It should be safe to say that all of the 2012 harvest has been put to bed. I did have to babysit our estate Cabernet Sauvignon until mid-December, but that is par for the course on this grape ranch. I usually find myself reflecting this time of year on the wines we made, the heartaches and the triumphs. We did well; we nearly shriveled from the heat, but survived and have some delicious wines to show for it.
After the last wines are pressed into barrels, I tend to want to think and drink anything but wine. Whiskey, beer, cocktails, surfing, napping, more napping, skiing, just about anything that allows me to recharge and adjust the attitude a little to get perspective. I think this is true because during harvest I tend to narrow my focus down to the task at hand, taking those grapes and squeezing them into barrels. Friends, family, weekends, normal sleep and waking hours, sometimes personal hygiene just goes out the window. You find yourself thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to just sleep in, take the day off, go for a drive to beach, and nap away the afternoon. Simple stuff right? Oh sure, right after I do my punch downs, a pump over or two, press a couple- o- tons, clean whatever that is growing behind those tanks, process 10 tons of fruit, and run to look at that vineyard twenty miles up a dirt road, take a sugar sample on the way, and pick up a few harvest supplies. Oh wait, and then get up and do it again tomorrow. Grapes don’t wait for you to rest up. They get ripe, and you need to move. You know… now that I think about it, I miss it just a little bit. Disgusting.
You see that’s the kind of sick and twisted person you are dealing with, I love to hate it, but then miss it when it’s over. I’m not really sick, maybe a little twisted, but I think I just enjoy what I do. So what’s next? Well as stated I have put everything to bed. By that I mean all the wines I have made this last year have been put into barrel. I like to age most reds in barrel for about 18 months; sometimes a shorter aging is called for like in the case of Zinfandel or Grenache. This can help hold onto fresher, fruitier characteristics.
In general, aging in oak barrels is a slow oxidation process since the wood “breathes”. This means that even though wine isn’t leaking out, it does evaporate, mostly the water that is naturally in wine is evaporating. I top up the barrels every few weeks to counter this. As this cycle of evaporation and topping continue, the wine aging in barrels is exposed to very tiny amounts of oxygen. This micro-oxygenation is good for developing the finer characteristics of the wine, shaping the finish, and lending roundness to the tannins. The barrel also leaves its own mark on the wine. The age of the wood and the level of toasting on the inside of the barrel give the wine some nice nuance. The climate that the tree grew in will also affect the taste of the wine, the shape and size of the barrel matters as well. Barrels selection for each varietal takes some thought, different coopers or barrel builders sometimes make barrels for specific wines, it’s my job to figure out what works best with the wines that grow in my vineyards and how to get those barrels to express the characteristics that I love most.
So the take home message here is that despite what you have heard, not only does size matter, so does geography and age, shape and smell, looks a little bit. But most importantly, like mother always told you, what counts is what’s on the inside. Oh yeah and don’t forget to breath! Enjoy -eo