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AR: … I think we're a very honest wine in terms of what our terroir is.
TM: Wine, to me, occupies a huge range of possibilities. There are wines that are about place. Then there are wines that are just commodities, that you would drink with no more thought than you would soda pop. And my expectations of those wines are very different. If it's wine from somewhere that's about something, then there are tools you don't use because they muddy the expression of that place. If you're trying to make consistent 'soda pop,' then all tools are available, because what you're delivering in that instance is just sound wine to a consumer that doesn't necessarily say anything about anywhere. It just says 'red wine with dinner — think no more of me than that.' But if it's wine that's about something, about some place, then it needs to express that in all its forms.
Modern Methods: a New Generation of Tactics and Techniques
NM: Can you go into a little bit more detail on that? I'll start by asking a more direct question that all of you can answer, though I'll focus on Tim and his arrival for the 2004 vintage. What would you say about your winemaking approach and style was among some of the more obvious changes to the Sargent style, beyond what we've already discussed about the cool restraint of Rubissow's 'old guard'?
"If it's wine from somewhere that's about something, then there are tools you don't use because they would muddy the expression of that place."
TM: The first and simplest answer is aggressive work in the vineyard, with a different eye towards what produces high-quality, consistent wines. The second is picking in smaller lots, really sub-selecting out — and not just based on a vineyard block — more aggressively than [Rubissow-Sargent] had in the past. And third is more of a modern approach to cooperage; we use a bit more new wood than they had in the past. Those are the biggest differences. Aside from that, I do longer cold soaks, I think, than Tony [Sargent] did. Most of my winemaking techniques are standard, neo-classical methods. But there are some spins on everything we do, based on my experience and by seeing what works to produce the wines that we're after. We tend to go for very long cold-soaks — two, four, sometimes six days — until we start wild fermentations, and then I do inoculate [with cultured yeasts]. Fermentations usually take a couple of weeks. In terms of what Tony did, I think it was very little cold-soak, straight fermentation, typically pressed after dryness.
PR: [Tony Sargent] didn't start cold-soaking until '99 and this ['99 Cabernet] was one of his first experiments in cold-soaking because before then he thought it was a kind of voodoo. About the same time [under Sargent], they started sprinkling over the cap instead of doing a straight pump-over, and that started to make the wines a little more approachable as well. For him, those were radical techniques because he was extremely naturalistic.
TM: I do extended macerations fairly consistently. We do fairly gentle handling with much more aggressive fruit sorting in the vineyard and then again in the winery. We tend not to crush the fruit but go to tank whole-berry (or slightly broken), then cold-soak for quite a while. The idea of all this is to gently but thoroughly extract the fruit. [As far as pump-overs,] we do almost everything with sprinklers; it's a gentler extraction. I'm not looking for massive tannins —there's tremendous amounts of tannins in the wines already — but these long soaks give much more color, much more body to the wines.
PR: I would add that there is some intentionality; I mean, we are expressing the vineyard here. That's a very clear tactical choice about the way that we're conducting the orchestra. We are trying to have a more balanced tannin profile in these wines than the Rubissow-Sargent wines had.
NM: When you say more 'balanced,' do you mean that with the deeper fruit extraction the goal is to have slightly a more assertive tannin profile?