At the Craig, we are always seeking ways to improve our winemaking. As the quality of Robert Craig wines is already at such a high level, it becomes a matter of detail.
One of those new details is the use of oak upright tanks for our Cabernet Sauvignon fermentations. We’ve recently acquired one 70 HL and two 40 HL French oak tanks. Such tanks are used extensively by first-growth Bordeaux Chateaus and are also found in the cellars of many of Napa Valley’s most prestigious and respected wineries.
An important design feature is the truncated or “tilt-in” top portion of the tank. Instead of having a cylinder shape with straight sides, the tank's top is narrower than at the bottom. This feature allows the cap (skins and pulp that rise to the surface during fermentation) to crumble and break up easily when the juice is removed from under the cap during pump-overs. The cap is submerged more quickly with less physical manipulation, resulting in gentler handling of the must.
Another key feature is the insulation value of the thick oak staves in maintaining a consistent temperature. The must stays cool, without extensive external cooling, during pre-fermentation maceration when the tannins, colors and flavors begin to be extracted. As fermentation proceeds, the temperature shift is gradual and the wood maintains an ideally warm temperature all the way into the extended post-fermentation maceration.
This is an added bonus on Howell Mountain as the temperatures can drop quickly after sundown in the late Fall. Warm temperatures are extremely important for complete extraction of color and flavor from our mountain fruit, resulting in Cabernet Sauvignons with smooth, lush mouth-feel and soft, round, integrated tannins – the hallmarks of a true luxury-quality Cabernet.
The combination of French oak upright tanks and stainless steel tanks will give us more options to achieve an even greater level of depth and complexity in our wines. The differences may be subtle; however it is at this level of detail where we find opportunities to fine-tune our winemaking regimen as we endeavor to craft the best wine possible with every vintage.