The 2016 growing season started early and was followed by a beautiful spring which moved maturation into the fast lane. Then came July. The skies were surprisingly overcast, which increased the size of the clusters and berries due to the lack of heat and minimal vine stress. August was the opposite, with a high accumulation of heat units, including warm nights, that triggered a quick véraison and a rush towards ripening leading to the start of another very early vintage. In fact, the first day of harvest this year was August 23rd, beginning with some Long Shadows' Dance Chardonnay from the old vines at French Creek Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. This is the second time in twenty two years (also in 2015) that I have harvested grapes in August. The difference this year was the sugar content spiked, but because of the larger berry size, it took longer for the grapes to achieve the optimum physiological maturity. Then came our second round of cooler weather in early September. Instead of the expected fast and furious start to harvest we anticipated in late August, we kicked back and waited while the grapes enjoyed a long hang time that set the juice chemistry back in balance and resulted in a vintage that has the best of both worlds; impressive wines across the board with optimal yields.
At Long Shadows Vintners, we are always striving to push wine quality as high as possible with techniques like these:
**Triple sorting grapes is one of the many steps we take to ensure quality and consistency. This begins with a vibrating table to sort out bad clusters and any MOG (Material Other Than Grapes) like leaves. This being said, the real sorting happens in the vineyard at picking. The cluster sorting table is insurance. As the destemmer releases the berries, our second sorter - a vibrating screen, will separate small items like shot berries (undeveloped fruit) and the occasional insects. The last sorting is done on a white conveyor belt by several people committed to remove any green berries and jacks (pieces of stems).
**Whole cluster fermentation broadens the overall mouthfeel and complexity of the finished wine. We use this technique primarily in Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Although we've tried 100% whole cluster, we typically use about 30% whole bunch and 70% must (crushed berries). In some instances, we foot stomp the clusters in the tank to break the berries, which optimizes extraction. At other times, we keep the clusters intact to emphasize the delicate notes of fermentation created by the carbonic maceration happening inside the berry.
**Submerged cap fermentation is a gentle technique that John Duval (Sequel) has used over the years to add backbone to a wine. The idea is to force the berries below the surface of the fermenting juice.With the help of a screen pressing down the berries to maximize the maceration time, a more structured wine develops. Without this device, all the berries just float on top of the liquid so the only extraction of the tannins essentially happens at pump over time. More common in Australia's Barossa Valley, this technique perfectly suits Syrah because of its naturally delicate skin.
**Oak fermentation increases the texture and the intensity of the wine. It is typically used with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We ferment the Pedestal Merlot (Michel Rolland) in 1500 gallon upright wood fermenters that were made in Bordeaux. Michel has also asked me to pop the heads off some regular barrels to micro-ferment some top lots of Merlot creating tiny lots of luscious wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon used in Pirouette (Melka/Huneeus) is fermented in oversized 400 liter French oak barrels placed on wheels which are spun and rotated, in place of a punch down. The principle is the oak carries tannins and lets some air penetrate into the fermenting wine. Tannins and oxygen are two components needed to fix color pigmentation (anthocyanins) in the wine, thereby creating more intense and textured wines.
Winemaker of the Year
In Washington State, there are now over 900 wineries and many talented winemakers, so I am particularly honored to be named Winemaker of the Year by Seattle Magazine. The magazine also recognized Salty's Tim O'Brien as Sommelier of the year, and we are planning a celebration dinner at the restaurant on January 18. Please consider joining us.
Wine of the Year
In addition, Andy Perdue, a wine author, journalist and international wine judge has just chosen the 2013 Pedestal to be his #1 wine of the year! You can read more about it in the Seattle Times.
Finally, I would like to mention that the French minister of agriculture has nominated my wife, Marie-Eve Gilla, to the rank of Knight "Chevalier dans l'ordre du Mérite agricole" for her life commitment to agriculture. We are stoked!
I would like to extend to everyone my warmest wishes for the upcoming holidays. I always love to sit back with friends and family and enjoy their company over a great bottle of wine and gourmet dishes.
One event I look forward to at the winery is our Holiday Barrel Tasting, always on the first full weekend of December. This year, we will be celebrating on December 2nd and 3rd. We are pulling a barrel of our 2014 Chester Kidder, still undergoing an extended barrel aging, to share with everyone. I hope to see many of you here!
Whether you have a question, are planning a trip to Walla Walla or just want to say "Hi!", I would love to hear from you. I hope to see you all in the near future, a glass of wine in hand.
Santé! Gilles Nicault