Monday, August 30, 2010

Barreling into Harvest at Miner Family

Man, even empty, these barrels are HEAVY! They weigh in at about 100lbs each, and they’re a definite sign of things to come: aside from seeing those yellow bins standing at the ready outside Mumm, or anticipating the first grape samples to land in the lab, nothing tells us that harvest is around the corner quite like a loading dock full of our new barrels.

Miner will receive about 580 new barrels this year. Seem like a lot? Well, when we’re unloading the truck and getting them situated, it seems like a lot to us, too! But each year, our new barrels constitute just under 50% of all the barrels we’ll use.

Barrels are important – really important. Barrels offer an exchange of oxygen, time for the wine to come together, evolve, decide what it’s going to be. There’s a texture component to barrel aging as well as countless flavor components.
How do we choose barrels? There are so many ways, but it basically comes down to experience, trials, and good note-taking. Many wineries conduct barrel trials every year – testing out a couple of barrels from a new cooper or new styles from familiar coopers, and tasting/analyzing them periodically to see if they might want to incorporate these barrels into future harvests.

All barrels are not created equal! One barrel might taste delicious with our Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir, but may not cut the mustard for our Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon. How do we know? Again, experience and tasting - and of course, personal preference. Winemakers know what they can expect from a brand new Gillet barrel, for example, and from there they can determine if it’ll be a good match for their grapes. A good winemaker never ceases to search for new ways to make better wine. Every year offers another opportunity to tweak your technique using information learned from previous years. The longer you work with a specific lot of grapes, the better you know what those grapes need and – more importantly – what they don’t need. This is how we’ll determine, among many things, how much new oak to use on a wine.

So next time you pick up a glass, think beyond the butter, the “wood”. Think of the mouthfeel or texture of the wine, the possible presence of vanilla, pepper, spice – these can all come from the right oak used on the right wine.

We’ll get back to heaving these puppies onto racks and stowing them safely away in our cave. It IS the end of August, after all – we’re rolling right into harvest!

~Dianne Norton, Enologist, Miner Family

No comments: