Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.

In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines.  Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details

 

The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel.  These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock.  These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  Soon after they also added Picpoul.  They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50!  In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes.  Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade.  Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014.  Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time.  3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter.  Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year.  Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes

The Adelaida AVA

Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South.  This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees.  In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).  Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District.  This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location.  How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen.  For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.

Native Yeast Fermentation

I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation.  Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation.  Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making.  He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”.  During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away.  If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options.  They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well.  They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t.  So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder.  Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.

Use of Foudres

There are few places in California that you will see foudres used.  Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons).  When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room.  As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want.  As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak.  As a result, large wood it the way to go.  With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel.  This gives you more volume to surface area.  The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower.  This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky.  The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.

 

While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines.  So watch for more videos and blog posts.

 

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Presqu’ile, Key to Wine Country Weekend Part 4 – Pinot Noir Deux

Presqu'ile Winery Terrace

This is the fourth and last section of our conversations with the winemakers at the Santa Barbara Vintners Key to Wine Country event held by Presqu’ile. This event brought together 4 winemakers all making wines from the grapes from Presqu’ile Vineyard. This final section finishes out the last 2 Pinot Noirs of the 5 that we tasted.

These last two wines were both 2012 Pinots one from Labyrinth by Wine Maker Arki Hill and Storm by Winemaker Ernst Storm. The Labyrinth Pinot Noir was made with whole clusters in neutral oak. The Storm Pinot Noir came from a small block at Presqu’ile that only produced 1.3 tons total that vintage. Ernst did 30% whole cluster and a 6 day cold soak. Fermentation was 14 days on skin and then 10 month in barrel on the lees.

Ernst Storm of Storm Wines is a believer in wines expressing a sense of place. You find a place that produces fruit with depth and balance then the winemaker just guides the grapes. His South African roots gave him a balance between new and old world styles in winemaking. He believes in being gentle with the grapes, basket pressing using gravity flow to move the wines and only fining and filtrating when absolutely needed on the white wines.

For More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

If you enjoyed this series and would like to enjoy an experience like this for yourself, check out the Santa Barbara Vintners site and watch for more of their amazing upcoming events. Santa Barbara County is a haven for wine geeks, not wine snobs. People here are relaxed and down to earth and more often than not you will run into the winemaker in the tasting room. If you are fascinated by wine and are looking for people to have interesting conversations about wine and winemaking and who knows what else…this is the place to be.

Presqu’ile Winery, Key to Wine Country Weekend – Pinot Noir

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

We continue with the third segment of the Key to Wine Country event held at Presqu’ile Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Held on the crush pad high atop the Presqu’ile gravity flow winery, we had the opportunity to taste wines made by 4 different winemakers, all from grapes grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. After side by sides of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, we moved onto Pinot Noir of which there were 5 to taste.

In this section we taste through the Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir made by Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje as well at 2 Pinots from Luceant Luminesce a 2011 and a 2012.

The Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir was done with whole clusters and spent 18 months in neutral oak. It was fascinating to do a side by side with Kevin Law’s 2011 and 2012 Luceant Luminesce Pinot Noirs. Again all the grapes are from Presqu’ile Vineyard. 2011 was a cooler year and Kevin used 1/3 whole cluster and 25% new oak for this vintage, as opposed to the 2012 which was bigger. The 2012 vintage he went 75% whole cluster and 50% new oak. It’s amazing to see the difference a vintage can make as well as the differences created by the amount of whole cluster press and oak which can impart tannins and other flavors.

Kevin was the lone American on the panel.  He jokes when the get to him “I don’t have an accent”.  His wines have previously been produced under the Luminesce label but they have had to relinquish that name. In the interim you will see them often listed as Luceant Luminesce as they segue into their new name Luceant. Before opening his label, he spent 7 years as the assistant winemaker at Tantara. He is soft spoken and you won’t find him out on social media. This humble winemaker spends all his time pushing to make greater wines. The differences in his two Pinots were many, but they were both beautiful expressions of their vintage and style.

for More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

Presqu’ile Key Weekend Part 1 – Sauvignon Blanc

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

When you are a wine geek, there is no place you would rather be than tasting wine with a winemaker. In June, the Santa Barbara Vintners held their 1st Key to Wine Country Weekend. The weekend included multiple events at various wineries, meant to give you an insiders perspective on winemaking in Santa Barbara. Presqu’ile set up an event for Key Weekend, that gave you the opportunity to taste with 4 different winemakers. The amazing thing about this, was that all four winemakers were making wine from the grapes from the same vineyard. A side by side tasting while listening to the winemakers each speak about their wines was wine geek bliss.

