Bruliam Wine Blog
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“Rose is on everybody’s lips,” according to our Illinois distribution partners. But then I can’t blame the good people of Chicago’s wind-battered tundra for pining after a whiff of spring. Even our Texas distribution partners are taking pre-orders for their pink provisions from Provence. I recently read about the “Brose” phenomenon, jettisoning pink wine into the clichéd lexicon of buddy cop movies and barf gags. Dudes that swill rose together, stay together. Rose appears to be basking in a renaissance of sorts, slipping from the shadow of boxed white zinfandel into its own well-deserved limelight. When you don’t know what to pair with dinner, rose is always the correct choice. From roast chicken to pork, chacuterie, salads, pasta, and even that creamy cheese platter (or Thanksgiving dinner), rose hits all the marks. It’s light, zippy, strawberry flecked and infinitely quaffable. Rose rocks, expect for us winemakers.
Rose should be sparklingly clear. After all, it’s that fetching pink color that beckons even the fussiest wine lover. But achieving that end result isn’t always so easy. Rose’s in-between status of more tannin than white wine but less than reds can make protein stabilization challenging. We call this “heat stability.” And preventing “wine diamonds” requires cold stabilization, too.
Seasoned wine drinkers know that tartrate crystals are perfectly harmless. They are, in fact, the natural by-products of the acids already present in wine. But unsuspecting consumers may find these glass-like, crystalline shards dispiriting. To nip an obvious wine deterrent in the bud, we cold stabilize the wine before bottling. This process encourages the tartrate salt to form before we bottle, preventing their formation in your refrigerator. The finicky consumer demands it.
Wine diamonds are a salt, of the same composition of cream of tartar, an indispensible friend if you’ve ever whipped up meringue cookies. Tartaric acid is one of our two primary grape acids, and potassium ions are ubiquitous. When negatively charged tartrate ions bind to positive potassium, you get potassium bitartrate, KTa. It’s supersaturated in grape juice (i.e. mixed in), but as the juice ferments to alcohol, its saturation decreases. This means that over time the crystals can’t stay dissolved in solution anymore, and they precipitate out as wine diamonds (salts at the bottom of the barrel). If you get the wine really, really cold (3.9 °C x 2 weeks) you can force the crystals to precipitate faster and more completely. The next step involves filtering the wine away from the crystals, before the wine warms up. Otherwise the crystals will dissolve back into solution. Think of boiling water and sugar to make syrup; hot water dissolves the sugar crystals faster.
Chilling is a fine way to cold stabilize your vino, if you’re OK with near-freezing your wine. If you have big lots in big glycol-jacketed tanks, you can cool down your wine and keep it cold until you’re done. If you own solar panels, kudos, since otherwise this can be a costly proposition. As a small rose producer, cold stability eluded me. I lacked an effective way to get my little stainless steel barrels cold enough to make the process work. In fact, you may recall a blog post many years ago, where I advised consumers to avoid overheating or over-chilling my “unstable” rose. Luckily, some nifty new products now make cold stabilization possible.
Wine innovators observed that chardonnay fermented sur lies (mixed in with the dead yeast) threw fewer wine diamonds. It appeared that yeast-derived mannoproteins (components of dead yeast walls and yeast guts) inhibited tartrate crystallization. Voila. Bien sur. A French wine company (Laffort) exploited this phenomenon to the mass market. It’s such a clever trick and recent innovation that even my best-est wine mentor didn’t know about “Mannostab.” In short, Mannostab, an extraction of natural yeast mannoproteins, forces the tartrate crystals into a particular orientation and holds them there. The KTa is forced into solution and paralyzed (so to speak). In other words, the wine diamonds will never precipitate as crystals in the bottle.
Lots of wine companies make lots of products with similar riffs on mannoproteins and vegetable-derived polymers. Each has specific pros and cons. But Mannostab has worked well for me.
My 2015 rose of pinot noir smells delicious and tastes great. The color is lighter than the 2014, since this year I saigneed the juice as soon as I dumped to tank. This is in contrast to years past, when I waited 24 hours before bleeding off the juice. But given the teeny berries of the meager 2015 harvest, I knew color extraction would be sick! This year I didn’t need to wait. The 2015 is awfully pretty, and it will have my signature, sparkly wax dollop up top.
