Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sulfites Problems and The Magic Wand

Recently I had a few problems with sulfites in my wine. It is not what you think. In fact, it is probably the opposite of what you think. I forgot to add sulfites to my wine. I'll get into that in a minute. But first let's talk about more commonly known problems with sulfites - real and perceived.

Real Problem

Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds found in wine and other food sources such as peanuts, eggs, and tea. Because sulfites are also antioxidants, they are often added as preservatives to slow down browning or discoloration of food. 

In the 1970s as salad bars gained popularity in the United States, there was a dramatic uptick in the use of sulfites to keep the fruits and vegetables "fresh." With that came a rise in the cases of severe sulfite reactions. Sulfite sensitivity manifests in asthmatic symptoms such as wheezing and in rare cases anaphylactic reactions. Some people develop hives, swelling, or stomach pain. 

In 1986, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of sulfites in salad bars as a response to the increase in cases of sulfite allergy and sensitivity. It is estimated that about 1% of the population is sensitive to sulfites, and those with asthma are more susceptible.

Perceived Problem

Contrary to popular belief, headache is not a typical reaction to sulfites. But because many people suffer headaches from wine consumption, sulfites have become the easy target. In reality, wine-induced headaches are more likely due to dehydration from alcohol consumption or from the histamines and other compounds in wine. 

Wine wands

That said, the market wastes no time in capitalizing on the perceived problem of sulfites by offering a multitude of solutions, from sulfite-free wines to sulfite-removing wands, filters, and drops. While these may be effective in removing sulfites, one wonders if they eliminate wine-induced headaches or hangover since there is no scientific evidence that sulfites are the cause. There is however no accounting for the placebo effect.

Too Little Sulfites

The addition of sulfites during winemaking is necessary for the production of high-quality wine. Winemakers often pitch potassium metabisulfites into the wine post-fermentation to protect it from spoilage. When sulfites come into contact with the water in the wine, sulfur dioxide (SO2) is released. A portion of the SO2 will immediately bind with certain chemicals in the wine while the remainder will be in a free state (FSO2) to take on harmful microorganisms and to slow down premature aging of the wine.

Wine by Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash

My first problem for my 2020 vintage is that I forgot my post-fermentation sulfites. While the science behind how much and when to add sulfites is complex and entails conducting multiple tests, a good rule of thumb for hobby winemakers is to pitch a certain amount every month to ensure adequate protection of the wine. And I did none of that this past vintage.

It was not till I ran a pre-bottling panel on my wine four months after fermentation that I found out that there were only 2 parts per million (ppm) of FSO2 in my wine. That is winemaker's talk for virtually zero protection for my wine from spoilage. 

Using the pandemic analogy, it is like going to a store without the protection of a mask or vaccination and hoping not to catch COVID. Thankfully, the wine was still tasting fine.

Too Much Sulfites

In my moment of panic, I googled the first website that gave me the target FSO2 level based on my wine pH. I did a quick calculation and pitched the sulfites as quickly as I could. Then I found a couple more websites that suggested target FSO2 levels that were significantly lower than the first website. One of the later websites had a target FSO2 level that was half of what I had pitched.

Great! Now a giant sulfite-removing magic wand doesn't sound so bad.

The truth is that it is hard to determine the right level of FSO2. Each wine's chemical makeup presents numerous variables that may bind with the sulfites, making it hard to determine how much FSO2 is left without running yet another test. Too much sulfites will inhibit the wine's ability to develop in complexity and give the wine a chemically metallic taste. Too little sulfites will increase the chance of spoilage. The winemaker treads lightly between the two.

Using the pandemic analogy again, it is like wearing five masks to the store which may protect you from COVID, but you may not be able to breathe.

Wine racking

Since I don't have a giant magic sulfite-removing wand, I decided my best recourse is to rack the wine despite mixed reviews with this approach. Put simply, wine racking is siphoning wine from one vessel to another, a process that introduces oxygen that will hopefully bind with excess sulfites. 

My Verdict: This is my fifth vintage. With every vintage, you learn something new that will help you improve your winemaking skills for the next vintage. There is no magic wand in that. I will let you know in 6 to 12 months how the vintage tastes. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Oh No! My Wine is Dumb!

