Walking a fine line with barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc.
Announcing our 2014 Vintage:
We are constantly inspired to craft the finest Sauvignon Blanc from California, and here we share some of our secrets and passion for making exceptional wines.
When harvest approaches, we get excited about collaborating on another vintage together. As you know, we started this project to share our ideas, winemaking philosophies, and to explore a grape variety that we both enjoy.
When it comes to winemaking philosophies, one that is critical and much discussed is the use of oak barrels. You can imagine, when a winemaking couple needs to come to an agreement about barrel types, it can be very, well . . . intense (to share a descriptor of the wines!).
Our 2014 wines are unique in several ways.
2014 was an exceptional harvest for white wines, bringing velvety texture and aromatic intensity. And while Mother Nature gave us a great fruit to start with, our winemaking decisions shape the intent of our vision for the Shared Notes wines: Intensity, tension, texture, finesse, uniqueness and ability to age. We employ various methods to achieve these goals and to create exciting wines. It is truly an intellectual and passionate process for us – and fun.
People who love this variety are often shocked to learn that we use traditional French oak barrels to ferment and age our Sauvignon Blancs (as opposed to stainless steel). They are even more shocked to learn that the majority of barrels we use are new, as opposed to used or neutral barrels . . . but trust us—you will not find these wines oaky or having any expression of new oak at all. The reason is because of other choices we make through the process.
Sauvignon Blanc is a delicate variety, with a particularly intense aromatic and acid profile. Finding a barrel to complement or even to enhance its characteristics is what we strive for. When the right barrel is discovered, we find it brings more energy and intensity to the wine, focusing the fruit and aroma while rounding the texture of the wine and softening the aspect of acidity on it
Toast (not the bread, not glasses clinking)
One critical step of the barrel-making process involves “toasting.” At one point before the barrel ends are put on, the cooper (barrel craftsman) burns a small fire inside each barrel. This slight “toasting” influences the inside layer of the wood. It changes the chemistry of the wood as well as the flavors to be imparted into the wine. Toasting can vary from “light” up through “heavy.” In general, for our Sauvignon Blancs, we select barrels with a very light toast. Minimal toasting enhances the flavor and focuses the structure, without giving its own fingerprint or a strong aromatic profile to the wine.
Size of barrel (exploring surface area)
In creating the Les pierres qui décident cuvee, we decided to use barrels of double the normal capacity to ferment and age the wine. This means there is a lower ratio of wine in contact with the oak. This decision favors tiny amounts of oxygen interacting with the wine and limits the amount of oak extraction from the barrel. The volume content on a traditional barrel is 60 gallons, while a “puncheon,” our choice for the “Les pierres” cuvée, can hold up to 132 gallons.
New vs. neutral barrels
Finding a perfect match for our wine in a new barrel is a beautiful thing. It requires much time in working with the cooper, knowing the vineyard and fruit, and carefully monitoring how much character from the barrel gets transferred during the wine’s aging. It is in this search that we gain the high-tone, intense focus of the wines, without displaying the oak. And as crazy as it may sound, we continue to favor the purity of 100% new oak barrels as opposed to using neutral barrels.
Making an expressive and enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc is a complex and meticulous art. Making a wine barrel is equally remarkable. Choosing the right barrel is only a small part of what results. We hope this insight into our process gives you more enjoyment out of drinking our wines.
Enjoy the vintage,
Bibiana & Jeff