Morgan is the son of Joel Peterson, founding winemaker of Ravenswood in Sonoma. Morgan has been making wine since he was 5 years old when his Vino Bambino Pinot Noir was being served at high-end New York restaurants! Today, Morgan is making his wine under his own brand called Bedrock Wine Co. where, like his father at his age, is hitting the wine scene with forceful gusto and of course, wines that turn heads.
I met Morgan at a small, converted chicken's coop where he now store his barrels and makes his (red) wines. Morgan and I discussed his obsession with French oak, his love of the mixed black field blends, his own winemaking techniques and his plans to help rebuild and bring back to California the lost art of planting a field blend vineyard.
You go into incredible levels of detail when it comes to choosing oak barrels: the cooper, the forrest, the aging, the grain type and density... How do you begin determining what you like?
I had a really good mentor in Jeff Cohn at JC Cellars who probably knows more about oak than anybody I've ever met. I was able to taste through the barrels at Rosenblum. Obviously, I grew up at Ravenswood, so I know the favorites there, having friends in the industry helps and just asking to taste barrels when they're going through trials. You get a feeling about what will probably fit with what you're making, but then a lot of it is just experimentation.
Part of my theory with coopers is that they a lot like wineries. Based on the conditions they're stacking the wood outside for seasoning; some years are wetter than others, some years are drier. Perhaps some of the grain that they pull out of the Vosges or the Betranges forest might be a little lighter than normal some years. So it's not like you can guarantee quality from cooper to cooper, year after year. But there are coopers that tend to outperform others, in my opinion, based on the style of wines I make. So I'm beginning to focus a little bit more. Ermitage and Rousseau are the two main elements behind most of my wines, at least behind the Zinfandel blends and the Syrahs, but I also have puncheons from Remond and Seguin-Moreau.
With my Zinfandel blends, the heirloom wines, I really like to go for the perfumier, higher toned barrels with less tannin impact. I really hate overt oakiness on top of Zinfandel or Zinfandel blends, but I like the sculpting element of oak and the sweetness it gives the mid center along with the spice, and so I found barrels that really work well for that. Then with Bordeaux it's like a whole separate thing. There are certain ones that work better and just figuring it out has been really fun. And now the white wine that I make is even more fun because I'm working with Bordelaise Coopers that make barrels specifically for white wine and that's a whole new adventure with the white wine as well.
I also sort of live off of the fat of Napa. Like these puncheons, there's a big demi muid that I have some Hudson Syrah in. These cost like $2,000 dollars apiece and a very prominent winery in Napa used them for 30 days for fermentation and then were selling them at four to five hundred. They've got 80% of their flavor in them and I'm paying a quarter of what they paid for them. To the winery, their purpose was served because they were only there for fermentation, so they knocked the heads off, fermented in barrel and then they don't want them. The puncheon doesn't factor into their normal barrel regime.
What is barrel fermentation? "You knock the heads off and you barrel ferment," which I'm assuming is you tip these things right side up, remove the flat, circular head and then ferment as you would?
Exactly. It's an open top fermentation. I'm amazed with the bigger barrels, like the 400s and 500s, I did a few of them this year with the Hudson Syrah and also with some smaller 220 standard sized barrels and you can actually get really good heat. I was actually in the 90s, which is where I want to be. They've got good insulatory capacity, it starts to refine the oak character a little bit earlier and it has the effect of color stabilization. A lot of people add neutral chips at the fermenter. I actually add neutral chips to everything just because it stabilizes color earlier. It makes no impact on the flavor, but you get more stable anthocyanin and the resulting color is better in the long term. It's a two fold process. I learned about it when I was visiting Jean Michel Gerin in Cote Rotie. He would taste these wines 16 months later, the ones that had been fermented in puncheon then the ones that received standard, pigeage in open toped stainless steel and the oak was just so much more refined. You didn't get as much of the hard oak tannin on the back end. It assimilated a little bit better and it let the fruit shine a little bit more, which I like.
