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

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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