Recently I opened a bottle of my 2019 Syrah, excited to taste my latest vintage. I poured it into a glass and admired the beautiful dark inky red. 

2019 Keibi Syrah in bottle shock

I swirled the glass and took a whiff. 


I took a sip. 


I panicked, stuck an aerator on the bottle, and aerated the wine as I poured, something I rarely did as I preferred swirling. 


I grabbed a couple of truffle salt potato chips and started chomping. Yup, I could definitely taste that. After ruling out COVID since I am fully vaccinated after all, I came to the dreaded realization that my wine was in a dumb phase.

Dumb Phase - An Anomaly?

The dumb phase of a wine describes a period of time where the aromas and flavors are shut down, often temporarily. The science behind the dumb phase is fuzzy, and therefore, it is hard to predict when a wine may get in or (if we are lucky) out of a dumb phase. The collective winemakers' experience and anecdotal evidence provide some guidance on how to mitigate this unfortunate phenomenon. But first, let's dip our toes into the science behind wine evolution. 

Wine is an organically complex product. It contains phenolic compounds that are extracted primarily from the grapes during the fermentation process. In red wine, these compounds come from grape skins, seeds, pulps, and stems. The phenolic compounds include pigments, flavonoids, tannins, and such to give the wine its unique combination of color, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, and structure. 

Wine science by Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash

Over time, these phenolic compounds will react with one another, causing the wine to evolve. A young wine is often vibrant in color, fruit-forward in aroma and taste, with pronounced and astringent tannins. As wine ages, the pigments known as anthocyanins bind with tannins and other compounds to form polymeric pigments. The various chemical reactions result in a wine with a more orange-brown hue, softer astringency, and finer tannins. If high-quality grapes, barrels, and winemaking practices are involved, a mature wine will likely develop in complexity with secondary and tertiary flavors.

Disruption or Development?

It is hypothesized that the dumb phase may be due to the disruption of the chemical reactions among the phenolic compounds, leaving them disjointed and shutting down the wine expression. At the same time, it could also be part of the natural development or evolution of certain wines. Let's delve more into this paradox.

1) Bottle Shock

The earliest occurrence of a dumb phase is when the wine is newly bottled. This is also known as bottle shock. The theories behind its cause are all related to the bottling process. The amount of splashing that takes place during bottling may introduce too much oxygen and may also cause the phenolic compounds to be shaken up, disrupting the natural wine maturation process. Or perhaps, a heavy hand with pre-bottling addition of sulfur dioxide as an antioxidant and stabilizer for the wine may remove too much oxygen, which is needed for wine maturation. This may cause the wine to be reticent till the sulfur dioxide dissipates over time.

Wine bottles by Thomas Thompson on Unsplash

To overcome bottle shock, many producers wait at least a year of bottle aging before releasing the wine. During the time, the winemakers may do random sampling to check on the wine.

2) Travel Shock

Similar but not identical to bottle shock, the dumb phase induced by travel shock is attributed to the wine that has recently been in transit. It is believed that a good jostling in a delivery truck, a train, a cargo ship, or even a plane plus potential temperature change during transit may destabilize the phenolic compounds causing the muted aroma and flavor.

Wine in transit by Rudy Prather on Unsplash

To avoid travel shock, wine shops often wait at least one to two weeks post-transit before putting those bottles on the shelf. Some wineries that direct ship wine to their consumers recommend a wait time of up to eight weeks before opening the bottle.

3) Metamorphosis

There is no special name for the third dumb phase so I call it the metamorphosis. This is the most unpredictable and elusive of the them all as it has nothing to do with man-made jostling of the phenolic compounds in the wine. The metamorphosis dumb phase is the muted period when a wine transforms from its youthful fruit-forward vibrance to complex elegance with secondary and tertiary flavors of leather, earth, and spices. It is like the chrysalis that was once a caterpillar before it turns into a butterfly.

