Long Maceration on Pinot Noir
Winemakers love to gripe that Pinot Noir is the hardest wine to make. I disagree. It is not that it is difficult to make
; Pinot Noir is difficult to get right
. First, if you are not starting with good grapes you might as well pack it in. Americans don't like to be told this, but all vineyards are NOT created equal. And great Pinot vineyards are scarce on the ground, at least as much so in America as in Burgundy (where less than 10% of the Pinot Noir acreage is designated grand cru
). Second, not all winemakers are temperamentally suited to make Pinot. During the winemaking process, Pinot Noir punishes ego. Winemakers who must put their personal stamp on every wine they make invariably make bad Pinot, because tinkering with the process or "fixing" what appear to some winemakers as "problems" just does not work with this grape.
I'm not saying that I'm some sort of Pinot genius -- far from it. In fact I believe there can be no such thing -- the best Pinot winemaker I can hope to be is some sort of zen-state idiot savant
. By practicing this approach to making Pinot for the last decade-plus, I have come up with a few do's and don'ts. Do
start with a good vineyard. Don't
pick the grapes overripe. Do
pick when the seeds are ripe. Do
treat the fruit gently. Don't
do the whole berry/carbonic maceration thing (in my view, a method that makes Beaujolais, not Pinot). Do
make any additions the fruit needs at the crusher. Do
wait for the cap to rise on its own (some winemakers call this a "cold soak"). Don't
ferment uninoculated - there is nothing more certain to destroy Pinot than having to "fix" a stuck fermentation. Don't
pump the wine over the cap. Do
punch down. Don't
punch down too much. Do
let the wine "rest" for a while after fermentation before pressing. Don't do extended maceration
It is this last point that had me in a state of cognitive dissonance during the 2005 harvest. The protocol I have developed over the years is to maintain the wine in fermenter for a total of 14 days of cuvaison. For reasons related to the timing demands of the 2005 harvest, the move to the new winery, and delays in receiving new equipment, all my '05 Pinot Noir lots spent substantially longer than 14 days in fermenter: 19, 22, 27, 28 and 29 days to be precise. And I was sorely afraid.
BUT - so far this has not proven to be a disaster. The '05 wines in fact are marvelous. Whether they are marvelous because of -- or in spite of -- the long maceration times will never be known. I have no plans to deliberately incorporate long maceration into my Pinot protocols. Perhaps some day in the future I will have the resources to do an experiment on the effects of long maceration on Pinot. Until then I plan to do my best to keep maceration times near two weeks. But at least I have learned that I don't have to stress out over not getting the Pinot pressed off at exactly fourteen days. That, at least, is a bit of a relief.
Meeting With Partners
You know, it would be nice if all I ever had to do was make wine and talk to people about it while tasting. But that's not how small wineries work, so today I'm working on closing the 2005 books and getting ready for taxes, preparing a summary of our 2005 accomplishments, and putting together a 2006 budget and marketing plan.
The latter elements in particular I need for a meeting of winery partners scheduled for the end of this month. Should be a pretty good meeting, with visits to the new winery facility and the vineyard, tastings, a couple of decent dinners, and maybe a visit to the trade show at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium
01.10.06 New Year's Update
Well, things got busy after my last post in June (!) and now I'm finally able to sit and write a bit. Lots has happened in the interim:
1) Adding to our list of accomplishments for 2005 (new Tasting Salon in downtown Sonoma, huge upgrade to the web site, Annadel Estate Vineyard in production) we moved the winery
-- mostly. After making wine in the Foothills since 1994 I finally determined I could no longer handle the 2 hour commute each way. I worked a deal to share a production space with Vic McWilliams of Castle Vineyards
in a new warehouse complex on 8th Street East, south of the town of Sonoma. Nice upgrade! I have asphalt under my delivery area, concrete floors with working drains under the winery equipment, and a roof over my head -- all things lacking for the last 20-plus years in Shingle Springs. I still have some wine in tank and barrels in Shingle Springs, but since the rainy season started I can't drive a truck or forklift into the site to get them out. Same old story.
2) Harvest went pretty well. We started picking on September 23rd, and all the vineyards came in one to three weeks later than average. The Estate Grenache came off last on November 2nd, which is as late as I have ever picked in nearly 20 years. When I posted back in June
I predicted a small crop. Well, I was partially right -- the Pinot crop was short -- very short
. The Haynes Vineyard seems to have settled in to producing eight barrels for me -- I have had the same small yield in 2003, 2004, and now 2005. Castle-Carneros was down, and Nicholson Ranch was WAY down. Bad weather during berry set hurt. Most every other variety went very heavy
this vintage, but I had limited my purchases in anticipation of our Annadel Estate Vineyard giving us our first commercial crop.
During the growing season I worked with our vineyard team to rigorously control crop levels - young Syrah vines particularly can kill themselves with big yields if not thinned -- and hit my targets for every varietal. Our Pinot had the same problems with bad weather during set that affected the other Sonoma vineyards I buy from, plus we had some frost damage
to the Pinot at the Annadel vineyard. After thinning the crop to improve uniformity I predicted a 0.5 ton/acre yield, and that's exactly what we got. Ouch. The wine quality across the board is excellent however -- we have had a string of good vintages since 2003. I'd have to say I'm thrilled that the Estate vineyard is showing the potential it is.
3) We have been living through floods here. Yes, there has been a lot of water, and a lot of property damage. So far we have had no commercial loss at our vineyard, winery, warehouse or Tasting Salon (touch wood!). Only one acquaintance of mine has suffered any loss (an important bridge linking his vineyards across a creek feeding the Russian River). I have not had the chance to catch up with friends and acquaintances in Napa, but I expect to hear some bad news when I do. Nevertheless, media reports exaggerate the direness of the situation. It was wetter in 1997-1998, and flooded much worse in 1986.