As an artisan winemaker in Napa Valley, I am able to customize our fermentation plans to be creative in a desire to make wines of pure elegance. This year, a growing number of vintners are fermenting in wine barrels, both those barrels used only one time as well as brand new oak. By removing the heads and standing the barrels upright, we can basically complete a cold soak, primary fermentation and extended maceration all in the same oak vessel.
Wood fermentation is experiencing a renaissance in modern winemaking. Barrels have often been used in for white wine fermentation, especially for oak influenced wines such as Chardonnay, to achieve more integration and complexity earlier in the life of the wine. However, they have recently become more popular for red wine fermentation.
The advantages of barrel fermentation include earlier tannin polymerization and earlier integration of tannin, which leads to a smoother mouthfeel on the finished wine. The characters imparted on the wine from oak barrel fermentation are different than if the oak where only present during the aging process. Because yeast can metabolize or transform certain characters present in the oak, the wine will finish with less of the vanillin character that new French oak can impart in the wine.
There are increased costs of managing a wine number of small fermenting lots: costs associated with removing and replacing the barrel heads as well as the labor costs with punch downs, cold soaking and extended fermentation in these small lots, but the labor of love and the finished product is worth the investment.
This is one way to “Celebrate Life”
Harvest is in full swing here in Napa Valley - many of the white wine grapes are coming in as well a few varietals of red grapes. At Bourassa Vineyards, we will be getting Zinfandel in first around October 1, followed by Syrah and Merlot mid-October and ending harvest with our Cabernet Sauvignon about October 20th.
The next few month will be hectic as we are bottling the 2011 Zinfandel, the 2010 Harmony3 and the 2011 Chardonnay from Rutherford on September 27th. All the grapes coming in will be open bin fermented after cold soaking with dry ice for 1 week, then hand punched down for approximately 2 weeks. Extended maceration will last for 2 weeks before gently pressing and settling in tanks for 4 weeks before putting it in barrels. A special yeast is selected for each wine varietal - a lot of research goes into each selection, with experimentation, winemaker consultations and lab input. And what happens in the next few months is just the beginning of the two year journey to producing fine wine. We are ready to get started on this new vintage!
With the onset of veraison in much of the Napa Valley, I have written a basic primer on grape growth in the vineyard:
1) Grape growth in the early spring is started with BUD BREAK, this is defined as the first growth of green shoots at the growing position on the Cordon that was pruned in late winter. The Cordon is the stem that parallels the ground about 3 feet up.
2) The next month all the shoots or CANES have grown 3 to 4 feet up, then BLOOM will occur, this is when the flower is formed that later becomes a cluster of grapes. There is a 3 day window when we do not want heavy frost, rain or nasty wind, because any one of these three weather occurrences can damage the fruit set and make a mess of the future grape growing process.
3) After fruit is stable on the lower vine the cells in the embryo (each small green grape) begin to split and duplicate themselves resulting in a small growing stage, this lasts for 4 to 5 weeks.
4) Once the cells have finished duplicating the cell then gets fed from the vine and each one becomes larger and thus the grape gains in acid and carbohydrates, this can take 4 to 6 weeks. So the grape now gets even larger, this is when it is important to pull leaves off the vine near the grape cluster and near the cordon to allow sunlight to warm the grapes.
5) We now see the grapes begin to change color from green to light burgundy, this is called VERAISON and is the beginning of sugar forming in the grapes, derived from the remaining grape leaves and stems as well as the cordon. As sugar increases in the grape over the next 4 to 6 weeks the acid level decreases. Ripeness occurs when the winemaker determines the grapes are sweet enough and the pH level is perfect for making great wine.
Beginning in July, we will be featuring barrel samples of Zinfandel and Syrah in the Tasting Room as a prelude to a new blend we are working on in the winery. Zinfandel, by nature, can be a powerful, spicy varietal that lends itself to single bottling (and we will be doing that as well - back by popular demand!) - add Syrah and the enhanced flavors of both varietals, including black fruit, violets, chocolate and spice become a wonderful taste sensation.
We encourage you to visit the Tasting Room this July and August and experience the blending for yourself - we have two great events to spotlight these wines - our Chili Cook-off in July and our Barrel to Bottle event in August. Come and mix and match your own blend - like more Zin in your glass? Add more Zin! Come and experiment - it is the best way to Celebrate Life!
Vic is going to start using a great new invention in the cellar - oak nfused spirals that impart barrel characteristics into the wine in a shorter amount of time!
Spiral barrel packs replicate a barrel toasting gradient using a mix of four different toast levels. The result is a balanced quality on the nose and palate comparable to the aromas and flavors found in fine barrel-aged wines.
When inserted through the barrel bung hole the pack releases fresh, new-barrel, toasted oak aroma and flavor through its patented and space-efficient spiral-cut design with virtually all aromas and flavors fully extracted in six to eight weeks rather than eight to 12 months typically needed to extract from a new oak barrel. With continued contact in wine, flavors will further integrate into the wine and more rounded tannins will form.
