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brian loring: ramblings from pinot prison

Creating Single-Vineyard Wines


Posted: Oct 31, 2006 12:02pm ET

After our post-Wine Experience discussion of optimal berry size during a cab ride (discussed in my last blog post), my fellow Pinot producer Adam Lee was primed for more discussions once we arrived at the Bubble Lounge and met wine directors David Mokha and Kevin Vogt.

As the evening played out (while sipping 1997 Laurent-Perrier Rosé Alexandria and 1995 Taittinger Rosé Comtes de Champagne), we got around to a favorite topic: single-vineyard wines. At Siduri, they taste through the individual barrels from each vineyard and then determine which ones will make up the single-vineyard wine. The rest are put into an AVA blend.

At Loring, Kimberly and I just blend all of the barrels from a vineyard together. Adam questioned that method, since he thinks we could make a better wine if we used only the "best barrels"--those that blend together in some special way. I countered that we feel we could make a different wine, but not necessarily better. That I think it's too invasive to impose our "vision" of what the vineyard's profile should be.

This has been a topic of discussion with Uncle Sid before. Adam firmly believes that by deleting some barrels from the blend, he can make a better single-vineyard wine. I’ve heard Adam say the barrels they cull aren’t necessarily worse than the others, but that they don’t represent the vineyard if placed in the final blend. I’ve never really understood that concept. How can they not reflect the vineyard? They might not reflect Adam’s view of the vineyard, but to say they aren’t representative doesn’t make sense to me.

I guess I could understand if the barrels were flawed. We’ve dumped barrels that were flawed, with volatile acidity, for example. And I literally mean dumped--they went down the drain. Maybe I could see deleting a barrel if they’d tried some new cooper, or maybe some new yeast that didn’t work out.

There are a lot of variables that go into making single-vineyard wines. One vineyard may be shared by many different wineries, all of which get different sections. More often than not, we get a different mix of Pinot clones. For each vineyard from which we source grapes, we process the wine differently and use different barrels. And while I understand and appreciate that, we still can’t bring ourselves to do a barrel selection in the winery.

I guess we feel we have to take the random chance that the fruit we get, and the process we use, create a representative snapshot of the vineyard. If we were to further define the wine by our personal viewpoint of what the vineyard should be like, I think we would remove some of the magic, the mystery, the fun of single-vineyard wines.

This isn’t meant to disparage Adam and Dianna in any way. I love the wines they make, especially the single-vineyard wines. I respect them beyond my ability to describe. But I disagree on culling barrels when it comes to making Loring single-vineyard wines.

I can’t say what they do is wrong. In fact, Kevin seemed to vote for Adam’s approach. Furthermore, I can’t say what we do is right. It’s hard to explain how such different paths lead to wines I enjoy equally--just another one of the mysteries of wine.

Peter Czyryca
October 31, 2006 1:52pm ET
I thought it was odd that you think it's too invasive to impose our "vision" of what the vineyard's profile should be to eliminate certain barrels from the mix in the single vineyard scenario, yet you'll experiment in other ways such as adding water/acid/etc. Isn't eliminating barrels less invasive to the integrity of a final wine than adding acid/water?
Charles J Stanton
Eugene, OR —  October 31, 2006 4:11pm ET
A lot of vintners use a barrel selection process to 'upgrade' a wine that they would bottle as a barrel reserve, usually commanding a higher price. If a vineyard is pretty homogeneous, I don't see that making a whole heck of a lot of difference. Unless there is a barrel selection based on vine age, clone, cropping level, etc., I have rarely seen those 'reserve' bottlings be worth the extra hoopla.

Brian , I'm curious to know how much barrel variation you do see, and how much you'll tolerate short of an obvious technical flaw. Given pinot noir's propensity to wander all over the place while in barrel (flavor, funk, reduction, etc.) do you ever manipulate things on individual barrels to "bring it back into line", or do you wait and keep your fingers crossed.
Peter Czyryca
October 31, 2006 5:05pm ET
Never mind - just read your post on another blog about water/acid....
Charles J Stanton
Eugene, OR —  October 31, 2006 7:49pm ET
A lot of vintners use a barrel selection process to 'upgrade' a wine that they would bottle as a barrel reserve, usually commanding a higher price. If a vineyard is pretty homogeneous, I don't see that making a whole heck of a lot of difference. Unless there is a barrel selection based on vine age, clone, cropping level, etc., I have rarely seen those 'reserve' bottlings be worth the extra hoopla.

