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I’d hit delete before I could fully process the message. I’d haphazardly scanned the headlines before my eyes processed the words, “If Zinfandel was treated more like Pinot Noir…” Huh? I backtracked to my “trash” folder, frantically trying to recapture the lost e mail blast. I’d been spouting that same rhetoric for at least 2 years. In fact, during my recent Rockpile seminar, I’d told a group of nation-wide sommeliers exactly that.
“Since I make predominantly pinot noir, I’ve come to treat my zin a lot like pinot. I use an extended cold soak; I am practicing some battonage after fermentation, and aging my zin in 100% French oak. I am aiming to craft an elegant, pretty, food friendly zin with restraint but one that also showcases the beautiful Rockpile terroir.”
I’d thought I’d been brave, cutting-edge, and unique in my approach. Sure, harvesting Rockpile zin at 22.5 brix is controversial (read: “ballsy,” “stupid,” “insane,” and “stupid”). Still, I knew it’d soak up to 24+, putting my final alcohol right around 14.2/14.4%. I’d taken a calculated risk. And it had paid off. My 2012 Rockpile zin is indeed my most feminine, elegant, and nuanced to date. It’s a pretty wine with fetching aromatics, oceans away from the homogenized, hot, jammy plonk that makes hipster sommeliers recoil. But now Lodi winemakers are onto my gig.
In “Lodi Winemakers Strip Back Their Zinfandel,” W. Blake Gray describes a small coterie of Lodi vintners who are picking at lower brix and fermenting with native yeast. Randy Caparaso explains, “You have to pick at lower sugars so the wines will ferment. It changes your thinking, drastically, about viticulture. It becomes more of a Pinot thinking. Zinfandel is kind of like Pinot.” And indeed it is. My thin-skinned, disorderly ripening, persnickety, and perpetually stressed out Rockpile block is more neurotic than any pinot I’ve sourced. Dry-farmed, low yielding, and viticulturally brittle, this fruit can pivot from not-quite-ready to way over-ripe in days. Zin is not easy.
My approach is divisive. The 2012 zin inspires passion from all sides. I recently heard a SoCal wine retailer wax poetic about its “minerality and subtle spice and rather feminine structure and elegance.” At the Rockpile seminar, a NorCal wine buyer confidentially copped, “I hate zin, but I like yours.” In the other camp, my Texas distributor quipped, “You don’t put pretty and zinfandel in the same sentence.” He wants a zin to tear you up and throw you down and make you beg for mercy. He pantomimed a choke-hold with his fists. That’s all well and good. There is a place for all of us.
As for me, I’m proud to source Rockpile fruit and stand alongside such stellar zin-bassadors as Carol Shelton and Clay Mauritson. We’re the luckiest ones. We start with remarkable fruit; our outcomes are fated to deliciousness. Like I told the Sonoma Summit sommeliers,
“What’s most special about today is that we winemakers are allowed share so many faces and facets of Rockpile with you. This terroir can be fierce, masculine, aromatic, elegant, boldly tannic, or brambly-dark fruit forward. The permutations and fantastic outcomes are limitless.”
With harvest 2014 winding down, Kerith decided to have a little fun at the winery by challenging another winemaker to a grape shoveling contest.
Check out the short video below to see if her muscle could match her mouth in the Harvest Smackdown.
If you can’t see the video below, please click here:
What do you do with a B.A. in English? One option is to make wine!
Check out our second harvest video of 2014, pressing the Torrey Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir.
If you can’t see the video below, please click here.
And remember, today is our final day for the Fall Release. If you haven’t already placed your allocation orders, click here to login and purchase.
It’s been a busy week at Bruliam. Yesterday we kicked off Harvest 2014 by picking our home ranch Torrey Hill pinot noir vineyard and we rolled out the Fall Release by offering the 2012 Rockpile Zin and 2012 Soberanes Pinot Noir to mailing list members.
If you’re a member of our mailing list, you should have already received an email from us with login and purchasing decisions.
And if you want a glimpse at Harvest 2014, check out the video below (if you can’t see the video click here):
Nothing about bottling day is hard, but everything about bottling day is difficult. Glass bottles, metal foils, corks, and labels are handled separately, each procured from unique vendors. You can have your labels printed at any time, but they are illegal to use until approved by the government. If your approval paperwork is misfiled or delayed, you might end up ordering labels before they are actually approved. This is a potentially costly gamble. On the other hand, biting your nails and awaiting approval first may necessitate a “rush order” to the printer, with no guarantee you’ll have your completed labels in time. Bottling unlabeled glass, called “shiners,” can be equally costly.
At Bruliam, we use a spreadsheet to calculate our wine volumes. It’s really a guess. You have a wine barrel of fixed volume (228L), and you guestimate your losses. There’s evaporation from the top of the barrel, called headspace. There’s also a volume lost to lees. It’s a by-product of my winemaking style, known as “sur lies” aging. It means I keep the wine with the original yeast, holding onto the ghosts of harvest past until the very end. The skeletons of dead yeast settle to the bottom of the barrel, sponging up some volume of wine with them. You’ll also lose volume to filtration, although it’s far less now since we switched to cross flow from pads. The delta between the volume of wine we think we have versus what we actually bottle means we always order too much or too little product. I’m now the proud owner of giant trivet made of “2013” embossed corks, leftover from my rose. I forgot to have the corks rehydrated and resealed in time to reuse them for the 2013 pinots. It’s now a trivet of regret, since Brian miscalculated our current cork order, and we ended up 500 short.
As I write this on the night before bottling, I think I’ve got it under control – that is until there’s a new, unforeseen implosion tomorrow at the bottling line. Since last Friday, we have mitigated the cork shortage disaster and solved one glass problem with another. We’d originally anticipated a bottling line change, where we’d have to swap out the majority glass mold for a measly 26 cases of another. (Apparently the glass mold we’ve been using for years has been discontinued). On the bright side, we don’t have to stop the bottling line anymore. Everyone is relieved. On the flip side, the 26 cases of fallback glass, my “calculation-cushion” if you will, doesn’t exist. The warehouse forgot to delete that line item from inventory back in 2011. Whoops. If I’m lucky, I will sneak by with just enough glass, exactly on the money. But Brian has suggested I take an Excel class at community college this spring.
The best news is that our new Torrey Hill label was approved two weeks ago, some 10 days after we placed the order with the printer. And the wine is delightful. In fact all of the 2013’s are tasting great. I am very proud of the vintage. But I don’t want to get all sappy and quixotic about my wood-fermented 2013 Soberanes pinot when you’re all about to get the 2012. Get ready for the 2012 release and drink to bottling day 2013. Before we blink, we’ll be onto the 2014 harvest.
Update 8/20/2014 – so far so good. The 2013 Torrey Hill is in bottle. Now on to the next ones: