There should never be a rubber stamp approach to any artistic endeavour, and in the making of fine wine, from pruning the vines to bottling the wine, there is no exception.
Our vineyards are selected for their ability to produce the finest wine from that region. Soils that are well-drained, the right varietal in the right location and attention to detail in the precise farming practises that great vineyards need. All grape harvest decisions are made with the winemaker and grower through the extensive tasting of the grapes when they are close to ripeness. We check to see if most of the seeds have turned brown, and the pulp readily detaches from the seeds. Also, we are looking to see if the grape stems are beginning to lignify; if they are, we can use some of them in the ferment to add a wonderful cinnamon note to the finished wine.
Pinot Noir's development ranges from vegetative flavours when unripe (green seeds), spicy during mid-development (approximately half green and half brown seeds), then a no-mans land of flavour where the grapes don't seem to taste like much of anything. This is the most exciting stage, as they can go to full-blown fruitiness within a day or so. This is the time to choose when to pick as it can take a day or two to get a crew, so it's essential to get it right, or the grapes may become overripe and lead to higher alcohol levels. Picking starts at around 3 or 4 AM when temps are at their coolest. The grapes are all picked by hand into half-ton picking bins, then quickly transported to the winery.
There is actually no crushing involved in our grape processing. When the grapes arrive at the winery, they are hand-sorted and gently fed into a destemmer; occasionally, if the stems are lignified, we will use a certain percentage of whole-cluster depending on the vintage. Once transferred to our small batch fermenters, we cold soak for several days; again, this depends on the vintage: whether it is a high or low tannin year, and other factors such as the condition of the fruit. Once fermentation begins, we innoculate with a chosen yeast that will co-ferment with the native yeast. During fermentation, we remove the juice four times a day and drain it over the cap that has risen, and do this in combination with pulsing large air bubbles into the must to break up the cap. This is to avoid the damaging effects of pump impellers on the seeds and skins. All of the ferments are tasted before dryness to see if they are ready to come off the skins. This can happen early to avoid excess tannins at around 5 degrees Brix or left on the skin past dryness to fatten the palate. Every year is different. The ferments are then drained and the pomace pressed. After 2 days of settling out the gross lees, the new wine is gravity fed to barrels.
After the wine has been put into barrels and the new wine has gone dry, we stir the barrels three times a week, both reds and whites, while the wine goes through malolactic fermentation (M-L). This helps keep the wine from oxidising, as the viable yeast in suspension will scavenge all the oxygen to stay alive. The decaying yeast release essential nutrients that the M-L bacteria need to survive and complete their work. It helps maintain colour stability and flesh out the mouthfeel, especially in Pinot Noir. Once through M-L, the wine is held at 30ppm SO2 to prevent oxidation and spoilage microbes from getting a foothold. Wine in the barrel evaporates approximately 3% of its volume every year, so it is imperative to keep the barrels topped, usually every 6 to 8 weeks. A good deal of our grapes, due to windy locations on exposed mountain ridges, are high in tannins, so we like to use very tight-grained Hungarian oak that does not contribute excessive tannins to the wine. Unless the wine needs any intervention, i.e. off aromas caused through reduction, the wine is left in the barrel between 1 to 2 years until it is time to bottle. The red wines are never fined or filtered, and all bottling is done by hand.