This event was held at Presqu’ile Winery on the crush pad at the top of their beautiful gravity flow winery. Past the tables set with glassware and charcuterie were 4 smaller tables, behind which sat our winemakers. Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje, was joined by Storm Winemaker Ernst Storm, Luceant Luminesce Winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth Winemaker Ariki Hill.

The discussion itself lasted a bit over an hour and we have split the conversation into 4 parts. This first section includes an introduction by Presqu’ile owner Matt Murphy, a bit of Santa Maria Valley history from Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and then a side by side tasting of the  Presqu’ile 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and the Storm Wines 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.

Of note with these wines the Storm 2012 Sav Blanc was done in  a mix of Neutral Oak and Acacia wood and was aged on the lees for 8 months.  The Presqu’ile 2013 Sav Blanc was done with a wild ferment and aged in a combination of Stainless Steel tank, concrete egg and neutral oak.

And…both of these winemakers are from South Africa.

The “Key” to Wine Country – an inside perspective on what Santa Barbara Wine Country is all about.


The Key to Wine Country event in Santa Barbara was created by the Santa Barbara Vintners to give you a chance to get to know a little more about the wineries. More than just discounted tastings, many of the participating wineries set up unique events to give you an insiders perspective on their wines, vineyards and styles.

 

Riverbench Vineyard

Riverbench Vineyard

Our Key Weekend began in the Santa Maria Valley at Riverbench Vineyard with a vineyard walk on Friday morning with Rawley Hermreck the Vineyard Manager. Rawley walked us into the vineyard and explained the planting and trellising techniques that they use.

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We were able to see the new vines that would be planted the next day in the front block (watch for some pictures of this process!).  Laura the tasting room manager set us up to  learn how to dip their pinot bottles in wax for the beautiful wax closure, and then we enjoyed lunch on the back patio with Rawley and his dog Sadie complete with a tasting of the Riverbench wines. They have a sparkling program and the Blanc de Blanc was really lovely.  Of course I left with that bottle of Pinot I dipped!

 

Bottle Dipping

Bottle Dipping

We had some free time before our next event and spent a little time wandering in Los Olivos, ending up in the tiniest tasting room and enjoyed the casual laid back atmosphere at Carhartt.

 

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Our next event was the Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn. The Ballard Inn is a beautiful spot just south of Los Olivos. Chef Budi Kazali is also the owner of the the Inn, purchasing it in 2004. He blends Asian and New French styles with fresh local ingredients to create some captivating dishes.

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Wine-pour600The evening began at 6 pm with Michael Larner pouring his Rose as well as the Malvasia Bianca and guests relaxed in the parlor or on the porch, watching the sun start to dip and the trees start to glow. Passed hors d’oeuvres kept our stomachs at bay as we waited for the main event. The pairings were beautiful and the intimate dining room made for a singular experience. Watch for the full blog post on this incredible evening as well as our series of conversations with Michael Larner.

 

Presquile Wine Event

Presquile Wine Event

Saturday our day began with a unique event at Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile gathered 4 winemakers, including their own Dieter Cronje, to taste through wines made from grapes from the Presqu’ile Vineyards.

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On hand were Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce and Ariki Hill of Labyrinth. We tasted through 9 wines doing side by side comparisons and listening to the winemakers discuss their winemaking techniques and unique aspects of each vintage. The event took place on the crushpad of the winery, high above the tasting room in this gravity flow space. Matt Murphy, President of Presqu’ile is warm and welcoming and kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome. This was a fascinating journey to taste the differences in these wines and search for the underlying commonality that the soil and the site bring. It was truly an amazing event for a wine geek! I was in heaven and took page upon page of notes! Of course the atmosphere was stunning as you looked to the panel sitting next to the railing that looked down on the winery floor, the glassware, the charcuterie laid out with such care and the attentiveness to warmth and hospitality… it was a beautiful event.

