My father always told me that time seems to accelerate as we get older...maybe he is right. Looking back, I sent my last newsletter late 2015 and we are now in June with the growing season well underway. The question is "where has the time gone?". One thing is for sure; 2016 has not lost a beat with the earliest bud-break we have experienced in the Columbia Valley - ever. It seems that we are continuing the upward trend of warmer vintages. We talked about 2010 and 2011 being cooler vintages than normal and 2012 and 2013 being classic. Then came 2014 and 2015 with increasingly higher temperatures and early maturation. In fact, the 2015 harvest was a first for me to bring in red grapes in August. We picked Merlot and Syrah on the 25th. Well, the heat units of this new season are already well ahead of last year and I know that I will have to set up the crush pad early this year. To be ready for an early crush, we have been busy blending and racking our 2015 wines, while bottling many of our 2014 red wines.
"Down to earth" is a term that can be used for wine that reflects and respects the place where the grapes are grown. The French have a good word that describes this sense of origin; terroir. It is the soil, the climate, and the grower's dedication to the vineyard that make a wine distinctive from one region to the next. It brings unique characters like flavor, balance and structure to the final product. All the nuances carried by the growers and winemakers are indeed crucial to the quality of the final product but can also easily change the typicity of a site. "Un vin de terroir" aims toward enhancing the natural character of the place, trying to be in symbiosis with nature. For instance, high yields or heavy use of oak could interfere with the true essence of the wine.
In general, a cool climate like Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley retains more natural acidity and preserves more delicate flavors, yielding a wine that shows brighter fruit with an elegant overall texture. A warm site like Red Mountain or the Wahluke Slope fully ripens the tannins and increases the sugar content in the grapes, producing a riper style wine with darker fruit and a richer mouthfeel, along with a deep color.
The art of barrel making has been around for centuries, originally created to serve as a method of transport, not only for wine, but also dry goods like sugar, cereals etc... Since the late 1800s, aging wine in wood proved to help its quality. Luckily, under King Louis 14th, his minister Colbert had the vision to control the growth of French oak forests to have access to tall, straight lumber for building ships.
These forests are still producing very high quality wood mainly used to make wine barrels and furniture.
A common saying between winemakers is "it takes a lot of beer to make great wine". The less glamorous reality is that it also takes a lot of cleaning to make great wine, more so than just a "spring cleaning". Thinking about it, it does not take much to make wine: stomp it, let it ferment and enjoy!
But to make a solid wine each year, vintage after vintage, it is crucial to keep scrubbing and controlling the microbiology life roaming the cellar.
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