Exploring Wine making Choices with #MWWC

Our lives are filled with choices. Do you chose to drink coffee or tea in the morning? If coffee do you chose to drink it with cream and sugar or black? What toppings do you chose to put on pizza? Do you chose action thriller movies or romantic comedies? Chances are if we were aware of the millions of choices we make each day we would be completely overwhelmed. Thankfully many of choices become rote. Winemaking is also filled with choices. Wine is a craft that involves farming, science, and art, and at each of these stages the winemaker is faced with a number of choices. This month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge topic is “Choices.” The topic was chosen by last month’s winner Elizabeth Smith, the “Traveling Wine Chick.” Let’s take some time together to explore a few of the many choices involved in winemaking.

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At last month’ fantastic TexSom conference I attended an intriguing and educational seminar entitled “Distinguishing Winemaking Choices.” The seminar was led by Master Sommeliers Matthew Citriglia and Geoff Kruth, and was packed full of well-organized and useful information. We explored seven aspects of winemaking choices by comparing and contrasting each choice while tasting wines that represent the yin and the yang of the choice. This seminar was not about tasting notes as much as it was about tasting the results of the winemaking choices. Winemaking is an art and a science, filled with possibilities; here are some of those choices and how they manifest themselves in the glass.

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Lees: The term “lees” refers to the dead yeast cells and other particles that remain in wine after it has been fermented. Depending on the style of wine being crafted wine makers will often rack the wine off the lees or allow the wine additional lees contact; the choice is theirs. Lees are often added to non-aromatic grapes such as Chardonnay or Muscadet to add character to the wine and craft it into something different than it would be alone.

  • 2014 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño d Fefinane Rías Baixas DO, Galcia, Spain: 100% Albarino, Stainless Steel, No lees contact, 12.5% alcohol, soft floral notes and citrus
  • 2009 Bodegas del Palacio de  Fefiñanes Albariño  d Fefinane III Ano Rías Baixas DO, Galcia, Spain: 100% Albarino, Stainless Steel, 27 months on lees with 6 months batonnage (stirring on lees), 12.5% alcohol, orchard fruit, bagel with cream cheese (doughy and creamy), lower acidity

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Skin Contact (Maceration): Wine makers have a choice as to how long the grapes will remain in contact with their skins which influences the color of the wine. Both grape variety and time and temperature of contact will affect the outcome of this choice. Skin contact can increase flavonoids, astringency, potassium, pH during fermentation and nitrogen to create a greater mouthfeel and improve aromatics and flavors.

  • 2014 Rhyme Wine Cellars Vermentino Las Brisas Vineyard “Hers” Carneros AVA, Sonoma County: Green label fermented without skins, whole bunch pressed and bottled early, stainless steel, 50% old neutral barrels, apples, pears, citrus, round acidity
  • 2013 Rhyme Wine Cellars Vermentino Las Brisas Vineyard “His” Carneros AVA, Sonoma County: Orange label fermented with skins, picked at same time as “hers,” fermented whole cluster, 2 weeks skin contact, pressed to neutral barrel and aged 10 months, much heavier, meatier wine, red-like in depth and texture

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Malolactic – White Wine: This process is a secondary fermentation that takes the harsh malic acids in wine and converts them to more mellow lactic acids to soften the tartness and round out the wine. Winemakers may choose to not use malo and allow the natural “Granny Smith apple tartness” in the wines, to use 100% malo, creating a buttery, creamy wine, or to use 50% malo and 50% no malo and blend the two for improved balance and structure.

  • 2012 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Valley AVA, Sonoma County: 25% malo in barrel, 75%sStainless steel fermentation, 25% barrel fermentation, barrique aged 1 year: 25% new goes into stainless, Stainless goes to 1 & 2 years, round tart green apple acidity that bites the back of the palate, yet balanced and fresh
  • 2013 Morgan Winery Chardonnay Double L Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County: 100% malo in barrel, 100% barrel fermentation, barrique aged 10 months: 25% new barrel, 75% 1 & 2 year old barrels, creamy texture, still high acidity but with a completely different mouth feel

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Brix at Harvest Red Wine: This is a measurement of the sugar content of the grapes, it is used to indicate the grapes degree of ripeness and will also ultimately determine the wines alcohol content. This information helps winemaker choose when to harvest their grapes. Winemakers view this choice very differently. For example, Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Company says, “My whole goal is to let the fruit speak. I let the grapes ripen until they taste good. When they taste good the wine will taste good too.” Conversely, Ted Lemon of Littorai Wines believes, “You want a tart apple for that pie, because when you bake it, then, damn, that’s a good apple.”