Here’s to rose, El Nino April showers, and spring tulips, too.
I didn’t expect to get so riled up. I thought I’d already endured most of the insults that might be hurled my way.
“You mean, white zin?” (cue distasteful expression).
“Too sweet” (cue a squished up, distasteful expression).
A reviewer once asked me “why bother” to make zinfandel if I already make pinot. Another time, a cadre of high and mighty taste-makers dismissed zinfandel as one big joke, right in front of me, while I was pouring zin. But the following zinger is my all time favorites. Pinot person writes, “I see your “coming out” is at World of Pinot Noir and I look forward to seeing you. Don’t bring any of that Rockpile Zin shit.” But the reality is that zinfandel can be balanced, aromatic, food-friendly, and totally delicious. You just need to find the right producer for your taste buds. Which is why upon reading the November 2 issue of The New Yorker on my recent return flight from Atlanta, I nearly lost my mind. In a restaurant review on page 25, I read the following passage, printed right below a food-porn worthy, glamour shot of succulent, golden-skinned, oven roasted chicken.
“Is there anything more eighties that having a lot of money? Maybe melon and prosciutto. And caviar blinis. Zinfandel, for sure.”
Whoa. What? For the record, my superb Rockpile grower, Mr. Chris Mauritson, recently e-mailed me the following note:
“Opened a bottle of the 2013 you gave us for dinner last night. WOW! You nailed it! It’s like I remember Zin 30 years ago. Loved it.”
Oh my God, I like totally thought that was like for sure a compliment, being an 80’s zinfandel. It’s like totally iconic, like Madonna, stirrup pants, or a bottle of Ridge. Seriously, though, I was so touched by Chris’ compliment that I asked Brian to post it on Facebook. (He refused). There was a time when luscious, balanced, beautiful zinfandels put California on the wine map. Now I’m finding zinfandel to be a tough sell in the marketplace. And it bums me out.
The magazine review goes on to laud the menu at “Jams,” noting “not all resurrections from the era are bad news.” Spiced nuts, Baked Alaska, and brown butter glazed gnocchi all get props. But that wine reference is left dangling, like Johannisberg Riesling or Riunite. Except while Johannisberg Riesling and Riunite have vanished from American retail shelves, I am still here, making zinfandel, vintage after vintage. And being the modest and demure girl that I am, I’ll still hazard that my 2013 is stellar.
So here is my modest proposal, dear readers. If anyone in the blog-o-ether-sphere knows Chef Jonathan Waxman, of Jams restaurant, 1414 6th Avenue, NYC, please ask him to call me. I will proudly partner with him and his blockbuster “revival” restaurant Jams as his sole purveyor of zinfandel. I promise that my 2013 zin pairs perfectly with gnocchi, spiced nuts, and that gorgeous roast chicken. As for Baked Alaska…not so much.
My dear friend (who also happens to be a scratch winemaker) says I struggle with my professional confidence because there is “no right answer” in winemaking. Yes, there is a science behind fermentation chemistry, but there is also an “art.” Oh the “A” word, that indefinable, ephemeral, je ne sais quois, that makes my wines Bruliam as opposed to any other brand. In fact, one wine salesman accused of my wines of tasting like “they’d all been made by the same person.” I think he meant it as a snub. In contrast to pathology, where definable criteria differentiate low-grade from high-grade cancers, there are no rigid boundaries in winemaking. And as an obsessive rule-follower, I sometimes struggle without definite structure.
Most recently, I was struck by the roundtable of rose styles featured in the September issue of our trade publication Wine Business Monthly. Nine winemakers submitted their 2014 roses for a panel discussion. They tasted and critiqued one another’s wines. Here is a sampling of their most choice pronouncements.
“This wine has a hint of reduction on the front of the nose.”
“It is an odd wine showing oxidation.”
“Flint and mineral, which might be a little reductive”
“The nose is a bit strange.”
“A hint of green bean”
“Parmesan cheese rind”
“A little grassy”
“Smells like wheat or fresh, milled sawdust”
”A lot of spearmint”
“A bit of dust.”
