We strive to make wines that speak to the soul about the earth from which they
originate. Making our wines requires an artful approach, a gentle hand, and nerves of steel
that allow us to follow our gut, even when the science might suggest less risky approaches.
We employ a number of odd practices that enable us to treat the grapes, and later the wines,
with extreme care. Because we firmly believe that wines are made in the vineyard, our first
objective is to start with the best possible fruit we can find. Then, our job in the cellar
is easy. In fact, the most difficult decision we often make is to do nothing.
Our wines vary with each vintage because Mother Nature is anything but
consistent and predictable. Coca-cola™ is reliably consistent from year to year and bottler
to bottler. We think consistent wine misses the point. Our wines are alive and they will
evolve as they age. We find the discovery of a wines evolution to be infinitely enjoyable
and often fascinating. We hope you do too.
Our winemaking practices
We often receive quizzical glances when we pontificate about our winemaking practices that
include picking 8000 lbs of grapes into 250 funny little yellow bins; spending weeks
preparing our wood fermenters; and testing and re-testing our sulfur levels to ensure we
only add the absolute minimum needed to preserve the wine. We do this (and more) because
we absolutely believe the aggregate of these seemingly inconsequential variables make a
world of difference. Our wines are highly nuanced and complex with layers of flavors and
aromas that evolve and change as time goes on. We believe this is a direct result of our
gentle and careful approach to making wines as naturally as possible.
Our winemaking practices include:
- 10,000 new miles on the Prius between August and November: We only work with a handful
of growers because it allows us to better focus. We go to great lengths to find growers
that will truly partner with us on our winemaking voyage. We are hugely interested in
biodynamic farming and all of our growers follow sustainable agricultural practices.
However, as much as we trust and depend on our growers, there is no substitute for walking
the vineyard as the grapes mature and harvest approaches. While we certainly monitor the
typical metrics (sugars and acids) we believe the only way to call a pick date is by
examining the fruit in the vineyard, tasting the berries, evaluating the skins and seeds
and tasting a representative juice sample. So from mid August until November we are
road warriors. Some people chuckle at our low riding Prius heading up the windy dirt roads
in the vineyard but with 10,000+ miles we think a hybrid is the only logical choice.
- FLYBs: Some call them “funny little yellow bins.” Others substitute
another word that begins with “F.” They are certainly more work and require us to do an
enormous amount of heavy lifting (each bin is lifted at least 3 times per harvest or for a
4 ton lot, 8000 lbs x 3 = 24,000 lbs!) but we remain convinced the quality of the fruit
arriving at the winery is unrivaled. And we are not alone in this practice. In fact, the
company we keep ain’t bad: Togni and Opus One in California plus these are the norm rather
than the exception in Burgundy and Champagne.
- Foot stomping for crushing: Depending on the lignifications
of our stems, we will often keep a fair amount whole cluster. However, even if the grapes
go through the crusher de-stemmer we ONLY remove the stems. We do not use the rollers
to crush our berries. We often like to have 50+% whole berry and have found the tried and
true method of pigeage à pied (foot stomping) to achieve the perfect amount of crushing.
We like the results better than that of the crusher and our helpers have a huge amount of
fun each year channeling Lucy.
- Double & triple sorting: Every grape that goes into our
wine goes down the sorting table where at least four and often six people examine the
grapes and remove MOG (material other than grapes) like leaves, twigs, frogs, lizards,
spiders and occasionally buttons?!?! This is actually the second sort because one of the
benefits of our yellow bins is their efficiency for an effective field sort. And if we
do have any issues on the sorting table (like rot, bird damage, diseased plants, etc) the
whole cluster of questionable grapes is placed in a bin destined for the triage table.
After the primary sort is completed we sort back through the triage bin at a much slower
- Wood vats for fermentation: Many wineries ferment white wines
in wood. For reasons that we speculate are first driven by operational concerns, many small
lot producers ferment in square plastic bins. We are skeptical of this practice in general and
know through experimentation that wood is a far superior material for our fermentations. Today
we use 500L puncheons which will hold roughly a ½ ton of grapes which makes roughly 1 barrel.
During the weeks leading up to harvest Jared spends many weekends preparing the puncheons.
One of the heads is removed intact, the puncheon is put back together and the head gets a
handle attached so the result is an open top wood fermentation vat with a removable lid.
We find our wood vats to be superior for insulation, dimensions for cap formation and
permeability of oxygen. And we feel good about the fact this metabolic process, which
interacts with the vat, is happening in a vessel of natural origin with no potentially
nasty chemicals leaching into the wines.
- 24’ reefers: Tracey continues to get ribbed for her comment
on Grape Radio about us having a 24 foot long reefer. Here we are talking about the
refrigerated container we have during harvest for our cold soaks. In general, our red wines
are stored at 55° F for 48-72 hours after we crush. We strongly prefer the refrigeration to
- Natural fermentations: We do not use cultured yeasts for our
primary fermentation and rarely inoculate for the secondary or malo-lactic fermentation.
We have found that by letting the native or ambient yeasts do what they’ve been doing for
thousands of years our fermentations go dry, we have little to no problems during fermentation
and most important, the flavor profile is superior. We also generally like to follow the
guideline that if we can not ingest it then we don’t put it in the wine which means we do
not add enzymes to enhance color, tannins, or any other characteristic. Our wines include
what Mother Nature gave them.
- Minimal uses of sulfur: We are extreme in our limited uses
of sulfur, often getting an earful from lab technicians about the risks we face with such
low levels. They are correct but we think we can mitigate our risk with extreme care
and cleanliness and to date have been rewarded with superior wines.
- Ageing sur lie: Each wine varies, but in general we are
big believers in the benefits of aging sur lie (on the lees) and we are minimalists when
it comes to racking.
- Topping every two weeks: We are obsessive when it comes to
topping our barrels and strongly believe élevage (French concept for raising or guiding
the wines and refers to the stage between vinification and bottling and includes everything
from cooperage selection to topping, racking and blending) is extremely important. We taste
each and every barrel at least once a month and we religiously top each barrel at least every
two weeks. Because we use such low sulfur levels and bottle without fining or filtering our
topping regimen is critical.
- Gravity: We use gravity for most of our wine transfers.
Because it was not feasible (yet!) for us to build a gravity based facility we use the forklift.
There are a few situations where this won’t work but by and large we are either using the
gentle bull dog with argon or gravity to move the wine. In both cases, the result is minimal
intrusion to the wine.
- Bottle without fining, filtering and cold/heat stabilizing:
We try to never say never because while we pontificate with the best of them the reality is we
are trying to build a small business built on making the best wine possible and that invariably
saying “never” may come back to haunt us. However I think we can safely say we never have and
never will cold or heat stabilize our wine. Not that it is a terrible thing. We just think
prioritizing clarity above flavor and aroma is the wrong thing to do. As a result our cloudy
Chardonnay will always loose a clarity contest but boy does it taste good! We do not say “never’
when it comes to fining or filtering. We do operate on the assumption that we are not going to
fine or filter but occasionally there are good reasons to do so in order to make the best wine
possible. You can always tell what we’ve done because those wines that were not filtered
advertise that fact on the front label.