Thursday, October 29, 2009

The First Wines of 2009

As many of you have experienced from our past vintages, VELLUM is a terrifically balanced wine. This is achieved not in the blending later on but by means of the extraction the new vintage goes through.

A great wine like anything else can only be as good as the sum of its parts. No one will ever augment a finished wine by adding bad one to it. So, all of the parts need to fulfill a role and not only do they need to be fermented properly but also be pressed properly to obtain the final amount of extract from the skins and seeds. It cannot be emphasized more the importance pressing of the skins plays in the finish and therefore future success of a wine.

Essentially, VELLUM is the combination of four separate wines: two Cabernet Sauvignons, one Petit Verdot and one Merlot. On a recent tour someone asked me why can't all the grapes be thrown together in one big tank? I would love to try this and I could get to sleep early at night too!

However, in reality, like people the grapes for these wines have different needs and mature at different rates. Therefore, they are harvested and created at different times of the season. So we make four wines and when the fermentations are finished; we press four wines into four tanks.

By this, instead of putting the "free run" into one tank and the press wine into another, it all gets combined into one tank. In many wineries it is common practice to do the contrary where a winemaker will end up with eight wines and blend back later...if at all.

For VELLUM, the wines need to be whole and integral from their inception. Again, like people they need a body AND a spirit to fulfill their purpose. So pressing a wine rounds out the body to give the wine flesh and bone. The art comes in knowing when to stop! It is a balancing act of tasting the wine as the pressure increases gradually on the skins and seeds. Here too it increases in phenolic capacity. That is, it becomes more bitter and astringent as the tannins are removed from the pressings and added back to the free run.

Many people think for a young Cabernet Sauvignon to be great in the future, it first should taste bad in its youth. I agree that no wine is at its best when it is first made but it is my belief that more than anything a wine a needs to obtain balance while young. The point is to build it a leveled and solid foundation from which it can grow.

Thus far into the 2009 harvest we have three of the four wines for VELLUM in barrel. This year, seemingly every last drop of wine was pressed out of the skins and added back to the original free run. The wine benefited greatly from this marriage with no trace of bitterness or overly extracted tannins. The wines are big but will be tempered by time and gentle movement as they gain framework resting new oak barrels.

So, there is still one wine out there to be made. Twelve tons of Linstad Cabernet Sauvignon (half our production) is still on the vines. It will be harvested tomorrow. My thanks in advance to Jeff, Brian, the Linstads and Francisco and his meticulous crew for what they are about to do. Mornings begin early in the vineyards and we get to start this process all over again for the last time in 2009. I for one (...minus the sleep) am looking forward to it!

- Karl Lehmann

Monday, October 12, 2009

VELLUM Petit Verdot Pressed Today

This morning we completed the pressing of our first fermentation of 2009 - VELLUM's Petit Verdot.

The photos above show the grapes after they have been separated from the "free run". The grapes are dug out of the tank and loaded into a press to squeeze out the last few drops of wine. We taste the pressed wine to check for astringency and "bad" tannins as the press gradually increases pressure.

This quality control allows us to maximize efficiency while minimizing "green" flavors in the wine.

After fermentation and aging, the Petit Verdot is blended in small amounts with Cabernet and Merlot to create VELLUM's signature style.

Deep, dark, rich colors - - paired with vibrant aromatics - - make this wine an integral component in VELLUM.

Next stop for this French oak barrels!!

- Jeff Mathy

Cabernet Harvest Photos

Many thanks to Phil and Joe for a great harvest! And thank you to VELLUM photog Brian Mathy for his great shots...

Some of the best are featured above.


Jeff Mathy

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The first fermentation of 2009!

The first fermentation for the 2009 VELLUM is underway!

A few days ago we inoculated the must of the Petit Verdot and today the yeast have been multiplying quickly eating up the sugar in the grape juice. Unfortunately however the lifespan of a yeast cell is short-lived. Sometimes it is no more than a few days, but that is all that may be needed. 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 - - 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 (78-82 degrees F). 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.

Right now the Petit Verdot is at 79 degrees F and about 6 Brix (measurement of sugar content) but on Saturday afternoon it was at 24.1 Brix. A typical fermentation does not move at this rapid speed considering that it is fermenting at a lower temperature.

Yeasts can perform in a wide range of kinetics where some metabolize sugar slowly as their population multiplies and lives longer and others may build up their population and consume sugar until they die quickly from the rising alcohol level.

The yeast chosen for the Petit Verdot was neither, however in this situation it performed like the latter. So what is important to realize here is that the right yeast was chosen for the job as well as a proper fermentation strategy.

To further aid the yeast, tomorrow the second of a process called a "delestage" will be performed. Here all of the wine will be removed from the tank and and then returned over the top of the grape skins and seeds gently. The intent of this process allows the yeast to obtain as much oxygen as possible to help live through this difficult stage as their food source depletes and environmental conditions worsen.

Eventually, this fermentation will become "dry" when the sugar level is so low that it can no longer be considered a viable food source and the yeast will pass on - leaving our wine in its wake!

- Karl Lehmann