Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hyperoxidation: White winemaking jujitsu

According to dictionary.com, jujitsu (or jiujitsu) is "a method developed in Japan of defending oneself without the use of weapons by using the strength and weight of an adversary to disable him."

Jujitsu training at an agricultural school in
Japan circa 1920 (Source: wikipedia.com)
Hyperoxidation, a white winemaking mechanism which utilizes oxidation effects during the juice phase of winemaking in order to avoid its effects later on in the bottle, is winemaking jujitsu.

I previously described the process whereby white wines are oxidized and the resulting effects. To summarize, the enzyme Tyrosinase (laccase in the case of botrytized must) catalyzes the formation of caftaric acid quinone, the result of the oxidation of the phenol caftaric acid. The quinone reacts with glutathione (a naturally occurring tripeptide found in grapes; and itself a powerful antioxidant) in the juice to form the colorless complex Grape Reduction Product (GRP). Once the glutathione is fully utilized, GRP is no longer formed and oxidation proceeds unencumbered (This process is called enzymatic oxidation. For a fuller description of this process, as well as the non-enzymatic oxidation of wine, see here.). The results of oxidation in white wines are browning, loss of fruity aromas, and gain of aldehydic aromas.

According to Jackson (Wine Science), "In contrast to red wines, the limited antioxidant character of white wines (ed: tannins and anthocyanins provide substantive antioxidant capability in red wines) make them more susceptible to oxidative browning." Further, grape varieties differ markedly in the amount of phenolics released during crushing or extracted during maceration (an extremely important consideration given that phenolics are the main substrate for oxidation activity). The table below shows the levels of flavonoid accumulation during crushing or maceration of selected white varieties.

Table 1. Phenolics released/extracted during crushing/maceration
Variety Flavonoid Accumulation
Palomino Low
Sauvignon Blanc Low
Riesling Moderate
Semillon Moderate
Chardonnay Moderate
Muscat Gordo Extensive
Colombard Extensive
Trebbiano Extensive
Pedro Ximinez Extensive

In the case of hyperoxidation, the deliberate introduction of oxygen into the juice causes enzymatic oxidation of the phenols. The process entails adding large amounts of oxygen to the juice, allowing it to settle, and then racking it from the brown precipitate just prior to fermentation. This oxidation will cause browning of the juice but the phenols will have been polymerized and will precipitate out.

Clarification is required to reduce the suspended solids to less than 1% by weight in order to remove the major part of the phenolic precipitate. This clarification must be completed before fermentation begins as the precipitate will re-dissolve in alcohol. The clarified juice will retain a brown color but this residual browning will be eliminated by the reducing conditions of alcoholic fermentation and absorption by yeasts (Schneider, Hyperoxidation: A Review, AJEV, 1998).

The brown pigment absorbed by the yeasts during alcoholic fermentation will fall to the bottom of the tank with the lees and can be removed in a post-fermentation racking. Fining and/or filtration can be utilized for additional clarification if required.This process renders the wine less susceptible to in-bottle browning (due to the elimination of the phenols) as well as reduces bitterness in the wine.

Hyperoxidation requires that SO2 additions be withheld from the must as the oxidative enzymes are inhibited in its presence. For example, tyrosinase registers a 90% decrease in activity when 50 mg/L of SO is added to the must. SO2 also reduces caftaric acid quinone and enhances the solubility of phenolic molecules. . These effects will limit the extent and effectiveness of the hyperoxidation. The implementation of hyperoxidation can thus allow for the production of low-sulfur wines.

Hyperoxidation, then, uses the strength of oxidation in the early stages of winemaking to neuter the substrate in the early stages of winemaking and prevent it from becoming an oxidation resource in the bottle. Jujitsu.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An architecture for the production of reductive white wines

Traditionally, wine has been made in an oxidative style. But, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, grape growers and winemakers began to employ new tools to attain specific "stylistic and qualitative ends."

Based on Clark Smith's interpretation of the history of that period, the "tools of 20th century winemaking" were stainless steel, inert gas, refrigeration, and sterile filtration (a product of nuclear energy) and this "modern winemaking revolution exploded out of Germany" in the form of Rieslings that were fresh, sterile-filtered, and completely without oxidative characters. According to Smith: "the idea of a light, sweet, fresh, fruity wine like Blue Nun was as world changing as color television." 

These tools and techniques were adopted by Emile Peynaud and other scientists in France and, from there, migrated to the US. According to Smith, prior to the 1960s, 95% of California wines were either port or sherry styles. With the introduction of Blue Nunn, and the adoption of the associated technologies in Bordeaux, US winemakers followed suit such that, by 1970, the majority of California wine contained less than 14% alcohol. These tools and techniques allowed the introduction and use of a reductive style of winemaking.

Hydrogen sulfide is the result of a severe case of reduction in wine but, lower down on the scale, Benzene thiol and furfural thiol contribute bread crust, smoke, and struck flint aromas. Fruity thiols provide notes of passion fruit, citrus zest/cat pee, and grapefruit, aromas associated with Sauvignon Blanc (Remy Charest, Fashionable Chemistry ..., nomacorc.com; Jackson, Wine Science). But it is preservation of freshness and fruit aromas and flavor that the winemaker pursues when he/she decides to employ a reductive winemaking style.

