Now that the grapes are all in and the fermentations complete, work in the cellar can proceed at a more reasonable pace. We get to arrive home in time for dinner with our families and weekends don’t require us to be on hand morning, noon and night. With the Holiday Season comes a reflective time in the winemaking process where we can look back on what we’ve accomplished while re-connecting with family and friends whom we’ve missed during the hectic harvest period.
While the Holiday Season gives us a chance to catch our breath, we cannot exactly sit back and relax completely. There is still quite a bit of work to be done at this time of year before we turn our attention away from the 2009 vintage and back to the 2008 vintage wines in our cellar.
French oak barrels are an essential part of making top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Choosing the proper barrels to fill with a particular wine takes considerable care and attention to match up that wine with the ideal cooperage that will coax forth and highlight the best features the wine has to offer.
While in barrel, the lots must be monitored frequently to asses the progress of malo-lactic fermentation. This is a microbial transformation of the tart malic acid, which is inherent in the grapes, to the softer, creamier lactic acid. It will occur naturally unless prevented, so we monitor the process to ensure that no other unwanted microbial changes take place.
Analysis of the malic content is one of many analyses performed on the young wines at this time of the year. We also must determine the alcohol, pH and titratable acidity, to name a few others, so that we can oversee the health and well being of the young wines and track their progress with an adequate level of data for each lot.
Thorough tasting and evaluating the results of the vintage, lot by lot, gives us a “first look” at the wines as we begin to think about the ultimate blends and which lots will most likely "make the cut" as well as which lots may have to be de-classified. These evaluations occur frequently and routinely into the New Year until the final blends are assembled and returned to barrel.
Additionally, we must make sure to “top-up” all the barrels in our cellar in order to displace any oxygen in the barrels and replace wine which is lost to evaporation – or “the angel’s share” as they say.
While the slower pace of the Holiday Season is welcome, it seems that the fast pace and long hours of harvest have ended as quickly as they began. I guess “time flies when you’re having fun”, especially when we live and work in such a beautiful and amazing place as the Napa Valley.
Happy New Year!
Stephen Tebb and the winery team