 

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

We had to dash out sooner than I would have liked so that we could make it to Buellton for another unique event. Cold Heaven Cellars was holding a “Rhone Scentual” event. We arrived at the Buellton tasting room and were greeted by Kara and Liz.

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

In the barrel room they had 2 tables set with tasting wheels, sheets for notes and lovely blue mason jars each filled with a different item to spark your aromatic senses. We began with the white wines (Viogniers of course!) and while we were all a little shy at first, this quickly became a case of grabbing for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with the people around you. Conversations were animated and we all found that we were smelling things in a new way and with much more thought. It was a discovery each time you opened a jar. Kara and Liz had samples of diatomaceous earth, white pepper, white flowers, fresh peaches, grapefruit peal and so many others. For the Reds at the other table they had chocolate, leather, fresh berries, cinnamon, just to start, I can’t remember them all! Grapefruit peelThis was really a wonderful experience and Kara was there every step of the way encouraging you to make more discoveries and talk about other fragrances that you found in your scent memory. This event, broke down those barriers of intimidation from tasting notes. You may think that you can’t smell the habanero on that wine, but once you dip your nose in that jar, your memory is sparked and you can find it! Those tasting notes aren’t really as crazy and out there as people sometimes think. It’s just a matter of creating those scent memories and keeping them active!

 

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats

With a little time to kill before the evening event, we headed to Industrial Eats for lunch. Mention Industrial Eats to anyone in the valley and you will get the same response. People will often close their eyes briefly, envisioning the last thing they had there, and then will animatedly tell you about the amazing things you should order there. We had attended the Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner here back in April and were excited to go try some wood fired pizza for lunch. The tables are long community tables allowing large groups to sit together or smaller groups to make new friends. The food here is phenomenal and the service is great. Don’t miss stopping here!

 

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Our last event of the day was in Santa Ynez at Imagine Wine. They held an evening of Music, Art, Food and “Blogging”. I’m blushing a little, the “blogging” was added since we were attending. Located on the corner of Numancia and Edison this tasting room is also an art gallery that is flooded with natural light from 2 sides. For this event they featured the work of Robert Karl Vogel, as well as music from Jim Campbell and then of course the wines. Ross Rankin, the owner and winemaker had barrel samples out on the corner of the porch and took guests through the stories of each wine. Jim

Jim Campbell

Jim Campbell

Campbell performed “every song you know by heart (almost).” (really, I could sing along with everything!). Lyndee Rankin had great food set out to accompany the wines and you could wander and sip as you enjoyed the “En Plein Air” paintings by Robert Karl Vogel, landscapes and cloudscapes of California and the Sierras. Also sculptures by Blake Rankin, (son of the winemaker) dotted the tasting room. The centerpiece for the gallery is a sculpture called Wings, which is the inspiration for one of his father’s wines.

Ross’s wines are unique in that he believes in aging his wines before release. We did get to taste his new (Barbera)? which he created specifically to have a wine for a quicker release. It was a lovely evening with the art, music and wine inspiring great conversations among the varied guests. Watch for a video blog with insights from Ross on his wines!

 

I unfortunately had to fly home to Vegas, so Michael enjoyed the Sunday Vineyard Hike and Farm-to-table lunch at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard without me. So here…I’ll turn it over to him.

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

It was a great weekend for wine tasting and a beautiful morning. I was looking forward to seeing the Farm and tasting the wines. We had stopped by their booth at the grand tasting during the Spring Vintners Weekend event and their wines were amazing.  After tasting them again that still held true.  Karen Steinwachs, their winemaker told us during the tour, that they try to keep the wines affordable. This is possible because they do everything in house, but the wines really could sell for twice the amount they sell them for.  When you drive in you only see the tasting room and the surrounding farm, that is because the vineyard and winery are up on the plateau.  So we drove up the hill and started out the day at the winery at the top of the plateau where Karen poured our first wine  a 2013 “Zingy”, a Sav Blanc, and told us stories about how it was named.  She then gave us a tour of the wine making and storage facility, followed by a walk around the picturesque views of the vineyard. We made our way back to the winery tried another Sav Blanc, the 2011 Devin, we  then made our way back down the hill to the picnic grounds below,

where we were treated to a chef Demo by Pascale Beale and tasted various wines with fresh from the farm Salads.  We will have a more complete Blog post and video on this adventure at Buttonwood. This is a must stop, to see the combination of Farm and Vineyard.  If you can visit this Fall while they are doing their Harvest Tour, it should not be missed.