The essence of reductive winemaking is the production of wine without the presence of oxygen. Grapes are harvested from cool regions and the juice is fermented cold in closed stainless steel tanks. Juice is protected as is the wine through maturation and bottling. This method is particularly beneficial for grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Chenin Blanc, and Gewurtztraminer that are rich in varietal aromas that can be placed at risk in the face of oxidizing effects.

The winemaker's plight in producing a reductive white wine
(Underlying picture source: http://cdn.pcwallart.com/)

Before I get into the elements of the architecture, I would like to highlight a Remy Charest report wherein he illustrated a shift to reductive winemaking among Burgundy producers. According to Remy, Jancis Robinson had written about in a shift in Burgundy from buttery, rich, toasty Chardonnays to Chardonnays that exhibited:
  • High acidity
  • No trace of toastiness or obvious oak
  • Leanness on the palate
  • The flinty smell of recently struck match.
In her discussions with Jean-Marc Roulot (Domaine Roulot), she was told that this result was largely due to a more reductive style of winemaking, itself a reaction to the premox crisis that rocked the region's white wines in the 1990s.

Remy described the reductive program as:
  • Long, slow, delicate pressing
  • Protection from oxygen through vinification and aging
  • Finishing the aging in tank
Some additional (and widely accepted, though not necessarily reductive) characteristics of these wines include:
  • Relatively high SO2 addition (Probably related to the battle against oxidation but may also be linked to the appearance of the struck-match character in some of the wines).
  • Fresher, crisper wines resulting from earlier pick dates and moving vineyards to cooler sites.
Reductive white wines are all the rage today but, as Lance Cutler (Achieving Balance in Reductive Winemaking, Wine Business) points out, "Keeping wine away from oxygen can create some vibrantly fruity wines, but this same lack of oxygen might encourage the development of reduced sulfur compounds."

The main considerations in producing a reductive white wine are as follows:
  1. Healthy fruit from a cool vineyard. The climate in the vineyard will help to preserve freshness and crispness of aromas while healthy fruit will have an adequate supply of the vitamins and minerals to ensure a successful fermentation. The viticultural factors affecting the supply of yeast assimilable nitrogen include: cultivars, rot incidence, block, vineyard mulch, crop load, moisture stress, and grape maturity level (Zoecklein)
  2. Minimize the use of sulfur in the vineyard and ensure adequate time spacing between application and harvest
  3. Harvest at night to preserve freshness and flavors
  4. Application of inert gases during harvest (mainly CO₂ in dry-ice form)
  5. Provide antioxidant treatment to the free-run juice. Most normally ascorbic acid and sulfur dioxide but there is some concern that ascorbic acid switches from protection to oxidative mode over the long term and, as such, is not suited for wines destined for aging. In many cases inert gases such as CO₂ and N₂ are used to protect the juice from oxygen.
  6. Measure fermentable nitrogen as too high, or too low, concentrations can result in the formation of undesirable sulfur compounds during fermentation. According to Zoecklein these measurements can be carried out with either Formol titration or a NOPA test.
  7. Turbidity should be adjusted such that stylistic goals and aromatic finesse of the wine is achieved. Juice clarity should be measured in Nephol units and should fall between 100 and 150 (Zoecklein)
  8. Non-soluble solids concentration should be monitored as both high and low concentrations can result in the production of undesirable sulfur compounds
  9. The appropriate yeasts should be selected for the effort as strains differ in their capacity to transform the non-volatile grape derived precursors to odor-active volatiles (Zoecklein)
  10. Keep yeast cells suspended in the tank during fermentation in order to allow an even distribution of fermentation as well as to allow full access to distributed nutrients
  11. Rack gently under a carbon dioxide or nitrogen blanket. Use an in-line sparging device to sparge the wine with CO₂ or N₂. Add SO₂ to the wine as it is being racked to prevent oxidation
  12. No malolactic fermentation in order to preserve varietal character, flavors, and freshness
  13. No oak aging in order to continue to continue to deny oxygen access to the wine
  14. Select an appropriate closure. According to Remy Charest, "Precise control of oxygen in the bottle, for example by selecting a closure allowing small and consistent amounts of oxygen, can prevent extreme reduction without compromising the more interesting flinty and fruity aromas."
In the cases where the odors are manifested in the wine, remedies include (i) blowing it off through volatility; (ii) inert gas sparging; (iii) precipitating with copper additions; and (iv) fining.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Walking the tightrope between oxidation and reduction in white wine production: Reduction

Reduction is the other side of the oxidation/reduction coin. When elemental oxygen combines with wine compounds, it can take a pair of electrons from the compound. The compound losing the electrons is said to have been "oxidized" while the oxygen, which has gained two electrons, is said to be "reduced."

Reduction is of principal importance to the winemaker as it relates to sulfur compounds. According to Jackson (Wine Science):
When present, elemental sulfur can be assimilated and used in the synthesis of sulfur-containing amino acids and coenzymes. It also may be oxidized to sulfate and sulfur dioxide or reduced to hydrogen sulfide. The reduction of sulfide to hydrogen sulfide may be a means, albeit aromatically unpleasant, of maintaining a favorable redox balance in yeast cells under anaerobic conditions.
According to Zoecklin (Enology Notes #96, 12/20/2004, vtwines.info):
Since wine is fermented by yeast through an anaerobic process (without oxygen), a number of reduced compounds are produced. Reduced sulfur and and nitrogen compounds, in the form of hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans (ammonia and amines), are known particularly for the negative characters they impart to wines. Thus, it is possible to have a wine with an unpleasant and undesirable reduced character.
The sulfur compounds associated with sulfur taint, and the population of odors associated therewith, are illustrated in the figure below.

