Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harvest Hustle & Making Chardonnay at Peju Province Winery

Finally! The cellar is cranking!!! Today is the first day that it feels like harvest is in full gear. Most other times when I’ve skipped over to the Production office to chat Sara up about what’s going on, she is excited to talk to me. She beams and expands willingly on what we’re doing and why we do things the way we do. (Always for superlative quality.) She talks about the grapes with a Science-minded mother’s balance of rational analysis and though somewhat-concealed, nonetheless fuzzy, tender babymama love. As any good mother, she knows she has little control over the laws of Nature and will love the grapes, all of them and every vintage, for who/what they are, while she guides them to realize their potential slash achieve perfection. (So there’s a streak of Tiger the name of perfect wine!)

When I ask Sara what is going on in the cellar today, I get bullets:
                  “draining and pressing,
                  “barreling down,
                  “stirring the Chardonnay,
                  “Rocking and rolling!” She exclaims. “It feels like Harvest!”

All of our Chardonnay has finished its primary fermentation, has been consolidated into oak barrels, and is now going through Malolactic Fermentation (MLF), or as it’s sometimes referred to, quite simply secondary fermentation. Primary fermentation is when yeast convert the sugar in the juice into alcohol and CO2 to produce wine (obviously a drastic oversimplification). MLF is when (via specific bacteria) we convert the Granny Smith-reminiscent malic acid into the lactic acid that is found in milk.  Diacetyl, a prominent compound in butter, is produced, which is what gives so many California Chardonnays their characteristic ‘butteriness’.  By stirring the lees once per week (lees are the dead yeast cells and un-soluble solids) for approximately 6 months in what’s called sur lie aging,  our winemaking team allows the diacetyl to dissipate a bit, resulting in the more elegant, subtle hint-of-butter sensation that you might have noticed in our Chardonnay.

Though Sara had to be concise with me today, after a few moments of rattling off the facts, she couldn’t help but gush a little over how delicious the Malbec and Petit Verdot are tasting. This is the first year that we’ve gotten much yield from those small blocks on our Rutherford estate since they’re just a few years old and it takes three years for a vine to start producing. Last year we got less than a ton of each. This year, however, we got enough fruit to put to good use, and apparently, it is tasting excitingly delicious. Sara is not sure where she will blend these lots once they are ready, but looks forward to being able to make a true Bordeaux blend with such high quality fruit in all five requisite varietals.

It’s sorting fruit, inoculating yeast, and pumping over the ferments for me tomorrow in the cellar. (YAY!!) Stay tuned.

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