 

Stay Tuned, in the next couple of weeks we will be Posting Blogs and Videos on this amazing Weekend.  We will also be launching a Ballard Canyon Series, with Interviews with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. This will be a 4 week Series starting July 7th 2014. We will also be at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July to talk to with more winemakers and hear more stories from Santa Barbara.  So you can expect more information on this incredible region for wines.

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Halter Ranch – Tradition and Innovation

Halter Ranch Winery

In 1874 when Edwin Smith moved to Paso Robes the area of Halter Ranch was still known as Las Tablas.  This is the name of the creek that runs through the property and gives it’s name to the Haas/Perrin winery just over the hill. It wasn’t until the MacGillivray family purchased part of the property in 1943 that the first vines were planted.

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch, as we know it today came about in 2000 when Hansjorg Wyss purchased 900 acres.  Halter is his mother’s maiden name. In 2008 he was ranked number 164 of the Forbes list of billionaires and he is the 2nd richest person in Switzerland.  Here we see his money being put to good use for wine lovers.  He is known for his philanthropy.  His Wyss Foundation places large parcels of land under government protection.  He is a by nature conservationist.

The vineyards here have been growing grapes and selling them to the best of the area’s wineries. They now have to wean wineries of their grapes as they establish their own label.  The ranch itself is over 1000 acres with less than ¼ of it devoted to vines.  They focus on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties.  Mr. Wyss conservationist attitude can be seen here.  The property has wildlife corridors for local mountain lions, badgers, bobcats and coyotes.  These corridors allow the animals to roam over large portions of land as they are meant to, rather than simply running into fences.  On the ranch you will also find the Ancestor Oak.  This Coastal oak is the world’s oldest.  It is 324 inches around, 55 feet tall and has a 104-foot crown.  On the property you will find insectaries, owl boxes and raptor perches.  They have a mobile chicken coup that was used to keep pests down, until they realized that the raptors loved chicken for lunch!

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

They began their own label in 2002 and the new winery is stunning.  They wooed Kevin Sass from Justin Winery here.  How could he resist!  The winery is gravity flow, which is great for the wines and lower in energy use.  Gravity flow is noted for producing smoother wines free of astringent tannins.  The winery has 4 self contained temperature controlled rooms and naturally cooled caves in the side of the mountain for barrel storage.

With 57 separate vineyard blocks and soil types from calcareous clay to clay loam with shale and sandstone deposits and a computerized tank monitoring system with enables Kevin to monitor and regulate the fermentation tanks temps from his desktop or phone, this is a winemakers dream.

The winery is also SIP certified which means they are sustainable not only in vineyard and winery practices toward the grapes, but also toward the staff also.  The winery has concrete catwalks so that the staff can easily get to the top of the tanks.  They also have the tanks on concrete pads to raise them making it much easier to clear out the must.

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

In addition to the stunning winery the property also houses a gorgeous covered bridge that connects the older buildings of the property with the new.  Across the bridge you will find the Historic Victorian Farmhouse that was built in the 1880s and was completely restored in 2001-2003 and the Silo Barn that was restored in 2012.  This property is a photographers dream!

Halter Ranch buildings

Halter Ranch buildings

And yes, the wines are lovely.

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Santa Barbara…yes Again!

Life is better with WIne

I know…we were just there in April, but ya know, the wines in this area are really amazing!  We are headed back first to the Funk Zone to visit some more tasting rooms. We have waxed poetic on ABC (Au Bon Climat) and Municipal Winemakers, now it’s time to explore some of the other Funky Wine Tasting rooms.

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

The plan is lunch at Pierre Lafond’s Wine Bistro on State Street for lunch and a flight.  In 1962 Pierre Lafond opened the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  Mr. Lafond originally had a wine and cheese shop that became the place to be for Santa Barbara wine lovers.

