I try to make good tasting wine that will age well. While everyone else seems to believe in doing minimal manipulation with the goal of letting the vineyard site speak, I find that since grapes do not walk off the vines and into the winery, let alone into barrels and bottles, we must actually do something with the grapes and wine along the way from time to time. Rest assured that I do try to get in the way as little as possible while trying to achieve the desired outcome. Most of our work is done and choices are made during the harvest season. Afterward, there is little reason to touch a wine that is on a wonderful trajectory. With the exception of our Dry Rosť, all our wines are bottled without fining or filtration.
Sometimes we bottle wines from single vineyards, or even blocks within a vineyard. Usually, these vineyard designates are the synthesis of multiple sub-sites within a given vineyard. Sometimes we bottle ‘Appellation wines’ that are also single vineyard sourced but happen not to have unusually special personality beyond being delicious examples of their appellation. Most often, these Appellation wines are the result of blending carefully selected vineyard sites to achieve balance and harmony. Occasionally, such as with our Zinfandoodle, we blend between two vintages to achieve this balance and harmony. If any parcels are left over that are not assets to these wines, they find a home in someone else's program, rather than ours.
I regularly underplay the wines’ provenance rather than overplay it. This causes some confusion and frustrates merchants who sell our wines. For this, I offer my apologies. I am, however, unlikely to change this deeply engrained habit.
Chardonnays are barrel fermented (some new, some old), full malolactic, and bottled without fining or filtration after 14 to 18 months in barrel and/or tank. I used to employ UCD 522 (aka Montrachet) yeast to conduct the lion’s share of fermentation. I liked the fact that it can go bone dry as well as the characteristics it imparts while on lees despite its well-known idiosyncrasies. Beginning in 2009/2010, I phased in the practice of allowing indigenous yeasts to conduct the entire fermentation. This seems to allow the resulting wine to express its site more clearly while also getting into it’s great drinking zone a couple of years sooner. I tend to use a little more SO2 at bottling for Chardonnay than most California producers do even though the wines are bone dry. My feeling is that since they do not have the tannin of red wines, they need oxidative protection at bottling in order to age into something more than simply tired white wine. I value mouth-watering acidity while respecting the relative generosity of a given site.
Pinot Noir and Zinfandel: These vinifications are quite similar: simple and rather traditional. Sorted, destemmed, uncrushed fruit is gently dropped into open-top fermentation tanks and chilled to about 15–16° C if needed in order to delay fermentation so I can focus on the harvest date selection of following parcels. Once indigenous yeasts are active, I often augment with a yeast strain/culture that I believe flatters the site’s usual personality. Numerous trials have shown that the often the dominant Saccharomyces in uninoculated and inoculated fermentations ends up being a strain already resident within the winery. I think that ‘natural’ microflora expression has as much to do with early acting non-Saccharomyces species that arrive with the grapes than the final alcohol-tolerant organisms, inoculated or resident.
Human manual punchdowns force better knowledge of the material during fermentation and grinds the grapes up less than mechanized devices. I prefer mixing and gently crushing the grapes over many days to the even more reserved approach oh pumping the fermenting liquid over the solid parts. Usually some days after going dry, based on taste alone, the vats are drained and pressed (end point dictated by taste) to another tank. Usually barreled the following day, the wine rests on the lees until a mid–late summer racking/assemblage. A second and final racking occurs to the bottling tank, usually between the next February–May. Red wines are bottled without fining or filtration with judiciously minimal SO2. My goal is to allow at least one year in bottle before release to the trade. Often, my mailing list is offered wines earlier, but they are usually planning to age them themselves.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are vinified with destemmed (but uncrushed) fruit in open-top vats – with manual human punchdown during fermentation, and extended time on skins before pressing. They are also allowed to age on initial lees, generally for 6 to 9 months before first racking. Additionally, they are racked very infrequently (like zero more times), necessitating extra time in barrel to fully develop before bottling. This takes nearly three years. I have found this to preserve certain nuances in the fruit as well as texture over the long run. This is important to me, especially as these are 100% varietal wines. Fortunately, there is enough soil and rootstock variation within the Scherrer Cabernet vineyard, I am able to blend the different components for complexity and balance each vintage. The Syrah, on the other hand also has the benefit of being composed of many clones for the Calypso bottling as well as different sites in the case of Appellation bottlings.
Dry Rosé used to come from juice bled from some red tanks, fermented in old barrels and bottled after some filtration. Over the past few years I have experimented with whole–cluster pressing of red grapes. Since 2011, the latter technique has been used exclusively. It is bone dry with very bright acidity and is intended to age for several years.