My bins of Oregon pinot noir are still fermenting in the garage, and smelling great. I love how pinot ferments smell as they get near the end. The sweet fruit smells are replaced by winey, spicy smells that can touch on roasted coffee at the very end. The viscous sweet juice is now mostly dry, with a thinner consistency that splashes with more rapidly. The foam created by fermentation has gone from purple to a whitish pink color, the bubbles much less persistent. So much of the winemaking process is apparent to the discriminate eye and nose, rather than the vulgar mouth.
Punchdowns become more gentle, still twice a day but soon just once a day to wet the weakening cap of grape skins, still pushed up by carbon dioxide but with much less authority than a few days ago. The goal now is to get savory character into the wine, augmenting rather than simply replacing the fresh fruit character. Taste the new wine daily and let it go as long as no bitterness or excessive tannin shows up. Press when the skins have nothing more to offer the wine. Based on how things are going, I'll be pressing early next week as I originally imagined.
Meanwhile, things are just past peak at the winery where I"m working. The fruit's all been in for more than a week, which is always a great milestone to reach. But the work at that point's just begun. Everything this past week has been at one stage of fermentation or another, meaning twice daily punchdowns for just about everything, more than 40 tons of grapes. And heating and cooling fermentations, pump overs to cool bins that get too hot or aerate things that stink a bit. We taste all the fermenters each day. Now we're getting into draining and pressing, meaning work setting up and cleaning the press, but earning the dividend of fewer fermentations to deal with. We need to prep barrels, fill them with wine, then clean out empty fermenters. There's so much to do, but in about a week from now things should be close to the end, and the few ferments that remain won't take nearly as much time to guide as 30 or more at once do.
Of course, we try our best to drink some wine during harvest as well. The other morning a nice guy brought a bottle of 2005 Domaine Dominique Mugneret Nuits St. Georges "Les Fleurieres" for a late breakfast. I was handed a glass blind between punchdowns and from the smell thought it might be from Oregon. Black fruit, toasty oak, not giving up much nuance. In the mouth it was another story. Brightly acidic, a bit too wood dominated but showing nice rich pinot fruit. Withe time, a beautiful floral aroma developed. Still, this needs time if it's going to integrate the wood.
The other night, a few people gathered at Bar Avignon in SE Portland to have a few bottles and eat some dinner. What a great place, and we had some nice wines as well. First, the 2005 Sine Qua Non "The Petition" white wine, a mix of chardonnay, roussane, and viognier from California. Lots of roussane on the nose, with waxy notes and well integrated oak. I expected this to be extremely oaky, but it seems nicely balanced in that regard. In the mouth, this was huge, with all 15.8% of its alcohol, a baked apple flavor of chardonnay and what I now understand as a pleasant bitterness that must be from the viognier. Long, long finish, probably too much alcohol and just a bit over the top, still this was really interesting to drink. Thanks Michael Alberty, who was right to wish that we had some lobster to eat with it.
I brought something completely different, the 1995 Domaine Trevallon from the Provence region of southern France. I hoped it would show some bottle sweetness from 13 years of age, but it was really youthful and frankly not all that generous. Yet, I hope. Lots of earthy, gravel and cassis and blackberry aromas, with a stern flavor that needs more time. I liked it, but didn't love it.
Instead, I was fascinated by another of Micheal's contributions, a 100% merlot from Italy whose name escapes me. Not knowing anything about it, I guessed cabernet franc, as it showed a pleasant gravel, cassis, and herb character not unlike some Loire wines, just with a bit more body and oomph. Technical term, that. Anybody, help with the name here. Darmiljan?
Then a few California reds, such at the 2003 Shafer Relentless, a syrah and petite syrah blend that's just too oaky for my tastes. Also, a 2004 Burrell School Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains that was called a pinot for cab lovers. Nothing subtle here, I didn't love it but it's a good enough drink. And a grenache blend from Terry Hoague that simply showed too much alcohol for me to cozy up to. Impressive wine to taste, but not for drinking in my humble opinion. I'm always in the minority on these wines it seems, so call it more my flawed palate than any indicator of quality.
The point here -- what a good time sharing wines during harvest, enjoying some simple but delicious food, and generally just hanging out in between lengthy stints working hard in the winery and then guiding my humble home brew to a happy conclusion. One more week and...well, it won't be over, but it will be close.