|February 1, 1999
As some of you know, I was unable to pour at the ZAP festival in San Francisco this past weekend. I had joined ZAP last year because I felt many people had heard of our winery but had not been able to taste our wine and thought pouring at some of the ZAP events would be a good idea. But since I had a short crop this year (1998) and because I have decided to keep the Neighbors' and Estate Zins separate, I am almost out of my Estate Zin and I did not want to pour barrel samples of only the 1998 Neighbors' Zin at ZAP. Even though I couldn't go, I did send Brendan as my representative taster, and I am anxious to hear his thoughts and opinions. We had a few people stop by after the event on Sunday and they reported that there were many 1997 barrel samples as well as bottled wine poured and also a few 1998 barrel samples. I have tasted many of the wines that were poured and feel that the 1997 vintage is going to something special from just about all producers, and I am anxious to hear from any of you who attended the event as to which wines were your favorites.
February 2, 1999
All day today, I was thinking about the dry Sauvignon Blanc, and so I'm considering taking the wine out of the four barrels that I have and checking to see whether it needs to be fined and filtered and even cold stabilized. I put 4 ounces of the wine in my freezer (which I think I'll go and check right now). If it has thrown tartrates, I need to chill the wine down to freezing for a few days.
After the Super Bowl, I needed to fast and I feel a little better tonight. I am afraid to get on the scale, but I will attempt it tomorrow. I am assuming I have gone up a couple of pounds because, if nothing else, of all the sparkling wine we consumed that day.
February 4, 1999
Today we uploaded a new 1998 futures order form under "Buy."
We are offering our first dry Sauvignon Blanc at $10 a bottle on futures. After the wine is bottled in March, the price will be $12. I have four barrels of this wine, only one of whch is new American oak. This will amount to four months of 25% new oak. It is 100% Sauvignon Blanc from our property. These grapes have been sold for years to Lambert Bridge and Ferrari-Carano. I am very happy with my first commercial effort, having made it many times before as an amateur.
This form also includes an offering of my first effort with the Pinot Noir grape. Since I've heard for so many years that Pinot Noir is the most difficult wine to make, I was very anxious to embrace this challenge, fully expecting that it could be a failure. In the beginning, I felt that even though the wine might not be up to the standards of some of you who appreciate Pinot Noir, I could use it for blending into the neighbors' cuvee. But those of you who have tried the wines have encouraged me to keep my three experiments separate and sell them individually. Although I'm not a Pinot Noir fan and don't know much about it, I have actually enjoy tasting all three of the wines - but of course I'm the winemaker and have to like my own wines :-). I think that anyone who tastes them would agree that they are totally different. At harvest, the grapes were brought in on the same day from the same location in the Russian River area at 45 degrees and then fermented in three different methods. The entire day-by-day account of the fermentations will be included as part of the 3-pack, in a box with the three different bottles individually signed by me. There will only be 20 cases of each wine, or 240 potential three packs. The price for the 3-pack is $75 until we sell out, or until we bottle in July.
February 5, 1999
Today I feel I must say more about the Pinot Noir experiment. I have always been reluctant to make a 100 percent varietal of any wine, especially Pinot Noir.
But to digress a little from "the experiment" itself, I was going to start by saying that I had never bought a Pinot Noir wine in my life, but actually that isn't true. Back in 1969, Beaulieu Vineyards (better known as BV) was producing Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and a few of us, discovering wine for the first time, ended up at the southern end of the Napa Valley wine trail - at that time Rutherford - and went into a small shack and discovered BV wines. I was just overwhelmed with Pinot Noir and Cabernet because they were so different from any other wine I had experienced at that time, being only 25 years old. And on New Year's Eve that year (instead of having my usual Scotch old-fashioned in those days), I decided to bring along a bottle of Pinot Noir and a bottle of Cabernet from BV Vineyards to a party I was attending. As the evening went on, I decided I was more interested in the Cabernet than the Pinot, and until just recently, I had personally not bought another Pinot Noir or even a Burgundy from France.
As some of you know, I have purchased or tried most of the great Bordeaux of this century and I've also been exposed to almost all the great Burgundys from France. I am very impressed with the fruit in Burgundys and even Pinot Noir from California, but I prefer the darker fruits produced from Bordeaux. Many of you, including some of the writers who have interviewed me, are amazed that I'm not a big fan of Pinot Noir. They say that my wines have so much fruit forward, and I assume they are implying they are more like the style of most Pinot Noir. But I feel that Zinfandel has as much fruit up front, much more spiciness and much more complexity by blending in other varietals, which is traditional for Zinfandel. I am a big supporter of Ridge and thus, I have tried to continue their tradition of including on my labels the percentages of the varietals. Of course, Petite Sirah and Carignan are an integral part of many Zinfandels. But I've also decided that Cabernet is a good blender with Zinfandel. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I liked Bordeaux initially because of their blending - or cuvees. In other words, they don't try to make 100% Cabernet. They blend in Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Merlot to make a better balanced wine. And maybe the reason that I've not been interested in Pinot Noir over the years - or any 100% varietal to be exact - is that I think any varietal, including Cabernet Sauvignon, can use a little help to balance the wine. To say it simply and more dramatically, "my eyes have been opened by this experiment." Now I understand why many of you do buy Pinots. The fruit in Pinot Noirs - especially what I've found when I've tried to blend a little in with some of my other wines just for testing - is overwhelming.
This brings me back to the Pinot Noir experiment. The carbonic maceration
involves one barrel, or 25 cases of wine. The grapes were brought in at
45 degrees, which is not the temperature I usually prefer. I would like
to have the grapes hotter. We crushed half the grapes and tossed them on
top of the rest of the whole clusters. We then put dry ice on the top,
a tight tarp over the bin, and let this wine ferment naturally. The wine
never got above 75 degrees. Most of you who have had a chance to taste
it feel it is close to Nouveau Beaujolais, with a little more alcohol.
The cold soak is another story. I contacted a number of my winemaking acquaintances
who produce some of the best quality Pinot Noir. Some of you are familiar
with Adam and Dianna Lee who gave me the most hands-on information. They
are the winemakers from Siduri, who as far as I'm concerned make the best
Pinot out there. So after consulting with these various winemakers, I crushed
the grapes in the second bin, which appeared to be the same as the carbonic
bin, and then kept them at 45 degrees for one week. (Yes, that involved
an investment in an overgrown air conditioner connected to a tank, better
known as a chiller.) This wine was fermented up to 85 degrees. The third
fermentation was handled in the same manner as all my other wines. The
only difference is that unlike most winemakers that I know of, I never
bring in grapes at 45 degrees. I would rather bring in grapes during the
afternoon sun at temperatures of at least 75 to 90 degrees. So I had to
crush these grapes, put a loose tarp on the bin and put it out into the
90 to 100 degree sun of mid-day, bring the bin in each night and then add
the fastest acting yeast available, the same yeast that I use with all
my other red wine fermentations, known as PDM. This wine got up to 90 degrees
plus and to me is more similar to the other red wines I produce. I could
go on and on, but since I have promised a complete account of this fermentation
with the 3-pack we are selling, I should retain some of the mystique of
this undertaking so that I will be able to actually sell these experiments.