The first thing we do every morning when we arrive at the winery is stick our noses into things. Not into other people's business, mind you, but barrels and bins. As our wines bubble away in the open-top fermenters, they put out all kinds of interesting smells. These scents tell us what is going on with the fermentation, if things are progressing properly, and whether or not there are any potential flaws developing. Later on, as the fermentation slows down and the wines are ready to be pressed, we stick our noses deep into the barrels and take a whiff. A clean barrel smells good, and makes for better wine.
One thing you learn from Lane when you see her make wine is that her nose is her sharpest weapon. After the last punch-down of the day, we leave the wine for the evening and let the yeast work their magic, turning juice into wine. In the morning we go straight to the bins and lift off the cover and stick our noses in. Some mornings you get beautiful fruit flavor, some mornings a slight hint of reduction (lack of oxygen), or maybe if you're unlucky, a hint of VA (volatile acidity, a slight hint of vinegar). These smells tell us if any extra care is needed that day in handling our wines.
We have all had bottles of wine (not Lumen, of course) that taste or smell just plain funky. Burnt rubber, nail polish, wet dog, salad dressing - these are all signs that something went awry during fermentation or aging. But not with Lane. Her nose knows (sorry, couldn't resist that pun). If we have a hint of reduction, we do a punch down with extra aeration and the reduction disappears. We haven't had any issues with VA, because we take such care to regularly mix the cap with the fermenting juice. VA during fermentation usually occurs if the cap is left to sit too long, and the grapes on top start to get a hint of vinegar flavor.
I have learned so much from Lane during this crush. More specifically, my nose has learned so much from her nose. I came home one day last week and popped a bottle of Pinot, and instantly poured it down the drain. I don't do this very often (sign of alcoholism?), but the wine was so reduced I couldn't palate it. Then it struck me - if it weren't for what Lane has taught me, I wouldn't have been able to identify the flaw.
On most days during harvest, a bunch of the winemakers in Santa Maria gather around the lunch table and "brown-bag" a bunch of wines that we have brought to test our palates. It's a fun game of guess the varietal, guess the region, and sometimes, guess the flaw. Today we had a wine that had almost every flaw a wine could have, all together in one sad little bottle. No one could even drink it. We even rinsed our glasses out before tasting the next wine.
The joyful moment came when we blind tasted three of Lane's wines: a 2002 Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir, a 2003 French Camp Syrah, and a 1990 Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir. They were all glorious, a testament to not only Lane's lower alcohol winemaking style, but also her infallible nose.
Who says wineries don't still foot stomp their grapes? Our Grenache fruit came in today from Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, the last fruit of the season for Lumen! The berries looked beautiful, and after they went through the de-stemmer there was literally no free run juice - like three tons of sticky ball bearings. This is going to turn into a great wine, but it's awfully hard to start fermentation when there is no juice.
The solution? Will gets to climb into the bins and start a-stompin! The grapes were so cold that after the first bin he had to put on his wetsuit booties (special thanks to O'Neill Wetsuits). Who knew of the added benefit of being both a surfer and winemaker? Yet another melding of two of Will's biggest passions.
What comes next is the even-better part - seeing what legendary winemaker Lane Tanner can do with Grenache fruit. She has never made one before. But this Grenache will not be like the big, heavy, tannic Grenaches that you normally taste from California (which are more often then not blended with a healthy dose of Syrah to add weight and color). Grenache is a light-colored red grape, and when unblended, makes a finished wine that is similar in weight to Pinot Noir. It also has the same food-versatility, and is a grape varietal with a heck of a lot of personality (like Lane). No wonder Lane's favorite grape is Pinot Noir, but maybe after this vintage, that will change.
With most of the Pinot Noir fruit in, both our 667 and 777 clones of Pinot Noir from Sierra Madre Vineyard have fermented and are now going into barrel! Lane is always the first to pick - which means our wines are also usually the first into barrel. This results in wines that are lower in alcohol and also more age-worthy.
The Pinot Noir spent about 10 days in open-top fermenters. We performed punch-downs three times a day, to mix in all that yummy fruit character. The wines all went through a very slow ferment and went into barrel smelling beautiful.
We did bring in an extra ton of Pinot Noir this week from an undisclosed high-end Pinot Noir vineyard from the Santa Rita Hills, which will go into our final blend and add some extra depth and character. Score! That will represent about 10% of the final wine. It is currently fermenting in an open-top bin.
The rest of the Chardonnay also came in this week - 4 tons from Sierra Madre Vineyard, Clone 15. The Clone 15 took a little longer to ripen, but the juice is gorgeous - and will add a nice spicy note to the Chardonnay. The Robert Young Clone of Chardonnay is now in barrel, having almost completed fermentation, with malolactic bubbling away.
Stay tuned for news on the Grenache - word is that it might be picked next week.
[vc_row show_full_width="1" padding_setting="1" desktop_padding="no-padding"][vc_column][vc_column_text]Lane Tanner, Angela Osborne, and Will Henry took a trip out to Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard to look at fruit for Lumen's upcoming 2013 Grenache. This vineyard is near the town of Cuyama, far east of the town or Santa Maria and at an elevation over 3,000 feet - making it the highest Grenache vineyard in California.
Will became fascinated with the Tribute to Grace Grenache, a wine made by Angela since the 2008 vintage. As Will says, "this Grenache is not heavy like most, it is more medium-bodied like a Pinot Noir, and is absolute ambrosia. It is a wine that is much more food-versatile, easy-drinking, and downright delightful than almost any other Grenache in the new world." So Will decided to get his partner and winemaker Lane Tanner together with the master of Grenache from this vineyard, New Zealander Angela Osborne. The two hit it off instantly - and a great wine will most likely result. With Angela's guidance and Lane's longtime winemaking skill, we can't wait to see what Lumen produces!
To sign up for the Lumen Wine Club and get on the list for this and other wines, click here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
The 2013 harvest began in Sierra Madre vineyard with the picking of Pinot Noir Clone 667 on September 4. Woohoo! As usual, Lane Tanner (winemaker and co-owner) was the first to pick in the area - it's her style, and what you get is a wine that is naturally lower in alcohol but beautiful, graceful, and downright delicious! Nonetheless, harvest came very early this year.
Clone 777 quickly followed the 667, and both are now fermenting along smoothly at the winery. Chardonnay just came in this week - on September 9 - with the Robert Young clone. It is already showing such beautiful fruit flavor - this will make extraordinary wine.
The Chardonnay is now fermenting in oak barrels, and the Pinot Noir in open-top fermenters. Will Henry (co-owner, pictured below) is managing the punch downs in the shortest shorts he can find - ostensibly to scare away VA bugs.
When Pinot Noir ferments, the CO2 rising from the liquid pushes the skins to the surface and forms a cap of grapes and skins. Punch downs are where you break the cap on the open top fermenters, and mix the skins in with the fermenting juice.
More news later as harvest progresses!
Lumen's inaugural release will be bottled next week! The 2012 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both from a single premium vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, will be released in November for members of our wine club only (California release will be in January). Sign up for The Lumen Wine Club to get details about upcoming releases, events, and to see how you can join our wine club.