18 Jan 2011
Remember when you first fell in love? This weekend I was reminded of what it was like to explore wine for the first time. Do you remember you first wine experience? Think back to the explosion of flavor, the romance, the mystery…and the excitement of the unknown. Do you sniff then swirl, or is it sip, then sniff? What is a Rose? What is the all the fuss?
Saturday I experienced the joy of helping two people through their first wine tasting. Both ladies were brought in by their wine loving friends and both were so excited for their first experience. There was nervousness and an anticipation that accompanied the fear of the unknown. Think back to a first date. These are the feelings and emotions that seemed to explode out of first time wine explorers.
The Joy of the First Time
The first kiss, the first car, the first touch, the first sip; each imparts a memory that will not soon be forgotten. I remember my first time. I was 16 and the night was hot and passionate. The windows of the car were getting steamy…
…uh, oops, wrong story….
I remember my first time. I picked out a wine for a date, unsure of what to get. After awkwardly fumbling with the cork, I finally managed to pour the Merlot into the glass. I watched as she swirled the wine in the glass and then lifted it to her nose. I did the same. As the liquid flowed over my tongue, I was hooked. The flavor was new, intense, full of fruit, and intriguing. Each sip brought a new rush of intensity. I knew this was more than an alcoholic beverage. This was art with layers of depth that begged to be explored.
Saturday, I watched as two people experienced the same awakening and arousal from the fermented grape. Their eyes lit up with joy and each wine brought a slew of new questions and curiosities. Each swirl, sniff, sip brought a smile to their face.
“Why do you swirl the wine?”
It releases the aroma so you can get a better sensory experience. It also helps bring oxygen into the wine which can soften some of the rough edges as it opens up.
“What am I smelling or tasting?”
Start with the basic taste characteristics of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Then move on to any fruit flavors and aromas that you can identify. Next, are there any spice or herb components and finally, do you detect any earth or mineral flavors and aromas.
“This is so cool!” exclaimed both participants. The questions continued and the curiosity was contagious as the world of wine wonderment unfolded before them. The wine tasting started with a dry rosé and included a pinot noir, merlot, syrah, and finally a late harvest chenin blanc. One lady enjoyed the wine more as the tasting got heavier, but balked at the syrah. The other’s preference was the syrah. However, in the end both wine explorers purchased the Terra Blanca Late Harvest Chenin Blanc.
“It’s like a tropical fruit salad dessert in a glass!”
Success! Wine loving converts. Ambitious explorers who will be back for more. Their trip to the store will now include a walk down the wine section. Their confidence and knowledge of what wine to bring to parties has increased.
Guiding these two wide eyed women through their first tasting was fun. It reminded me of why wine is exciting and why I wanted to get into this business of blogging, writing, and selling wine. Too often we analyze the juice like a science project and forget it is a passionate expression of some creative wine maker. It’s a personal experience with personal preference. As Charles Smith of K-Vintners says, “It’s just booze, drink it.” Explore through repetition and variety and remember to savor each sip.
What is your favorite part of wine tasting? Leave a note for all those wine explorers those who are beginning the journey full of question, intimidation, and curiosity. Remember, enjoy life with friends, drink happy!
Work, wait, work, wait, work like heck, wait, work, wait, enjoy! This seems to be the order of the winemaking process. Add in a lot of cleaning and a lot of beer and you’ve got some good wine. For the last several months we’ve been following the 2010 Bacchus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Barrister winery.
The 2010 vintage has kept owners Greg Lipsker and Michael White on their toes. In their 10 years as winemakers, 2010 will go down as the most challenging. The cool season kept the fruit on the vine longer than normal. Harvesting on November 4 yielded a fruit with lower sugar levels, higher acid and higher pH than in previous years. The snowiest November on record compounded challenges as well.
Interested in the process? Take a look at the previous posts and see what a grape goes through before it gets in your glass.
Fermentation is where the sugar in the grapes is converted to alcohol. This process typically takes 7-10 days after the wine is inoculated with yeast (food for the sugar). Barrister winery uses four different types of yeast that emphasize different characteristics of the wine (aromatics, flavor, structure). This fermentation happens in stainless steel tanks. For 2010, Barrister decided to let the wine undergo extended maceration. This is the process where the juice and skins stay in the same tank for an additional period of time. This helps to soften the flavor and provide more weight as the short ‘hard’ tannin chains link together to become soft.
This extended maceration means…more work. During this time the skins must continually be “punched down” to avoid the cap from drying out and to keep the skins connected with the juice. The 2010 Cabernet spent a total of four weeks on the skins hoping to capture the traditional softness of Barrister wines.
Two years ago Barrister bought the HAL 9000 of the press world. This beautiful blend of computer programming and stainless steel is their reward for using a small hand press for the first 8 vintages of their wine. This specific press company makes 8-12 machines per year and wineries like Betz and Col Solare use them in Washington. Prior to entering the press the “free run” juice (the juice that happens as a result of press, fermentation and punch down) is pumped into a temporary holding tank. The remaining juice – trapped in the skins goes into the press. The computer goes through a series of press and pause cycles to provide a consistent and soft extraction of juice. The juice goes through four filters before being pumped into the storage tanks. Barrister lets the pressed juice sit in the tanks for 24 hours to let additional sediment settle before being pumped into barrel.
