The Chardonnay Conundrum

April 1, 2014

To filter or not to filter….

In honor of the recent bottling our 2012 Tom Eddy Manchester Ridge Unfiltered Chardonnay, I thought it would be fun to discuss the pros and cons of making a product like this and discuss exactly what unfiltered means.

Now some of you big Tom Eddy fans may not even know that we make a Chardonnay, and in fact we have only made two: one in

1

Unfiltered Tom Eddy Chardonnay 2012

2008 from the Diamond Mt. area and the other is the 2012 Manchester Ridge. The Manchester Ridge grapes come from a coastal, cool climate region in Mendocino, 2000ft. above sea level but overlooking the ocean. Weather-wise, the area is more like Burgundy than Calistoga, and the vineyard is the same source for our more well-known Tom Eddy Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir.

Because we only made 6 barrels (@360 gallons) of Chardonnay from this ranch in 2012, we decided it would be fun and educational to do a bit of an experiment and create two distinct products from the same wine. How is this possible you ask? Well, since the grapes are all the same and the wine is uniform in nature, the difference was created using disparate winemaking techniques.

Is a barrel wand like a magic wand?

First the basics…

The wine was fermented in six French Oak Barrels, two if which were brand new. It is important to balance new oak vs. neutral oak as it is very easy to “over-oak” a wine where you are extracting so much oak flavor and tannin from the new barrels that you can overpower the Chardonnay character and make the wine one-dimensional. New oak is like the cherry on a sundae: it is such a small part of the overall flavor profile but it wouldn’t be the same without it.

We also chose to use a technique known as sur lie aging. As grapes are being converted into wine, lots of solid particles are integrated into the wine, especially early on in the process. These solids consist of many different things: yeast, bacteria, protein, tannin, color, polysaccharides….the list goes on. Some of these solids settle over time to the bottom of the barrel, some stay suspended depending on their density and solubility. With sur lie aging we use a barrel wand to stir the wine in barrel once a week to re-suspend any solids that have settled to the bottom. This allows for polysaccharides (as well as other components) to integrate into the wine at a higher rate, increasing mouth-feel, creaminess as well as protecting the wine from oxidation. The barrel wand truly is magical!

Mad scientists?!!?!?!?

Back to the experiment at hand…

We decided to break the 2012 Chardonnay into two lots: 1) filtered, and bottled after 10 months and 2) Unfiltered, and bottled after 15 months. Filtration is a key tool in winemaking in order to guarantee a stable, clean product. But filtration has its price. There is nothing better than Chardonnay (or any wine for that matter) fresh out of the barrel. The richness of flavor and intensity are difficult to maintain all the way through bottling. A major reason for this is the “stripping” effect of filtration. The wine is essentially being pumped through a depth filter and a membrane filter to remove all bacteria and yeast (making it microbiologically stable) and remove any leftover sediment for a clear clean look. Filtration is necessary for a stable, consistent wine from bottle to bottle which is why all large commercial wineries filter their wine in order to create a consistent product. So we decided to bottle two thirds of the Chardonnay in this more commercially standard style, and we are very satisfied with the results. The filtered Chardonnay is clean and crisp and delicious, exactly what we want from this wine! However, we decided to take a risk with two of the barrels and bottle them, unfiltered, in order to capture that “fresh from the barrel” intensity of flavor and aroma. We also aged the unfiltered wine for 5 extra months allowing for extra sur lie stirring as well as extended concentration and oak extraction from the barrel aging process. The wine is creamier and richer than its filtered cousin, with a slight (and expected) visual haze due to fine amount of sediment in the bottle. We know you will have fun discovering the subtle and special nuances between these two wines!

Cheers,

Jason Gerard

Assistant Winemaker

Tom Eddy Wines

Our guest blogger

Rob & daughter Jessica at the winery.

Harvest had come around again, which meant it was time for the Kings to invade the Eddy Ranch and time for me to once again commandeer their Tom Eddy Wine Blog.

This year we were graced with sunshine for the weekend, which was much more pleasant than last year’s rain which seemed to indicate the coming of a second flood.

These grapes are cold!

Sorting Pinot Noir grapes from Manchester Ridge.

Friday morning we bundled up against the 37 degree weather and headed to Cuvaison Winery to start sorting the Pinot Noir grapes for Tom Eddy Wines. These had been picked at Manchester Ridge in Mendocino at 3 am under lights, and then trucked to the winery for sorting. I had not even considered how cold the grapes would be—having been picked at nearly freezing temperatures and trucked down before the sun came up—until Jason, Tom’s assistant winemaker, kindly pointed it out to me. He turned out to be right; after 5 minutes of sorting, we could no longer feel our fingers. Luckily there were only six bins and we managed to get through them with a few hand-dunks in warm water to return the feeling to our frozen fingers.