Pierre LaFond's Wine-Bistro

Pierre LaFond’s Wine-Bistro

He started Santa Barbara Winery and later Lafond Winery.  So…we will taste some wine, have some lunch and maybe try a little of the new Kambucha made locally that is now on the menu.  And hopefully we will find a seat out on the patio where we can absorb some of the State Street atmosphere.

After lunch we will head to Grassini Family Vineyards to do a chocolate pairing. They have a tasting room near ABC and Margerum.  Their vineyards are located on the east edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Happy Canyon.  Oddly enough for this primarily Burgundian style region, they are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all Bordeaux varieties.  I look forward to finding out why they decided to grow Cab and what makes their vineyard Cab friendly.  They also have solar panels and are a gravity flow winery so I look forward to finding out more about that!

AVA Santa Barbara

AVA Santa Barbara

Then we head to the funkier part of Santa Barbara and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where I need to check out the amazing Elkpen murals of the region.

This winery is a wine geeks dream, the murals are all educational with details on the climate in each of the regions AVA’s.  They have wines from each of the 5 AVA’s in the regions.  They are owned by Seth Kunin of Kunin wines.  This should be a great opportunity to get a little more of the details of the area under my belt, with a big map to guide me.

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

After that we will hit as many other tasting rooms as is feasible and plan to get a nice sunset time-lapse out at the Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf that night.  Kalyra, Santa Barbara Winery, Carr, Oreana, Kunin, Riverbench, and Pali…you could all see us knocking at your door!  We will try!

Next stop Los Olivos!

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Crushed Grape Chronicles YouTube Channel

CGC logo

Introducing our New YouTube channel.  Join us as we explore these stories through AVA’s and vineyards and the eyes of the winemakers.

Wine it’s simply crushed and fermented grapes.  The variations and the stories are what make it so fascinating.

The variations in wine are beyond comprehension.  The stories behind the wines are as lush and beautiful as the wines themselves.

Our goal at Crushed Grape Chronicles is to explore and chronicle the grape it’s many stories and it’s journey from dirt to glass.

Visit our YouTube Channel at CrushedGrapeChron or click on the link

http://youtu.be/9hlsW7W7vGU

Our Next video will be on Temecula Valley Wine Country,  followed by video’s on the individual wineries that makeup Temecula AVA

Gravity flow wineries. Isn’t this just common sense?

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Gravity flow wineries.  Lately it’s a high tech term, but really it seems like common sense doesn’t it?  In Bordeaux Chateau Lynch-Bages built a tank house that employed a railed gravity flow system in 1850. The lower level held the vats and the upper level was for de-stemming and crushing so that the juice would flow (via gravity) into the vats below.

Gravity flow these days is seemingly expensive with huge complexes built to support this method.  The Palmaz Winery in Napa is the ultimate example of this. This is  the ultimate in gravity flow winery design.  This winery is built in Mount George in Napa.  The wine cave is 18 stories tall with fermentation tanks that rotate on a carousel under the crush pad.

 

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch in Paso Robles just finished a beautiful new facility that is designed for gravity flow and ease of work flow for winery workers.   On top of that the place is stunning. ( more on Halter Ranch Soon)

Of course there are simpler methods.  Take Willakenzie Winery in Yamhill Oregon.  This winery is simply built to be 3 stories down the side of a hill.  The top floor is for sorting and de-stemming, the middle floor for fermentation and tank storage and the bottom floor for barrel storage.  The juice/wine flows from one floor down to the next via gravity.

But even small wineries can make this system work.  You just have to have your tanks higher than your barrels!  A simple hose from the tank to the barrel will work!  You save the expense of the pumping equipment as well as the maintenance and energy costs.  This method is a bit more time consuming though.  You can fill a barrel in 4 to 5 hours, but…if you don’t wish the gravity to push too hard on your wine, you might adjust your hose to allow the juice to flow more slowly taking 7 to 8 hours to fill a barrel.  So if you are a big mass producing winery you probably don’t want to take the time to do this.  But…if you are in the business of making good wine…

So what kind of damage can pumping do to wine?  From the top you want to gently press the grapes and have them release their juice.  Crushing is actually a pretty harsh word.  In crushing the concern is breaking the seeds and imparting the astringent tannins into your wine. (of course there are winemakers who utilize the tannins in both seeds and stems to great result! ie Brewer/Clifton)  Pumping can force through solids and then requiring additional filtration for your wine.  Pumping also imparts oxygen into the wine and this can affect the aging of the wine.  Pumping can be especially unwanted with the more nuanced varieties of wine like pinot noir as it can disturb the subtleties in the wine.