Is barrel fermentation only effective with small batches of wines then?
Oh god, it would be such a nightmare otherwise. It costs a lot of money to pay somebody to put the heads back on. I can pay somebody in wine, but it's still a logistical pain then you've got to worry about if you don't get the heads put back on immediately making sure the barrel stays clean, getting it ozoned, making sure that you don't have VA build up because you've got all that petri dish of stuff that wants to start growing quickly. It's great fun and if you have a new barrel I think it's well worth it for small lots.
The home winemaker may face challenges trying barrel fermentation. How can they achieve similar results?
You can achieve much the same result, though, by using chips in your fermenter. Even if you are going the chip route, there are really high quality French oak chips out there now that I think are quite good. And as I said, I use neutral chips in everything, but I would imagine that you would be able to achieve a similar, albeit probably not quite as refined effect, by using toasted chips in the fermenter but you would still get better color. Particularly when you're doing small lot fermentations, you're really concerned about getting the heat up high enough. In macro bins, I can't even get fermentations up or in the t-bins, I can't get them up past 80 to 85 and I want 93-94. If you're not going over 90 you're leaving something on the table. You're not really pulling everything that's there. So you can stabilize some things by adding chips in a way that you might miss out.
You seem to love very specific French barrels. How important is barrel selection?
It's one of the main factors as a winemaker we can control. There's so much out there that's not in our control whether we think that we can or not. It's harvest decisions, pump over punch down regiment. But that's not even big compared to cooperage selection. Cooperage can make or break the wine. With all due respect to Paul Shaffer, who's a close friend, I hate American Oak. I cannot stand their elements on those wines. I think that it really takes something back from those wines for me that even if you had these neutral oak barrels, I would far prefer it because I've just been coating the black tone dill component. It drives me crazy.
Is there something that American Oak is good for then that you would pair it with?
Planters. Cut them in half. I would use French Oak staves before I would American Oak barrels. That's a very strong statement but it's something I personally really, really hate. Some people hate coriander or cilantro. It's just one of those things where I just have an acute reaction to it that's really is hard for me to bear
Is Hungarian oak the cheap man's French Oak?
In a way. I think the problem is that the quality control in Hungarian oak is not as high. The raw product that's available in Hungary might even be better than what's in France in terms of grain tightness. The oak that grows way up north where it's really cold, stony and rocky, just grow incredibly slowly and in an incredibly tight grain. Theoretically, those should make really, really great barrels. But I think sometimes the craftsmanship and some other stuff's not there. I experimented with a Hungarian barrel last year and I've seen other people do it. You still get some of the greener tones out of the back ends but they're certainly far preferable to American Oak. I'm not a point where I need to cut costs
Do you play with any enzymes?
I played with some enzymes in '07 and found that the lots I used enzymes on lacked as much varietal character. I can hear the representative from Scott Labs saying you need to match the enzyme properly. I'm sure if I were larger I would play with it a little bit more, but my initial experience using Vinozyme and a few others wasn't awesome but they seem to be a really powerful tool. Particularly, since I tend to use a lot of whole clusters in Syrah, I don't want to be ripping out any more green tannin off those stems than I'm already getting. I want the spice, but I don't want the green tannin added that can sometimes accompany the whole cluster fermentation stuff. My fermentations are really straight forward. I typically add two pounds per ton of neutral French oak chips, decide on my percentage of whole cluster then de-stem everything over the top of that. I use a little Zambelli de-stemmer, but by the time it comes out the end of the hose, it's pretty well mashed up. I use all native yeast fermentation, so just an initial hit of about 30 parts per million of sulfur just to quell all the bad stuff. Whenever I can I use all native malos as well,. Every once in a while I'll have a lot of Barbera or something that's super low pH and high alcohol and I have to inoculate it with some heavy-weight malo enzyme.
Your wines all started with native yeast fermentation. Is using the wild yeasts as dangerous and unpredictable as some folks say it is?
