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RIP 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot

Posted by Brian , February 4, 2010

We hardly knew thee.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  We actually knew you all too well.

For those of you who have been following our journey since the beginning (almost 2 years!!), you’ll recall that our original plan included crafting two  different pinot noirs for our inaugural 2008 vintage – the Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands and an Annahala Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley.  Two different AVA’s, two very different wines – but Mother Nature sometimes foils the best laid plans.  For those of you who are newer to the Bruliam world (or those of you who’d like a refresher), we’ll now link in a number of our past posts and videos to get you up to date on the fate of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 (sorry, wrong refresher).

As we learned after fermentation, the Anderson Valley grapes had been hit with pretty heavy smoke taint.  We decided to initially let nature take its course and put the newly pressed wine into neutral oak in hopes of diminishing the unappealing BBQ flavor.  After a few months of rest, we conducted our first tasting of the wine and found, much to our chagrin that it still tasted like chewing on a charcoal briquette.

With a heavy heart, we decided it was time for drastic action, and we authorized our wine maker to send the tainted wine through a reverse osmosis process to strip out the guiacol and 4-methylguiacol compounds responsible for the smoky flavors.  We understood that the cleansing process would inevitably strip out some of the fundamental fruit flavors and unique terroir of the Anderson Valley.  But, at that point our wine was on life support, and we were going to give it our all.

The reverse osmosis process was a success, albeit a qualified one.  Post treatment, the smoke taint was gone.  Unfortunately, the flavor was too; we were left with a bland, soulless wine.  Our last remaining hope was to revive some of the flavor and heart through blending

We ended up going through two extensive blending sessions on the wine, tinkering with small amounts of different clones and even juice from other Anderson Valley vineyards unaffected by smoke taint.  Even though this would prevent our bottling from being a single-vineyard designation, we were willing to blend a “cuvee” if the resulting wine was up to our standards.

After blending, aging, and re-tasting, we came to an unfortunate conclusion.  The wine, while 1,000 times better than what we first tasted, still wasn’t good enough. 

We were faced with a difficult decision.  We could bottle the wine as-is and offer it at a lower price to reflect the quality or we could flush it.

Businesses big and small face tough decisions like this all the time and there is usually no clear cut right or wrong answer.  Considering cash-flow first (which is crucial for a young business), it made sense to sell the wine cheap and fast to recoup the costs and roll the proceeds into the 2009 vintage.  But, thinking more long-term, we already knew that our 2008 Doctor’s Vineyard was a very special wine, and we didn’t want to jeopardize the reputation of our nascent brand by putting out a wine that wasn’t quite up to snuff.

And so, a couple of months ago, we called our winemaker and told him not to bottle the 2008 Bruliam Wines Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  We believe it was subsequently offered as a sacrifice to the porcelain god.  It was a sad day, but tempered by the success we’d seen in the Doctor’s Vineyard pinot, the excitement over the 2009 harvest, and all of the goodness that those wines will bring.

I’ve been putting off writing this post for quite some time since its much more fun to discuss success than failure.  But, I was spurred to action today after seeing a post in the Dr. Vino blog about Hirsch Vineyards. 

Hirsch is a fantastic producer of Sonoma Coast pinots and chardonnays.  We had heard rumors that they too had suffered from smoke taint after the 2008 fires but assumed that like most vintners, they’d be keeping it quiet and/or blending it with juice from other vineyards/regions to create marketable wine.  So, I was impressed, amazed, and stupefied to learn that they had actually decided to go ahead and bottle a small amount of their smoke tainted wine. 

Quoting from their wine notes on the 2008 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir:

“…out of this cauldron of chaos came spectacular wines. Dark plum and smoked meat fruit flavors are bound to our classic complex of acids and expressive tannins. The result is dark, lusty complete wines that combine the wonderful fruit of our ‘06’s with the structure of the 2007’s to make a comprehensive and profound expression of the site. If you want terroir, you will get the whole hog, its sty, and even the lard with this wine.”

 Unfortunately, this is a mailing list only wine which means it’s going to be hard to get.  I’m dying to see what they were able to do since they took a very different approach to smoke taint than we did.  Fortunately for Hirsch, they have a strong enough reputation that they can afford a little experimentation.  But still, going down this path is incredibly brave and admirable.  I hope they sell every bottle and that people can appreciate what they’ve done here, even if it is vastly different than what pinot drinkers may be expecting.

I only wish we were established enough (and had enough chutzpah) to have done the same.  Unfortunately, we made our decision to let our 2008 Anderson Valley pinot go.  The good news is that tasting/blending of the 2009 is just around the corner, and we have a lot of great wine coming down the pike, including a smoke-free 2009 Anderson Valley offering.

Thanks everyone for your continued support!

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