Sulfur taint has its origins in either the vineyard, the cellar, or both. In the vineyard, elemental sulfur is sprayed on the vines to combat the potential effects of powdery mildew. If this spraying is conducted too close to harvest, portions of the sulfur will remain on the grapes and make its way into the fermentation process. An example of sulfur-like off odors created in the cellar is the case of hydrogen sulfide production by the yeast to synthesize the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. This process is facilitated by the reduction of sulfates via the sulfur-reduction pathway. A lack of intracellular nitrogen will not curtail the process and the excess hydrogen thus created cannot be incorporated into the amino acid. Rather, it is secreted into the medium (Kennedy and Reid, Yeast nutrient management in winemaking, The Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker, 537, October 2008).

A listing of the sources of sulfur-like off odors is presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Sources of sulfur taint in wine production.
VineyardElemental sulfur
used as fungicide 
Reduction during fermentation

Sulfur-containing pesticidesdo.

Excess of metal ions 

Vine stress

Unsound fruit


Cold soaking

Growth of yeasts such as Kloeckera

Depletion of amino acids and micronutrients

Native YeastsHigh hydrogen sulfide productionCompete against other yeasts for dominance of fermentation

Excess hydrogen sulfide from sulfate reductionHydrogen sulfide used to synthesize Absence of nitrogen causes produced hydrogen sulfide  to be secreted into the medium

High levels of sulphur dioxide added to must at crushAllows sulphur dioxide to bypass the sulfate reduction systemSulfur dioxide enters the yeast cell directly

Vitamin shortage in high YAN musts

Nitrogen limitationProduces sulfur-like off odorsProduction begins 30 minutes after ammonia starvation initiates
Source: Compiled from Lansing and Kennedy and Reid)

The timing of the production of sulfur-like off odors is shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2. Production timing of sulfur taint by sulfur class.
Sulfur ClassProduction TimingSource
Hydrogen SulfideEarly in fermentation (2 - 4 days)Nitrogen/vitamin deficiency

Fermentation endDegradation of sulfur-containing compounds

Sur lie agingAutolysis

In bottleGenerally under screw cap
Higher SulfidesLate in fermentation/Sur lie agingRelease of compounds by metabolically active yeasts

Degradation of sulfur-containing amino acids

Degradation of cell compounds during autolysis
Source: Compiled from Lansing

In the cases where the odors are manifested in the wine, remedies include (i) blowing it off through volatility; (ii) inert gas sparging; (iii) precipitating with copper additions; and (iv) fining.

Oxidation and reduction are twin evils in the world of (especially) white wine production but there are aspects of both that are beneficial to the final product. Making wines which call on these qualities is called oxidative and reductive winemaking, respectively, and I will cover those styles in upcoming posts.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Walking the tightrope between oxidation and reduction in white wine production: Oxidation

In this series I will be examining the winemaker's challenge in navigating between the twin evils of reduction and oxidation, both faults but both having potentially desirable characteristics close to the center of the continuum. I begin with this post on oxidation.

According to Lukacs' research (Inventing Wine), modern wine did not arise until the advent of the relevant scientific and technological advances of the Enlightenment. Prior to that period, wine drinkers consumed oxidized, sour wines which were "fortified" with all manner of additives designed to either slow its decay or make it more "palatable." Lukacs points out that winemaking in the first half of the 20th century was a reprise of thousands of years past -- "a process of letting nature run its course."

When Emile Peynaud (famed Bourdeaux enologist) began his work in the early 1950s, growers were harvesting early and, as a result, the wines were "excessively green or vegetal." He observed that there was a further striking uniformity about the wines: they were all oxidized.

Wine oxidizes when exposed to air via two primary mechanisms: enzymic and non-enzymic oxidation.  The effects of oxidation on white wine are browning, loss of fruity aromas, and aldehydic aromas. Because of these characteristics, oxidization is widely viewed as a wine fault.

Enzymic Oxidation
Enzymic oxidation (which primarily afflicts wine must) requires the presence of the enzyme Tyrosinase* (or Laccase**, in the case of botrytized must), phenolic compounds (hydroxycinnamic acids, with the main player being caftaric acid but others — including coumaroyl, tartaric acid, and catechin — as alternates) to perform the role of substrate, oxygen, and metallic co-factors (iron, copper, etc.). These enzymes interact with the substrates to form caftaric acid quinone which, in turn, reacts with glutathione (normally a powerful anti-oxidant) in the must to form Grape Reduction Product (GRP). The conversion of the oxidized quinone to GRP limits the browning of the juice to some extent (duToit and Kritzinger). Once the glutathione is depleted, the remaining caftaric acid quinone reacts with other must constituents to form caftaric acid and begins the oxidation process anew. Browning occurs when the flavanols oxidized by caftaric acid quinones polymerize and precipitate out. Unlike the case of wines, these brown pigments are insoluble in must.

