Our winemaking style is.... meticulous! We only make very small lots of 300 to 500 cases per year so we can give the wine lots of attention.
Currently all wines in bottle and in production have been sourced from Sonoma County from the Alexander Valley (Cab) or Dry Creek (Zin). These are classic areas to grow these two fruit types. We have been buying from our grower, John Lynch, for over six years and have a great relationship.
We get the grapes at the peak of ripeness when the phenollic structure of the grape is perfect. This is does not always coincide with a sugar level. We are more concerned that inside the grape the seeds are actually fully ripe and you can usually tell this by color - the seeds turn brown instead of green - and more importantly by tasting them. Another visual indication is that the stem supporting the bunch of grapes turns slightly brown.
After the grapes are picked and harvested we bring them back and store them in a walk in refrigerator for 1-3 days. Most wineries do not have a refrigerator this large and if they want to cool the grapes must attempt to do it in the tank after crushing, which is always difficult. The cold storage brings the core temperature of the fruit down so that when we crush and add the yeast the fermentation starts slow. A slow start ensures we don't have hot, run away fermentations and that we have a good, lengthy contact with liquid and skins before the presence of alcohol starts to build... more on this in a minute.
Because our primary busines is selling wine making equipment we have some pretty nice equipment for a winery this small. So after the grapes are removed from the walk in refrigerator they are hand loaded out of the picking bins and into the destemmer. The Destemmer removes the stems but does not crush the grapes. The whole grapes fall down onto a vibrating sorting table, the key component in our Crush Pad. On the vibrating sorting table any raisins, small bits of stem, or oxidized juice from the bottom of the bin is automatically removed. We'll post videos of this shortly.
The sorting table then slowly vibrates the whole berries down the stainless channel where 8 workers remove any remaining leaves, stems, or bad grapes by hand. We work at an extremely slow pace, about 1 ton an hour, which would usually not be commercially feasible. However all raisins and all vegetable (stems/leaves) matter absolutely gets removed. In the final wine that results in smoother tannins because you do not have green tannins, which are rougher, getting extracted from the stems or leaves during the fermentation. It also results in a more fresh fruit flavor in the wine because of the raisin removal. While this may seem to be a small detail, it is these small differences that separate good wine from spectacular wine. The use of a sorting table has also been tested in blind tastings of the finished wine.
After the sorting table the fruit drops into the rollers for a light crush and is collected in small open bins.
We are big believer in innoculating the individual bins with different yeast strains. Normally in one vintage of wine we will have 3 to 5 different yeast strains that we are using. This evolved for us over time as our lead winemaker Shea Comfort acutally does yeast and ml (malo-lactic) trials for Lallemand. Lallemand is a major yeast and ml producer. The samples that Shea has been making for them for over 5 years are poured at trade shows and brought into other wineries for winemakers to taste and see the differences that different yeast and ml strains can make. Shea's knowledge of yeast and ml flavor, their behaivor, and how they blend synergistally together may be unmatched and we fell lucky to be able to taste and learn from the trials he is working on. We also knowledge has a positive affect on the finished wine.
Our fermentations start nice and slow because of the cold temperature of the fruit. The reason we want a slow start is that anthocyanins (color compounds) bind with tannin molecules and lock together, only before the presence of alcohol. Secondly, with a cold start, we can better control the fermentation temperature as we prefer to keep our ferments below 78 degrees fahrenheit. At higher temperatures you can get fast, wild fermentations that can result in fusel alcohol productoin(rough alcohol) production, wild ester formation, and less fruit flavor in the finished product.
We use natural enzymes in the initial part of the fermentation to liberate compounds from the grape skins that help with color and mouthfeel.
More to come - 6/03/2009