  • 2011 Copain Wines Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley AVA, Mendocino County: vineyard planted 2002, 22 – 22.5 brix, 13.2% ABV, 20% new French oak, 15% whole cluster, tart cherries and cranberries, ripe but lean, round acidity
  • 2012 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Cheoweth Ranch Vineyard Russian River Valley AVA Sonoma County: vineyard planted 2000, 24.5 – 25 brix, 14.8% ABV, 65% new French oak, 10% whole cluster, fuller wine, mid-palate richness, riper flavors leads to higher alcohol and more persistent tannins

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Oak Usage: Oak barrels provide a bounty of choices for the wine maker: what size to use, what age to use, and what type of oak (American, French, Slovenian, etc) to use, the oaks toasting level, and the process use to craft the barrel (hand split vs sawed, air drying vs kiln drying), to name a few. Each of these choices impacts the wine in the glass through flavors and aromas, oxidation, softening of tannins, evaporation (aka the angels share J), and color stabilization.

  • 2009 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder AVA, Napa Valley: 90% Cab, 10% Merlot, barrel: 24 months large old American oak, 12 months old French oak, aged 5 years, new world flavors without new oak, pronounced red and black fruit, green bell pepper, no toast or vanilla flavors, tannins even and mouth coasting, fruit forward with little earthiness
  • 2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Bechstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard, St. Helena AVA, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet, barrel: 100% new French oak, aged 20 months in oak, much earthier in flavor, vanilla, cinnamon, sandalwood, tannins felt more on the sides of the mouth, aroma: money!

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Whole Cluster vs De-stemmed: Whole cluster is using the entire cluster of grapes, including the stems, in fermentation, juxtaposed with de-stemming the clusters and only fermenting the grapes or somewhere in between by using a percentage of whole cluster and a percentage of de-stemmed grapes. If the wine maker choses whole cluster the effects include: increased tannins, slight decrease in color, decrease in alcohol, aromatic complexity and potassium softens the acidity; conversely, de-stemmed wine has a cleaner fermentation, softer tannins, and is more fruit forward.

  • 2012 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Lagniappe Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA Washington: 80% whole cluster, 18 months neutral French oak 225L and 500L barrels, 14.2% ABV, herbal, savory element, slightly higher yet softer tannins
  • 2012 Owen Roe Syrah ‘Ex Umbris’ Columbia Valley AVA Washington: 100% de-stemmed, 16 months neutral French oak 225L barrels, 14.2% ABV, fruitier Syrah, less savory and herbal, tannins more pronounced

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Residual Sugar: This is the sugar that remains in the wine once fermentation is complete due to the yeast failing to continue to convert all sugar to alcohol, the wine was fortified with a hard alcohol and stopped fermentation (port), or the yeast died due to extreme drop in temperature. Each of these three causes of RS are choices made by the winemaker to add sweetness to a wine. Wine makers may then chose to balance the RS through acidity, alcohol levels and/or tannins.

  • 2013 Maximin Grünhäuser Riesling  Qualitätswein Trocken Ruwer Mosel, Germany: delicate, dry and acidic with a soft, mild sweetness, RS= 7g/ltr, 11% ABV
  • 2013 Weingut Schloss leiser Riesling ‘SL’ Kabinett Prädikatswein  Mosel, Germany: for someone who does not care much for sweet wine (me) this was punch in the mouth sweet, creamy texture, low acidity, will age very well due to high rs levels, RS = 35g/ltr, 8% ABV

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Wine making is not easy. There are many options and choices available to the wine maker. Though it is fun to “play” with the variety of choices, a poor choice can lead to the loss of thousands of dollars and possibly a negative change in opinion from the wine consumer. However, it is also clear to see from these wine making choices there is no wrong decision because we all have different palates, different preferences and different ideas of what we enjoy in wine. In the end there is a wine for everyone….the choice is yours!


My Song Selection: The song I have chosen to pair with this article is a song about choice from one of my favorite bands: “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash. Though it is a little cliche for this article I hope you choose to listen to it and enjoy.

Thank you for choosing to read my entry in September’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. I hope you will also chose to share this article by means of any or all of the buttons below. Furthermore, when the voting begins on September ……. I hope you will chose this article.


21 responses to “Exploring Wine making Choices with #MWWC”

  1. Fascinating Michelle, I never really understood the wine making process or all the options available to the winemaker or the consumer. After reading this I now know why I choose one wine over another and this helps to make an informed choice. Great post.

  2. Michelle,
    Nice informative post! Your clear explanations of the essential elements in the winemaking process helped solidify a few areas I hadn’t quite understood or made the connections. Gracias!

  3. So many choices, so little time…I started a retirement project to sample wine made from each of the main grape varieties harvested. Simple. Then I started thinking about geographical variations; how a New Zealand sauvignon blanc is unlike one from the Loire, or the vast difference between an Australian chardonnay and Chablis. So now I’m endeavouring to sample them all! If you’re invested, you can follow my adventures in The Wine List on my blog, retiredblokes.wordpress.com

    • TexSom run by the Court of Master Sommeliers so their classes and the wines tasted are the first rate. Many say it is the best wine conference in the world. You should try to come in the future. They also had great Italian wines from Montefalco and Veneto!

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