EXPERIMENTATION: PROS AND CONS
I’ve spent the last week, when not on Dad-duty, tasting and blending the 2014 red wines: all thirty of them. “Thirty?!” You say? Yep, 30. Allow me to explain.
The vintage prior, 2013, was my first harvest, and I worked right alongside Mari, learning the methods she had honed over 9 years. By the time 2014 rolled around, I had stockpiled a whole year of “Well, what if we did this? Or that? That could be so cool!” (wherein “this” and “that” might mean using more whole clusters, picking slightly earlier/later, or playing Ravel’s String Quartet on loop next to a fermentation). Anyone familiar with the (pseudo) Scientific Method knows that for every experiment there must be a control, so many harvest batches were split into two: the traditional, and the radical* new idea. In a typical year we might have 25 to 30 different numbered lots, in 2014 we had 48 – thirty of which remain to be bottled soon.
What did we learn? So much. It was an indispensable rite of passage for my grasp of the Estate. For example, I harvested Grenache 6 different times at different levels of ripeness. The early wines have a freshness and aromatic precision that is jaw dropping, but they lack what you might call “deliciousness”. Later, they are soft and sumptuous, but can be a little hot and lack some palate energy. Blended in the right proportions, you get the best of both worlds. Also, relevant to this release, I learned that Vermentino’s complex skin flavors demand that it be de-stemmed and soaked on the skins (like rosé) before being vinified, but the rest of the whites like to be whole-cluster pressed to preserve their purity of fruit.
And while I’m grateful for this knowledge, I’ll never do it again. Harvest itself was dizzying, and it’s been arduous to keep track of all these wines. Now that we’re blending, some are frustratingly scarce (“That’s delicious! Wait, there’s only one barrel?!”), and then there’s that old devil of too many great options, or “paralysis by analysis”, which, as my wife will attest to on a visit to the grocery store, I have a particularly difficult time with. So now I take the longer, less hurried view: a few experiments every year, over the course of many years, is a lot of learning. And, of course, sometimes you just have to go by feel.
Onto the wines: the 2013 Mourvedre is just starting to blossom, and to best bring forth its floral, blood-orangey aromas it seems to prefer a little decanting. It’s full of sweet plum fruit, a hint of oak, and plenty of fresh acidity. It’s great with gamey meats, but if you’re feeling adventurous, the people in Provence drink theirs slightly chilled with appetizers from the sea.
As mentioned, the 2014 Vermentino is composed of a mere three different batches, one of them skin-fermented. The aromas are abundant, with citrus and its blossoms, and a hint of chalky minerality. On the palate, I love the lemon-oil flavors and texture, as well as the wine’s intensity, which never lets up.
Finally, the 2012 Reserve Syrah from the Fenaughty Vineyard is fast becoming a classic. Compared to last year, the violet and black-raspberry aromas are holding strong, but the wine is gaining complexity and becoming more and more true to its origin as the one-third new French Oak integrates further.
*Of course, Mari no doubt had all the answers and was happy to share them, but no, I just had to find out for myself.