Wine cellaring by Reagan M. on Unsplash

There is not a whole lot one can do with this dumb phase. It seems to happen more frequently with cellar-worthy wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, and Syrah. Some wine collectors expect this dumb phase to happen. They would often buy a case of the same vintage, taste them through the years, and share notes with other wine connoisseurs, hoping to catch the butterfly after the chrysalis. The other option is to invest in a Coravin so that you are able to sample the wine without opening the bottle till you get to the other side of the metamorphosis.

Back to My Dumb Wine

That takes me back to my dumb wine. Normally, I open my wine at least six months post bottling, and I had not encountered a problem previously. This particular vintage was bottled nine months ago, albeit with a pretty heavy hand of sulfur dioxide to deal with a higher level of volatile acidity. It is likely that my wine was still in a bottle shock as a result of that. 

My only recourse is to wait a couple more months and try it again, probably with a Coravin this time. Wish me luck! I hope my wine wakes up by then!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Cheers to Sunshine!


The long overdue reprieve from the dreary darkness of winter is finally here. As daylight stretches on and lingers, nature is bursting with life once again. Farmers markets are brimming with seasonal produce to inspire the everyday chef. My wine palate is transitioning accordingly from bold tannic leathery reds to something lighter, brighter, and crisper. 

Cherry blossoms, a sign of new life 

So join me and bask in the sunshine with something white and something pink.

Something White

Sauvignon Blanc is one of my go-to whites in the sunshine. I love the grassy, citrusy flavor with juicy acidity and a touch of minerality. 

2018 CADE Sauvignon Blanc

I generally seek out French Sauvignon Blanc in single-variety Sancerre or in a white Bordeaux blend, preferably lighter on the Sémillon. From the New World, I love a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, enough to forgive the screw cap. 

More recently, I was excited to receive a bottle of CADE Sauvignon Blanc. The Napa Valley white went through a fascinating fermentation process that included 12 different strains of yeast in a combination of stainless steel, oak (new and used), and concrete vessels. It is then aged on the lees in stainless steel and oak for five months. The end result is a quintessential Sauvignon Blanc with a lot of complexity and textural interests.

2018 CADE Sauvignon Blanc

  • Color - Light pale straw with great clarity
  • Aroma - Fragrant with apple and grapefruit 
  • Taste - Lively and crisp, tart green apple, honey, and salty minerality
  • Acidity - Bright and gripping acidity
  • Body - Medium-plus body, coating the mouth and luscious
  • Finish - Lingering
Food Pairing: Indian spiced rice, samosas, dollops of cilantro chutney, over a pile of romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sweet onion slices, and chunks of avocado.

Spiced rice, samosa, cilantro chutney, avocado

Something Pink

Pink wine runs the gamut from light to hearty in flavor and almost correspondingly from pale salmon to deep pink in color. My favorite is the Provençal rosé, which lands on the more delicate end of the spectrum.

2020 The Walls Cruel Summer Rose
There is an air of romance about Provençal rosés. Perhaps it is the pale blush hue or the floral scent that reminds one of lavender fields. The French pink wine is made with predominantly Grenache grapes. It is everything I love about fresh citrusy white wines plus the bonus red fruilt flavor and pink tinge coaxed briefly from the grape skin.

On this side of the Atlantic, you can find well-made Provençal-style rosés as well. The Walls' Cruel Summer is one such rosé, made with 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre. It was a fun wine, fresh, interesting, and delightful! 

2020 The Walls Cruel Summer Rose

  • Color - Pale salmon
  • Aroma - Highly scented with apple and honeysuckle
  • Taste - Fresh and vibrant, tart green apple, juicy minerality
  • Acidity - High racy acidity
  • Body - Medium-plus body, elegant and silky
  • Finish - Lingering
Food Pairing: Bruschetta, crostini smeared with pureed English pea, basil, mint and EVOO, topped with crumbled feta.

English pea bruschetta

So as the weather permits and al fresco dining is in the plan, what is your wine pick to toast to the sunshine? I hope it is something light and crisp, maybe something white or pink.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

More Than Grape Skin Deep

Many people think of wine as red or white. Red wine comes from red grapes, and white wine comes from white grapes. While generally true, the pantone palettes of grape colors run the gamut of yellow, green, pink, purple, and even black. Still, the beauty of wine is more than grape skin deep. Let's explore a little more together. 