Brian , I'm curious to know how much barrel variation you do see, and how much you'll tolerate short of an obvious technical flaw. Given pinot noir's propensity to wander all over the place while in barrel (flavor, funk, reduction, etc.) do you ever manipulate things on individual barrels to "bring it back into line", or do you wait and keep your fingers crossed.
Adam Lee
Santa Rosa, CA —  October 31, 2006 9:25pm ET
Hey Brian, I love talking wine with you. It makes it all even more fun.Let me ask you this - I know that you pick certain barrels to use on your wines (Francois Freres and Sirugue, I think). How does including certain barrels not impart your own stamp on the vineyard but our excluding certain barrels does put our stamp on the vineyard? -- Adam Lee, Siduri Wines
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  November 1, 2006 1:49am ET
Charles - I'm not sure what manipulation we can do on an individual barrel. We do sometimes rack a barrel off its lees early if we detect any sulfide issues. We also will use copper if we feel it's necessary. What other things are you thinking about?

We do often see major differences in barrels. Could be from the barrel itself, or different clones, or a result of something that happened during fermentation. But that just adds to the potential complexity of the wine. Like the salt in a chocolate chip cookie... leaving it out wouldn't taste "right".
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  November 1, 2006 1:56am ET
Uncle Sid (Adam) - It's always fun debating issues with you. You make me think - which is the ultimate compliment in my book.

When we decide which barrels to buy and use, we don't pick certain barrels for specific vineyards. We like to use basically the same mix of new/old and coopers for each vineyard. And just for the record, the coopers we use are Francois Freres, Seguin Moreau, Remond, Sirugue, Boutes, Rousseau, Meryieux, and Ermitage.

I will agree that our mix of coopers does impart a certain stamp on the wines, as does our winemaking style... but it's a consistant stamp across all the single vineyard wines.
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  November 2, 2006 2:33am ET
Interesting debate. Interesting take on your part Brian. I've always just assumed Adam's approach was the way it's done but I can see merits to your approach. This, to me, is great stuff - seeing all the different angles the winemaker has to consider through out the entire process.
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  November 2, 2006 12:29pm ET
Apj - I think that most wineries that get more than just a ton or two from single vineyards do what Adam and Dianna do. Maybe we're a bit unique (strange?).

Culling barrels and making AVA blends also brings up another issue - selling price. If I consider Adam's view that they don't remove lesser barrels, just ones that don't represent the vineyard... then I wonder why they sell their AVA blends for less. Their costs aren't less. The wine isn't necessarily of lesser quality. So why lower the price? Something I've always wondered about. Any thoughts Uncle Sid?
Adam Lee
Santa Rosa, CA —  November 2, 2006 4:22pm ET
Actually, I do think the wine is of lesser quality because it doesn't represent the vineyard. Now, others don't always believe that is the case - but our wine our decision.So, Brian, when you bring in a small amount of fruit from a single vineyard - you certainly can't fit all of those different cooperage houses on one small lot. Aren't you forced then to chose barrels? And don't you remove some barrels from certain lots for the Llama? Doesn't removing those barrels affect the final blend? -- Just more fun on a rainy Thursday afternoon! - Uncle Sid
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  November 2, 2006 10:42pm ET
As I say Uncle Sid... you make me think!

You're right, we often can't use all the coopers on each of the single vineyard wines. And we do have to make choices. Most often that means we take the barrels that are the easiest to get to. Part of my theory of using randomness in winemaking. If I were to consciously decide that (for example) Francois Freres would be best for Dry Hole and Seguin Moreau is best for Aubaine, I may be 100% wrong. But if I let random chance play a role, I may be 50% or 100% right. Of course, I could guess right myself as well... but then I'd get a bigger ego than I already have. ;) And if randomness fails... then it wasn't MY fault!

When we do our Llama blend, we take samples from half of the barrels of each single vineyard wine (randomly) - excluding wines where we only have a few barrels. Dry Hole will never be a component of our Llama blends. And we try to limit it to 1 or 2 barrels max from a vineyard in the final blend. Why? Because we're trying not to affect the single vineyard wines. If you want to argue that pulling one barrel out of 35 barrels of Garys' affects the final single vineyard wine - I really can't argue. But we didn't approach it as such... so I'm going to say that we're still playing fair by our rules. Afterall... our wine, our rules :)

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