Bruliam Wine Blog
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Our Spring Release is only a week away, and it will include our 2013 Rose of Pinot Noir. To help get you in the mood, here’s the scene from a few weeks ago when we bottled this pink nectar (coincidentally on Valentine’s Day!).
If you can’t see the video below, please click here:
I love HGTV. Cue an upwardly mobile, Middle America, archetype family. Pan out to a cluttered galley kitchen as their adorable toddler dumps her 7200-piece puzzle on the kitchen table-satellite office-gift wrapping station. The exhausted, harried, and very pregnant wife offers her list of “must haves” to a sympathetic real estate agent-contractor-fabric designer.
“We definitely need 4 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, an updated kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a finished basement, a soundproof office, and an industrial capacity laundry room with automated folding. The butler’s quarters, dedicated air hockey space, vintage wet bar, and indoor curling center are negotiable,” drones mom.
The feckless real estate agent shifts nervously and murmurs, “Yes, indoor curling centers are hot with Sochi. So what’s your budget?”
“$83,000,” dad replies. He looks the agent straight in the eye, without a whiff of irony. That’s when I really get into it.
“Brangelina spends $83K a year on Tide, let alone a crappy Kenmore top loader. You can’t really expect butler’s quarters for less than $150,000,” I yell at the T.V., pita chip shards flying from my lips to the screen. Damn bunch of uninformed, unrealistic aspirational spenders.
Brian is shocked. Perhaps he is suggesting that I, too, am an unrealistic and uninformed aspirational spender. Perhaps he is suggesting that I, too, pursue an improbable, half-baked budget for Bruliam Wines. He recently advised that I pitch Shark Tank. Brian is so tired of saying no that he’d rather hear Mark Cuban do it. Do you hear me laughing?
It’s true I like to experiment and play. For the last 2-½ years, I have repeatedly pitched purchasing a ceramic egg. It’s an aesthetic, breathable fermentation and elevage vessel suited to white wines. Brian has pointed out that Bruliam does not produce white wines. That’s because I don’t own an egg. Exactly my point. What comes first, the marsanne or the egg? Score ten points for clever word play. Score $0 for my Bruliam nest egg.
I also have suggested expanding into another Sonoma Coast vineyard. My “Vineyard X” business plan included words like “fun” and “super cool” and “killer site.” Brian looked for my Excel spreadsheet. There wasn’t one. I thought “P & L” meant Pinot and Labels. At least I’d saved the vineyard glamor shots to my iPhone stream. Sure it’s cheaper to print 500 labels for one bottling than 100 labels for 5 separate bottlings. But, I was an English major. You do the math. Point conceded.
Most recently, I’ve developed a hankering for a fermentation vessel of my own. I am eyeing a wooden custom deal with built in cooling coils. If a ton of fruit from “Vineyard X” costs $Y then a ceramic egg rings in around $2Y. What I’m daydreaming about is more like $3Y+, pending the Euro exchange rate. The odds are not stacked in my favor. But at least I’m a little more sympathetic to the poor saps navigating the housing market on reality TV.
The current object of my obsession:
Last week I was lucky enough to meet Rob Harris of Price Family Vineyards for a pruning tutorial at Gaps Crown. We started off in Bruliam block 13, clone 777, which is cane pruned on the Guyot system. It’s a labor intensive and thought provoking method. But before I launch into too many details, let’s zoom out and get the big picture.
Pruning means cutting away plant material to manage vigor and capacity for the forthcoming growing season. Very broadly, vigor is the height and amount of green vegetation. If you have sprawling, mega-long shoots without many grape clusters, you’ve got too much vigor. If you’ve got lots of grapes without enough leafy photosynthesis engines to get the berries ripe, you ain’t got enough. “Capacity” encompasses all in growth- vine, roots, shoots, clusters, all of it. An ideal pruning regimen matches the capacity of the soil (fertile? Or not?) to the capacity of the plant (productive or puny). The geographical area, climate, and intended use and goals for the fruit all play a big part too. Pruning manages the crop so site and productivity make sense. We typically call this vine balance, eluding to a tricky but very necessary balance between vegetative growth and reproductive growth (foliage vs. fruit).
