Make your own wine (it’s not what you think)

Just about anyone who loves wine with any degree of seriousness starts thinking, at one point or another, that it would be great to make their own wine. There are those who will pick up demijohns and buckets of must and all that and produce their own Château Moi, with highly varying degrees of success. My father-in-law makes a very decent white wine. I’m not quite as enthralled by his red.

Anyway, there are other options out there. You could, for instance, buy your own vineyard, with a house and all the equipment you need. If you have half a million dollar or more, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But then, of course, don’t forget that you’ll have to do all the vineyard work – and there is a lot of that. Oh. And sell the wine, too…

On the other hand, you could decide to go the luxurious and exclusive way, with a lot of pampering, instead of vine pruning and compost shoveling, and sign up for Cliff Lede Vineyards‘ BYOB program. It’s a three-day, all expenses paid, limousine-driven (more…)

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Pulling back just a touch – take two

The LA Times story about Adam Tolmach, from Ojai Vineyards, saying that he would reduce the alcohol content in his wines to move away from the world of Parkerized wines, which I had mentioned in my previous post, has been gathering a fair bit of steam. The original story was picked up by many on the blogosphere and in the media, including Decanter and The Telegraph in the United Kingdom, often with a sort of glee from people who obviously think that the higher-alcohol trend is just plain wrong.

Yet the shocker comes from Eric Asimov, of the New York Times, who found the characterization of Ojai vineyards’ wines as “over the top” rather strange, since he (and others, like Allen Meadows of Burghound, who is a harsh critic of high-alcohol wines) tends to find Tolmach’s wines rather balanced and elegant. Asimov called Tolmach, who told him he was misquoted, and that his reference to his own, over the top wines pointed to a particular series of pinots he produced from 1992 to 2001.

Still, even though he disagrees with the particulars of the article (more…)

Pulling back just a touch

Are California wines over the top?. That’s the title of an interesting article published earlier this week in the Los Angeles Times, which I picked up on through the web site of A Donkey and Goat Winery. (Reading it requires a free registration)

The answer to the question? Yes, quite obviously. And it’s not me saying that. In the article, the main character is one Adam Tolmach, of Ojai Vineyard, on the Central Coast:

After 25 years, Santa Barbara’s original cult winemaker has had a crisis of conscience. “We got the scores we wanted, but we went away from what I personally like,” Tolmach says. “We lost our rudder when we went for ever bolder, riper flavors.” Specifically, he says, the alcohol levels of his wines, at 15% and higher, are too high.

(…) As he steps out into the sun, signaling to his crew to follow him up the stone steps to his house, where he’ll make them a lunch of grilled cheese and onion sandwiches, he says, “We have to do the right thing. I’d stopped drinking my own wines.”

That’s exactly the point, isn’t it? Tolmach is aiming to pull back (more…)

Don’t be shy, show us what you’re made of

You can always count on Randall Grahm, the maverick behind Bonny Doon and Ca’ del Solo, militant winemaker and marketing whiz, to make interesting statements. A news item on the Wine Spectator website states that Grahm will start to include all of a wine’s ingredients on his labels. Yeasts, fining agents, you name it, anything included in the wines will be stated:

“Randall feels that it’s important to openly share with consumers any additions made to the wine, and by extension to make other winemakers responsible for [acknowledging] their own additions and interventions,” explained Alison Davies, marketing associate at Bonny Doon. “We hope for a number of results: by stating all the ingredients, this could lead the industry in the direction of full disclosure and encourage winemakers to be more hands-off and less interventionist.”

The first two wines with the new back labels—the 2007 Ca’ del Solo Vineyard Albariño and Muscat, both from the Monterey County AVA—will be released this March. The Albariño, for example, will list biodynamic grapes and sulfur dioxide as the ingredients, and will also indicate that indigenous yeasts, organic yeast hulls and bentonite were used in the winemaking process (yeast hulls, the cell walls and membranes of yeasts, facilitate problem-free fermentations, while bentonite is a fining agent often used to clarify white wines).

I’m all for it. I think it could cut a lot of pretense out of the wine world. If winemakers are going on and on about their fantastic terroir, (more…)

Published in: on December 1, 2007 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

More Pressing Matters at Matassa – and a walk through the vineyards

Instead of picking a few grapes in the vineyards of Domaine Matassa, I spent more time in the cellar making myself as useful as I could, and truly learning just how physical winemaking can be.
Let’s just talk about one of the many tasks I took part in during the end of my stay there : transferring a cuvee from its original tank and taking it off the marc (the grape skins, pulp and pips that are left to ferment with the red wines after the juice has originally been pressed out of them), before the wine is put into oak barrels to continue maturing over several months, often well over a year. The cuvée in question was El Sarrat, a combination of syrah and mourvèdre that is a new addition to the Matassa line-up (the first vintage, 2006, fruity, supple and balanced, was just bottled and a large shipment sent to UK chain Waitrose – lucky Brits !).
I assisted Cédric, a quiet, careful vigneron who has been working with Tom Lubbe at Matassa since the very beginning, in 2002, in first getting a new stainless steel tank ready, and a pump to transfer the wine from one tank to the next. While the wine was being pumped away, I also pulled some leftover juice from another tank of grenache, so that those few dozen liters could be added to the El Sarrat we were transferring.
After the fermenting juice was run out of the tank of El Sarrat, I climbed in and (more…)