From an environmental standpoint it is reducing the energy use.  You don’t have to pay for gravity on the electric bill!  Building a gravity flow winery in the beginning will save you energy and equipment cost in the end.

So does it make the wine better?  Well, it treats it more gently and after we torture the grapes on the vine, that seems to be the preferred method of treating them post harvest.  It is energy efficient and seems to be kinda common sense (work smarter not harder!).  In the end there are so many variables.  When you use gravity flow you are again trying to have as little outside influence on the grape as possible.   After that it is in the winemaker’s hands.  And…well before that it is in the vineyard managers hands, as well as the weather.  So many variables.  All in all, a gravity flow system is an ideal, that can be put into practice with a little forethought in building.  It is environmentally better and should in the long run be cheaper.  As to it making the wine taste better?  Maybe it’s time for a comparison test!?  (Any excuse to taste more wine!)

Wine in Arroyo Grande at Talley Vineyards

Talley Winery

During our April trip touring Wine Country from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles I had booked at tour at Talley in Arroyo Grande.  I was inspired by the interview in Steve Heimoff’s book “New Classic Winemakers of California”

 

Talley Winery Landscape

Talley Winery Landscape

Talley Vineyards is located in Arroyo Grande in the Southern part of San Luis Obispo County and the Talley family is a farming family.  Even today a good portion of their property is specialty vegetables.  They began growing grapes in 1982. Brian Talley, who was interviewed in Steve Heimoff’s book owns and operates Talley Vineyards with his wife Johnine.  The vineyards now comprise 165 acres in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys.

While on our tour we had several opportunities to speak briefly with their winemaker Eric Johnson.  He was overseeing the bottling of a wine for another vineyard that day. They have a large space and often process and bottle for smaller wineries.

Talley Winery Soil samples

Talley Winery Soil samples

I had read on their blog about them doing soil samples from their 6 vineyards….“Playing in The Dirt” is a great read.  We were able to see the soil samples that they are now prepping for a new vineyard museum room that will be in the tasting room.

They use traditional Burgundian methods in the cellar here.  Their Chardonnay is hand picked and whole cluster pressed.  It is only briefly in tank before being racked into French oak barrels with a light to medium toast. All of the wines are barrel fermented with native yeasts.  Wines here age sur lie for malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity.   The Pinot goes through cluster sorting and is mostly de-stemmed.  For vineyard designates they do 25% whole cluster.  Grapes are then gravity fed into small open top fermenters.  They cold soak for 3 to 5 days and again ferment with only native yeasts. After 10 days or so the wine is racked into French Oak that is medium-to heavy toast and aged for 15-18 months.  This is 30-35% new oak.

Travis Monk the Vineyard Manager also stopped by briefly.  He like Eric is younger (late 20’s?)  This is a new and young team, bringing great energy to Talley.  In the vineyards they do as little watering as possible.  They are lucky to have an aquifer on the property.

As the family still has their farming operations, they have a year round workforce.  When it gets close to harvest they can pull workers off of other jobs to harvest when the brix levels are perfect.

You would think this was a really small operation considering we got to speak with these people, but it is not.  They bottle under the Talley label for their estate grown wines as well as Bishop’s Peak which sources grapes from the greater Central Coast.  Talley Vineyards currently produces about 30,000 cases annually.  The Vineyard designate Pinots on the Talley label are really wonderful.

Talley El Rincon Adobe

Talley El Rincon Adobe

The grounds here are lovely and if have the opportunity tour the historic El Rincon Adobe. This house greets you as you enter the property and is on the label for Talley Vineyards.  It was build it the early 1860’s and is constructed of sun dried mud bricks that were made onsite.  The name means “The corner” in Spanish. The building was the original Talley tasting room until the new tasting room was completed in 2002.

