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The Morning Tool Chest

Morning tool chest

First thing, every morning (well, after a cup of coffee!) I take my collection of stuff to the fermenting bins to determine how far along the road to dryness each fermenter is. I draw some wine from under the cap of skins with the siphon (turkey-baster thingy), strain it through the strainer into a beaker. I then use the DMA (a density meter) that records the brix level and temperature of the wine. If we are close to dryness, I’ll bring a sample to the lab to get residual sugar levels that will tell me if that bin is, in fact, dry. This morning one of two Sangiovese bins was.

Of course, I am tasting the samples every day to experience how each wine tastes and feels as flavors and texture jump around a lot at this point in the process. With more than one bin of the same wine, I’ll make ad hoc blends to see how the bins work together, and how they may taste when all fermenters are dry.

Oh, Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is…

  • The 17th most widely planted red grape variety in the world;
  • The 16th biggest red grape in terms of tons crushed in California in 2017;
  • The parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (with Sauvignon Blanc) and Merlot (with Madeleinecabernet franc grapes Noire des Charentes) and Carmenere (with Gros Cabernet);
  • And it accounted for more than $31 million worth of grapes sold in California in 2017.

Using these factoids to describe Cabernet Franc is -as someone said- like trying to reason your way to an orgasm. Cabernet Sauvignon is about structure and prestige; Pinot Noir about the intellect and matching outcome to a specific patch of dirt; Cabernet Franc, in its purest form, is all about sex.

From the silkiness of its texture, to the exoticism of its aromas; from the raciness of its acidity to its emotion-prodding “it-ness,” Cabernet Franc is terrifyingly and wonderfully naughty.

As with all great wines, Cabernet Franc is a product of where it is grown. The classic models – Bordeaux and the Loire – produce radically different wines, and not just because one is a blend and the other pure. Cabernet Franc – again, at its qualitative peak – has a relatively narrow range of temperature in which it has the capacity to produce a pure (again, that word!) expression of the varietal.

The grape seems to flourish in cooler temperatures, not Pinot cold, but certainly not Zinfandel hot. My vision of the making of the wine is the challenge of walking just on the right side of the pyrazine tracks. Unripe, and CF becomes a weedy, thin, acidic shell. Over-ripe, it lolls around lazily on your tongue, bereft of its floral perfume, the exotic notes of a next-day-fire on the beach, and the tantalizing and frankly, coquettish, arrow of acid that ties the best examples together. And like Sauvignon Blanc, its vinous bedmate, Cabernet Franc takes to new oak like a cat to water. All that toasty caramel, tobacco, and coffee obscure the earthy, fruity, sometimes funky, always mystifying eau de CF. I want to make sure that the fruit in our Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard hangs just long enough to synthesize green notes but not so long that it loses the varietally-correct herbal notes that help give it its absolute individuality.

Cab Franc - Loire Valley appellationsI made my first vintage of Cabernet Franc in 2005, but came to be obsessed with the grape’s potential in 2007 with the first vintage of Lineage | Livermore Valley. In addition to the 100% versions I make for my Steven Kent Winery brand, CF is an indispensable part of the blend of my flagship brand. A natural blending partner in Bordeaux, in my wine Cabernet Franc is the id…(hopefully) relentlessly and lubriciously driving flavors and aroma and structure forward to a very long conclusion.

The divinity of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir have been acknowledged already. The “next big red” sobriquet has been variously used on Syrah and Sangiovese in California. But there is reason to believe that it is Cabernet Franc that might be the next great red hope. Should this happen, there will be a great many mind-blowing wines out there to fall head over heels in love with. I can’t hardly wait!

Getting Your Hands Dirty…A Pressing Need

At the Press
Sergio Traverso

We are in the process of pressing off Semillon, our (real!) last white wine of the year. And as I taste free-run juice pouring into the press pan, I think back to a time a few vintages back when I saw Sergio Traverso, one of the legendary Livermore Valley winemakers, up on the catwalk above the 5000-gallon fermentors at the Wente small-lot winery. He was watching one of the guys pump over Syrah (taking the pumped juice from the bottom of the fermentor and spraying it over the top of the cap). I asked what he was doing, and he answered that some times you just need to see the fermentation process at another angle, to gauge progress by taking the lid off. The reference was to lifting the cover of a pot that you are cooking to gauge the food’s done-ness, and in that way, it was completely relevant to what I do on a daily basis.

Semillon Juice in Tank

It is difficult to contemplate the process of winemaking without the reality of getting your hands dirty. In fact, every sense comes into play when you are converting grapes into nectar. Right now, a pump is running, taking the pressed-off wine from the press pan to a tank, and as its frequency changes you realize that the press pan is nearly empty. As you turn the press to mix up the cap, you can tell by the thwack, thwack that the cap is still very wet. I spend part of each morning digging my hands into the cap of fermenting wine to feel the texture of the skins, and as I bring the cap to my nose, another sense is used to determine the “health” of those skins.

As each press fraction comes off the press, I lift the lid on my wine again to see how much more time is required until that dish is “cooked” to perfection. Growth may be an inevitable need in the marketplace that we are in, but I can guarantee that we will never be so big that we can’t lift the lid to make sure the wines we make are the best they can be.