Once again I write of the findings revealed in the useful addition of stems in our Pinot Noir offerings. A concept not new but rarely used here in the U.S. as the outcome is unpredictable and completely foreign to many wine makers. Side note there were no De-stemmers in the 1800’s. However, a lot of great wine was made back then!
As Americans we are always looking for the instant gratification, the instant fix, the endless search for euphoria without the wait. Many in Europe define U.S. wine consumers as a Coca Cola drinking society and in many ways they’re correct. There is no doubt on a whole we make wines much higher in alcohol than that of our old world rivals. There are of course many reasons why new world wines are made in this way. The word’s (new world) by the way defines everything outside of Europe and (old world) is Europe. Let me cover a few of the obvious.
Many parts of the New World such as California have an over abundance of Sun, leading to very ripe wines if not controlled. Many producers choose not to control ripeness and make adjustments in the winery, the so called Franken wines. Big wineries don’t control yields, they throw everything in the Pot, stir it up and out pops whatever! Many mid to small producers do control yields to a point, but again like the ripeness to reach 25-30 brix, (measure of sugar) causing much higher alcohol’s. Why? because that’s what the majority likes. Why? Because that’s what we’re use to, Why? Because that’s what’s inexpensive. As we all know wine is a luxury item, we don’t have to buy wine. We choose to buy wine and if we forget this fact we will parish as an industry.
Now let’s move on. Alcohol will reveal itself in the form of sweetness and ripeness will reveal itself in the form of sweetness. Oak can do the same and the lack of acid and high Ph numbers will all contribute. So in the end instant Gratification! Now I will repeat I hold no malice towards an honest business model. But the word honest should be paramount, and the fudging on labels is sickening. I believe many of the wines we drink as Americans are soulless, without structure, have little complexity and certainty don’t age gracefully. So that brings us back to stems.
I opened a bottle of 2008 Rim Rock Vineyard the other night. The lowest alcohol red wine we ever produced at 12.8% alcohol. Picked at 22.4 brix. This was the great experiment the bridge I have been trying to build between us and the old world. Only 600 bottles produced, as I said an experiment. We had achieved 13.2 percent and this was pushing even further trying to find the line which could not be crossed so to speak. Alcohol in wine is not just how much sugar but also based on the conversion rate of the sugar and the dryness of the wine. We have the lab work for those who would doubt this claim as we do with all our wines. The great experiment was in the short term, a failure. That’s right, the wine was not very good period!
Let’s regress a little, you see I have long been a fan of wines from Burgundy with whole cluster fermentation such as, DRC, Leroy, Dujac, C. Dugat and more. There was a time when all these wines were 100% stem inclusion, but I’m not so sure anymore. In the case of DRC the wines seem to drink better young that I remember back in the 70’s, 80’s and even some vintages like 2001. This could be just more ripeness as there is a string of great vintages but some like Dujac have pulled back a little in there stem additions. Honest people who know these wines will tell you that in the case of 2001 DRC, (Just an example) The wines were not very good young! That’s right the wines were stemmy, some would say green herbal, you get the point. I remember going to Robert Parkers Burgundy vs. Pinot Noir tasting a few years back. I believe there were 20 or 24 wines, all blind. I picked the DRC out of all the wines as my favorite. I identified the wine blind and was the only one in the crowd of over one hundred to stand when asked who picked that wine as there favorite. Why the story, because Robert Parker, a great person by the way, asked me how did you pick that wine and why did you like it when no one else did? I said the stems were flying from the glass, and I know where the wine will go. But was it a great wine at that point, No!
Most wine writers don’t know where a wine will go anymore than you and I, but will give a great producer the benefit of the doubt based on historical performance of a Domaine. In DRC’s case the last 400 years worth! I have no problem with that thinking but the playing field is certainly not level for if we send in a wine like 2008 Rim Rock it would be rated very low, if rated at all, I know because the wine was sent in, and not rated. I won’t say to who but it was not rated. And No it was not Robert Parker. So full circle, the experiment was in the short haul a failure, but I opened a 2008 Rim Rock the other night. The first bottle in a year. A year ago I said it had made a turn for the better and looked like it may be a great wine. Today I report the wine is magnificent! Low alcohol, with extreme complexity. Beautiful sweet fruit, at such a low brix count, imagine that! Oak and stems are integrating nicely. Key word for stems they interrogate over time as the wood does and after you’re left with a nose that’s unbelievable. Floral in nature and extreme as all great wines should be! The wine will age for years another attribute of those darn stems from the tannins. The facts are that these wines can be made, if the yields are very low, leaving a high intensity of flavor in the remaining grapes. A huge sacrifice, leading to a higher price point, but I feel well worth the effort. Criticize us for our pricing if you must, those that say we are not worth the price should re-open another bottle of Coca Cola because you will never grow beyond your prejudice. Those that are more adventurous will be rewarded. Drinking less, drinking better.
Patience is not our strong suit as a society, but it is a virtue and with it comes great reward!