Talley Picnic Area

Talley Picnic Area

They have a beautiful picnic area by the tasting room with great views of their Rincon Vineyard. This is the perfect place to stop as you drive between Santa Barbara and Paso for a tasting and a picnic lunch.

Talley Vineyard Old basket press

Talley Vineyard Old basket press

 

All About Barrels

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

 

Wine Urn's

Wine Urn’s

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

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.

 

When speaking of types of Oak:

  • French oak has the highest tannins. They tend to be more subtle than American Oak.  They are distinguished by which forest they come from with 5 major regions.  The trees used are between 120-150 years old and are strictly controlled by the French Department de Eaux et de Forets.  The rough staves are typically air dried for 2 to 3 years before the barrels are made.  French barrels can run between $800 and $3600 each.
  • American oak is the opposite extreme with grains that are not nearly as tight.  Here you get much bolder flavors including spice, vanilla and butter. American oak primarily comes from the Midwest, Appalachia and Oregon.  American oak is much more affordable at $300-$500 per barrel.
  • Hungarian is usually thought of as the tightest grain, this makes it more neutral, imparting less flavors even when it is new as well as typically being lower in tannins.  Hungarian oak sits right between the two cost wise at $500-$700 per barrel.

 

Barrels lose their flavor as they age.  Typical barrels can be used for about 5 years before they are done imparting flavor.  You get the most flavor extracted on the first use, about 50%.  The second use you get about 25% and after that the barrel dwindles toward what is referred to as neutral oak or a barrel that no longer imparts noticeable oak flavor.  So…if after 5 years you have wines to age in neutral oak, you are good!  You can keep using those barrels for 100 years or so!

 

You can increase the life of the barrel and get more use out of it. I have seen photos from the Cilurzo winery in Temecula back in the 60’s shaving down the inside of the barrels to get more exposure to the oak.  Shaving at this time was a special art and the people who did it travelled from winery to winery doing this. This practice picked up in the 80’s and 90’s. Barrels would be shaved and then re-toasted.  Shaving costs run about $75 per barrel.  A new company out of Australia has a new robot called the Phoenix that uses a high-speed cutting tool to cut 9-10 mm from each stave.  This is done by first mapping the interior of the barrel with a laser.  Once the interior is cut down the barrels are re-toasted with an infrared machine.  I have heard also of adding new thinner staves that have been toasted to neutral barrels.

 

Wine Barrel's Stacked

Wine Barrel’s Stacked

Now the barrels we are talking about here are the standard 60 gallon barrels that are used in many wineries.  The ones you see turned later into planters and lawn furniture.  There is a whole different world of barrels out there that are much larger. A great example of these larger wooden barrels can be seen in southern Rhone Style wines where you want less oak contact.  Tablas Creek has great (and might I say stunningly beautiful) examples of these.

 

  • Barriques are the French term for the typical 60 gallon barrels.
  • Foudres are 1200 gallon French Oak barrels and hold enough wine to fill 500 twelve-bottle cases.
  • Puncheons are 120 gallon barrels.
  • Demi-muids are 160 gallon barrels.
  • There are also 1600-gallon wooden casks that stand upright, like a fermentation tank.

 

Foudres, 1200 Galllon French Barrel's

Foudres, 1200 Galllon French Barrel’s

Other types of containers available

  • Flextank and other companies create plastic wine tanks that replicate barrel functions and are space efficient.  If you do not need oak flavor…well you can reuse these multiple times.
  • Vino Vessel originated in Paso Robles and is a company that creates concrete fermentation and storage tanks.  The benefits are that they are more affordable, easier to clean, less space and labor intensive and longer lasting.  They also offer more natural oxygenation than stainless steel does and they are naturally stay cooler so they reduce refrigeration costs.
  • Stainless Steel has no oxygen exchange and is initially expensive, but can be used repeatedly.  They can be fitted with wood staves to impart flavor.

 

Okay speaking of adding staves…you can use these alternative vessels for aging your wine and still get oak flavor by adding staves and or oak chips.