Vic will be using both the Bordeaux Blend and Rhone type of spiral in his wines - and will be conducting taste tests for visitors between the wines - those that have received the treatment vs. those that have not! Want to get in on the test? Just visit the Tasting Room and ask to participate - we would love to hear your feedback!
For most vineyards here in Napa, California and certainly across the Western U.S., weeds are a reality that every winegrower must either control or manage. The largest group of weeds by species are winter annuals and like most weed species they have an extraordinary capability for growth, survival and competitiveness for space, light, water and nutrients.
In Napa vineyards these winter annual plants germinate in the fall, grow low to the ground through the winter, and then grow and bloom at a rapid pace in the spring. By early summer they are pretty much done growing, set seed and dry up.
Most of these weeds are manageable for vineyards and some growers manage them as a self-reseeding cover crop by mowing whatever happens to grow between their vines. The weeds will grow when vines are dormant and are often actually helpful in preventing soil erosion. Examples of weeds that are not difficult to manage in a vineyard setting would be mustard, filaree and annual broome grass.
But as you might imagine with weeds, problems are never too far away! When they grow at the same time as the crop, difficulties arise due to the weeds competitive nature. Of course vineyards will mow, spray and cultivate weeds to make sure they don’t grow at the same time as the vines and they have to be kept under control to reduce habitat, food and shelter for rodents. The other reason for keeping a clean and cultivated vineyard is because here in Napa we simply like how they look!
Like any other aspect of our lives, technology is having an impact on how winegrowers manage the weeds in their vineyards. There is a growing trend toward environmentally conscious weed and pest control through the use of propane generated heat, with applications of either flame or steam. These two methods are an alternative to chemical application and mechanical cultivation, and are both recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program.
Today, with a total production of 3,500 cases, Bourassa Vineyards devotes much of it's attention to the five Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. So let's take a moment to introduce you to these famous varietals in a little more detail and tell you about their delicious characteristics!
Flavors - Violets, blueberry, earth, black olive, coffee
Cabernet franc is an essential component of the world famous Bordeaux blend. When enjoyed as a single varietal wine it displays a a more tannic and earthy character than it's cousin Cabernet Sauvignon. Here in Napa and other warmer lands outside of Europe it's best known for violets and blueberry notes and the ripe tannins that produce a wonderful fresh roasted coffee scent.
Flavors - Bell pepper, green olive, herb, cassis, black cherry
It is the primary varietal of our Bordeaux blend here in Napa Valley and is famous the world over. The blending process softens it's sometimes intense tannins and contributes thick and ripe flavors and aromas. Often layered with expensive new oak scents it is the one varietal that almost single-handedly created the phenomenon of cult wineries.
Flavors - Cherry, spice
While it's certainly one of the lesser blending grapes of the Bordeaux blend it's a key element to our wine making as shown in the 2004 Harmony5 Bordeaux Blend. As a single varietal it has risen to prominence in Argentina where it makes spicy wines that age well in new oak barrels.
Flavors - Watermelon, strawberry, plum, cherry
Versatile is the best word to describe Merlot. Easy to like, easy to pronounce and much like a chardonnay of the red wine world! In Bordeaux the shining example of the varietal is Chateau Pétrus where it comprises 95 percent of their blend. It also makes up 23 percent of our Flagship wine, as shown in the 2003 Harmony3 Bordeaux Blend.
Flavors - Blackberry, molasses, herb
Wine makers tend to use the Petit Verdot grape in a Bordeaux blend as chefs would use seasoning. Its careful inclusion to a blend adds dense fruit, dark color, powerful flavors and heavy tannins. There are also rare examples of single varietal wines such as our own 2006 Petit Verdot which when handled by an expert wine maker like Gary Galleron can be outstanding wines.
At any winery winter is a dormant time for vines but that doesn't mean it's a quiet time! We're in the middle of 'pruning season' here in Napa and we wanted to take a moment to let you know why winemakers do this and how it helps us produce the wines you know and love.
People often think of harvest as the exciting time of the year for a winery and while that maybe true a good harvest would be impossible without the vital work that takes place during pruning season. Good pruning really sets up vines for the year to come, dictating canopy shape and the number of buds that will form therefore having a real impact on the yield of the vine. We're often asked why pruning takes place at this time of the year and in fact pruning can be done any time of the year after leaves drop from the vines but here in Napa pruning generally takes place anytime between December and February. Winemakers have to make sure pruning is completed before the growing season begins again which is signified by 'bud-break', usually this happens mid-March.
So just how do you prune vines? Well they are pruned pretty aggressively in a similar way to how you might prune a rose bush. Often winemakers will reduce wild shoots that can extend out up to five feet down to almost nothing, often down to the skeleton of the vine itself. During this process the VSP (vertical shoot positioning) method is used which directs the shoots vertically through trellis wires. Using this method ensures that the leaves enjoy the best possible exposure which offers filtered light to grape clusters in turn increasing the fruit factor of the finished wine.
If you have any questions about pruning or any part of the wine making process here at Bourassa leave us a comment below.
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