No. The yeast industry is like the pharmaceutical industry. They're trying to sell you something you don't need. Ravenswood has been using native yeasts since 1976, they still do for everything and they have fewer stop ferments than any other cellar that I've worked where they've been using inoculated yeasts. It doesn't really matter on which vineyard you come in. We've done experiments at Ravenswood where they go through and take a bunch of clusters out of the vineyard and analyze them. On some of the clusters there's no yeast that's there to do the fermentation, but on other ones there is. As winemakers know, in fermentation, one yeast does not do all the fermenting. You've got one yeast that sort of starts it off, you've got another that hits its threshold in terms of alcohol or heat and it falls off. So, even when you inoculate with yeast, you're really only accounting for the first 8-10 Brix in terms of loss and you've got something else finishing it out. Everybody's using native yeast whether they like to think they are or not. It's another mechanism by which I think winemakers can keep themselves employed by telling people that there's all these differences between the yeasts but I'm really not convinced that there are. I worked at Hardys Tintara and they probably spent $20,000 a year on yeast and they have more stuck ferments, more H2S issues, more crap in their fermentations than I've ever seen. As long as you stay diligent on native yeast fermentations; do your DAP adds, your Fermaids, tailor it correctly, monitor your temperatures, they're a piece of cake. I don't have stopped fermentations. I have ones that will finish slowly in barrel eventually, but every winery has that.
Some winemakers inoculate with different yeast strains then blend batches for complexity. Is that a bunch of marketing crap or is that a legitimate technique?
You might think that it does. I think it's BS. I don't see the need for it. The ideal goal of winemaking is to translate whatever is out there in the vineyard with your own personal little imprint on it so, it seems to me that if you're using the stuff that comes out of the vineyard, it's a better expression of what's actually out in the vineyard than if you're bringing in some yeast that was cultured in Montpellier. So it seems a little bit silly to me.
I've seen more stuck ferments, typically, in places that are all about which yeast to inoculate with than I do elsewhere. A lot of it has to deal with nutrient levels. How you manage the fermentation in the fermenter. If you give a fermenter a lot of love, it typically is not going to stick on you.
How quick do your native yeast fermentations start provided you're adding the correct nutrients?
I don't add DAP or Fermaid until after the fermentation begins. You have to let that natural culture build up because there's some stuff, like Calcara and some other crazy yeast strains that if you feed them immediately, will take off and they will cause VA issues. I typically hit it with 30 to 40 parts per million of sulfur and then just wait. Typically it takes three to four days for it to start, which gives me the effect of a cold soak because I've gotten an extra few days of maceration in there, and it's ambient aqueous extraction rather than alcoholic extraction, which is the good type of extraction. Once it gets going and I'll inoculate with DAP depending on what varietal it is. If it's something that's come in late-- Syrah or Mourvèdre-- I know the nutrient levels are going to be way down. If I'm really worried, I'll run a YAN on it. I'll see how much is in there and then I will add DAP and Fermaid typically in about equal measures. This last year, I used these Gusmer time release micro essentials for both minerals and yeast nutrients, yeast hulls, all that good stuff and was really, really pleased with them. They seemed to break down well. Then if necessary, I'll do a re-up of DAP and other things at about 10 Brix just to make sure that it goes all the way through. I don't want to add DAP too late because I don't want to feed the other stuff that's lingering in there that can cause VA. You don't want excessive food in there for whatever else might want to do something after primary fermentation is done in that really tender stage between the end of primary ferment and the end of malolactic, which for me can be very long. Malos will essentially not move for a couple of months when it gets really cold and then this time of year they finish up.
Do you send your lab work out or handle it yourself?
They're pros and I'm not. I really don't mind doing it, but I'll screw it up because I'll be tired and not do it right. Limit your testings to things like malolactic and every once in a while run a pH and VA to make sure that you're not going crazy. If there's a spike in VA then I'll run a Scorpion analysis on it just to see what's in there, and if necessary, I'll take more dramatic measures, but I leave it to the pros to do that type of stuff.