Now back to Gaps. Guyot is ninja pruning. It’s a balls-to-the-wall, no insurance policy system. You lay down a cane that becomes the nidus for the current growing season, without leaving any replacement spurs. And yes, it’s a bit like it sounds. If you make a mistake, you can’t “replace” it. Each cut impacts fertility, foreshadows light exposure, and regulates shoot position and cluster count. There’s also the double whammy that you’re simultaneously considering the fruiting cane for the following year (2015) and while trouble shooting mistakes from last year. No pressure here. In the Guyot pruning universe, a misguided cut from 2012 might well still plague vines today. Pruning is always done in the light of the previous year(s) and in the anticipation of the coming year(s). As Rob notes, “It’s a rolling cycle. You never make a pruning decision in a vacuum.” But enough theoretical; it was time to get real.
Together, we’d look at a vine, and I’d offer a suggestion. I was usually wrong. Ever patient, Rob would explain why I’d made a poor choice and what he’d do differently. You can deliberate a single cut for 5 or 10 minutes. Just for comparison, an experienced vineyard crew is expected to prune those vines at a rate of about 1 vine per minute, including clearing their bush. Now extrapolate that over 100’s of acres. It’s no wonder that Guyot pruning requires so much time and skill. Though there are some systems around that can actually be more time and thought intensive, the Guyot is a tough one. Luckily, I had my trusty Roshambo scissors to fall back on.
Next we visited a chardonnay block with cordon training, like our home ranch, Torrey Hill. Cordons are the long, thick permanent shoots that remain in place from year to year. Pruning here is more straightforward. You aim for spurs a hand’s width apart and prune back to two buds. Finally, Rob handed me actual shears.
In the video below, you’ll see my pruning tutorial in action. I’ve added some cartoons to help illustrate the process. This clip showcases a glorious, clear, Sonoma Coast “winter” day. The girl in me loves the sunshine. The farmer in me fears the drought.
If you can’t see the video below, please click here.
If harvest is about getting dry wine to barrel as quickly as possible, then elevage is about thoughtful tinkering. Like layering different spices in a curry, each barrel has a different personality and brings a unique element to the final blend. Sometimes I play around with varietals, like adding petit sirah to zinfandel. Other times I experiment with trials that increase or decrease acid, change the mouth feel, or alter the texture. Even if ultimately I add nothing at all, it’s important to be rigorous and explore different options to make the best wine possible. Plus it’s always fun to play in the lab.
Last week, I started dabbling around with the 2012 zinfandel. I knew exactly where to begin. Back in December, I’d noticed a framed sign beside the free candy bowl at Scott Labs. It advertised a product that “maintains fruity aromas while helping to round out the mid palate.” And who doesn’t like a round mid palate? The more I researched their catalog, the more I was intrigued. In addition to mid palate amendments, one might consider something “volume enhancing…while also reducing perceptions of bitterness and acidity.” I don’t want to be perceived as bitter or acerbic. Nobody likes a mean girl, a brackish shrew with a sharp tongue. Surely this product could make me a better person. In the end, I left Scott Labs with enough fairy dust to improve my personal constitution while also enhancing “feelings of volume and fullness in the mouth.” The fact that my 2014 New Year’s decree resolves to diminish “fullness in the mouth” is notwithstanding. So I stashed my contraband licorice in the back of the pantry.
Each product (a mannoprotein) can be added across a range of doses, from small to large increments. And when you’re playing the field, that’s a lot of samples to mix. I aimed to create a framework of low, medium, and high dose additions. With 5 different products to sample, I mentally rallied to taste through some 20 glasses of wine. (Reason #5 why winemaking “work” trumps pathology). It’s always best to taste blind. But I had too many products across too many dosages for meaningful work. So instead I tasted each product at different doses against the control in groups. Then I tasted the top contenders blind against the control. The results were unanimous.
Both my tasting buddies and I picked the unadulterated control over product, even blind. The forthcoming 2012 zin has a wonderful fresh, bright fruit component that was dampened by product additions. Sometimes the texture or mouth feel was indeed broadened but always at the expense of the fruit forward deliciousness or aromatics. In the end, I believe the aromatics always come first. Bruliam Wines should seduce you from the first whiff. The only real change to the 2012 zin versus years past is the petit sirah addition. Back in November, we blind tasted 5%, 10% and 15% additions. 15% dampened the aromatics and the 10% add tasted too thin. So we split the difference with a 12.5%/87.5% ps/z blend. We plan to bottle right around Valentines Day, because we “heart” zin.