Wine colors by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

Red Wine

Red grape skin contains anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments, that give the fruit its color. When making red wine, the berries are often crushed lightly and left to soak in the juice, also known as the must. During this process of maceration, the grape skins, flesh, and seeds gently break down, releasing tannins, aroma precursors, and anthocyanins into the must. 

In red winemaking, maceration can happen before and during the alcoholic or primary fermentation. In fact, the winemaker is constantly balancing color, aroma, flavor, and the amount of tannins extracted from the grapes, lengthening or shortening the maceration period as appropriate.

Once the yeast has converted all the sugar in the grapes to alcohol, primary fermentation is deemed complete. The wine is then pressed to remove all grape debris. The day before press, lactic acid bacteria is often pitched into the wine to start a secondary fermentation. In this fermentation, harsh green apple-y malic acid is converted to softer creamier lactic acid to give the wine a fuller mouthfeel.

After malolactic fermentation is complete, the wine is then left to age, usually in oak, for as long as the winemaker pleases before bottling. And that completes the process of red winemaking.

White Wine

While not obvious to the naked eye, anthocyanins are also present in the skin of white grapes. The amount is significantly lower to be detected visibly.

Unlike red wine, white wine is made with nearly no skin contact. Most of the flavor and aroma compounds in white grapes come from the pulp and not the skin. The skin of white grapes adds bitterness and astringency, both of which are undesirable for white wine.

White grapes harvest by Thomas Schaefer on Unsplash

In white winemaking, the grapes are harvested and immediately pressed. The skin is removed, and there is no maceration. Once the the clear juice is extracted, the must is inoculated with yeast, which begins the alcoholic fermentation.

After alcoholic fermentation is complete, depending on the grape variety and the winemaker, the wine may or may not go through malolactic fermentation and then aged in oak, stainless steel or concrete. White wine that has been aged in oak will have a deeper yellow shade to it. Otherwise, it is lightly-colored and crisp.

Pink Wine

Now that we have gone through the difference between red and white winemaking. Let's have some fun and mix it up. What if we use red grapes and make wine via the white winemaking method? 

Hey Presto! Pink wine!

Contrary to popular belief, pink wine or rosé is not made by mixing red wine and white wine together. The exception would be the blending of red and white still wines to be the base for the second (not secondary) fermentation of a pink sparkling wine.

Pink wine or rosé, a sign of summer

Pink wine is made when red grapes go through a very short period of maceration, usually four to forty-eight hours, before being pressed. After the grape skin and other debris are removed, the must is inoculated with yeast, and alcoholic fermentation begins the same way it does for a white wine.

The short maceration gives rosé its blush hue, which is what the English call the wine. Rosé has the flavor profile of a light red wine with a lot of red fruits. However, it is also crisp and bright like a white wine.

Orange Wine

Let's then try the reverse and use white grapes to make wine in the red winemaking method. Instead of removing skin contact upon harvest, macerate the white grapes in the must like you would for red winemaking. 

Viola! You get an orange wine!

Orange wine
While it may seem like a fad, the origin of orange wine goes back 5,000 years in Caucasus. Today, you can still find orange wine in the Republic of Georgia as well as Slovenia and Italy. 

Because the wine is made from white grapes with extended skin contact, it has the aroma of honey and ripe fruit, that is reminiscent of an oxidative wine. But on the palate, it is dry, tannic and tart like a red wine. Orange wine is like a heftier white wine that is served cool but not chilled. When well made, it is super interesting and can take on bold-flavored dishes, like curry or even lamb.

My Verdict: As you see, the color of wine is really more than grape skin deep. So why limit yourself to red and white? Try something different, something new, and let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Wine, The Secret Sauce

Many cultures cook with wine. Growing up, my Hakka Chinese grandmother would make delicious drunken chicken, which I used to think meant exactly just that. The Italians have Brasato Al Barolo (Beef Braised in Barolo). The French have Coq Au Vin (Chicken Braised in Wine). One of my all-time favorites is steamed clams in saffron-infused white wine sauce with garlic and shallots sautéed in butter.

