2014 Pinot Noir

This wine is…

Silky. Seductive. Gravelly. On the opposite spectrum from the “high-octane” New World wines, made in a very unique way. It possesses the gorgeous typicity of an Oregon pinot noir with truffles, deep tilled earth and forest floor. The minerality that is enhanced from the 100% whole cluster is reminiscent of a gravel road after a rain. Plump black cherries and figs combine with delicious, warm spices (not from new oak, as there was none, but from the earth and grapes only). 

Total tons: 0.6

Total Cases: 41 

The Science

Harvest Brix: 22.3

Harvest pH: 3.33

Alcohol: 11.8% (I’m not sure how this happened actually)

Residual Sugar: dry

pH after harvest: 3.56

Total SO2: 90 ppm

Free SO2: 28 ppm


The Process

   The pinot noir grapes were picked on September 23, 2014 from the La Cantera vineyard, which is in the sub-AVA of Chehalem Mountains AVA in the Willamette Valley. The soil is Laurelwood, which is a soil created from a torrential wind storm that blew fiercely through the valley a few thousand years ago. The clone is Hanzell, which I had never worked with before, but I like because of the purity of the fruit and the ability to showcase the soil. There was a very light sorting done because of the superb quality of the vintage. I then stepped on the grapes with my feet (pigeage a pied) to gently break open the clusters. I added a minute 5g/hL of yeast just as a safety net. A “compressor” welded by my husband, Mark was then secured (semi-ghetto this year, with Bessie clamps) on top of the 1/2 ton picking bin, that was used as the fermentation vessel. Once the clamps were in place, I placed it in the cold room for a long, slow fermentation and did... nothing. The beauty of nothing. Other than daily Brix check and tasting, of course. In the CHAOS of harvest, the ability to do nothing is more precious than gold. There were no punch downs, no pump-overs. Zilch.

   For three weeks it fermented. I finally took the compressor off and found entire unscathed clusters! The highest temp reached was 70 F, which explains the lighter body.

To answer your question: yes, carbonic maceration occurred, and is still slightly evident in the final wine.

   It was racked to barrel in late October and topped every three weeks or so until late May when it was racked to a tank and allowed to settle. It is 100% through malo-lactic fermentation, and it was not sulfured until it was racked out. The wine is UNFINED and UNFILTERED.



The Impetus for an Immersed Cap

 

These blisters aren't even as half as bad as they got. OUCH!!! Result of doing Punch Downs

These blisters aren't even as half as bad as they got. OUCH!!! Result of doing Punch Downs

There is a quandary when making red wine. Grape juice is clear. The color for red wine comes from the skins. So red wine is made with the skins, makes sense. The problem occurs due to a byproduct of the yeasts conversion of sugar to alcohol: Carbon Dioxide. This gas becomes so powerful that it can literally kill people. Not only that, it pushes the skins out of the liquid so that they rest on top as if they are weightless. If the liquid doesn't touch the skins, it can't extract the color. And tannins. And texture that we love in red wine. Throughout the extremely long history of wine fermentation in the world, several methods have been created to combat this. 

  • Punch Downs 
    • The most common method. The "cap", or raised skins, are physically pushed back down into the liquid either by feet, metal poles, or hydraulics. This is HARD, BRUTAL, back breaking labor. A serious workout, too. The cap can be so thick, that it becomes physically impossible for a human to break it. And this must be done every day. Not just every day, but several times a day. Over and over and over again. Think about how much time that is over the course of harvest dedicated to this.
  • Pump Overs 
    • A more gentle form of extraction that involves more equipment. A perforated metal tube is inserted through the skins so that liquid can be pumped through a hose on top of the cap, wetting it, and allowing the liquid to come in contact once again with the skins. Physical labor is definitely decreased with this method, but the clean up is annoying as the hose, screen (torpedo), and pump need to be cleaned afterwards. 
  • Rack and Return
    • This requires either a tank that has a valve on the bottom of the fermentation tank that can be opened so that the liquid is drained into another tank. Or a hose can be used to remove the liquid. Either way, all of the juice gets transferred to another tank and then poured back on top of the skins. Once again, a mess. And more time and space consuming. 

There MUST BE A BETTER WAY. 

Enter the "Compressor"

Mark fabricating the "Compressor". Do you see the VF on the handle? Such a cool detail.

Mark fabricating the "Compressor". Do you see the VF on the handle? Such a cool detail.

What if you could keep the skins submerged in the liquid the entire time? What would happen? This method has been done before, but there's very little information on the internet, and I personally know not a soul who has done this. Why? I mused, conferred with my mentor, Michael Lundeen (winemaker and GM at Walnut City Wineworks), came up with a design, drew a rough sketch for Mark, and Mark fabricated that baby.

vs.

  Once the clamps were in place, I placed it in the cold room for a long, slow fermentation and did... nothing. The beauty of nothing. Other than daily Brix check and tasting, of course. In the CHAOS of harvest, the ability to do nothing is more precious than gold. 

   For three weeks it fermented. I finally took the compressor off and found entire unscathed clusters!  

Now that harvest is over, and the very first immersed-cap experiment is over, I have great insight and observations that will make this method something I will forever use. 

Initial Barrel Tasting Observations are of a highly balanced wine with deep, beautiful flavors. An overall Feminine perception dominates. I had thought the constant immersion would create bigger tannins, but that is not the case. The wine is so balanced now with such silky tannins, that I will probably keep it in barrel for only 6 months and release it in the early fall of 2015. I know it will age for a few years, but long term aging is, well, I don't know, but I doubt it will increase in quality after 5-7 years. That's ok. It FUCKING ROCKS right now. In fact, I could bottle and sell it now, and I would be thrilled with it. It just leaves open the question of how to create a pinot noir that has vast aging potential... Something I have the rest of my life to discover.