Some winemakers seem to only care about pH so they know how much S02 to be adding. Knowing total acidity is like a rearview mirror more than anything else. Would you agree?
Yeah, although you can add TA into the barrel. My issue is that when I add TA at the fermenter, I do a lot of whole cluster with it because there's so much potassium in the stems that there's this strong buffering effect so that TA will just drop out anyway. It's a matter of taking all the potassium out, because it'll buffer out and then eventually will get to a point where you can be adding TA later. I have done some post harvest TA adds in the Syrah and finally got the TA to stick because it' wasn't going down. TA is important in Zinfandel blends because Zinfandel has a damnable tendency to both be high TA and high pH. It's not like Syrah where your pH might be 4.1, but you're typically looking at five grams or five and a half grams total so you've got some capacity to up it if need be. But with Zin sometimes you can add TA but it's going to become screeching evil bitter stuff and then you're faced with the specter of adding potassium carbonate to take that acidity back out later. That's the hard part with Zinfandel in particular. The last couple of years, pHs have been really high in '06, '07 and '08 for whatever the reason. I don't really know why.
Most of the field blend vineyards in California were ripped out for one reason or another. There also seems to be a trend of bottling single vineyard wines. But now I'm starting to see more and more folks appreciating field blend wine and their complexities, but you don't see farmers planting it that way for the most part. Rumor has it, you're working on a field blend vineyard of sorts...
I just took on the Stellwagen Vineyard, which is a 100-year-old vineyard in Sonoma. The Stellwagens approached me and my vineyard manager to start farming it. It will be straight Zinfandel, although there's about 400 vines that needed to be replaced so we're actually going to put in Alicante, Petite Sirah and Carignane to reinvigorate the field blend. I'm a very strong believer in the field blend.
I think the problem was that there was a focus on finding varietals. Some wine consumers were differentiating Cabernet from Merlot from Zinfandel which was a big first step for them to take because they were coming from California Claret, or California Burgundy. Then we went into the era of white Zinfandel and that took at least ten years of reeducation in the ZAP program to try to get people to acknowledge that Zinfandel is red. It was only five years ago I was at a tasting for Ravenswood and an old woman came up and was accusing me of adding food coloring to the wines because "Zinfandel is pink" she proclaimed. But I think people have finally gotten to the point that they can now comprehend Zinfandel, old vine Zinfandel and then there's field blends just like in Châteauneuf du Pape, just like in Chianti Classico. These are tried and true things. Look at the ones in Marseille and Alsace. Those have 13 different varietals that are planted. There's clearly something to it, and for a lot of people it just allows winemakers to finally come out of the closet and admit that there's 20 percent mixed blacks in their vineyard to begin with and they just didn't want to rip them out back in the day. Look at Ridge Geyserville. That wine has been BARELY 75% Zinfandel since 1973 and Old Hill is the same. Old Hill is an amazingly complex vineyard. That vineyard is a true grand cru of California. Will Bucklin is actually one of the people that is planting the old blends back. He's now taking cuttings from his vineyard and for the Bambino mixed block blend he's not doing the blind interplanting, but he is planting a row of Alicante, a row of Carignane, a row of Petite Sirah, a row of Zinfandel, a row of Grenache and going from there...
All through Ridge, interestingly enough, one of the old grandfather blocks up at Geyserville had like 19 varietals interplanted, all the crazy shit, Lenoir, Grand Noir de la Calmette, Pellerson Negrete, or Pinot St. George as it's also known, all the crazy stuff. Paul Draper was telling me they have replanted the identical field blend in another lot next to that portion. On Fifth Leaf, the wine from those young vines make the final blend which they had Zinfandel blocks planted 15 years ago that still have never made the final blend, planted on equally good soil.
It's interesting. There is a strength there and something that's coming back in that regard, and that's really cool. Sort of polygamist viticulture is cool, or as Will calls it, viticulture promiscua. Promiscuous viticulture is really awesome.