Because tyrosinase is associated with grape solids, its enzymic activity is significantly diminished once the solids have been removed from the equation. Laccase is difficult to eliminate from grape juice.

The activity of these enzymes will be impacted by (Boulton, et al, Principles and Practices of Winemaking):
  • The concentration of major phenols
  • Competition between substrates for binding and reaction
  • The caftaric and glutathione content of cultivar (the state at which glutathione is depleted will determine the level of potential browning)
  • The ascorbic acid content
  • Temperature
  •  Wine pH.
Both tyrosinase and laccase use catechin, anthocyanin, flavanols, and flavanone as substrates but, as indicated in Table 2.1 of Boulton et al., laccase acts on a far wider range of substrates than does tyrosinase. UCDavis pegs the added scope of laccase as encompassing anthocyanin pigments and ascorbic acid, the latter of which is itself used as an antioxidant

Non-Enzymic Oxidation
Non-enzymic oxidation, also known as chemical oxidation, occurs in fermented wine. In this case, oxygen does not react directly with phenolic compounds. Rather, it functions through a reaction catalyzed by Cu+ or Fe+ that converts oxygen into a highly reactive radical capable of oxidizing organic compounds.

Non-enzymic oxidation in white wines can result in premature aging, browning, and pinking, all resulting in wine deterioration and loss of quality. Strategies for combating this fault include removing metals -- oxidation catalysts -- and reducing the concentration of phenolic compounds -- oxidation precursors --in wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, March 17, 2017

MACDONALD: Site and practices combine for an excellent representation of the To-Kalon legacy

A 43-acre plot of the historic To-Kalon Vineyard was purchased in 1954 from the Stelling estate by Mrs. Hedwig Detert, Greatgrandmother to the generation currently growing grapes on that selfsame property. Shortly after the purchase, Mrs. Detert apportioned the property between her two children and those plots are currently farmed by her GreatGrandchildren under the names Detert Family Vineyards (25 acres) and MACDONALD (21 acres, inclusive of a subsequent purchase of 3 acres from Robert Mondavi for property construction). The Detert and MACDONALD plots are shown in the map below.

Map of the historic To-Kalon Vineyard and
 "Stelling Extension" (Drawn by Sarah MacDonald)

MACDONALD is currently operated by siblings Alex and Graeme MacDonald. I recently visited and walked the vineyard with Graeme and have split reporting on that encounter into a post on the history and this one on the vineyard and wine.

I got to the MACDONALD offices a little early (plus I had missed the turn) and came onto the premises from the rear. I asked a man who was mowing the lawn for directions to Graeme and he pointed me to a walkway and a cottage at its termination point. I walked up to the door and knocked and it was opened by Sarah (Graeme's wife) who was quickly shuffled out of the way by a toy-toting tot and a similarly equipped dog. Graeme was on his way from St Helena so Sarah invited me in and provided a folder of To-Kalon artifacts for me to feast my eyes on while I waited.

Graeme showed up soon after and apologized profusely for the delay. He had a nice easy smile and conversational tone. I knew right away that it was going to be a good day. He suggested that we go outside and walk the vineyards so I said goodbye to the toy-toters and struck out into the vines. We circumnavigated the vineyard in a counter-clockwise direction.

As shown in the map above, the MACDONALD plot is just outside the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, on an alluvial fan that has been created by Tokalon Creek bringing gravel, stones, volcanic rock, and sand down from the mountain and depositing it in a fan-like shape onto the valley floor. The fan forms deep gravelly soils with excellent drainage and forces the vine roots to go deep underground in search of water. This action places stress on the vine, resulting in small berries (according to Graeme, they are the smallest berries in the Mondavi stable) and optimal ripening.

Towards the bottom end of the alluvial fan the soil is shallower, has a higher percentage of clay, and is more fertile. This latter fact was demonstrated by the size of the trees lining the path separating the MACDONALD and Mondavi vineyards. At the upper reaches of the path, the trees were about 8-feet tall while towards the bottom they are twice that height. A sample of the various soil types present  on the MACDONALD plot is shown in the pictures below.

Tokalon Creek
Graeme is responsible for vineyard management and winemaking at MACDONALD. He subscribes to what he calls natural farming, a requirement, he says, for getting natural flavors out of the grapes:
  • Integration of plants into the environment
  • Minimal tractor use to minimize compaction
  • No fertilizers -- planting of Fava beans between rows
  • No roundup
  • Minimal canopy management (only one trellised block in the vineyard)
  • Creation of their own compost on site.
The vineyard is oriented NE - SW which allows fuller access to the morning sun and limited access to the searing afternoon sun. Vines are 20-, 40-, and 60-years old with the youngest vines California-sprawl-trained and the oldest head-trained. Graeme is able to get away with minimal canopy management because, he says, the California sprawl creates its own balance. The trellised vines are planted at 1089 vines/acre while the rest of the vineyard is planted to 565 vines/acre.

The vines are all Cabernet Sauvignon: Clone 4 on 110R rootstocks for the younger vines and St. George for the older vines. The trellised vines are irrigated once or twice per growing season while the older vines are dry-farmed. Yields on the vineyard are between 1.5 and 2 tons per acre. Damaged vines are replaced using massal selection of the To-Kalon clone.