After sorting, we tasted the Saignée which had already been pumped into barrels. This is the free-run, pink juice that is quickly separated from the skins to create Tom Eddy’s rose of Cabernet, Mooton Rouge.  We then inoculated some of the “wine”, though it can hardly be called that since at the pre-inoculation stage it is basically grape juice.  Tom uses a specially selected yeast to help the juice ferment.

We also did pumpovers, which I had never seen before. Pumpovers consist of hooking up a large hose to the bottom of the tank and pumping the juice over the ‘cap’ of skins at the top of the tank.  This breaks up the cap and circulates the juice to create better contact with the skins and to extract color.  Without it the skins would float to the top, dry out and an insipid wine would result.

Doing pump-overs

Last year, we did a punchdown of the grapes and juice rather than doing pumpovers because it was Pinot Noir and too fragile to handle the rough pumpover process.

With pumpovers completed, we headed back to the office for some lunch. Then it was off to Tudal Winery, a client of Tom’s, to help out Ron, the winemaker, as he sent their freshly harvested grapes through the destemmer which separates the stems from berries.  We were put to work shoveling the discarded stems into a bin and stomping them.

Nice weather for some messy work.

Making room for more stems from the de-stemmer.

This turned out to be pretty messy work.

After stem-stomping was complete, a wine and cheese break back at the Tom Eddy offices was in order.  I put my dad to work helping me prepare dinner, complete with an apple crisp made from apples freshly picked from Kerry’s lovely garden.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed over to Cuvaison to sample the tanks again. Nothing like a little wine to wash down breakfast.

Tying down the bins so they don't fly off.

I learned that all kinds of chemistry magic happens while making good wines.  But chemistry is not my strong suit. Neither is math, which Jason enjoyed mocking me with while I tried to measure superfood. We then inoculated some of the barrels and Tom taught me how to tie a trucker’s knot so that I could secure the bins in the back of the truck.

Next, we headed back to Tudal to taste and inoculate the tanks there. Jason played tour-guide to some people visiting the winery, and then we got to work doing pumpovers.  I seriously underestimated how much that hose weighs.

After we finished at Tudal, we headed back to the Eddy house for a late lunch in the garden. Then, we harvested whatever veggies were left in the garden to incorporate into a poker-night dinner. After dinner, my dad, Tom, Jason, John, and Marty commenced their poker game. Once my dad started winning I made him cash out some of the winnings to put toward my Dean & Deluca cheese fund. Near the end of the game, I brought out cake pops that my mom and I had made in San Francisco for Halloween. They were quickly obliterated and the wrappers squeezed into an empty wine bottle.

That night concluded our adventure in Calistoga. The next morning, we packed our bags and headed back to San Francisco, cringing at the increasing number of  Walgreens we passed as we got closer to the city.    JK

Vintage 2010: Unusual, elegant and colorful.


Why all the negativity?

It is now common practice in the world of wine critiquing to declare an entire vintage as good or bad…..the quality of an entire vintage pronounced with such certainty as “Great!” or “Terrible, avoid at all costs”!   In the past (read, 1998 vintage here) the result was that wine buyers were instructed by their Corporate offices to forgo the vintage due to the reviews.  That meant wine sat in the winery, really good wine in some cases, unable to be sold without regard to the quality of the wine itself.  Now, from my perspective, applying these sweeping generalizations to an entire  vintage is a very narrow minded and somewhat arrogant way to go about reviewing wines.

Fast forward t0 2010.  There’s already been a lot of early buzz surrounding the 2010 vintage, some positive but mostly negative.  Pervasive adjectives have been thrown around by winemakers, bloggers, critics and pretty much anyone with any kind of connection to the industry. But for the most part, due to the unusual weather, 2010 is already being panned by critics.  Unfortunately, many consumers and connoisseurs are too readily going to believe what they read.  What’s not being taken into consideration is that there’s more to a vintage than just the weather.

Napa Valley in a word : Dynamic

Napa Valley is an extremely complex landscape with some of the most multifaceted soil series in the world.  The dynamic terrain that permeates the valley allows for vineyards to face North, South, East, West and everything in between.  The weather in Southern Napa Valley, is vastly different from the weather in Calistoga (Northern Napa Valley) and the continuum of climate that exists between these borders varies throughout. What it boils down to is this:  Napa Valley consists of an undetermined number of micro-environments with different soils, terrain and weather coupled with many different wine varietals planted and an infinite number of styles of winemaking used to create the amazing mosaic of wines that come from the region.  So how can a few critics really understand and know enough to pan or praise an entire vintage?

