The Philosophies

Making wine and growing grapes can be done in many ways. Each vineyard, each winery, each winemaker may choose a different way, or a different mix of philosophies. There are Biodynamic Wineries that I love, as well as winemakers who think Biodynamics is a whole lot of hooey, whose wines and practices I support. I have had some truly spectacular wines fermented with native yeast as well as transportive experiences with wines that inoculated with yeast. So we are not jumping on any bandwagons here to support specific philosophies, rather finding good wines made by good people who sincerely believe in their growing and winemaking practices.
Here in “The Philosophies” we will explore the many and varied methods that vineyards and wineries use, which make so many wonderful and unique wines all over the globe.

  • Grapes Grapes from Vine to Glass
  • Terrior Terrior How Soil makes the Wine
  • Harvest Harvest Let's get Fermenting
  • Barrels Barrels To Oak or not to Oak that is the question
  • WineMakers WineMakers The Science behind the Scenes

Grapes 101

I was doing research on Aglianico to figure out how long I should cellar this and found lots all kinds of interesting information on this variety.

In many places you will hear that this grape came from Greece in the 6th century and was used to make Falernum (it’s latin name) or Falerian wine. Falerian wine was a favorite of the Romans and was said to be made with Aglianico and sometimes Grecco grapes. These grapes were grown on the slopes of Mt. Falernus and is mentioned in Roman literature. This wine was a white wine that was at 15% alcohol. The grapes were a late harvest grape harvested after a freeze (like eiswein?). The wine was aged in an amphorae for 15 to 20 years so the wine became amber to dark brown before drinking. The area these vines were grown in is now the vineyards of Rocca de Mondragone and Monte Massico. The name was thought to be a version of the word Hellenic or Ellenico the Italian word for Greek.

Okay now that I’ve given you all that rich history…DNA research shows that Aglianico is not related to the Greek varieties that were used to make Falernum. Still…great story huh? Read More

Tablas Creek Soil

Terrior is all about the land and how the grapes starve to grow their intense flavor.

Terrior 101

A Vineyards “Terroir” or sense of place come from the weather, the location of the vines on slopes for more or less sun, coastal influences, temperature fluxuations, cover crops, and soil.

After our recent trip to Paso Robles I was curious about the calcareous soil and the differences between the soil types for east side and west side vineyards.  So we will explore that here today.  The subject is complex and I will only deal with some of the basics, but I will happily provide links for further information.

Paso Robles sits south of San Francisco and North of LA.  Well, that’s pretty basic isn’t it?  This area is considered California’s Central Coast.  Paso’s west side begins just 6 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  The Santa Lucia Mountains give us the western border.  The AVA is about 35 miles east to west and 25 north to south.  That encompasses 614,000 acres of land about 26,000 of that planted in vineyards.

There are over 45 different soil types found in this area and they tend to be mixed!  You can find vineyard blocks whose soils vary row to row.  Read More

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

When to harvest and how to harvest that is the question.

Yeast 101

First, I suppose we should talk about what part the yeast plays in the making of wine.

Yeast is what causes the fermentation process in wine. The yeast, just like when you are making bread, eats up the sugars and produces, in this case alcohol and carbon dioxide. The yeast will typically continue to do this until it has transformed all the sugars. The process can stop or be stopped short of that, which gives you the residual sugar in wine.

Indigenous yeasts are those that are “naturally” occurring in the vineyard or winery. Yes “naturally” is in quotes, because well…yeasts can show up from anywhere. Lets begin by talking about the natural yeast that you find in the vineyard. In Europe these yeasts that are found on the skins of the grapes are considered part of the terroir. Often called the “bloom” or “blush” these yeasts can be seen on the skin of the grape and come into the winery with the grape during harvest. These native yeasts can produce amazing and unique wines, but they are also a bit of a wildcard, because they can also be unpredictable causing off flavors or aromas and possible spoilage. Wild yeast as it is already on the grapes can start the fermentation process immediately, as the weight of the grapes on top crush the grapes on the bottom the yeasts can go to work before they even get to the crushpad. Indigenous yeast can take longer to get going with fermentation and there isn’t a specific formula for how long fermentation will take, so the winemaker must be vigilant, checking in on the process often to see where it’s at. The type of vineyard can assist natural yeast in the vineyards. If the pH is low and there is high acidity this will help the yeast to succeed. Often warmer regions with higher yields don’t work as well for natural yeast. The variety of natural yeast found in a vineyard can also add to the diversity of flavor in the wines. In Europe most wineries use natural yeast, this is the way it has been done for centuries. Often a “pied du cuvee” is used to kick start a slow fermentation. A “pied du Cuvee” is like sourdough starter. Grapes are picked a few days or weeks prior to harvest and crushed to cultivate the yeasts. Then if the fermentation from the indigenous yeasts is slow this can be added to kick start the fermentation process. This is also used if there is rain before harvest that washes away many of the natural yeasts on the grapes. Read More

Wine began stored and aged in amphorae (sealed earthenware or clay jars) that were used in Greece and Rome.

It was the Celts in around 50BD that devised using wooden barrels to store and transport wines (those Celts…so smart!)

Wine barrels stacked in old cellar

Wooden barrels were sturdy and shaped conveniently for transport.  And…it seemed that wine could actually benefit from the wood!

Why Oak?  Some would say out of convenience and then as a taste preference.  There are over 400 species of oak.  Only about 20 of them are typically used for wine barrels and these can very with the flavors they impart although most often the flavor noticed is “vanilla”.

In addition to the wood itself you have the toast.  Cooperages specialize in specific toasts for the staves and heads of the barrels and the intensity of the toast can definitely affect the flavor of the wine. Toasts are labeled as light, medium or heavy and can very from the barrel staves to the head.

Barrels allow the introduction of oxygen to the wine in a very slow manner.  The pace of the introduction depends on the tightness of the grain of the wood.  It also imparts the wood flavor into the wine as well as tannins, and body.  The body comes mostly from the sugars that are formed when the oak is toasted. Read More

from Dirt to Glass, the stories behind the vine