I get asked all the time, “What was the harvest like and how would you describe the wines?”
My response for the most part is, “wait for the wines and decide for yourself”.
Bottling time for me is actually quite a stress free day, in that my involvement in the wine officially comes to an end. As the wines mature in the winery, there is always room for reflection and doubt about whether you did the right thing in finishing them off. Did I add too little acid, are my sulfur levels correct and should I have bumped the residual sugar up just a little bit more? Constant questions we ask ourselves leading up to bottling day.
By the end of the day, with all the wines in the bottle, there is nothing let for a winemaker to do to manipulate the wine, it is what it is and customers will love it or hate it.
It was with great relief that almost 1900 cases of wine were bottled without incident on April 7th and 8th of 2014. This was the first bottling of the new 2013 vintage wines, wines that are made for early consumption and for the hot and humid months that define Virginia in May and June. As I am writing this, I am looking at the grey clouds and the pounding rain splashing on the crush pad, go figure.
Of the 5 wines that we bottled, I am incredibly proud of one of them, I may even go as far as to say it was the best wine I made last year.
That wine, believe it or not, is our new 2013 Rosé, made up entirely of Norton. Hold on a second here, did Stephen Barnard just say that his best wine he made was a 100% Norton Rosé? The winemaker that actually hates Norton and is quite open with his disdain for the grape? Yes ladies you heard correctly, the best wine I made in 2013 was our Norton Rosé.
It is not the best wine in the winery, but it is the best wine I MADE!
I am a big believer in the fact that the best fruit produces the best wine. As such, when you have wonderful fruit on your crush pad, all you really have to do is nurse it through the various processes and allow the grapes and their quality to be reflected in a glass of wine. Those wines ultimately turn out the be the best, reflecting the growing season and the terroir of the vineyard versus the hand of the winemaker.
We are not in California, however, and Virginia has a way of keeping you grounded. We have our good years but then we have our fair share of challenging vintages and sub standard grapes. As was the case with our 2013 Norton.
With the usual suspects causing issues [rain, lack of sunshine and short growing season], we also had the pleasure of dealing with damage caused by animals. The biggest culprits last year were the squirrels and the starlings. I was eventually being called Noah, since I had 2 of everything on the property.
The starlings really went to town on our Norton, and no matter how much netting we used we could not keep them under control. We were losing a fair amount of fruit and the decision was made to pull the fruit irrespective of the chemistry and try and do something with it in the winery.
For those of you who know a little about Norton, you will be aware that it has an excessive amount of acid when picked at even ripe sugar levels. Imagine for a second that you now are faced with 14 brix [measurement of sugar] grapes on the crush pad, and that the berries taste like a warhead candy.
Time for the winemaker to dig into his bag of tricks and make something of this.
Making a red wine was just out of the question, the fruit had no color and I was not confident of us making something decent. In hindsight, I should have made a sparkling wine, but at that point the only thing I could think of doing was to make a Rosé.
At this point I would like to take a moment to thank our sponsors Domino for the use of their sugar.
After de-stemming and then pressing, the brix of the juice was adjusted to 20.5 and then transferred to American oak barrels for fermentation. We inoculated the juice with a yeast that partially degrades malic acid and primary fermentation was completed without any incident. Unlike our other white wines and Rosés of previous years, we inoculated the finished wine to initiate secondary fermentation [allowing the malic acid to turn into the softer lactic acid] because we were so concerned with the acidity of the wine overwhelming any fruit and oak.
I think it was mid March, when I really started to get excited about the wine. Having been in South Africa for 3 weeks, this was the first time I tasted the wine in a while and I really liked it. Considering the quality of the fruit and the issues we had to deal with, this wine was not bad. The nose was quite aromatic, with lots of red fruits. The sweeter American oak was starting to come though and the acidity was there, but way more balanced within the context of the wine. Most importantly though, the wine was not screaming Norton, most thought it was a Bordeaux grape, BIG PLUS!
So after three weeks in the bottle, the wine finally makes it debut in our tasting room this coming Saturday at our Run for the Rosé event. In celebration of the Kentucky Derby, we will have games, a hat contest, delicious food from Black Jack’s mobile soul food truck and, of course, great wine including our new Rosé!
I hope it does well, despite the fact that it is a Rosé and made from Norton.
I can honestly say it was the best wine I made last year, and will be a great addition to our portfolio of wines we are currently pouring.
Let me know what you think of it.