The grapes are sold exclusively to Robert Mondavi with a small amount held back for production of their MACDONALD label. The grapes that they provide to Mondavi comprise 50% of the raw material for a label called Tokalon and 10 - 15% of the Mondavi Reserve. Mondavi's only involvement with the vineyard is turning up to pick the grapes at harvest time.

The MacDonalds can use grapes from any part of the vineyard for their wine. They tend to pick earlier than most. For example, there is a 1-month gap between the start of harvest at MACDONALD and the start of harvest at Beckstoffer To-Kalon. Graeme picks on taste and seeks out a certain nuttiness in the seed as his trigger.

After harvest, the grapes are transferred to Kongsgaard for creation of the wine. The grapes are destemmed and then placed into a tank for a 5-day cold soak. The grapes are fermented by natural yeasts in stainless steel tanks with pump-over for cap management. After a 35-day maceration, the wines are racked into 100% new, medium/medium-plus-toast French oak (Taransaud, Sylvain) barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging. The barrels are employed primarily for their micro-oxygenation function. The wines are racked once or twice a year to minimize oxidation opportunities.

After the vineyard walk, we went into the offices to taste the 2014 vintage of the MACDONALD wine. The wine tasted was a 2014 vintage. It had been opened two hours prior to the tasting.

Graeme MacDonald, grower/winemaker
According to Graeme, 2014 was the earthquake vintage and the wines had started to shut down to conserve energy. The wine had a perfumed nose along with dark fruit and spice. Light on its feet and perfectly balanced. This was a beautiful wine. I have tasted many To-Kalon wines; and this is competitive. I have tasted many Napa wines; and this is competitive. I kept asking Graeme for seconds. I did not spit.

Production levels for the wine is as follows: 227 cases in 2013; 350 cases in 2014; and 425 cases in 2015.

In summarizing, Graeme said that, from his perspective, under Mondavi, To-Kalon was going towards the Bordeaux model. That is, one Chateau owning many acres and with newly purchased land incorporated into the existing estate with full accreditation. In the current environment, To-Kalon is moving more towards the Burgundian model -- many different owners. In his estimation, the latter approach will help to improve the vineyard overall.

I joined the winery's mailing list.

Graeme is an avid student of Hamilton Crabb and the historic To-Kalon and, to a large extent, he seeks to model the Vineyard according to his perception of the relevant precepts. He farms assiduously and with an eye to the future. He collects and studies artifacts of the To-Kalon historic age and steeps himself in them. He maintains an experimental vineyard on the property, a shoutout to Hamilton Crabb but also as a knowledge and resource bank for future generations.

Hamilton Crabb would recognize the spirit that exists here.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

MACDONALD: A missing piece of the To-Kalon Vineyard story

As part of his support of my efforts to tell the full story of Oakville's To-Kalon Vineyard, Tor Kenward (Tor Kenward Family Wines) put me in touch with Alex and Graeme MacDonald, sibling proprietors of the wine brand MACDONALD and, pleasant surprise, owners of a small slice of the historic vineyard. With the intro from Tor, I was able to schedule a visit with the brothers to talk about the history of their site and the scope of their current efforts.

The MACDONALD property is located on Walnut Drive, west of the Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard.

Signpost Tree
I was originally scheduled to meet with Alex but he was called away to a meeting and I met with Graeme instead. I was extremely satisfied with the meeting as Graeme is a history buff (who has done some innovative work on the To-Kalon history) as well as being the viticulturist and winemaker on the project. I will cover my visit with Graeme in two posts, the first adding to the To-Kalon historical context and the second focusing on the enterprise which the two brothers have launched. The map below shows theownership of the modern-day derivatives of the lands that have been referred to as To-Kalon at some time in the past while the diagram below summarizes the portions of the history that I have covered to date.

Created by Sarah MacDonald for Wine-Mise en Abyme

Graeme's Greatgrandmother -- Hedwig Detert -- purchased 43 acres of the To-Kalon Vineyard in 1954 from Caroline Stelling after the death of Martin Stelling in a 1950 automobile accident. Mrs Detert wanted to buy the house in the hills above the vineyard (shown in the picture below) but was told that she would have to buy some land in addition for the deal to go forward (Remember that at his death, the Stelling estate had in excess of 2000 acres of land). Mrs. Hedwig agreed and named the purchase Detert Vineyards.

Shortly after the purchase, Mrs Detert turned the vineyard over to her son and daughter and they have worked it since as two separate vineyards. (Today the MACDONALD vineyard is 21 acres in size -- inclusive of 3 acres purchased from Robert Mondavi for construction of the buildings currently resident on the property -- while their second cousins farm 25 acres.).

In 1957, the current MACDONALD vineyard was replanted and the grapes produced therefrom sold to the Charles Krug winery. In 1954 their Grandfather signed a 3-year contract to deliver grapes to Robert Mondavi (while he was at Charles Krug) at $150/ton. The market price was higher than the contract price at harvest but, unbidden, Mondavi paid them at the market price. When this situation repeated itself the following year, his Grandfather strode into Robert Mondavi's office, tore up the contract and told Bob that henceforth they would do business on the basis of a handshake. This handshake agreement continued with Bob when he started his own winery in 1966.

