Harvest got underway a few weeks back with my Chardonnay, which I’m resolved to pick early in an attempt to capture a crisp, restrained style — not the typical very ripe style coming out of Russian River. After dropping Dean off at school I drove this Penske up on Tuesday 9/10 to pick up just 2 1/2 bins from the “Jack Pierce” block off Olivet Road, between Piner and Guerneville, and farmed by Randy of Harvest Moon. And, as luck would have it (for me), my sister was in town with partner Jim, and they were volunteered to help sort the fruit!
One of the goals of the sort, in addition to removing MOG, was to pull out clusters with mildew like the above. There was a minimalistic approach to farming the Jack Pierce block — no hedging, no pesticides, and fungicidal copper/sulfur were last sprayed months ago. Some mildew was present in one portion of the block, and while most didn’t get into the bin, one still had to be vigilant. That’s our new friend Sherri also helping. Besides the potential for off-characters (taste/aromas), molds and rots can also produce enzymes that can result in the browning of a white wine.
We de-stemmed and sorted away about 20% of the mass; we then pressed into a settling tank to await the late arrival of the coveted used white barrels that I’m using for fermentation this year. Last year I fermented and conditioned in stainless; while I liked the flavors and aromas of the resulting wine, I thought the clarity could be improved (without filtering that is, which I want to avoid lest I strip out some of those flavors), as particulates tend to not stay suspended in wood as they do in steel. I’m also curious to compare the smaller vessel’s impact on the resulting wine. So while my 2012 Chardonnay will continue to be “un-oaked” by virtue of the fact that these barrels are not new (far from it, they are from 2005) and are considered “neutral”, it will indeed be a barrel-fermented Chardonnay.
Above is my yeast suspension before slowly adding in cool juice for the inoculation of the cool ferment. The juice was at about 50F, much cooler than the 100F re-hydration temp of the yeast. The suspension temperature had to be slowly stepped down at the rate of about a degree F a minute lest the yeast be shocked by the quick cooling. I added about 4L each to the three fermentation barrels, then about 45-50 gallons of juice to each barrel, leaving each barrel about 80% full — room for the large amounts of CO2 given off by the ferment. There is also a special “fermentation bung” used to allow CO2 to escape the barrel. Above is the stick used to determine the fill level of the barrel, a technology that has not changed much over the centuries.As of this writing (9/24), the ferment has kicked in and a big part of the fermentation slope knocked off; though at these cool temps it will be another couple weeks or more to get to dryness. Onto the Pinot!