Vineyard Practices and Winemaking decisions

2010 is a great example of how a few good or bad choices in the vineyard and/or the winery can make a huge impact on quality.  Let me give an illustration of how vineyard practices alone can affect the quality of a wine from this vintage:   In 2010, many winemakers and vineyard managers overreacted to the unusually cold growing season by pulling a lot of leaves from the vine foliage to expose the grapes to sunlight to help breakdown pyrazines which cause “green” flavors to occur in cooler years.  A heat spike came along late in the growing season and essentially torched the grapes that were now overly exposed to the sunlight without proper canopy to protect the grapes.  This inevitably led to light and watery finished wines for these growers.  Unfortunately, this was a common practice all over the valley leading to poor quality wines being made.  How can we blame the vintage for this erroneous decision making?  Sure, the abnormal weather led to these decisions, but proper and balanced canopy management during this unusual growing season could have led to better wines being produced.

Napa also has a reputation for overly ripe, alcoholic wines.  This type of winemaking requires warm to hot weather during the growing season to achieve high brix and concentrated sugars.  The weather in 2010, for the most part, was not conducive to this style of winemaking and unless the winemakers and vineyard managers adjusted their style to a cooler weather year, their wines would never meet up to their desired expectations.  In essence, precedence and stubborness had handcuffed their winemaking so a stylistic adjustment to the vintage was virtually impossible.  They tried to force the grapes and vineyards to adhere to their own unbending rules instead of adjusting to make wines of a different style.  When the world handed them lemons, they tried to make orange juice.  Because of this, these winemakers let the fruit hang on the vine well into the Fall to try and obtain riper fruit…but the rains came and ended any chance of making great wines from those grapes.

Tom Eddy Wines 2010

2010 for Tom Eddy was actually a very solid vintage.  Our style, in general, is a more elegant, less ripe style in the mold of the Old World Bordeaux Reds.  We also source from mountain vineyards, some of which are south facing (meaning they get a lot of sunlight) and above the fog line.  These grapes ripened perfectly to our standards and the wines we have made from them are truly excellent.  The cold nights throughout the growing season helped to preserve acid (which we love) and color (who doesn’t love a beautiful red wine?).

The lesson here is to be wary of wine critics over-generalizing on an entire vintage, whether good or bad. I feel it is more important to buy from wineries and labels that you trust and if you can, get as much information about the wines and wineries that you spend your hard earned money on to ensure that you will be getting the great wines you know you deserve!

-Jason

The immense awesomeness of giant bottles of Tom Eddy Cab

It’s January and it’s bottling time.  As we set out to bottle the 2007  Tom Eddy Cabernets (yes, there’s more than one),  an enormous number of decisions  need to be made.

Of course, we will bottle the Cabernet in the standard 750ml (@26oz.) wine bottle which everyone is used to buying at the store, opening at home and drinking the recommended 3 glasses per night…no more, no less.  Right?

But we will also be bottling these wines into much larger bottles or large formats.  One of these key decisions is how many Large Format bottles do we want to bottle?

A 3 Liter is equal to 4 bottles

Shawn of Iowa with a 3L Tom Eddy Cab.

Large Format bottles come in many different sizes:  Magnums (1.5Liters or 2 regular bottles); Double Magnums (3L); Imperial (6L),  Salmanazar (9L) and Balthazar (12L). You can do the math.

Plus, we will be bottling several different vineyards:  the 2007 Tom Eddy Cabernet; 2007 Spanos Single Vineyard Cabernet; and 2007 VSR (Very Special Red) Cabernet into one or several of these different sizes.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Self, is there any reason besides the awesomeness of having a giant bottle of Tom Eddy Wine, that Tom and Kerry would put their finest hand-crafted wines into these oversized bottles?”

The answer is, as you may have guessed, YES!, there is a reason.  Ok, it’s time to get technical so put on your wine geek hat and lets dive into some fun facts:

Wines that are built to age (like our Cabernets), have enormously complex chemical reactions constantly taking place with dynamic interactions between tannins, acid, protein and color compounds, just to name a few. Over time, while the wine is in the bottle, tannins are polymerizing (linking together) with each other which softens the mouth-feel, hence the reason why young red wines are generally more astringent than older, properly aged wines.

Oxygen plays a key role in this aging process. Put simply, a small amount of oxygen aids in the polymerization and softening process but too much oxygen ages the wine prematurely.

This is where a natural cork plays its key role by allowing only a small amount of oxygen to trickle over time through its slightly permeable body.

