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Friday, April 29, 2011


The ooey gooey sticky icky first racking of barbera is done. We are thinking quite a bit about barbera these days with the #barbera2 event coming up in two weeks - Nick will be on hand pouring our's as one of five US producers in Nizza in about two weeks.
We have talked barbera before on this blog, but its unique challenges are worth mentioning again. It is in a way a simple grape that can be very complicated, just like cooking a simple dish: proper technique and product are that much harder to nail. It can be very productive, an asset for bulk wine but requiring tons of handwork and management for high quality. It really suckers like crazy, throwing horrendous shoots and trunk suckers. It will actually strangle itself with its own tendrils. As the above barrel lees clearly show, it is very gunky and mucilagenous. While many/most grapes have two seeds per berry, barbera often has three and we have one clone that seems to produce four pretty often. Barbera is a low tannin grape, but with the high seed count when barbera ferments nearly dry it can suddenly pick up a characteristic bitterness as the ethanol starts to break down the seed coat. Barbera is naturally a high acid grape, and this is part of its characteristic purity - it is most often a bright wine with little tannin and maybe some reductive funk in the background from cooler climates. Unfortunately the lack of tannic structure is like a welcome mat for egregious over oaking, and it welcomes that sort of treatment to an extent. It also accepts blending well, but only with a compromise of purity. Barbera in California is a high brix grape; 29 in Lake County is not at all unusual, and we struggle to keep ours in the 14% range as it ripens late at the end of October. Oddly enough, barbera for a bright wine tends to be pretty reductive. Remember our 2006? It lived in a tank for six months and ended up tasting like syrah - barbera needs to breath, which is unusual for a tannin-less grape. Try that with grenache and you will end up with brown wine. Strangely to me, people really liked the meaty reductive tones, and now we sometimes hold back a few barrels from racking to get a bit of the dark characteristics with the signature bright tones. Barbera, and this is the coda, can show minerality (and some of those Sierra Foothills wines are cases in point), and as such it has a higher level of terroir transparency.

Incidentally, the above picture show the newest barrel in our barbera line up - 2005 from Larkmead. We go neutral all the way back to 2000 Seguin Moreau for the Barbera this year. Thin stave French Bdx is the choice to get the most oxygen in ageing, even still it is only May and this 2010 already has a healthy hint of reduction. The purple is always beautiful from barbera, even after the four inches of rain we had before it was harvested...

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