Harvest 2013 ended at Matchbook winery on October 28 when the last load of Chalk Hill cabernet sauvignon grapes from the Tim Norris vineyard was delivered in the back of a well-loved truck driven by Tim Norris. Like an adoring family we all gathered at the crush pad to watch as the final bin of pretty hand-picked fruit was ceremoniously dumped into the hopper, marched up the auger to the destemmer and into the press to graduate from grapes to juice.
Now that the rush of crush has finally ended, we are back to the normal routine of making and bottling wine. The current excitement is centered on a couple of creative projects designed to increase texture in our Chardonnay and Cabernet.
This year we dedicated 24 barrels of Chalk Hill cab to our red-ferment project. This innovative technique is usually reserved for high-end wines. It is expense and extremely labor-intensive. It is also an excellent tool to create a wine that is both refined and densely complex. Barrel fermentation may sound like a routine winemaking process. And it is, for white wine. Red wines are normally fermented in stainless steel tanks where the juice can be easily pumped over the cap of grape skins, pulp and seeds, or in open-top bins where the cap is punched down into the fermenting juice to extract color, flavor and tannins from the skins. And at the height of harvest we were pumping and punching 130,00 gallons twice a day. Yet, we wanted to add a little pizzazz to our Mossback Cabernet. So we popped the heads off of a mix of French and American oak barrels, filled them with just-pressed Chalk Hill cabernet – juice, skins, seeds and all – inoculated each barrel with yeast and sealed them back up again. The barrels have been hauled out of the fermentation building three times a week and rolled back and forth by hand to break up the cap of skins and seeds. This early integration of oak into the juice paradoxically softens the tannins while increasing the density of the flavors. The result is a beautiful balance of barrel spice and classic cabernet fruit flavors. The elegant, richly textured wine will be a major component of our Mossback 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Lacey Steffey narrates a video posted on YouTube demonstrating this cutting-edge technique.
We are also adding a little extra pizzazz to our Matchbook Chardonnay. Barrel fermentation is de rigueur for our chardonnays. Lees stirring or bâtonnage – the process of mixing the yeast solids that have dropped to the bottom of the barrel back into the fermenting juice – is a regular routine. What is new is how aggressive we’ve been stirring for the past two years. Normally, we stir the lees in each barrel every three or four weeks to add a rich, creamy texture to our chardonnay. Last year, we decided to double the amount of stirring on 142 barrels of Dunnigan Hills chardonnay. The wine was beyond delicious. Dense with flavor it had a rich and creamy mid-palate and a long, lingering finish. We loved the results of this experiment so much that 100% of our 2013 Matchbook Chardonnay is being lees-stirred once a week. Winemaker Dan Cederquist narrates an engaging video of bâtonnage that we posted on YouTube.