This is exactly why Large Format bottles generally can age for a longer period of time.  Since there is so much more volume of wine in these larger bottles and the amount of oxygen that gets into the wine via the cork’s tiny pores is relatively the same as a normal size bottle, the aging process occurs much more slowly.

In other words, a larger ratio of wine-to-oxygen intake allows for a slower, more methodical aging process and older, larger bottles of wine will generally remain fresher and more vibrant than their standard-size counterparts.

So, not only do big bottles of wine inspire one’s jaw to drop in awe, they also serve a great function in the wine’s course of aging.  And you just thought they were for big parties!

So the next time someone breaks out a giant bottle of wine at a party, you can bore them with words like “polymerization,” “tannins” and “complex chemical reactions.”…..you’re welcome!

Cheers!

-Jason

The Kings come for Cabernet.

Guest blogger Jessica with her Dad.

Crush is a busy time for us and every so often we get some crazies who want to try a hand at it.  But for Rob King, a long time Tom Eddy loyalist, making his way up here to Napa Valley each October is an annual pilgrimage.  And this year he also brought his lovely daughter, Jessica.  Here’s her take on the whole madness.

“Seven years ago, my dad harassed his way into the Tom Eddy Wines harvest. Much to the Tom Eddy staff’s surprise, he showed up ready and willing to work the long days of picking, sorting, and crushing the grapes and—even more surprisingly—was eager to return for the following year’s harvest. Six years later, I decided to join him and pick Kerry’s Vineyard.

Waiting for the grapes to dry before harvest.

Jessica checking the grapes in Kerry's Vineyard.

Unfortunately, the weather disregarded our plans and forced Tom to push the harvest of Kerry’s Vineyard to Tuesday. I was somewhat dismayed and wondered what there would be left for my dad and I to do. As it turns out, there was a lot to do.

Contrary to my belief that once the grapes are crushed the wine just sits in the barrel for a period of time, the wine has to be constantly tested and “fed”.  First, we went through all the tanks and tasted all the wine, which—being only a few days old—can hardly be called wine; it is more like fizzy grape juice. It is very sweet and contains no alcohol because the yeast has not yet consumed the sugar from the grapes and, according to Jason, “pooped” out alcohol.

Small special lots of Tom Eddy cab in macro bins.

Assistant winemaker, Jason, taking Cabernet samples.

After tasting the wine in large metal tanks, Jason and Tom informed us that in a few days the CO2 in the tank would be so strong that if a person was to fall into the tank, they would die in seconds because the CO2 would take up all of the oxygen not only in the air, but also from the person’s body.

Punching down the cap and must of Cabernet.

Rob & Jessica showing us how it's done.

Next, my dad and I were put to the task of standing on a wet plank above such a tank to punch down the grapes..luckily we did not fall in.  We then went to the task of inoculating one of the tanks, which is Jason’s area of expertise. Inoculating involves rehydrating freeze-dried yeast and gradually incorporating it into the grape mixture. Jason likes to think of the yeast as “his babies” and takes a great deal of care to make sure “the babies are happy”. The yeast is re-hydrated in 95-104 degree water, similar to bath water temp, and juice from the tanks is gradually added to this mixture as to lower the temperature in such a way that it kills as little of the yeast as possible.

Making Cabernet is more than benign neglect.

Jessica measuring ingredients.

After the inoculation process was complete, we mixed buckets of tartaric acid (which I had to taste after finding out that it’s what used to coat Sour Patch Kids), with DAP (diamonia phosphate: i.e.food for the babies), and a combination of dead yeast and vitamins called superfood. These three solutions are “fed” to the wine every few days in the first stages of fermentation.

Tom directing operations in the winery.

Tom and Rob checking tanks.

After this, the hard work was done for the day and the only remaining task was going to several other wineries to taste the wines of some other clients that Tom Eddy Wines oversees. At the end of the day, we retired to the office and relaxed with some bread, cheese, and a glass of Tom Eddy Wine, of course. I hope to return for harvest next year!” (Dear Jessica:  absolutely!  Especially if you continue to share your experiences with us. We love reading your take and think others will too . KE).

Jessica working on her next blog for Tom Eddy.

Guest blogger, Jessica King.

Mother Nature is always unpredictable and often persnickety this time of year:  the 2010 harvest is no exception.  As the weather worked us like an emotional yo-yo, we experienced the coolest season ever recorded accompanied by occasional heat spikes.  But these same conditions allowed for some of the best flavor and color development possible .

Looking for that silver lining

We all knew early on that we were at least 2-3 weeks behind schedule and we thought this was going to be a difficult year for flavors because of the delayed harvesting.  But it actually seems to have worked in reverse because we had such a long hang time.

