and tiny amount of liquid SO2 solution to each carboy as it began filling, and then bottle immediately from each carboy using gravity? I can only hope the SO2 mixed well during the racking, and I have no reason to think it didn't. I was careful not to suck up what fine lees remained in the barrel, and even left a few gallons at the bottom before filling a small carboy with it to use as topping wine to fill out my slightly lean 2007, if I need it. Maybe I'll just bottle it later instead. We'll see. The 2007 is showing better than I expected at this point, and I'll try to maintain its vintage integrity unless it simply needs help with leftover 2006. More on that later.

After many carboys and lots of bottles filled one by one, then corked by hand with a new, cheap, but very functional floor corker that doesn't tear up the corks like my old super cheap piece-of-crap corker, I ended up with 22 cases of 750ml bottles, 4 magnums, and several half bottles that I'll use mostly for checking up on things over time. While I'll keep a few cases for myself, my goal for this wine is largely to spread it around a friends and family network. Most people hear that I make wine and think, or even say out loud, that I must be nuts. So I want to show people that it's actually possible to make good wine, and perhaps when I take this project commercial, they might be inclined to support me with some of their hard earned cash. Or trust fund money. Whatever. I'm not picky.

All in all, I can't believe I actually did this. I've made wine before of course, but never more than a few gallons of this or that. For more than a year I've been really excited about what I'm doing, but there's always been the caveat -- let's see if I can get this in the bottle. That's done, and while this isn't wine to rival La Tache or even much of what good local producers have for sale, it's ok stuff. It's ripe, rich like 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir tends to be, and clearly Oregon wine in its flavor and soil profile. I'd probably hate it for being too big and burly if anyone else made it. Really. But it's mine and I'll take it. And let's face it, people dig big, rich wine like this. It may not be a realization of my winemaking goals, but it's reasonably good wine that so far has some fans. I'll take no small amount of pride hearing from one winemaking friend who I think was honest when he said that I've made something that's definitely better than a number of people out there are selling for decent money. Hmm, is that faint praise? Hell no. Pardon the country club suggestion here, but I'm like an amateur golfer who's qualified for a real tournament. I'm not competing, but just being here feels good and I'm not going to hide it. Maybe I'm like Tanner from The Bad News Bears, kicking the dirt and saying "wait 'til next year." Or better yet, coach Buttermaker sitting in the dugout cracking a cold one for no damn good reason except that it feels right. I always liked Walter Matthau. And I liked making this wine. Let me know if you want to try some.


Andy Perdue said...

Would love to try it.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Vincent! I too am in the "few gallons at a time" demographic, and am glad your first barrel batch went so well.

Craig Camp said...

Nice job Vincent, you had to learn a lot to say the least. I hope to taste this wine someday!

Anonymous said...

Vincent, put my name on the tasting list! Great to see that your hard efforts are now bottled.


Vincent Fritzsche said...

Ok, I'm making a list. Thanks for the interest, though let me get a label on this thing to at least complete the package.