Posts Filed Under winemaking
Last week, I wondered aloud (on twitter) whether or not anyone out there cares if a winery uses cultured yeasts instead of wild yeasts.
The feedback from the twitterati is included below after the jump (if you chimed in already via twitter, your response may be listed for all of the 1WD faithful to see – don’t say I didn’t warn ya!).
The short (and grossly oversimplified) answers to the question, by the way, seem to be "Yes!" for wine geeks and "No, who cares as long as the juice tastes good!" for the majority of people, based on the twitter responses that I received.
The topic of wine yeasts, and why they seem to touch off a hot-button reaction among wine pros and the geekier of wine aficionados, requires a bit of a primer, because to most wine drinkers, this is gonna be some pretty esoteric shiz.
During my last trip to Napa, I stopped into Chimney Rock for some barrel samples tasting (that’s samples of wines from barrels, not tasting samples of barrels) and spent a few hours geeking out over all things wine-related with the affable Elizabeth Vianna (CM’s winemaker who last week was promoted to GM). Elizabeth is open, honest, and easy to get along with, and she’s not shy when it comes to expressing her opinions. And yet, when she was explaining the winemaking process behind each of Chimney Rock’s wines, she became almost apologetic when she mentioned that they – gasp! – inoculate their wines with cultured yeasts!
Imagine, the audacity! The HORROR!!!…
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Most 1WineDude.com readers will already be aware that my fellowship to last week’s 2010 Professional Wine Writers Symposium was underwritten by Franciscan. As part of the fellowship award, Franciscan invited me to a private tasting and interview with Janet Myers, the wine director who also handles winemaking duties at Mt. Veeder.
Janet is a geek, in every positive sense of the word. We got to know each other a bit the night before the interview, at a dinner held for the fellowship recipients and their underwriting wineries, and I got enjoy Janet’s down-to-earth approach – which belies an almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to Franciscan, Mt. Veeder, and especially how their respective terroirs translate into their finished wines. She’s especially geeky about yeasts – and when you produce one of the more expensive Napa Chardonnays based on native yeasts (Cuvee Sauvage – the 2006 of which wowed the diners at our table with its balanced marriage of stone fruits, rich mouthfeel and acidic, refreshing finish) , it’s probably an enormous benefit to have a passionate geek making your wine.
Janet also has a passion for blending that was evident when tasting the Franciscan and Mt. Veeder portfolio; all of the wines under her care are clearly well-crafted. And while Franciscan’s best-known wine (the 2006 Napa cabernet) felt out of balance to me, I was floored by the 2006 Napa Merlot, which Janet indicated gets a lot of focus at Franciscan in general because Merlot is such an important part of the blend that goes into their flagship Meritage (“Magnificat”). The Merlot is textbook Oakville – plump, ripe, full of plums and smoky tobacco – but is extremely well-balanced and supple. For $22 bones – it’s an impressive feat of winemaking and a hell of a wine for the price tag.
Janet kindly agreed to have some of our discussion on her approach to blending captured on video, which is embedded below. You might be surprised to learn (as I was) that there isn’t a set “recipe” for blending the Magnificat. “We’re in the ‘blend late’ camp,” Janet told me, meaning that individual varieties are vinified separately and then blended together to make the final wine later. “I want to see how they develop before they get ‘nominated’ to go into the final blend – because they can surprise you. We’re not making Coca-Cola here; we’re keeping within a theme.” More on that in the vid.
While the first thing that you may notice in the vid is my annoyingly rampant use of the dumbass’ anthemic “uhhhmmmm…” (due mostly to my state of exhaustion after having tasted dozens of wines at Pre-Premiere Napa events, some of it in soul-suckingly sterile environments – more on that in a later post), the first person who comments correctly identifying the MAJOR gaffe that I toss out in this video will win a fabulous prize (not kidding). Good luck!
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A funny thing happened on my way to the 2010 Pro Wine Writers Symposium.
I did some research, and found what I was looking for, just not where I expected to find it.
Since my Symposium fellowship was underwritten by Franciscan, I’m planning on a visit to the winery when I’m in Napa next month. So I was digging around on the ‘global interwebs’ to get my bearings on all things Franciscan before the visit. Reasons being that I wanted to get a solid starting point of Franciscan knowledge from which to branch out when I ask them questions and generally get all, you know, in-depth on them (you know how I am); also I’m a total geek and that kind of stuff is fun for me.
Not that I am without some knowledge of Franciscan – I’ve tasted some of their flagship wines, and their website is chock full of background on their Napa legacy (and with a past that featured Agustin Huneeus and one of the first real “Meritage” wines, your bragging rights around having a ‘legacy’ are pretty safe) and their take-it-to-perfectionist-extremes focus on blending.
As for what’s happening now (and I mean, right this second) at Franciscan… not so much. I didn’t find anything at their website to connect me to the current happenings of the people there.
I did find some of that information, though – just not at Franciscan.com, and not without a bit of digging…
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The video embedded below, featuring Bonny Doon’s irrepressible Randall Grahm, is just… well, it’s just awesome.
Fans of Grahm’s style of humor and his approach to wine-making will no doubt find much to appreciate in this satirical homage to Dylan. Those of you among our readers who are actually making wine may find some of this cuts so closely and deeply that the humor is bitter-sweet. Knowing Randall, I’d guess that was partly the intention!
From the video comments:
“The reader may know or be able to infer that I live a somewhat convoluted, self-referential life; that is to say, many of my personal points of reference seem to exist in the realm of vinous and the arcane (generally both). Eliot footnoted The Wasteland; why not to footnote a Bob Dylan song parody about some of the more obscure aspects of winemaking chez Doon?.”
You’ve gotta love this guy; or at least, you’ve gotta respect his gumption.
Special thanks to Meg of MakersTable.com for bringing this one to my attention. Enjoy!