This years crop (2011) was low similar to 2009. But the fruit they did get was high quality. They lost all of their Viognier to a spring frost in late April. They turned on the fans to bring down the warmer induction layer of air, but all the air was cold. There was nothing to be done and they lost a good portion of grapes that had budded out early.
We went down to the old nursery. All the vines here were originally from Chateau de Beaucastel and were grafted here onto American Rootstock. He showed us the grafting machine which cuts and omega shaped cut out of the vine stock, you make another cut into an american rootstock of the same diameter and put them together. They typically wax this connection to protect it while it heals together. They are placed in a callous greenhouse room which is maintained at 85 degrees and 85 percent humidity, then move to other green houses to slowly bring down humidity about 3 to 6 months. These are then planted. The post hole digger goes down about a foot and the rootstock is dropped it with most of the vine underground also so that only the top of the newly grafted vine stock is sticking out from the earth.
We talked about grapes and climate and the microclimates that they have here. Steve mentioned a trip to Spain and his worry that the wines would be big bold high alcohol warm climate wines. He found that they were not! They were nuanced and often aged much longer before release than standard wines.
We went into the winery and looked at the tanks. They have quite a few stainless steel tanks which are 3000 gallons (3.5 times a waterbowl Zu folks!) They also have standard barrels, Cuvee which are 1700 gallon wood tanks, larger barrels at 2.5 times the size of a standard barrel and the Foudres which are 1200 gallons. The 120 Gallon Barrels ar called Puncheons , the 160 gallon size are called Demi-muides, roughly double and triple size of regular barrel, so you get a greater ratio of volume to surface area, which means less oak in the wine, and the barrels tend to last longer then smaller barrels. When we had walked in the girl in the tasting room had mentioned that often it felt like the wines were not put into a container by specific design, but rather by need, as there was no where else to put the juice.
Finally filled with tons of fascinating information, it was time to taste.
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