 

So that’s the basics of barrels.  This is not to be confused with fermentation tanks.  That’s a whole ‘nother chapter! See More Wine Education

Chapin Family Vineyards – Incredible service with a smile and a story

Chapin barrels on Porch

 

It’s always a joy to walk into a tasting room, for a wine tasting, be warmly welcomed and find that you have someone pouring for you that loves to talk about his or her winery and obviously loves the wines.  Such was the case when we arrived early on a Friday morning to the Chapin Family Vineyards tasting room.  We were the first to arrive that morning and as we walked in Leroy greeted us and offered us a spot at the tasting bar.

The Chapin Family Vineyard is the furthest Winery and Vineyard on Rancho California Road.  Located next to Doffo, the winery property is filled with palm trees, the owner Steve’s first love.

While they do not grow grapes for white wines here at this point, they do work with a winery in Marche, Italy where they import their Passerina white wine.  This wine has a golden color and is dry with mineral notes as well as floral notes, apricot and peach with a small hint of spice.

As we tasted the 2009 Syrah, Leroy filled us in on the history of the winery.  The Chapin Family (Steve’s parents) bough the property here and the property across the street where Doffo now stands in 1980.  It was 15 years later as they watched vineyards pop up all over the valley when they decided to plant some grapes.  They now grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Montepulciano, Petite Verdot and Viognier.  (Yes I know Viognier is a white wine and I said they didn’t grow those.  They only grow enough Viognier to add to their red blends). The Montepulciano is scattered throughout the vineyard.  You will notice blue tags on vines indicating that is it is this variety.  The Syrah borders the vineyards.

As we tasted the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is delicious with fruit and chocolate, decidedly low tannins and very approachable, Leroy filled us in on vineyard techniques.  They use a single cordon method here to intensify the flavors.  Leroy asked us to think of the vine as the trunk, as it grows it sends out a branch, which in double cordon growing would spread out to the opposite side of the original trunk.  Here they clip that branch working only with the trunk itself.  They do all hand picking here and carefully destem all fruit.

The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was 75% Cabernet, 10% Petite Verdot for some color (inking they call this) and 15% Zin for zing. This is lighter and leaner than the 2009 and slightly less complex.  2008 was a wet year with less sun on the grapes and the grapes were juicier and less intense.  They think of this wine as a more Bordeaux style wine.

The 2010 Merlot had just been release a month before and was still young but you can see the potential.  This is only the 2nd Merlot they have done.  It is spicy with red fruit and cedar, medium tannins and a little mocha.  This wine was made from sourced fruit, as they do not yet grow Merlot.

Their 2010 Zinfandel is medium bodied with bright spice and light tannins.  You get big fruit up front, no heat (which is great for a Zin) and it has a shorter finish.

The 2009 Chapin Family Summit is a Cabernet based blend with Montepulciano and Merlot.  There is a lovely little bit of barnyard on the nose and a slight herbal quality.  The tannins are deeper and the wine has tartness.

While we were there, two wine club members arrived and Leroy set them up with a glass of wine out on the patio.  They carry Boars Head products in their deli and they picked something out and he plated it for them and took it to them on the patio.  Now that is service!  So many places have a deli and you end up eating out of a plastic container.  Leroy wants you to enjoy your experience, so he takes great care of the people who come in.  They offer to do your tasting on the patio if you prefer.

We next tasted the Marche Rosso, which they bring in from Marche Italy.  A blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Syrah, is an example of the style of Montepulciano that they hope to produce.  It  had spice and leather and wet earth on the nose and quite and a bit of depth.  The tannins were tangy and the wine leaves your mouth watering for more.  There was also good tartness on the sides of my tongue.

The last wine we tasted was a Late Harvest Zin Tawny Port, put in port barrels in the sun and do them in a solera style.  You get caramel, but it is not too sweet.  With deep fragrances of hazelnut and brown sugar this was hot on my nose as it is fortified,  but was not hot on the palate.  This is one of the more approachable ports I have had.

Chapin Family Vineyards  a great place for a tasting or just a glass of wine.  Leroy makes you feel pampered making sure that you are comfortable and having a great experience.   The afternoon before the entire patio was filled, so word must be out.  If you are in Temecula Wine Country, don’t miss stopping here.