Clams steamed in wine sauce with saffron

I cook with wine occasionally, the occasion being that open bottle of wine that is about to "expire." In this month's blog post, let's explore what exactly about wine that elevates an everyday dish to one with complexity and depth of character. 

Delivering Flavors

The alcohol in wine is a remarkable flavor delivery system. When tasting wine, the alcohol delivers the aroma to the nose and taste to the palate. It then sticks around at the back of the mouth, allowing the flavors to linger and create the perception of "a long finish."

In cooking with wine, the alcohol binds with fat and water, dissolving flavors from both. When wine is used in a marinade, the alcohol absorbs fat-soluble flavors in the aromatics (like garlic and rosemary) as well as water-soluble flavors (like in honey and brine). It then deposits these flavors directly into the cells of the meat so that when you finally cook the meat, it is bursting with delectable goodness. 

Juicy steak soaked in red wine reduction

Wine is also excellent for deglazing a pan after searing a nice cut of meat. The alcohol dislodges and dissolves the browned bits, creating a sauce that is concentrated in flavors, unmatched by a similar reduction made with broth or water. 

Enhancing Flavors

Apart from being a flavor delivery system, wine also adds to the taste of a dish by imparting acidity and sweetness. For instance,

Sauvignon Blanc adds tartness and a tinge of sweetness in a lemon cream sauce that marries well with the crunchy juicy pan-fried chicken. 
Pan-fried chicken in creamy lemon wine sauce

A well-made wine may also extend its secondary and tertiary flavors to a dish. These notes, layered on by the fermentation and aging processes, include examples such as creaminess from malolactic fermentation and vanilla from oak. Want a cream sauce to coat your linguini? A buttery Chardonnay may be it!

As a rule of thumb, crisp white wine works best for lighter flavored dishes, like chicken and fish, while big bold red wine works best for flavorful meaty dishes. However, one can break the rule and use the flavor profile of the wine to inspire and guide what you cook. Add an earthy Burgundy to that chicken and mushroom stew with onions, garlic, thyme sprigs, and a bay leaf. Make a Syrah reduction sauce for that peppercorn-crusted steak. 

Doesn't that just whet your appetite?

So next time you have that unfinished bottle or are just feeling inspired to make a special meal, try that time-tested recipe like Julia Child's Bœuf Bourguignon. Or let your creative juice flow with the wine and experiment with new recipes. Because you have that secret sauce.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Viva Vino México


The very word conjures images of sun-soaked beaches and bikinis, carnitas and coronas (the good kind), tacos and tequilas, and everything tropical paradise. Wine, however, does not make the list unless it is part of sangria. So when a bottle of 2016 Santos Brujos Tempranillo came in the June allocation from my local wine store, I was intrigued. And it was delicious! 

2016 Santos Brujos Tempranillo

Let's take a virtual trip to explore Mexican wine in this blog post.


I took a Wine History class a few years ago, and it was fascinating to learn how wine and religion were intertwined. Wine was such an important part of the Christian sacrament that back in the 4th Century AD, monks were the primary winemakers in Europe. Everywhere the church went, wine was sure to follow. 

When the Spanish started making conquests in the New World, they brought with them colonialism and religion. According to legends, Spanish Jesuit Missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino planted the first vineyards in Mexico in the 16th Century. In 1597, Casa Madero in Coahuila became the first winery in Americas. Vines established in Coahuila would eventually be exported to Napa Valley and South America, both of which are now world renowned wine destinations. Yet, Mexico somehow fell off the wine map.

First Mexican winery was founded in Coahuila

Since then, Mexican winemaking went through its ebb and flow before re-emerging in the 70s and 80s. Today, modern Mexican winemaking is regaining attention, making its own expressions of wine from the French, Spanish, and Italian grape varieties.

Latitude and Altitude

The common question about winemaking in Mexico is the climate. It is hard to imagine that the hot weather is conducive to growing grapes. After all, the best winemaking regions are located somewhere between the 30th and 50th parallels on either side of the equator. 

The reality is about 85-90% of Mexican wine today is produced just north of 30°N latitude in Baja California. The vineyards are located at a high altitude of 1,000 feet above sea level, where the climate is cooler. This plus the breeze from the Pacific Ocean creates an ideal condition for growing grapes. There are a handful of wine sub-regions in Baja California; of which, Valle de Guadalupe is known as the Napa of Mexico.