They have sold grapes to the Mondavis for 60 years+ with Robert managing the vineyard for most of that time. The relationship with the Mondavis has been so close that when Robert and Peter had their falling out, Graeme's Grandmother tried to be Solomonic, offering half of the grapes to Bob and half to Peter. Bob took repeated actions to force the price of the grapes up and Peter could not keep up so his Grandmother eventually provided the grapes solely to Bob.

Their Grandmother had wanted the kids to enter into the wine business but they had all gone off to do other thngs.  When Graeme decided to get into the wine business, he asked Robert Mondavi where his focus should be. Bob suggested that he go to UC Davis and acquire the training to become a grower.

After Mondavi sold his winery, they had to begin farming on their own. They used a vineyard management company but he was dissatisfied with their willingness to pull out, needlessly, in his view, the old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. He began to purchase used pieces of equipment here and there and eventually underbid the vineyard management company for the right to farm the vineyard. He has worked and managed it on his own since then. In addition, the brothers have launched a wine, using grapes sourced from the vineyard. Alex is responsible for all other aspects of the business.

I will cover the vineyard and the wine in an upcoming post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, March 13, 2017

In search of a 2017 Premiere Napa Valley (#PNV) auction lot

After our visit to Eisele Vineyard, we headed over to the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch for the tasting of the Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) 20-case lots, the first official all-hands tasting of the 2017 auction. (Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) is the Napa Valley Vintners annual, invitation-only, barrel auction for wine retailers, wholesalers, restaurateurs, and members of the press.  Auction proceeds go towards the trade association's promotional and other activities on behalf of valley winemakers.) We look forward to the 20-case tastings because (i) we have successfully bid on one of these lots in the past; (ii) the Mondavi lot is always a great taste; and (iii) we encounter a lot of first-time participants.

We were disappointed. The event did not have the sizzle that it had in years past and the wines were less-than-stellar. Even the Mondavi offering, which should have towered above the competition, left a bit to be desired. We left and went back to our hotel lobby in search of finer fare.

We had dinner scheduled at Bistro Jeanty that evening. Our standard PNV-week process is to bring in non-Napa wines (as a counter to tasting Napa Cabs all day) and to take the restaurant’s last seating at night. Our reservation at Bistro Jeanty that night was at 8:00 pm but it was less busy than “normal. As a matter of fact, by 9:15 pm, it was empty except for us. We were all surprised by this and I remarked that this was not a good harbinger for the auction. Prophetic, given that the final take was $4.2 million, continuing the downward trend of the past three years ($5 million in 2016 and $6 million in 2015).

The next morning we were up bright and early and headed for the tasting at the Arkenstone Winery. The last time I attended this event it was held at the Boswell cave and we were packed in tighter than sardines in a can. Not so this time. I could navigate freely from station to station and spend unaccustomed amounts of time with winery representatives. The standout wines for me from this tasting were the Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon PNV lot.


Author and Sam Kaplan, Arkenstone winemaker
This year we made a strategic decision to visit fewer of these barrel tastings and to catch the ones we missed at the Saturday morning grand tasting. We tasted at Pritchard Hill, Winemakers Studio Tasting, Oakville Growers, and the Open House at Spottswoode. Utilizing this strategy allowed us to get to the Oakville tasting early enough to taste the Harlan. The first time ever for us; and we took full advantage of it.

The tastings that were most revealing for us were the Spottswoode and Online Auction Lot tastings. The Open House tasting featured Dalla Valle with a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (their previous auction lot was 10 years ago and this was the youngest Cabernet Sauvignon that I saw on offer), Dominus with a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Spottswoode with a 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon PNV Blend and a 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon PNV, among others.The Dalle Valle was a superb wine. Drawn from Isabella’s Vineyard of the Maya Block, this wine, as described by my colleague Andres Montoya, has a “knockout nose of wildflowers, iron, smoke, blackberry, bramble, liquid graphite, and layered complexity that keeps going on and on …” This was the class of the wines I had tasted to date. A bad Dominus is a unicorn wine.

The Online Auction tasting showcased a number of producers that I had not encountered at PNV previously. Further, it had a higher level of energy than at any of the tastings visited up to that time. We encountered two wines there that we were attracted to: Nellcote 2015 Cabernet Tender is the Night and Tonella Cabernet Rutherford Clone 1. We submitted aggressive online bids on both these wines in an attempt to dissuade any potential bidders from jumping into the water.

On the morning of the auction we were there bright and early to re-taste the wines we had liked and to catch the ones that we had missed. One of the wines we discovered was the Jones Family 2015 Two Decades. Adam from Wine on the Way brought it to my attention and we agreed with his assessment. Andrew  called it an “… incredibly pure and decadent example of top-flight Cabernet from Thomas River Brown.”

Winefolly and author

All the while we kept checking our bids. Paddle #2 kept bumping up against us and we kept fending him off. The bidding was scheduled to end once the Live Auction started and we were convinced that we had crossed the finish line as the winner of both the Nellcote and Tonella lots. We still do not understand what happened but we ended up losing the Nellcote bid on the last tick of the clock. Oh well. We had a Lot and had assured ourselves a Past-Winner invitation for the 2018 event.