On acid (oh boy is this one contentious):
“A lot of acid, almost borderline tart”
“No life to it and not enough acid”
“The acid is hitting me a bit hard.”
On the palate:
“The finish went a bit bitter for me.”
“I get the good bitterness of hops.”
“It was a little out of kilter.”
“The tannin is too high.”
“The finish is kind of flat.”
“The color distresses me. It is kind of florid, which mentally distracts me.”
“The color bugs me.”
“Looks like a red fruit popsicle…like a Jolly Rancher”
But wait, there’s more:
“Ponderous and clunky”
“Burned rubber character”
Once more, this time with passion:
“This wine lacks conviction.”
“Not offensive but is devoid of character”
“It turns into an elbow in my ribs.”
“This is a painful wine. It makes me angry…”
What’s a girl to do? I admit I love pink, and I think my rose lands somewhere beyond “light watermelon” but before “Jolly Rancher.” I’m aiming for enough body to stand up to a light meal, but airy enough to gulp as you flip burgers on your Big Green Egg. But geez, I’m not sure how I rank in terms of predetermined conviction. Although I stand for “liberty and justice for all,” in the end, it’s just rose.
But even for the finest winemakers, our fervent efforts may be in vain. A captain at a 3 Michelin star restaurant in New York recently copped to his favorite insider stunt, “The Adjective Game.” In it, “you competed to successfully sell a wine with the least helpful descriptors possible. ‘Haunted’ was a good one.”
Criminy! My rose’s about as spectral as “Strawberry Shortcake meets the Zombie Apocalypse.” And I still haven’t internalized which profound ideological tenets will sculpt the upcoming 2015 iteration.
We still have a few cases of my 2014 rose in the warehouse. If you’d like to buy another bottle, please drop me an e-mail. I’m curious to see where you put my wine on the adjective spectrum.
As you may already know, 2013 was an outstanding vintage in California for all varietals, but especially for Pinot and Zin which benefited from the long and mild growing season. We’re incredibly proud of both of these wines and Kerith has even declared the 2013 Rockpile as the best Zin she’s ever made.
If you’re on our allocation list and have not already placed an order, you still have one week left. Our Fall Release closes on Wednesday September 16th.
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Our harvest intern calls it a “shield.” I’m enamored of his word choice, since “shield” implies a superhuman power of deflection. We are not talking about the verb here, like hiding in a dark corner, crouched in a defensive position. I’m thinking more Captain America – you know, the concentric red and white circles, central star. “Shield” suggests I’m wielding the power, prevailing over darkness and disorder, like a bionic, fruit sorting machine. “Shield” makes me sound impenetrable. And I guess I ought to mention that I call it a “fin,” since we’re talking about a flat panel of stainless steel used to cool down overwrought fermentation bins.
Me and my “shield”
Two days ago, when I asked the intern to help me hoist the unwieldy piece of metal into my bin, he offhandedly remarked, “Yeah, those shields are awesome.” And indeed my fin can drop the temperature of a hot, bubbling bin in minutes (via interior coils of cold glycol). Today, because of my “shield,” what once caused me so much angst and dread is largely a thing of the past. Sure I still obsessively check the temperature as reflexively as Josh Duggar refreshes his Ashley Madison homepage (Doh!). But I’m no longer frantically heaving scoops of dry ice, woozy from carbon dioxide, beads of sticky grape juice clinging to my hairline, Monday’s Facebook post notwithstanding. Seriously, the dry ice dance is like so last year, literally. As in, last year I finally got the necessary “quick connect” attachments to hook the glycol hoses to my steel contraption. So now that I’m confidently through 17.8% of harvest, without ever hitting 90 degrees, I’m feeling impervious to the usual seasonal stress.
I was Easy-Breezy Overstreet, Ms. Cool-as-a-Garden-Cucumber, until I failed Harvest Pranks 101.
Exhibit A: please. Witness the text exchange below.
While a “shield” may protect my bins from overheating, it can’t protect me from myself. On the bright side, at least I haven’t doused myself with the hose…yet.
Here’s to a happy harvest season and healthy fermentations from the biggest tanks to the smallest bins.