Thursday, November 19, 2015

Blending terroirs during wine production

With the scope of blending and a definition of terroir under our belts, we are now in a position to explore the issue of blending terroirs. And the question that needs to be answered right out of the box is "Why would a winemaker want to construct a wine that is a blend of multiple terroirs?" In my view, terroir blends are the manifestation of a pursuit of greater complexity/quality. And that position is supported by Winemaker Matt writing on the Kendall-Jackson Blog.

According to Matt, "Blending different vineyard sites with different characteristics from different growing regions allow winemakers to create a wine that is 'greater than the sum of its parts.'" He points to the Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (assuredly not one of the world's great wines; but the principle holds) which is built from a small percentage of the 400 lots which the winery vinifies and ages separately post-harvest. He creates a core blend and then experiments with different lots to add complexity and seamlessness. According to Matt, "Often the results are truly surprising. A wine that might seem simple, but having one or two interesting features, can provide an incredible enhancement to a new blend."

There are a number of different types of terroir blends and we explore a few below.

Muted Multi-Terroir Blend
The poster child for this approach is Penfolds. We have already established that the use of multi-terror blends is in pursuit of increased complexity. Penfolds, in the case of its Grange label, sources fruit from a wide array of vineyards across multiple districts but then mutes these terroir effects, in favor of a "house style," by implementing controlled fermentation and aging in new American oak.
    Single-Vineyard, Multi-Terroir, Single-Variety Blend
    The Masseto vineyard is sub-divided into three distinct sections based on soil characteristics and resultant wines.  The lowest section of the vineyard is called Masseto Junior and its soils are characteristically a clay-sand mix.  According to the winery the wines produced frrom grapes grown in this section are lighter and serve to smooth out the tannic roughness associated with the wines from the other sections as well as contributing to the overall delicacy of the final product.  The middle portion of the vineyard is called Masseto Centrale and has the highest levels of Pliocene clays. Wines produced from these grapes are powerful, concentrated, and tannic.  The top portion of the vineyard is located 120 meters above sea level and the soil here consists of loose clays and sand along with pebbles.  The soil here is the shallowest in the overall vineyard and the grapes tend to ripen earliest. The wines produced from this section of the vineyard are dense and linear.

    Fermentation is conducted in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and oak vats with each block fermented separately.  Blocks are aged in wooden barriques for one year prior to being blended into the final wine by the winemaker. After blending, the wines are returned to the barriques for an additional year of aging. Axel Heinz, the winemaker, in a Decanter interview (Ornellaia, May 2013) said "When young, Masseto can seem monolithic, but it often shows much more complexity with age."

    Multi-Terroir, Multi-Variety Blend with Terroir-Specificity per Variety
    The Ornellaia vineyards at Bellaria are planted at elevations ranging between 50 and 120 meters above sea level on slopes ranging between 5 and 20 degrees.  The hills above the vineyards protect the vines from cold winds while the sea moderates the temperature and reflects sunlight, a boon to grape ripening.  The soil composition changes every 500 meters or so and dictates the estate's planting strategy: Petit Verdot on sandy soils; Cabernet Sauvignon on clay-limestone soils; and Merlot on clay soils.  The average age of the vines at Bellaria is 8 years.

    Grapes are hand-harvested and subjected to a three-part selection process which ensures that only the best berries make it to the fermentation tanks.  Grapes from the estate's 60 parcels (37 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, 38 hectares of Merlot, 12 hectares of Cabernet Franc, 10 hectares of Petit Verdot) are vinified and stored separately prior to the construction of the final blend.

    The estate's first wine is Ornellaia, a Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (12%), and Petit Verdot (3%) blend. The second wine is Le Serre Nuove, a Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Merlot (50%), Cabernet Franc (10%), and Petit Verdot blend. Le Volte is a 50% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Merlot blend, with the Sangiovese fruit sourced externally.

    The complexity here will primarily be about the blend but what I find interesting is that the blend components are grown on the terroir to which they are deemed best suited. Hence some terroir attributes are introduced.

    Multi-Terroir, Multi-Variety Blend
    This contrasts with the approach described immediately above in that the terroirs differ and all of the varieties grow across multiple terroirs.  A case in point. Bodegas RODA grows Tempranillo, Graciano, and Garnacha varieties on old vines in Rioja vineyards that range over 28 separate ecosystems (each characterized by RODA-established altitude, soils, and climate-condition parameters) primarily sited in Rioja Alta but also encompassing portions of Rioja Baja.

    Vineyard altitudes range between 380 and 650 meters.

    Soils are inclusive of sand, clay-limestone, clay, and gravel. According to the Managing Director of the estate, the soils in Rioja Alta are primarily limestone, clay, and sandstone while the old terraces formed by the river has a top layer of sand and a deep layer of argillaceous soil. Rioja Baja has sandy soils over a limestone pan.

    To the extent that different varieties may have different characteristics in different terroirs, this approach provides the most significant opportunity for blending complexity.

    Multi-Vineyard Blend
    Poderi Aldo Conterno is located in Bussia, a village in Monforte d'Alba.  It is surrounded by 25 ha of vineyards at 400 meters altitude and with a south southwest aspect.  The soil is comprised of alternating layers of compact gray sand and white and blueish calcareous marls.

    In addition to the vineyard surrounding the Cantina, the Conterno family own three cru vineyards in Bussia: Romirasco, Cicala, and Colonello.  Romirasco -- located at 410 meters altitude on Soprano Hill -- has a SSW exposure and a clayey calcareous soil which is rich in calcium carbonate and iron. The Nebbiolo vines in this vineyard are 50- to 55-years old.  The Cicala vineyard is located on concave slopes with southeast exposures. The soil profile is similar to Romirasco's except that it is browner in color.  The vines here are 50-years old.  The vines at the Colonello Vineyard are 35- to 40-years old.  All of these vineyards are farmed organically.

    The estate produces Colonello, Cicala, and Romirasco wines but the Granbussia Riserva DOCG is the flagship wine of the estate.  The 4950-bottle production is made from grapes drawn from the Cicala (15%), Colonello (15%), and Romirasco (70%) vineyards.  These grapes are co-fermented in wood with 60 days of skin contact and spend another 32 months maturing prior to bottling.  The wine is stored for another 12 to 18 months after bottling.  This wine was first introduced in 2005.


    I like to say that every wine is a blend. If you vinify and age by lot, then you have to blend at some time. And, to a greater or lesser degree, you are doing a terroir blend at that time. As global warming increases the challenges that it will force on winemakers in the future, terroir-blending will become even more fundamental in wine production.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    No comments:

    Post a Comment