Posted by Tim Perr
One of my dominant personality traits is that I am an impulsive buyer (which, according to my wife, is more of a fault than a trait). So a few months ago, when I was visiting French Camp Vineyard (east of Paso Robles) to check out a block of Zinafandel they had for sale, it was no surprise to anyone that knows me that in addition to the Zinfandel, I came back with an agreement to buy some Barbera as well. Not that I was looking for Barbera. Not that I can recall ever even liking a Barbera-based wine. The fruit just looked so good, and the young vineyard representative showing me around French Camp spoke so highly of a wine he had made from French Camp Barbera that it seemed to me to be the right thing to do.
After leaving the vineyard, I got on the phone with Kenneth Juhasz, Pali Wine Company's consulting winemaker, to tell him of my purchase. Kenneth has a better attitude toward my impulsive buying than my wife—he thought it was humorous. He said, “Okay, how do you want to make the wine?” To which I wise-cracked back, “You’re the winemaker, haven’t you made Barbera before?” Of course he had never made Barbera before; how many Californian winemakers have? Kenneth, however, is always up for a challenge.
So, last week, the Barbera was picked and came into the winery shortly thereafter. The fruit tasted fully ripe at 25 Brix and 3.42 pH. These are very nice numbers for wine grapes and should result in a wine with moderate alcohol (in the 14 percent range) and nice, crisp acidity. We decided that the fruit should be front and center in the wine and that we did not want to overdo the tannins. (Keep in mind that this will be a $15 bottle of wine for our second label.)
Kenneth decided that we should de-stem the fruit but not crush the berries—one of many judgment calls that varies with each lot of fruit that comes into the winery. This is a very common technique used in winemaking aimed at minimizing the extraction of certain undesirable solids contained within the grape (including seed tannins, which can be bitter and green tasting). The downside of not crushing is that it can reduce the extraction of good flavors and color as well.
After about four days of cold soak, Kenneth was not happy with the flavors or color being extracted. The juice was more light-brown than red, and it was not showing off the beautiful fruit flavors the Barbera fruit had when it came into the winery. We had made a mistake—we should have crushed at least a percentage of the berries. To fix this, we decided to increase the number of times per day that the juice was stirred and also to increase the intensity of the stirs. We had one of our cellar hands use a punch-down tool (a 5-foot metal pole with a circular plate attached to the bottom) to stir and churn the must (the juice and berry mixture) during cold soak every 2 hours for a 12-hour period. This vigorous action effectively broke open many of the whole berries mixed in the juice. After 2 days of this treatment, the juice turned bright red and began giving off the pretty fruit aromas we were seeking.
The juice will be inoculated today with an Italian isolate of yeast that is supposed to lift fruit aromas and enhance mouthfeel. In my next blog, I’ll update you all on how the Barbera goes through fermentation.
Hope this gives you all a small view of the many little decisions that go into making a bottle of wine.
J J Gallagher — Near Napa, Ca — September 20, 2008 11:34am ET
Timothy Perr — September 20, 2008 11:48pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento,CA — September 21, 2008 8:14pm ET
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