Anytime you're picking a mixed block vineyard you're like, "All right, well the Zin's clearly ready to go," that's pretty much when you decide because that's the majority factor. In a year like '03, which was a really hot early year, you'll have certain varietals that do better. You'll have Petite Sirah that might do well, but then you have later ripeners like Alicante Bouché or Syrah or Pellerson that will not be quite as ripe, but they'll be acid adds in that case and then it can be sort of vice versa. You've always got these little insurance policies throughout the vineyard.
There's field blends that are somewhat tailored to location. If you see mixed black blends in Russian River Valley where it's a little cooler, you tend to get a little less color out of Zinfandel so you see a lot more Alicante Bouché out there. Dry Creek where it's really warm you have a tendency to get Zin has good color, but lots of alcohol, not a lot of tannin but good spice so you see a lot more Petite Sirah out there because you get a little bit more structure from that. So you can tell that they've been tailored to the locations based on these dudes that planted these vineyards way back when, which is kind of cool. They took something from the old world and applied it here and it seems to work pretty well.
Are we seeing California looking to old world ideas? California was always the "new guy in town" to winemaking but are we're starting to go back a little bit in some of the techniques and methods?
There is a look backwards. I think it might be tied into the impulse towards an increased look at biodynamics and organics. As my vineyard manager Diane says, "There's two types of organic people. There's farmers who choose to be organic and then there's organic people who choose to farm" and the results can be very, very different between the two. I think that it's an acknowledgment of what's already been out there and what works.
At least with the field blends, these are our oldest most sacred vineyards in California and the vineyards that are mostly uniquely Californian in that they're based on Zinfandel and that they had a unique mix of field blends. The combination of us being able to talk to people also motivates the winemaker to go back and say, "Okay, now we can really figure out what's out there and I don't need to be so worried about talking about Zinfandel. I can talk about all this other cool shit that's out there." If you taste the Zinfandel out of Old Hill by itself, it's very good but it's not nearly as complex as what you get when the mixed blacks are added back into it.
In Châteauneuf du Pape, they've always embraced the field blend. I think Chateau Rayas is the only known 100 percent Grenache wine out there and some skeptical people might even suggest that with Rayas, it might behove them to use a little bit more of the mixed blacks. Not to chomp on the sacred ground of Rayas, but you see a lot more out there so there's a contribution there.
Historic California vineyards can't be producing nearly the tonnage that a typical modern vineyard is.
Typically no, although old vine vineyards doesn't necessarily mean it's good. Ravenswood has some vineyards out on the flats of Russian River Valley that are 90 years old and they still crop at five tons an acre, because they're on these super fertile, heavy soils. The great spots, Geyserville, Old Hill, Pagani Ranch, Bedrock, places like that, it's one to two tons per acre. These are old, old vines that are grand-pappy vines. They're not putting out a lot of clusters per vine, that's for sure. Last year we got .9 tons per acre out of 38 acres of 120 year old vine Zinfandel field blend. That's small.
If you were to throw that into a normal winemaking matrix you can see why a lot of the vineyards are ripped out because when you can be cropping Cabernet at five tons an acre. Even if you're only making $2,000 a ton you're still making more than what we're making at $3,000 dollars a ton on .9 tons per acre, and it's harder to farm. There's certainly a labor of love and expense that is involved with it.
You use redwood fermentation bins. Why do you like them?
They're in storage back at the vineyard but they're just open top Redwood tanks. My dad used them for 20 years. They've got enough insulator capacity that you can get your ferments warm enough. About two tons and above and they're good. They're a pain in the ass to keep clean, like any wood product.
For my one ton lots, I bring in a lot of vineyards that I have multiple clones of. I use insulated saeplast, one ton blue fermenters, the wide ones. They're insulated so if anything, I need to worry about the fermentations getting too warm. Depending on whether I have a lot of whole clusters and if I can spread out the cap, I'll get good skin contact and good punch down capacity or good pump over capacity.
