The way from juice to wine is fraught with all kinds of peril. More times than not, imminent “death” is all in the muddled mind of the tired winemaker, but on other occasions, the invisible nasties that roam the winery are REALLY out to get us.
Our winemaking style stays relatively consistent across all of our brands, but we do want to emphasize certain aspects of the grapes that come in to the plant. Unlike very large wineries that work on an industrial scale and for whom nuance is not as important as clean, non-idiosyncratic wine, our winemaking regime can be fairly risky.
We don’t generally add sulfur at the crushpad when fruit is brought in and we keep low levels of SO2 in barrels while the wine is aging. We also do a fair amount of cold-soaking when grapes are first crushed.
There are different viewpoints about what cold-soaking does for wines (as many viewpoints as there are winemakers), and there are a great many winemakers out there who want to get fermentation started as early and as vigorously as possible. Apart from the stylistic qualities that fast and hot ferments might bring to wine, there is a lot less risk to these incipient wines when CO2 is present.
For me, taking a slower and colder approach for wines such as Cabernet Franc, Grenache, and Petit Verdot, allows for the microscopic bugs that come in on grape skins to add their bit of complexity to my wines before they die their noble deaths in about 2% alcohol. Cold-soaking also allows for gentle extraction of color, and – subjectively – more supple wines in the end.
For all the structure and flavor benefits that we attribute to our early winemaking regime, I’d be a liar if I didn’t exhale a sigh of relief when I lift the fermentor lid up and am knocked back by the scouring breath of Carbon Dioxide. For it is this stuff that throws a protective blanket over our baby wines, chasing fruit flies away and keeping the deleterious effects of oxygen at bay.
Fermentation is magic. It is the process that ultimately gives us the wine we so love by not only converting sugar into alcohol but also providing the hot and gassy environment our juice needs to fend off the microscopic army that is intent on turning that self-same juice into vinegar. In this war against volatile acidity and lactobacillus and brett, CO2 is one of our missile shields.