Monday, November 12, 2007

Topping The Barrel After Santa Anna Winds and Fires

With all the disruptions caused by the recent wildfires, topping the barrel of Nebbiolo wine was long over due. In October, the humidity was as low as 8% as the Santa Anas blew through, which caused the leaves on the vines to first dry, then be blown off. Green one day; shriveled the next; gone the following day. What I didn't anticipate was the effect these dry conditions would have on the barrel. Normally, when I topped, I had been putting in one bottle, to one and a half bottles per topping. When I pulled out the bung yesterday, the wine was down a couple of inches. The guardian angles who had protected the property during the fires had taken their fair share of the wine! Problem was, I had run out of topping wine ... What to do??!! We are still two weeks away from bottling, and that was too much head space. (Air space in the barrel provides an environment for turning the future award winning wine into vinegar.) In the cellar, I found some bottles marked 2005 Nebbiolo "pressings", which I would normally use as topping wine. I needed to check these, before putting into the barrel. As I poured a taste, I noticed a deposited layer of evenly spread film all around the inside of the bottle -- a sure sign of oxidation. And the taste confirmed it. However, since I did not detect a taste of vinegar -- and new that the wine in the barrel was well fortified with SO2, I put in 2.5 bottles of the 2005 Nebbiolo pressings. The barrel was not yet full -- I noticed a plastic bottle with about .5 liters of 2007 Merlot pressings -- I twisted off the top, and was treated to Merlot "champagne" -- an unexpected surprise, as the wine came fizzing out of the bottle! (Now, this is the way to celebrate "NeuveauBeaujolais" at the beginning of September. This sparkling experiment tasted quite good -- I remembered that there was some residual sugar in the Merlot after pressing -- and enjoyed the "spritziness" of the carbonation. That, too, went into The Barrel. (A possible novice winemaker's mistake? Stay tuned.) Still more space. So, I opened up one of the 2007 Malbec bottles full of pressings. No sparkles. Just a light, fruity taste (as this wine was made from grapes of only 22.5 brix) -- and added it to the barrel. We have high hopes for this Nebbiolo -- barrel tastings during the last year have shown excellent promise. We will be bottling it on Thanksgiving Day, 2007.

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