Monday, October 20, 2008

No two vintages are the same.

One of the things that makes wine exciting is the degree of uncertainty from year to year. Sometimes it is met with joy and mixed with a little apprehension but it is always with great anticipation that we first drink the new vintage and bear witness to our triumphs from the vineyard.

Yesterday, the first two of four primary fermentations were completed - a Cabernet Sauvignon lot and our Petit Verdot. Both were as I expected - bright and balanced on the palate and most of all - lively.

The colors are very deep, almost black and serious despite their well structured acidity which usually displays a vibrant crimson hue. Here too the wine fully expresses the fruit flavor which I discovered while walking all those hours among the vines.

I think this is when Vellum wine is in its purest form. It has not been exposed to oak yet and is newly born on the must (grape skins) eagerly awaiting to be pressed. However, It is also at his point that the the fermentation also has to be recognized for its underlying contribution to the wine.

The lifespan of a yeast cell is generally short-lived. Their purpose to winemakers is deceptively simple: consume sugar to make alcohol. Although in most red wines it is ideal for stability as well as style that the yeast which began the fermentation consume all of the sugar before their population dwindles and eventually passes on.

So in reality, a complete fermentation takes great planning, control and mindfulness. It is very important too that all of this takes place in lower threshold but persistent temperatures. In this environment the yeast may still thrive and produce its own heat but the wine greatly benefits by having its fruit and varietal character preserved. Here a successful fermentation is quantified in very small fractions of a percent of residual sugar.

So, the wine in front of me now is "dry"; which means that the sugar level is so low that it can no longer be considered a viable food source for the yeast.

While I am on the subject, I remember that someone once asked me, "Does it matter what type of yeast is used and if so what do YOU use?" To that I responded, "undeniably yes and...its a SECRET!!!".

So yes, I consider a yeast's specific strain and kinetics to be a large part of my augmentation of the wine and a continuation of the previous vintage. It's like choosing the right sports team to have success year after year...as well as establishing a signature style of play.

On the nose and palate both the Cabernet and Petit Verdot have notes reminiscent of the yeasts which were chosen for their aromas and flavors. They are what I feel the fruit needs to make its transition gracefully, safely and with interest into wine.

Tomorrow these lots will be pressed and the wine will be added back to its pure free run at my discretion. The yeast have done their job in presenting wonderfully elegant wine and now its time to let machinery and the further extract of the grapes to subtly fill it in.

Karl Lehmann

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This winemaker discusses the making of wine as an impressionist artist paints a landscape.