If there's a heavy percentage of whole cluster in it, I do pump-overs because I think it's less extractive. I don't think that you're beating up the steams quite as much. You get a little bit more of the defacto, carbonic maturation within berries because you're not beating up the berries quite as much. If it's not, then I do just standard punch down if there's normal clusters in there. In '07, I did punch downs on everything.
I was actually talking with Wells Guthrie up at Copain and he's moved towards doing a lot of pump-overs. He's the master of whole cluster fermentations as far as I'm concerned. What works for him is going to work for me because he makes some really, really killer wines. The pump over will vary based on where it is in fermentation. I'll get longer pump-overs the higher the brix level and the lower the alcohol. As we get lower down, I basically just want to circulate the cap over to keep things like acetobacter and other things down.
Tell me about your press and a typically press day.
Everything gets manually basket pressed, which is long, slow, dirty work. Unfortunately, I don't have three phase power here
I've got a bar meter on there, but it's different on every wine. Frankly, I can't generate enough power out of that thing to ever get to a point where it's going to be too extractive. There's physically no way that it works based on wood plates in there. There's always going to be a little bit of movement with the wood on top. You're generating some substantial force but it's not like one of these automatic basket presses that you can just squeeze the bejesus out of the grapes. So they're a little bit gentler in that regard.
I've hear two schools of thought, the basket press gets good extraction but it you'll get more harsh tannins because you're pushing the juice through to the bottom as opposed to a bladder press, which goes out the sides. Either one better than the other?
I think that you might generate more micro solids, which might just make it harder to tell when to make the press cut because if there's a bunch of micro solids in there making things tannic, then it'll be harder to tell where it is. I think that is an issue. When I worked in Australia, we had a couple of big basket presses that could generate so much force that at the end, you got just thin astringent, pretty mean pressed juice that you just don't see out of a bladder press unless you are really just squeezing it all the way down to the last drop.
The press plates, I typically will wax before they're used. We use lube-grade paraffin on it. You have to be a little bit gingerly going down to make sure you don't knock some of the paraffin off because it's pretty soft. It just gives you an added layer of protection so it's a way of quasi sanitizing. I'm not sure if it works completely but it makes me feel better. I haven't had brett'd shoes, so whatever's going on is working.
What's your position on having Brettanomyces in the winemaking process?
I avoid it whenever I can. I don't mind Brett in other people's wines most of the time. I just don't want it in my wine. Certain wines have a greater affinity for Brett. I think people have tasted so many Brett examples from the old world that they might be able to add a little bit of complexity. But, the problem with Brett is it's something that you can't control and you can't control what strain you have and how much 4-EP versus 4-EG it's creating. With 4-EG, you add a ton of value just in the tin, Band-Aid, aspect. While with 4-EP, sometimes a little bit of the barnyardy stink is not the worst thing in a wine. But I would just prefer not to have it.
Do you think most consumers have tasted wines that have Brettanomyces unbeknownst to them?
Oh, by all means. In fact, I saw somebody's dissertation a few years ago. They basically lined up a panel and tasted them on about 15 Syrahs. And the consumers actually found wines that did not have a threshold amount for brettanomyces to be deficient in varietal character. But it was a double edged sword because if you got up to 1,500 anagrams or 2,000 anagrams then it was found to be bretty. It was killing the fruit and it was considered a flaw. So there is this small area of acceptance. The problem with brett is you're not going to control it. If you've got any residual sugar or if you have a high percentage of malic acid in your wine, there's just all sorts of things that brett can metabolize in and turning wine stinky. When it's really bad, it just turns your wine fizzy.
The problem is that it also really is hard if you let a wine leave the winery that has brettanomyces. You could have something that was stored perfectly and totally its entire life and it had very little bloom. And then you have something that sits in a hot warehouse for a couple days and it complete spikes. So I mean it's one more variable, like, you can't control out there. If you taste Clape Cornas, there's no brett in those wines. They're incredibly complex and wonderful wines. By the time you pick them up at Kermit Lynch and bring them home, they are stinky as hell. So it's very known, there's something happening in that process where you think this is not the same wine. At least it's Syrah and the core product is so good to begin with. I mean Clape Cornas is one of the archetypes but still, it just makes you wonder…
How many times are you racking?
