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Friday, November 13, 2009

And just like that, the season is done. Kind of sad really. Wish we had three harvests a year. The rose was chilled and racked off the sediment yesterday. The photo to the left is of the Muscat Canelli being pumped out of its tank to another to get rid of all the sediment. Lake County Muscat was much more delicate this year than in the past. Usually it is full of almond and vanilla Muscatiness that just overwhelms the senses. This year though, and this was verified by tasting others', it is very delicate, almost ethereal Pinot Blanc white flowerish with very little musk. It is amazing how much the weather can control these sorts of things, and the delicacy is uniform around Kelseyville too. That being the case, we had to be conservative with what little aromatics we had, and that meant fermenting extremely cold and leaving a tiny bit of residual sugar to help hold onto those aromatic molecules and frame the nose. This is done usually by chilling the fermentation down to the point where the yeast die. After two days and hitting thirty four degrees we felt pretty sure that the little beasties are dead. We should be at around seven grams of residual sugar per liter, which is about 1.5 level teaspoons per liter, and there was some decent acid this year despite the late harvest, so it should all balance out. This is really a miniscule amount. Sensory threshold is usually considered five grams per liter (unless you are Bob Parker and have that Pepsi sweet tooth), meaning that at four grams per liter most people can not sense any sweetness. Amazingly enough, there were different stratified layers of varying sugar in the tank, dryer on the bottom where the cooling jacket couldn't reach and the yeast were living hotter and faster and sweeter on the top where the cooling coils chilled the fermentation faster, leaving less time for the yeast to keep digesting the sugar. Defies what you though you learned about in high school huh? There were probably four distinct layers of different sugar levels just in a ton and a half of juice in a two-ton tank. Managing this is the type of thing that the Germans and Alsatians are masters of, hitting that perfect balance, and timing the end of fermentation at precisely the right moment. But here, in a strange year where some things never got ripe, sometimes you need all the help you can get. Leaving residual sugar is always a gamble, but the sweetness tends to mellow and round out with time. The grapes tell you what they want you to do; you have to listen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

It is 7:30 am, what are you doing? Chillin, taking some numbers. Daily fermentation monitoring is pretty simple here at Rosa d'Oro. Large wineries have teams of tense pimply interns staring into microscopes, looking for this or that little bug floating around, measuring assimilable nitrogen, volatile acidity or some such. Morning protocol for us most importantly means smelling everything, and trusting your first impression. Fermentations get a little stinky sometimes, and that is o.k.; the yeast are very malleable and their lifestyle changes throughout, and their by products can smell good to a little bad - a lot of bad is when you worry. Most important for us is simply taking a sugar reading by hydrometer at least once a day and a temperature reading followed by a cup of lukewarm watery coffee. The (first) two should correlate nicely - if either seems out of sync - time to intervene. PH readings are important to us as well. Some grapes, like the Primitivo, have large amounts of potassium (presumably - we can't verify this) in their skins, so when you press them and combine the juice, you get a deacidification, so you want a little more acid than you think. The Barbera doesn't seem to do this. The Sangiovese only drifts upwards by about .07. All of this should be taken into account when monitoring the acid. Temperatures are pretty straight forward in a tank fermentation - don't let it get too hot or cold to finish. We did a lot of fermentations in plastic 3/4-ton bins this year - good for some varietals but not all. Pinot guys swear by the bins, and fruit forward dudes like Runquist like them. The nice thing to me is that you can break a small lot down into smaller parts, use different yeasts and/or temperatures. For example, our Aglianico tends to have a lot of black fruit primary characteristics, but real old world ones are known for much gamier attributes and the curious blood and iron descriptors. (Robert Parker always says "melted asphalt".) Sure enough, by using a heater, one bin was fermented about seven degrees hotter, burning away some of that yawn-inducing pedestrian fruit and getting down to some real minerally earthiness - maybe not bloody but a little metallic salinity. Our basic devices work well for monitoring this type of thing. We can ever pump it over and splash it easily to incorporate air as necessary, or stick a floor heater next to the bin overnite. The Dolcetto above is at fourteen degrees Brix, about halfway done fermenting. Temperature is at a nice eighty two degrees - perfect at this point in the curve for a middle of the road fermentation, pH at 3.65 - just right for this grape. If it was Barbera we would need to add about three pounds of acid per ton, but this number is just right for our Dolcetto (and we did not add any acid to our Barbera at all this year either - hah).
If this all seems dry and boring - it is. But very necessary and probably the most important time in any wine's life. If it all goes well, you can drain the wine, press the skins, mix it together, put it in a tank overnight to settle out any junk, then fill barrels by gravity at a toasty seventy five degrees, starting malo-lactic fermentation quickly and cleanly so that it finishes before Christmas dinner - nice, clean and stable.
The olive harvest this year is nice and heavy. Three half-ton bins of Tuscan mix on the flatbed went off to the olive mill today, and probably another one or two of Arbequinas in two weeks. The last grapes are in and the leaves are falling. Muscat Canelli is at 4.5 Brix, the Rose nearing three. Aglianico will be barreled tomorrow and a few other odds and ends are finishing up. The growing season was very erratic, lots of whites picked in October while some reds were ready abnormally early. Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon is finishing up right now, and literally tons of grapes are being left hanging for the birds. Growers faced a horrible season in this economy with many lucky to get half the price they did last year. Seeing so much rotting fruit is not a great feeling.
Most of our 2008s are bottled now, with exception of a long term project or two. I can say with confidence that the Barbera is a monster, the Dolcetto is great and meaty 2005-style and the Primitivo is very high strung and developing more mineral depth with every passing vintage. We have sown a good amount of cover crop this year, but the rain brought the volunteer weed crop out strong, and the drippers on our new plantings look like they are hiding a riverbank. Hard to believe this was barren red earth in June. With the exception of the Sangiovese, it looks like we had almost 100% success. Lets hope next Spring's Negro Amaro and Nebbiolo fare as well.