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TM: Well, actually much softer [and riper] tannins. There are two things that are happening: because the fruit is riper, the tannins are less aggressive, so I can extract more from the berries without overwhelming the wine. I'm looking to make as much from that fruit as possible. So, the subtlety comes from them not being too ripe. Very rarely do I have to acidulate these wines, and I only do that for [microbiological] safety with the pH. Typically the pH of our fruit come in between 3.4 and 3.6, and then post malolactic they come in between 3.6 and 3.7; it's a very stable range. Often in Oakville or Spring Mountain or Howell Mountain, they have to acidulate to reach these levels. So, my tendency is not to manipulate. My goal is to express this place. I do that by not intervening, by doing as little as possible to guide the fruit through the process, and letting it tell us when it's ripe, when to press, when to inoculate, which barrels to put it in, and for how long.
PR: I've seen a lot of writing about this recently, in the press, among some of the bigger publications: who's making the wine — the vineyard or the winemaker? I'm sure we all have opinions about it… Tim is having a strong influence on the wines, yet it still is the vineyard that we're expressing here. Although Tim has said that essentially the wine is made in the vineyard, for me, it's about a 50/50 equation: we're taking the best ingredients that we can get at the market and are making our own expression of that.
AR: And one of the fun parts is that as the grapes have gotten better, Tim and I have tasted some new things in the vineyards. Like this year, we had this moment in the Perfecto Block where we just looked at each other and said, "Oh, my god!! What is this?!" That particular fruit was a combination of violets and Concord grape juice — like when you're a kid and you're drinking grape juice and there's that moment of intense grapeness — but with the deep violet quality. It brings out that kid in you, where you're like "Wow, that's good!!" And though I don't know if the flavor itself was new, it was the first time it was strong enough to knock my socks off. That's the fun of the vintage, too, because each vintage has a different surprise in it. Plus we have so many small blocks; in each place we find these little treasures of flavor. And it has surprised us — the things we used to make the reserve out of, we don't make the reserve out of anymore. Things have changed.
PR: My dad and Tony evolved a system of tasting through the vineyard, their own system of evaluating ripeness leading up to harvest. Depending on how close we are to harvest, weekly and ultimately daily we'd be walking through the vineyard, tasting the grapes and literally getting a feel for what's happening with the vines. I remember when Ariel started to do that alongside Dad, and then later having arguments with Tony [Sargent] about ripeness. Ariel went from helping with this and being a smaller voice, to eventually be the voice and someone that I completely deferred to, because often at that time of year I'm on the road for peak sales season. There's a complete trust here. Ariel has a great palate and a great sense of smell as well. So, these two guys [Ariel and Tim], along with Ramon, are really out walking and tasting the vineyard and feeling it and knowing it. And, by the way, Tim doesn't do any [brix-measuring] chemistry on the vineyard…
AR: The chemistry is on his tongue.
NM: Right; during Vineyard Days, you had mentioned that [Tim surmises brix and gathers a sense of when to pick by tasting grapes in the vineyard, rather than relying on instruments] and I know that it raised a few eyebrows. How closely do you work together as winemaker and vineyard manager? How would you describe that relationship?
TM: I rely greatly on Ariel's palate. In walking the vineyard, we'll talk back and forth; it's very collaborative in that sense.
AR: That's what's fun about it. I have the historical palate and I have learned all the methods of the past — in fact I just wrote an article about this and am trying to get it published, this history of our tasting methods. But I did often feel that my palate was quite different from my father's and from Tony's (and then we had other people involved). And I think perhaps I was less sure of my palate, so I was insecure. And it's not that Tim and I always agree, but we are not necessarily competitive about it. In the old days, there was some of that between the Rubissows and the Sargents: my dad and Tony were both scientists, so there was a bit of competitiveness around who knows more science and who has more basis for their opinions. But that was part of the fun for them; that's why they had so much fun doing this, because they could apply their view of life to this new thing, this farm product, this wine.