Typically, I don't rack until bottling. Unless there's a wine I feel like needs a little bit more or less oak. Then I will typically try to transfer a barrel down. Just gravity feed it down through a new barrel or an old barrel or something like that.
After press, your wines go straight to barrels and sit on the lees... even the gross lees?
Depending on the wine, yeah. I'll stir through malo as well to build up some core structure on the pallet. I think it also builds up the mid pallet in wine the same way that if you stir lees in Chardonnay, it has a distinctive effect in adding a yeast component to the wine. You can add something in terms of the mouth feel particularly in white or red varietals like Pinot Noir. The lees acts a little bit like a sponge for oak. Wines that are left on their lees and new oak have a tendency to show less of the overt oak components. You get better integrated oak, which I like. I use a healthy percentage of new oak in most of my wines but I certainly don't want anything overt so the lees aid in pulling out some of the excessive, harsh tannic components that you can sometimes get with wood.
What's your practice to keeping wine stable with SO2? If you're racking it once, when do you decide that you need to start stabilizing things along the way?
I take an overall analysis. It's not like I have 100 barrels of any given lot. The most barrels I have is eight of one lot so I can take a representative sample and see where the malolactic is standing. Once malo is done, sulfer everything across and then I'll keep an eye on it. There's a movement towards fewer rackings, which people are starting to do particularly in the realm of high pH winemaking where everybody seems to be pushing pH to the upper limits. You don't get the protection from sulfur that you normally would get because every time you rack, you're introducing a huge amount of oxygen into the wine, which is binned in sulfur. If you already have to add 50 parts free SO2 to get anywhere close to a molecular sulfur level that would protect the wine and you still have to be adding ton. Eventually, your total sulfur is going to be obscenely high. You do get a bitter component on the end of the wine when you get really, really high total sulfur. So for me, where some of my pHs are on the higher side, I think it's a mechanism by which I can keep my total sulfur down and just make sure that I'm on top of topping and doing all that good stuff, keeping oxygen out of the wine.
Are you racking straight to bottle or do you try fining the juice before bottling?
No, racking into a tank and then letting it settle. With red wines, I have not fined with anything at this point. But I'm not categorically adverse to it, I just haven't found the need. With my rose I made this year, I did use a small amount of gelatin in it just to try and bind some stuff to have it fall out.
I'm not adverse to fining. I have my strong views about how I think wine should be made. But if my views lead to a wine that's undrinkable or is just face-ripping in terms of tannin, then I'm not going to want to do it. I'm going to make some adjustments there. I'm not categorically opposed to anything in winemaking it if I think it would help. But I really think that you have your core mechanisms by which you make wine and then you can make some adjustments on the sides if you deem them necessary. The same goes with filtration. I typically go unfiltered as long as Scorpion assay shows there's no brettanomyces or anything that's really evil in there.
What does your father say about you making a rose? "No wimpy wines", right?
Oh, he loves it. He drinks it. It's a true rose. Basically, it's a 120-year-old by Mouvedre that we pick at 23.5 Brix. Crush it, put it into the press, just taste off typically four or five hours later and then just press it off.
The problem with rose is you also have to distinguish it from White Zinfandel. Even now at tastings, I still get-- particularly, from older generation people that had a nightmarish relationship with White Zinafandel for 10 years, they see something pink and they would coil from it. They don't understand how awesome rose can be, and what a seriously good food wine it can be. On certain hot days, there's just nothing that refreshes more.
People in the last four or five years are rediscovering dry rose. There's a lot of really good examples that are coming from the south of France and from all over the world now. It's going to reinvigorate people's interest. My concern is that there's a lot of bad rose on the market that is made from Saignée juice from grapes picked at 28 bricks. That's outside of the spirit of what rose should be.