Vineyards in Valle de Guadalupe

The remaining 10-15% of Mexican wine is produced in Sonora and the La Laguna area. Sonora, another northern state located on the other side of the Gulf of California, produces a very limited amount of wine. The La Laguna area straddles two states, Durango and Coahuila. While the area is the southmost of the three, it makes up for it with a high altitude of 5,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level. Coahuila, in particular, takes the claim for the first known winery in Americas and the prized wine region of Valle de Parras. 

Santos Brujos Tempranillo

Santos Brujos, founded in 2006, is a young boutique winery located in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California. Its first release was the 2012 vintage. The winery is among a few in the region that is certified organic and biodynamic, practicing native yeast fermentation with no added sulfites. Winemaker Luis Peciña Garcia moved from the Rioja region in Spain to join the winery in 2014. 

Santos Brujos logo

The 2016 vintage is made of 100% estate-grown Tempranillo, aged in 80% French and 20% American oak. The wine is unfiltered although I didn't get a lot of sediments. Overall, it is expressive, pleasing, and fruit-forward with lots of berries and a tinge of spice. For me, it is reminiscent of a Rioja, somewhere between a Crianza and a Reserva, although some would argue that it tastes more like a Ribera del Duero.

My Verdict: With a forgotten legacy as the land of the first vineyards and the first winery in Americas, Mexico's revival in modern winemaking is very exciting. I am blown away by the Santos Brujos Tempranillo. The fact that there are beautiful wine countries to explore in Baja California and Coahuila is all bonus. From a country known for coronas and tequilas, I can now add a libation that has a longer history to the list. 

¡Viva Mexico! 

¡Viva Vino Mexico!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Three Vintages, Four Grapes, Five Wines

As this most unusual year comes to a close, I decided to revisit some of my wines in the spirit of not-so Auld Lang Syne: three vintages, four grapes, five wines. If nothing else, tasting and learning from the past helps prepare you for the next vintage. So here's what I've learned.

Revisiting past vintages

2016 Abscession (Syrah, Chandler Reach Vineyards, Yakima AVA)

This is my first vintage and my last bottle. My winemaking teacher, Steve Foisie, called this the proof-of-concept vintage. He coached us through the chemistry of red wine making; from crushing grapes to alcoholic and malolactic fermentations, and then wrapping it all up with stabilization and bottling. Nothing fancy.

    First Crush

    Technical Specs

    • 100 lbs of Syrah harvested in mid September 2016
    • Upon completing alcoholic and malolactic fermentations, matured in glass carboy with no oak
    • 1.5 cases bottled in mid February 2017
    • Residual sugar: 0.35%, pH = 3.78, TA = 0.73

    Tasting Notes

    • Color: Medium ruby
    • Aroma: Surprisingly fresh with strawberry and cherry
    • Palate: Dry, nice balance of fruit and herb, with a hint of eucalyptus, while retaining good structure
    • Body: Medium plus
    • Acidity: Medium
    • Tannins: Medium plus
    • Finish: Long with a hint of eucalyptus

    My Lesson: Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!

    The first vintage was the most nerve wrecking. My main goal was to prevent the wine from turning into vinegar. This meant rigorous cleaning and decontaminating of everything in close proximity to the wine. Good sanitation practice allows the yeast to properly complete fermentation, and the wine to mature and stabilize. Four years later, I am pleased and somewhat surprised that the Abscession has retained a nice structure despite a higher-than-desired pH and zero oak contact. The wine remains fresh although it has lost some of its fruit forwardness.

    2017 Midnight Crush (Cabernet Sauvignon, Artz Vineyards, Red Mountain AVA)

    This is my second vintage, and my first time using oak. I am not a fan of oaky wine, but I wanted to take the edge off the tannic Cab Sauvignon grapes with micro-oxygenation from the barrel. To limit wood contact and oak flavor extraction, 20 of the 25 gallons of wine were racked in and out of the 8-gallon barrel. I was also excited about the more concentrated flavors as the porous barrel allowed for a mild evaporation.