The tradition of using oak barrels has been around for hundreds of years. Used properly the oak can impart beautiful layers of vanilla, charcoal, smoke, toast, tobacco, and more. Barrister uses French oak barrels for their 2010 Bacchus Cabernet. After soaking the oak barrels in water to swell any leaks, the free run and pressed juice are tucked in for their long rest. Barrister is lucky to have a large 7500+ square foot barrel room where hundreds of barrels rest single high in the naturally climate controlled basement. The smell is amazing. If you haven’t been to the Barrister barrel room, leave a comment, I’ll help arrange a visit for you. Access to the basement is through an old service elevator with an old fashion hand operated gate.
The Cabernet will rest in the barrel room for 18-26 months gently rocked by the trains that pass next to the winery several times per day. Part 5 in the series we’ll revisit the wine as it ages and talk about the barrels, blending and more. After all that wait, work, wait, clean, wait and work…now the long wait begins as the wine sleeps, rests and matures to become the beautiful Barrister Cabernet you’ve come to love.
In August we began following the 2010 Barrister Winery Bacchus Cabernet Sauvignon from the grape to the glass. The 2010 vintage has been a nail-biter and with grapes being harvested on November 4, Barrister owners Greg Lipsker and Michael White waited until the last possible minute to get as much flavor in the grape as possible. Harvest time has arrived, now the work begins.
The Bacchus Cabernet vines, planted in 1972, are some of the oldest in the state. Wineries like Longshadows, Efeste, Walla Walla Vintners, and Barrister bring in grapes from Sagemoor group (Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, and Sagemoor Farms). This year, Barrister is brought in 8 tons of Cabernet from Bacchus, nearly twice last year’s amount. The extended hang time in late October allowed the wines to slowly mature and develop in flavor without the additional sugar. Grapes were harvested at 24 brix (sugar level), down from the typical 26+ brix. The result will most likely be wines that are high in flavor without the high alcohol.
When the grapes arrive at Barrister, the process for making wine begins. A group of loyal volunteers and some paid staff move the grapes into a de-stemming and crushing machine. The volunteers remove clumps of dirt, leaves, and any raisin berries they can find. The grapes roll down the chute to be gently crushed. Barrister uses a gentle crush to not overly expose the skin which helps keep the tannin level more smooth. This is a trademark of Barrister wine. Once the grapes are crushed they then cold soak for 24-48 hours before entering fermentation.
Fermentation is the process where the grapes sugar converts to alcohol. Barrister ads four different yeasts during the fermentation process. The yeast is a food for the sugar as it converts to alcohol. Part four of the series will look at the fermentation process, punching down, pressing and moving the wine into various barrels.
Volunteers are the life blood of a small winery. “We could not do what needs to be done during crush without their help,” says Greg Lipsker. The volunteers arrive early and work late into the day on the de-stemming machine. Each volunteer leaves with sticky clothes, purple fingers, and a bottle of their favorite Barrister wine. Volunteers are also a part of bottling, racking, labeling, and more.
The 2010 vintage is in the books and now the grapes are in the talented hands of Greg Lipsker and Michael White to become the wine that we all have come to love. Continue to follow the journey from the grape to the glass as we look at fermentation to the barrel, barrel aging, and finally bottling. Stay tuned, as the 2010 vintage looks to be a special one that you won’t want to miss.
There is a geeky side to grape farming. A little bit of science is blended with hard work to create each artistic glass we drink. As we follow the 2010 Barrister Winery Sagemoor Cabernet Sauvignon from the grape to the glass, we dive into the science inside the grape. In part one of the series (From the Grape to the Glass Pt1 Progress Reports) Greg Lipsker, co-owner and winemaker of Barrister winery, visits the vineyard for a status check on the 2010 fruit. The grapes are undergoing veraison (a process where the green fruit turns purple) and vineyard manager, Derek Way is thinning the shoots to direct more energy to the grape clusters. As harvest nears, Greg makes several trips to Sagemoor, and watches stats online, to monitor the ripening of the fruit and determine the perfect time to harvest.
Part 2 – The Science of Grapes
PH, total acidity, refractometer, and pyrazines; these are not the typical sexy or romantic words you associate with wine, however, they are important terms monitored and used in the process. Sagemoor Vineyard group, north of Pasco, WA, works with 70+ winemakers, including Spokane’s Barrister Winery, in this process. Planted in 1972, the 900 acres along the Columbia River contain some of the oldest vines in the state. General Manager Kent Waliser, and Vineyard Manager Derek Way, provide lab services as the grapes near harvest. The measurements are tracked and made available online so that every winery and winemaker can stay informed on the progress.