Look back at when your father started making wines to where things have progressed today and in general for all of California. Now another generation is moving in. What are some of things you think will be considered part of the new movement? Where you see California winemaking going?
I think the diversity of wine in California is only going to get greater. The generation before my dad's really ushered in the nation. The Andre Tchelistcheffs of the world and the Schoonmakers, really ushered in modern wine making practices and quality wine making practices to the California wine industry. I think my dad's generation further refined it. They were able to reach out and find a whole new group of consumers that were moving away from spirits and discovering wine. Then, our generation has the most wine consumers of any generation in American history. Not only are they really into wine, they also are very educated and they typically care a lot less about scores and prestige. The 80's and 90's were much more about the lifestyle of wine. But what's really cool is I think people are getting beyond that a little bit. As long as winemakers have an audience that's interested in wine and are interested in trying something completely different, then they're going to be able to experiment more. That's a luxury I don't think that my dad had. He spent 20 years jumping up and shouting until people would listen about that fact red Zinfandel could be good wine in California. And now, there's been an enormous movement in the last 10 years. As a result, we're going to be able to do really, really cool things like, planting unknown or forgotten grape varietals.
Where do you find inspiration? Growing up in all this, your trials and travels, how do you wrap all that and focus that into what you're doing today?
If anything, the amount of time I've spent abroad and studying, being raised in the industry and meeting the vibrant personalities that I've known in the industry makes it that much more special when you really hit upon a wine that makes you say "oh, yeah, there's something there" and I strive to make that. Those are the ones that I strive to make and I have very strong ideas about things that can be done better. I don't make varietal Zinfandel, I make Heirloom wines because I think that they're California Chateauneuf du Pape. I don't make Chardonnay. I make Bassac wines because I have access to a 100-year-old Semillion and there's no 100-year-old Chardonnay anywhere. I'm trying to make the wines that make me say, "Yeah,I nailed that." That's a really, really good feeling, particularly, when winemakers have a much higher standard to hit now. When my dad started, he got away with not making very good wine until the first four years. He had things like 100 percent whole cluster Cabernet from El Dorado that still rips your face off in terms of tannin. Frankly, the true inspiration is that as a winemaker, you can't have a better lifestyle. You get to have access to the food and wine culture. You get to be out in the vineyards some days. You get to be creating things. You get to interact with these elements that come from France, from Indiana, from Italy. There's a whole global melting pot even in a cellar and even in like a chicken coop with nine foot ceilings like this is.
Are you ever satisfied with your own product or do you see and taste the things that could have been different?
There's always things I want to change in my wines. But at the same time, I am pretty pleased with most of the stuff that comes out. And it's even more pleasing to see it when people like the wines. So that's important.
Any rituals before getting started every year? Any habits that you always do before harvest or crush?
No crazy celler habits at this point... just shear and utter terror. Hoping that we make it through the last two weeks of August without huge heat spikes like we had last year in '08. But really no real rituals. I just try to make things cleaner, more sanitary, more efficient than they were the year before. That's really about it.
You're one of the few winemakers who blog their experiences. Are you enjoying it?
I'm getting tons of shit from people but it's a good sign that people are reading it. I'll keep talking about it as much as I can. Selling wine is as much about demystifying it and I've been in the industry way too long to be pretentious about wine. I feel like I charge a fair price for the wines. I'm just out to have a nice lifestyle for myself not to get rich in this industry. The blog is a great way to demystify things. I encourage people who have questions about the wines they're drinking to ask me because I think that's really what's going to help right now. It sets the winery as being congenial and giving people access into the details. If people are inspired enough by a bottle of wine that I've made to ask me a question, then I feel like I've already won even if it's like "why the fuck did you oak this so much" or something like that. I'm happy to explain my rational whether they agree with it or not.
Plus I'm tiny. I don't have a sales force and I don't want a sales force. There's only so much time I can spend out on the road so it's an effective means to reach a broad base of consumers that I wouldn't normally wouldn't be able to.