Normally long hang time would increase sugars but in this case it resulted in concentrated flavors, solid acids and intense colors.  Every lot of red wine I’ve seen this year has more depth of color of than any year that I can recall in my 37 years of making wine, and that’s not just Cabernet.

Coupled with this color intensity, these longer-season grapes are wonderfully flavorful, with just the right amount of sugars:  not extremely high but perfect for classic, balanced, full flavored wines.  You’ll actually be able to have a glass of 2010 Cab and still mow the lawn.

Now we wish we would have crushed more Cab!                                TE

Around the beginning of September, I asked Jason Gerard, our associate winemaker who also happens to be a good writer, to write a blog about what was happening in the vineyard.  Just looking out the window, I could see the lush green of our Kerry’s Vineyard but what was going on under those canopied rows?  Here’s what he had to say:

A walk through the vineyard reveals grape clusters with a mosaic of green and purple berries. Just how many of these berries are purple gives us a good indication of how far away we are from harvesting the fruits of our labor. Of course every vineyard is at a different stage in its grape maturity as many factors play into when a grape will be ready to be picked. Location, varietal, rootstock are just to name a few of the variables that makes every vineyard block unique and therefore each will have a different optimal day for harvesting. For example, at the same vineyard location, on nearly identical soils, we have a block of Cabernet Sauvignon that is 100% through veraison (the word used to describe the coloring process of the grapes from green and immature to purple and mature) and another block right

Cab grapes in Kerry's Vineyard

Veraison in early September

next to it of Petit Verdot which is at 75% veraison. This tells us as winemakers that the Cab will be picked before the Petit Verdot. This of course helps us in our logistical planning for the harvest. Multiply this many-fold and you begin to understand the complexities of planning something that is as dynamic as the grape harvest.

At Tom Eddy Wines, we bring in fruit to the winery from several different vineyards from all over Napa Valley. At this time of year we are constantly traveling to all these vineyards to assess the current status of grape maturity. There are several ways in which we do this both scientific and instinctual in nature. The most obvious way of determining berry ripeness is through the good old-fashioned taste test. However, we also like to take a more scientific approach by testing some basic berry chemistry in the Tom Eddy Laboratory or what some commonly refer to as the kitchen….

How this works is, Tom or I will randomly select approximately 100 berries from any given vineyard and bring them back to the kitchen, which, literally is a kitchen but with a few not so common kitchen upgrades that allow me to do some basic chemistry. The 100 berry sample is crushed and the juice that is produced is collected in a beaker. There are three different numerical values that are obtained from this juice sample that give us insight into the maturity level of the grape: brix, Total Acidity and pH.

Cabernet ripening in Kerry's Vineyard

Maturing grapes in Kerry's Vineyard

As a grape matures to ripeness, it accumulates sugar through photosynthesis. The amount of sugar accumulated is measured in Brix. Using a refractometer, a couple of drops of the crushed sample juice are placed on the lens of the device. Based on the density of the juice, the refractometer will display a brix value which is very similar to percent sugar but based on density. Once the brix value is around 25 (not exactly 25% but very close), we know the grapes have accumulated enough sugar to be considered ripe for the picking. However, two other factors are also evaluated as brix does not tell the whole story.

The Total Acidity and pH values are closely related and also give great insight into grape maturity. As a berry matures the total acidity level drops. If you ever get a chance to try an unripe grape, you will notice an intense sour quality. This is due to a high level of total acidity and makes the grapes at this stage, almost unbearably sour and inedible. However, as the acidity drops and the brix increases due to sugar levels increasing, these two ripening factors come into balance. The key to picking the fruit at the right time is all based on the right balance of sweetness (determined by brix) and sourness (determined by Total Acidity). This is why it is so critical to check the vineyards constantly at this time of year because the chemistry within the fruit is constantly changing and evolving towards ripeness and picking the grapes within the right window of time can mean the difference between amazing wine or unbalanced wine.

pH is the final test to determine the acid level and therefore the maturity level of the crushed grape juice. This test is based on the total number of Hydrogen ions in the juice which is an inverse logarithmic scale so as the Total Acidity drops, the pH value goes up. In general the pH range for ripe Cabernet is between 3.50 and 3.80. (As a frame of reference, Hydrochloric acid is very acidic at about pH 1.0 and our stomachs are also quite acidic at 2.0. Water is generally neutral at pH 7.0)

So as the floor and counters of the Tom Eddy kitchen laboratory get sticky with the analysis of grape juice, we know we are inching closer to that fateful first day of harvest. Are we ready for the logistical chaos that is harvest? Of course we are! This is what we live for!                                            Jason