      Round-robin racking in and out of barrel

      Technical Specs

      • 400 lbs of Cab Sauvignon harvested in mid October 2017
      • 80% in new French oak for two months, 20% unoaked
      • 10.5 cases bottled in early April 2018
      • Residual sugar: 0.34%, pH = 3.62, TA = 0.79
      Tasting Notes

      • Color: Medium ruby
      • Aroma: Cherry Jolly Rancher
      • Palate: Dry, cherry with a bit of tobacco, nice structure
      • Body: Medium plus
      • Acidity: Medium
      • Tannins: Medium plus, smooth
      • Finish: Lingering with cocoa notes

      My Lesson: Respect the oak!

      Oak in wine is like salt in food. If you can taste it, you probably have too much of it. Because I was using a small new French oak barrel, I was careful with wood contact to avoid creating an oak bomb. Once the desired taste profile was achieved, the oaked wine was racked out of the barrel, and a new batch of unoaked wine was racked in. The outcome was a lovely structured wine, balancing fruit with nuanced notes of tobacco and cocoa. The judges at the Washington State Fair agreed and gave it a second place in the Cab Sauvignon category last year!

      2018 Political Series (Merlot, Les Collines Vineyard, Walla Walla AVA, and Cabernet Franc, Chandler Reach Vineyards, Yakima AVA)

      For this third vintage, I attempted two new varieties - Merlot and Cab Franc. As far as winemaking math goes, one plus one equals three. Yes, we ended up with three distinct wines after blending and tasting. I procured another small new French oak barrel for this vintage. Like before, we ran 20 gallons of wine in and out of the 8-gallon barrel in a round robin fashion to manage wood contact.

      Technical Specs
      • 200 lbs Merlot harvested in mid September 2018
      • 100 lbs Cab Franc harvested: Early October 2018
      • Bottled all three wines in early June 2019
      • Overall blend residual sugar: 0.23%, pH = 3.89, TA = 0.62

        Blending and tasting

      Kamala Walla Walla (100% Merlot free run)

      The free run Merlot tasted so good that it was the first to go into the barrel. It was kept there for two months to complete malolactic fermentation and started aging. The wine was then aged and stabilized for another six months in glass carboys. Three cases were produced.
        Tasting Notes
        • Color: Medium ruby
        • Aroma:  Cherry and red fruit
        • Palate: Cherry Jolly Rancher with herbal undertones
        • Body: Medium plus to full body
        • Acidity: Medium plus to high, lively
        • Tannins: Medium plus and smooth
        • Finish: Lingering and rounded

        AOC (60% Cabernet Franc/40% Merlot)

        Next into the barrel was a blend of 60% Cab Franc and 40% Merlot. There might have been a bit of malolactic fermentation left, but it was mostly maturing in oak for two months. The wine was then aged and stabilized for another three months in glass carboys. Three cases were produced.

        Tasting Notes

          • Color: Garnet
          • Aroma: Strawberry and floral-scented
          • Palate: Strawberry, floral with cocoa undertones
          • Body: Medium plus to full
          • Acidity: Medium plus to high
          • Tannins: Medium plus
          • Finish: Long with a cherry finish

          Labeling wine bottles

          RBG (70% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc)

          Last but not least, a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cab Franc was racked into the barrel for 3 months of aging and stabilization. Two cases were produced.

          Tasting Notes

            • Color: Garnet
            • Aroma: Cherry and floral-scented
            • Palate: Dry, cherry with cocoa undertones
            • Body: Medium plus to full, well rounded
            • Acidity: Medium plus to high
            • Tannins: Medium and smooth
            • Finish: Lingering with a tart finish

            My Lesson: Plan but flex!

            You heard parents say that raising two children is more than twice the work of raising one. The same is true for making two grape varieties. While not the sexiest part of winemaking, planning the logistics around two fermentation timelines is essential. In return, you get so much more as well. I started out thinking I was going to make a Merlot/Cab Franc blend. I ended up with three wines - a single varietal and two blends! So while I had my plan, I learned to keep an open mind and flex where the palate took me. And I was rewarded for that.

            So let not auld acquaintance be forgot. But take a glass of kindness and drink to the next vintage!