Page 4 of 6
NM: Albeit not in the legal sense, as in the Old World regions to which you alluded, do you feel that we might be seeing the beginnings of controlled appellation thinking here Stateside, by virtue of certain varietals being increasingly grown and produced within specific geographical areas?
GB: For the subjective market-driven reason, rather than the legislative aspect of the European system, yes, I think that's true. I believe certain styles are becoming galvanized and I think that that will be what drives consumer expectation. And so we've got the larger regional aspects, the sub-appellation qualities, and then the vineyard designations that take it down to a whole other level. It's interesting because the wine-drinking public is extremely diverse; there's a huge range of familiarity and knowledge around the wines being consumed. So, given that, how do we make wine and communicate with consumers in an effective way that's informative and real, and not simply a marketing speil?
Balancing Technique with Artistry
NM: Switching gears and focusing on your own wines, what can you say about your winemaking approach, first off and specifically in the context of Chardonnay? What have you learned from the Chardonnays that you've produced?
GB: The first thing that comes to mind is the amount of attention they need. I'm a pretty attentive winemaker; I'm here every day, certainly at harvest. The thing about the Chardonnays that's different from the Pinot Noirs (and not necessarily particular to the two vineyard designations, but rather how I choose to do them) is the barrel fermented. So, while you can have a five-ton tank of Pinot Noir that turns into something on the order of 250 cases, the Chardonnays are fermented in their barrels — each of which is about 25 cases and can be completely different from its neighbor, on the same rack and from the same juice! You can have wildly different experiences from one barrel to the next, so they need constant monitoring. It could be the difference between night and day: one can take off [and begin fermentation] after three days in barrel, where another one is still waiting after seven days.
But there's a level of that that's really desirable! I would say that the winemaking techniques I'm practicing are not necessarily the most safe and secure or easiest ones to go with. And it definitely builds in more work. With the Chardonnays, I could leave them in tank longer, innoculate them there [with cultured yeast] to get that fermentation started, and have it roaring for a full day before they go into barrel — if at all. I could fully ferment in stainless-steel and not have anything to worry about, leaving me with a five-ton tank of Chardonnay that's done in a week, if I wanted. But that's not the kind of wine I'm looking for; the effect of that barrel fermentation is significant! And it's not just about innoculated vs. native yeast, but even the dynamic with which the fermentation builds. A native yeast fermentation builds very slowly and so, over time, you get this population building, which in itself has a tremendous impact on the wine — and you will taste it! I don't know that I could tell you exactly what it would do, but I do know that it makes a difference in richness, complexity, and texture.
NM: So, some of the choices you're making have a profound effect on the style of your Chardonnay. Any others you feel are noteworthy? For instance, there's a pronounced creaminess to the mouthfeel of these wines, strongly suggestive of battonage.
GB: I stir the lees at first to ensure that the fermentations are finishing — to ensure that the primary [fermentation] is done, that the yeast have eaten all the sugar, and to see that the malolactic fermentation is progressing nicely. By stirring those lees and mixing up the wine, I'm ensuring first that the fermentations are going and that they'll finish. Then once I feel like I've got that basic requirement taken care of, the second part is to decide when to stop, depending on how much richness I want in the finished wine. And so, my preference is to hold off on sulfuring the wine to allow for some evolution in the malolactic fermentation. If I were to add sulfur immediately after that secondary fermentation is finished, I think it would arrest the development of some flavors in the wine, whereas holding off gives the wine some time to integrate and to really complete the process. And that might be why the wines develop a richness, roundness, and fatness, but without the overtly buttery popcorn flavors — even though they've gone through 100% ML. And yet we've also got the natural acidity from all the other acid profiles in there. So the wines are bright and rich at the same time.