During this visit, Greg has his eye three key measurements that will help determine when to harvest the block 9 Cabernet; sugar levels, total acidity, and PH. These three measurements work together and affect the flavor and balance of the wine we enjoy. “In the end it’s all about balance and flavor,” Greg says. 2010 has been unseasonably cool. Way has worked hard to ensure good ripening fruit through aggressive shoot thinning, and cutting out hanging fruit. These efforts allow maximum sunshine on the clusters and drive more energy to the remaining grapes.
While in the vineyard, Greg takes several sugar level readings with a refractometer. The refractometer measures the sugar level (brix) in the grape juice. During fermentation the sugar is converted to alcohol. A grape that is harvested under-ripe can have poor flavor and feel astringent or taste more vegetal. Greg typically harvests his Cabernet Sauvignon at 25 brix. Today’s readings range from 18-20. More sun and more hang time over the next 2-3 weeks will help ripen the grapes to the desired level.
TA (Total Acidity)
Greg collects several clusters of grapes from various sections of the block to be taken back to the lab to measure TA and PH. As grapes ripen, acidity levels drop helping to create a balance in the sweetness and tartness of a wine. These acidity levels also play a large part in balancing the alcohol feel in your mouth. If a wine is high in ABV (alcohol by volume) and low in acidity it can come off feeling hot and disjointed.
At the lab, Horticulture Technician Eddie Garcia presses the collected clusters and uses a sample of the juice to measure the TA. Eddie takes a solution of distilled water and five milliliters of juice and slowly adds sodium hydroxide until the pH meter reads 8.2. Reading the total amount of sodium hydroxide used and multiplying by .15 provides the total acid reading. During this visit TA was still over 1. Greg is looking for this number to be under 1 and preferably in the .80-.89 range.
The final measurement is pH. As the grape ripens, winemakers are looking for the right balance of pH in relation to the acidity. pH can play a role in the longevity of a wine as well as how it feels in the mouth. To get this reading, Ramirez takes a new sample of juice, and uses a pH reader to measure the sample. The pH reading is just over 3. This number will rise to between 3.5 and 3.7 providing the balance that Barrister Winery is looking for in their wine.
Overall, Greg is pleased with how the grapes are progressing. The flavor is nice and the sugar levels are coming along, in spite of the cool year. The 15 day forecast is calling for an extended period of temperatures in the mid and upper 70’s. The grapes love the sun.
How does the grape get into the glass? As you sit and sip the romance that is wine have you ever thought about the process that goes into making it? I’ve heard it said that, “Winemaking is 70% growing the grapes, 10% patience, 10% luck, 10% cleaning the toilets, and a whole lot of drinking beer.” While I know there is more to it than that, what really lies behind the glamour in the glass? This series follows winemaker Greg Lipsker, of Barrister Winery, and the journey of their Bacchus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon…from the grape to the glass.
Part 1 – Progress Reports
Barrister Winery, located in Spokane Washington, contracts with the Sagemoor group for specific rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from the Bacchus Vineyards. Sagemoor is a partnership of four distinct vineyards, Bacchus, Sagemoor, Dionysus and Weinbau consisting of 900 planted acres. The Bacchus and Dionysus vineyards were planted in 1972 and 1973 and are made up of vines that have never frozen to the ground. This age and maturity makes these vineyards some of the most coveted in the state in producing consistently high quality wine. The vineyards are about 10 minutes north of the Tri-Cities along the banks of the Columbia River. Good wine starts with good grapes.
The Sagemoor group was the state’s first, and now the largest, vineyard group not tied to a specific winery. Top wineries from Spokane’s Barrister and Arbor Crest to other key wineries like Chateau St. Michelle, Long Shadows, Columbia Crest, Fidelitas, Vin Du Lac, Woodward Canyon (70 in all) use Sagemoor Group fruit.
Wine making is a year long process. Each spring the vineyard is buzzing with activity as the vines spring to life and pruning begins. As the year progresses, the vineyard manager keeps Greg informed of the progress and tends Barrister’s rows to Greg’s specifications. Once the buds break and the clusters begin to form, Greg, and co-owner Michael White often make the 90 minute journey from Spokane for progress reports.
On this journey Greg meets with the managing director, John Vitalich, general manager, Kent Waliser and vineyard manager, Derek Way to discuss the progress of the Cabernet and talk viticulture strategy for coping with the unseasonably cool year. 2010 has been a very cool year and is being compared to one of the coolest on record (for winemaking). The progress of the grapes is about 10 days behind which could potentially push harvest into a timeframe where cool temperatures are a concern. During Greg’s visit the grapes are going through veraison where they turn from green to purple. The vineyard crew is busy at work thinning shoots, removing sunburned and poor performing berries, to help drive the plant’s energy to the strong clusters.
Greg spends about an hour getting the update before hopping back in his Toyota Prius…off to check on more grapes from another vineyard. Stay tuned…
- Barrister Winery Website – http://www.barristerwinery.com
- Sagemoor Group Website – http://www.sagemoorgroup.com/index.html