We had reserved four seats on the right-hand-side of the auctioneer, towards the front. We took a few bottles and settled into our seats to see which would be the top-ranked lot. 

Dynn Proctor, author, Jeff Loo, and RonSiegel
I was reveling in the fact that we had gotten away with only spending $8000 when I felt Ron’s arm moving up and down next to me. What was he doing? Crap. He was bidding. But he didn’t have the paddle. We never allow him to get within 10 miles of it. But the auctioneer didn't care. He was accepting those hand signs. And then we realized he was bidding on the Dalle Valle lot. We thought of our children and Grandchildren and tried to tackle him. But it was too late. I heard those dreaded words —Sold — and the hammer was pointing in our direction. I stopped choking him and and made it look like a hug because everyone was looking in our direction. We hustled Ron out of there very quickly before he impoverished another couple of generations.

As I was rushing blindly out of the hall, I ran headfirst into the Dalle Valle owner. And she was smiling broadly and congratulating us. I couldn't bring myself to tell her that my kids and grandkids would each have a bottle of her auction lot as their inheritance so I smiled woefully and turned towards the camera to take a picture with her. 

Author, Naoko Dalle Valle, and Ron

On the bright side, I guess we will have a lower paddle number next year.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The vineyard and wines of Eisele Vineyard (Calistoga, Napa Valley)

The quality of the Araujo wines, and the repute of the estate, was of such that Artemis Domaines (owners of Chateau Latour and Chateau Grillet, among other labels), made the trip across the ocean and, unbidden, made an offer for the estate. In this post we will examine what Artemis Domaines bought and what they have done to date to begin putting their stamp on the estate.

The estate is located to the east of Calistoga and is surrounded by the Palisades Mountain Range, a situation which affords protection from the north winds while still allowing cooling by the westerly breezes that make their way through the Chalk Hill Gap. The nights are cool, resulting in meaningful diurnal temperature variation and its beneficial effect on the fruit.
The underlying soils are volcanic cobbly soils which have been washed down from the Palisades and deposited as an alluvial fan by Simmons Creek -- the waterway bisecting the property -- and its tributary. There are gentle slopes between the creek bed and the foothills, the result of long-term gravitational and weathering effects upon the deposited rocks.
Intense storms during the winter months contribute to soil deposition but the creek dries up during the summer months leaving the vines dependent on depth-resident ground water. The stony subsoil facilitates the efforts of the deep roots to get at this water. Irrigation is only utilized when necessary.
The map below shows the configuration of the Eisele Vineyard.
Vineyard map (Source:eiselevineyard.com)

Source: eiselevineyards.com

Sonia, Ron and Bev
The vineyard is divided into 13 blocks and 40 sub-blocks reflecting “the nuances of soil and subsoil.” The varieties planted in the vineyard are as follows:
·       Cabernet Sauvignon – the best Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the plots around Simmons Creek. Lees complex wines are made from the younger vines in the eastern part of the vineyard.
·       Cabernet Franc
·       Petit Verdot – Fully ¾ of the vineyard is devoted to the production of the three Bordeaux varieties
·       Syrah – first planted in 1978
·       Sauvignon  Blanc – both Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque planted on the eastern side of the property
·       Viognier – Initially planted for co-fermentation with the Syrah, in some years there is enough product to make a varietal wine.
Vines average 25 years of age and are farmed according to biodynamic principles. The estate uses its own herbs and preparations from the vineyard.
With the purchase of Eisele Vineyard, Artemis Domaines gained responsibility for harvesting and production of the 2013 vintage. They, obviously, were responsible for all aspects of the 2014 vintage. We will first examine the production parameters to determine any changes between these two vintages. This assessment will also allow us to get a full inventory of the wines produced by the estate.
Cabernet Sauvignon Estate – In both 2012 and 2013 the wines were made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The winemaking schema employed included: vigilant sorting; slow fermentation with gentle extraction; and barrel-aging with a careful choice of toasts and origins tailored to each vineyard block.
Altagracia – The Altagracia exhibited significant changes in its varietal composition between 2012 and 2014 with the Cabernet Sauvignon percentage increasing and Merlot and Malbec losing their place in the blend. Cabernet Sauvignon went from 71% in 2012 to 81% in 2014 while both Merlot and Malbec went from 6% and 4%, respectively, in 2012 to zero in 2014. The winemaking schema was the same as for the estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sauvignon Blanc – The Sauvignon Blanc is generally a blend of Sauvignon blanc (lean, gravelly structure) and Sauvignon musque (slightly exotic flavors). In 2013 this wine was made from 100% Sauvignon blanc while the 2014 and 2015 versions had 68% and 78%, respectively. In 2012 the mix was 75% musque and 25% blanc. It appears as though Eisele Vineyard tried a 100% Sauvignon Blanc in their first year and then thought better of it subsequently.
Beginning with the 2013 vintage this wine was subjected to extended elevage on lees with fermentation and elevage in a combination of stainless steel, French oak, and cement egg. In 2015 the fermentation percentage distribution was: concrete egg, 20%; used oak, 42%; stainless steel, 18%; and new oak, 20%.
Syrah – The Syrah is whole-cluster-fermented in small tanks and aged for 21 months in 50% new French oak. The wine had 1% Viognier in 2012 but was 100% Syrah in 2013.
Viognier– These grapes are whole-cluster-pressed and fermented with native yeasts. The wine is aged sur lie with batonnage in 50% stainless steel and 50% used oak.
After our vineyard walk we came into a beautifully appointed cellar cave for a tour and tasting. We were to taste the 2012 and 2013 vintages of the Altagracia and Estate Cab and the 2015 vintage of the Sauvignon Blanc. The red wines had been opened two hours prior and double-decanted.

