May 31, 2019 09:42
One bottle, resulting from MANY decisions.
The old adage goes “Great wines are made in the vineyard,” and it’s certainly the first important decision in crafting the personality-driven wines we make at DG. We’re fortunate to have an amazing array of vineyards to work with, from Dutton Ranch’s renowned sites, to distinctive and often eccentric spots from Marin to Mendocino. But as a good friend of ours said in his blog, (and we paraphrase) “I’ve yet to watch the grapes jump off their vines and march themselves into the winery to be crushed.” Beginning with when to pick, there are a multitude of decision points that go into what becomes the final wine in bottle.
One of the most important decisions, and most fun, is blending. This time of year, we are making our final blends for our single-vineyard wines prior to sending them back to barrel to rest for a year before bottling. But wait, you may ask, ‘If you’re making a single vineyard wine, why do you need to do any blending? Isn’t the wine just those grapes from that site?” The answer to that great question is where the craftsmanship and intricacy of winemaking comes in.
From within one, single-vineyard location, we harvest, ferment, and barrel age each block separately. Occasionally blocks have multiple clonal selections within each, and those clones might get fermented and then aged separately, or co-fermented. Then, there are further differentiations to make as to yeast selection and type of barrel/cooper to use for aging, and how long the wine stays in barrel. We typically age our pinots for 10-16 months, in a combination of new and up to 3-year-old French oak barrels. Keeping the individual lots separate from harvest until blending time provides us a lot of flexibility and options that allows us to combine the pieces to craft an even more complex wine that highlights the best of that vineyard. Our series of meticulous spreadsheets, historical knowledge of our vineyards, detailed tasting books, vintage memory and learnings help to inform our handling of each vineyard lot and wine.
Once the wines have finished both primary (sugar to alcohol) and secondary (malolactic) fermentation, we taste through each separate lot and assess the wine. We work on one vineyard at a time, tasting through all the different options within, typically in flights of five iterations. This is the time when we’ll weed out any barrels that don’t make the cut for the single-vineyard (but could be great options for our Dutton Ranch wine), and decide on the blending percentages of each lot before compiling the final blend. We then choose the barrel array that the newly blended single-vineyard wine will go back to (highlighting our signature barrels for that site), gently pup it back to barrel, and age it for six months to one year before bottling.