There were marked differences between the two vintages of the red wines. The 2012 Altagracia exhibited chocolate, toast and red fruit on the nose with a savory herb note and oak on the palate and finish. The 2013 exhibited greater elegance, was less weighty on the palate, mineral, lean, and focused. This sense of increased elegance and a fine-boned character was also a characteristic of the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The year 2013 was an exceptional vintage in Napa but I have no doubt that the new aging regime contributed to some of the differences that I observed between the two vintages and, in so doing, made a great wine even better.
The Sauvignon Blanc was reminiscent of a Semillon on the nose. Creaminess, lime, and a burnt character on the palate. Ranks among the best Sauvignon Blancs in the Valley.

A stellar day indeed.
©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Eisele Vineyard (Calistoga, Napa Valley): A timeline

Wednesday of Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) week signals the official start, from my perspective, of the Hunt for the Auction Lot beginning with the tasting of the 20-case lots. This particular event was to be held at the Farmstead Restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch and we planned to attend after our scheduled visit to Eisele Vineyard.

Eisele Vineyard is the iconic Calistoga estate famed for its production of world-class Cabernet Sauvignons and Sauvignon Blancs. I was first introduced to this wine by a former neighbor in 1996 and and it has been a close companion ever since. I have won a Best-Cabernet competition held at The Wine Barn with a 2005 edition of this wine (The runner-up was a 1991 Dominus) and wowed attendees at the 2014 EWBC BYOB party in Montreux with a 2007 edition (Jaime Araujo was at the conference and spent a good part of the next day trying to find the person who had brought "her family's wine" over there.). All of the people that I drink wine with regularly hold this estate in high esteem.

This particular visit was arranged by Ron Siegel who had met Jean Gerandeau (Sales and Marketing Director, Artemis Domaines) at a Chateau Latour dinner held in Chicago by Hart Davis Hart. I had attended a Wine on the Way Araujo Wine Dinner with Antoine Donnedieu de Vabres (Estate Manager) just about a year ago and had had extensive dialogue with him on the integration and labeling strategy. I was excited to see what progress had been made since that discussion.

It was raining steadily for most of the travel from Yountville to the estate but the rain eased up just enough to allow us to make a dash from the parking lot to the office. Parlo and I were the first to arrive and were welcomed warmly by Sonia Guerlou, the Hospitality Manager.

The reception area was dominated by two exhibits of the estate's pedigree. First, on a table to the left stood a number of wine bottles, each displaying the label of a winemaker who had made vineyard-designated wines with grapes sourced from this vineyard. Second, directly opposite the entrance, a color map showing the various plots that comprise Eisele Vineyard.

Ron and Andrew finally showed up and the tour got underway. As it was still raining, we began our discourse in the office initially and then went outside once the rain stopped.

Sonia was warm, engaging, and knowledgeable. She kept stressing that they (the new owners) were not here to change things; rather, they were there to husband a tremendous resource that they had had the good fortune (and sense) to acquire.

Sonia Guerlou, Hospitality Manager
As Sonia explained it, Eisele Vineyard is located in northeast Napa Valley just east of Calistoga at the base of the Palisades Mountain Range. As shown in the timeline below, the vineyard's history stretches as far back as does the history of To Kalon and grapes have been planted continuously on the the property for the duration. The estate is 162 acres in size with 38 of those acres under vine.

When the vineyard was purchased by the Eiseles, they became 60+-year-old grapegrowers. They offered their grapes to Paul Draper of Ridge and he produced a vineyard-designated wine in 1971.

The Araujos bought the vineyard in 1990 and, in short order, built a winery and produced a wine under their own label. The 1991 harvest was shared between Joseph Phelps and the Araujos and they both produced wines under their individual labels.

During their tenure, the Araujos elevated the property from a great vineyard to one of the world's great estates. They introduced organic (1998) and biodynamic (2000) farming with all herbs and preparations used in the latter management process sourced from the vineyard.

As Sonia kept pointing out, Artemis Domaines purchased an iconic estate that was at the top of its game and that had a strong and loyal customer base. As in any acquisition of this type, the operating principle is "do no harm." That is, do not give the customer base any reason to think that the new owners are making wholesale changes just for the sake of making changes. The challenge for the new owners was seeking to establish an identity separate from the Araujos without giving the impression that they were changing the core product (which was a very high-value product to begin with).

The strategy chosen was to elevate the vineyard name above all else. This goal was accomplished over a three-year period of "gentle, subtle changes." The result is shown in the photo below. The 1991 label shows the vineyard name in the center and the estate name in the bottom right. Both of these bodies of text have similar size. The final label has only the vineyard name on the label and the font is larger than on the 1991 label.

I will cover the physical aspects of the estate and the changes that Artemis has made to the wine in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme