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Modern Winemaking Techniques from Around the World

By Alexa Chipman May 21, 2017

There is an inherent prejudice against advancing winemaking technology, since it is a field that is steeped with history and carefully curated handcrafting of the perfect product. Techniques are handed down through generations of vintners and winemakers, and they work well—but what if the process could be improved? Why should we continue to make the same mistakes, just because it was done by previous generations? Innovators from around the world are questioning age old customs, trying to streamline and improve traditional methods.

New Zealand Vineyard

New Zealand & Australia

If your first reaction to seeing a screwtop bottle is revulsion at buying cheap wine, think again. Cork rot regularly causes loss of good wine, and can easily contaminate a bottle—it may not be obvious early on, but a flaw in the wood will affect the end result, causing you to open a bottle and find that it is undrinkable, or has had its flavor severely impacted. While its affect on aroma is still being debated, bottling wine with screwtops has been common practice for some time.

When touring New Zealand or Australian wine country, ask what their experience has been, and the challenges they face trying to overcome American snobbery regarding this modern bottling technique. Some Austrialian wineries have to do a separate run of corked bottles, just to ship to the United States, whose wine drinkers are suspicious of screwtops.

South Africa

Wyness Vineyards, in Stellenbosch Valley near Cape Town, recently experimented with using a culinary gadget known as the “Disruptor” to speed up the process of crush. According to Roy Henderson, who helped develop it at Green Cell Technologies, “without using harmful heat or chemicals, the process uses grapes to generate nutrient-rich emulsions” that break down components at a cellular level, releasing additional flavor.

While it may sound too technological for a hands-on process like winemaking, Ryan Wyness believes it will help certain cultivars who need assistance with maximum extraction in geographic locations that struggle to produce tannins. “These areas can now increase those aspects without adding anything to the wine.”

Visit Wyness Vineyards on Facebook
Quoted from “An Experiment in Making Wine” by permission of Alex J. Coyne

Loxton Wine Cellars in Sonoma

California

Loxton Cellars is located in Sonoma wine country, surrounded by spectacular scenery. With a background in physics and several generations of growers from South Australia, Chris Loxton is unafraid of trying new techniques in the winemaking process. He is experimenting with different types of barrels that are designed to be larger, with practical upgrades to make the crush safer and more efficient, such as hooks to add ladders that prevent slippage.

For hundreds of years, French oak barrels were chosen based on location—what forest they are from—but a newer concept is to group them by the amount of tannins they bring out in the wine. For example, inherently tannic grapes would likely be paired with a low tannin barrel, and visa versa. This will revolutionize the aging process, and allow for more predictable results.

Chris Loxton is a personable wealth of knowledge; if you visit Sonoma wine country, be sure to stop by for the Loxton “Walkabout” tours, where he explains in depth about the technical side of winemaking—how what weeds are growing in a field will give insight into the soil content and how to treat the grapes, what to look for during bud break, and on through the entire process of harvest to bottling. His wine is luscious and smooth, meant for multiple glasses, rather than a roundkick of oak and tannic flavor that you often find in Napa.

Website: www.loxtonwines.com
Hours: Daily 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Walkabout Tour on weekends at 10:30 a.m. with reservation
Location: 11466 Dunbar Road, Glen Ellen CA

Eric Ross Winery

Eric Ross is a Haven of First-Rate Wine

By Alexa Chipman May 13, 2017

Tucked along scenic Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen is a snug, rustic tasting room. It may not have an impressive building, but its wine certainly is. Its interior is filled with comfortable couches and distinctive rooster symbol scattered about the room, referencing an incident early in the winery’s history, when the forklift was moving from the barn to crush pad and nearly collided with a rooster, causing quite a flurry of squealing brakes and hilarity. The rooster’s image can now be found in the logo and on bottle labels.

Eric Ross Winery

Eric Ross, who fully bought out the winery about nine years ago and has been working with the current tasting room managers even longer, was a photographer with the San Francisco Chronicle who found himself documenting wineries, and became fascinated with that world. After attending UC Davis, he now dedicates himself entirely to winemaking, although you can see some of his photography in the tasting room and on Silver Image labels.

During his time as a photo journalist, Ross discovered gems of small vineyards that he now calls upon when finding grapes to work with for the winery’s limited runs. One of the advantages of working in that manner is that if a harvest is not up to his standards, there is no obligation to produce the wine; for example, this year has no rosé— the grapes were not of high enough quality. He enjoys experimenting with the signature Eric Ross blends, such as Struttin’ Red, which might be Portuguese style one year, and primarily Zinfandel the next.

Tasting Room managers Dennis and Diane Mitchell cultivate a cozy atmosphere. I had car trouble while I was visiting, and they were incredibly helpful and supportive—this is not a tasting room that sees you as a potential credit card transaction, they care about their visitors and are a joy to interact with. Next time you are going through Glen Ellen, be sure to stop by.

Eric Ross Winery

Tasting notes:

Albarino, Lodi 2014
Violets and tangerine aroma touch the senses with this refreshing, well balanced wine. It has enough intensity to bring flavor without becoming bitter, with a touch of strawberry to it. Stainless steel fermentation was used.

Struttin’ White, 2014
A blend of Albarino with Muscat Canelli, it has a tropical flavor with mangos and peaches. The dry Muscat interacts for a brisk, not overly sweet white wine. Stainless steel fermentation was used.

Pinot Noir, Russian River 2013
This distinctive wine wafts its powerful burnt toast and smoke aroma with such intensity that I found myself wondering if there was a campfire nearby. It brought back memories of marshmallows and family vacations. If you think Pinot Noir is an uninteresting, overused wine, you haven’t tried this one. It is French oak barrel aged. I noticed a slight smoke edge to the Struttin’ Red as well, it appears to be an emphasis in Eric Ross wine, that I find delightful.

Tempranillo, Lodi 2012
The first thing that struck me was the color, which is a rich violet ruby in the glass. This satisfying, dark wine is multi layered with blackberry and molasses. It has a light touch on the tannins, without puckering the entire mouth. This is an ideal table wine, and used a combination of American and French oak barrels.

Struttin’ Red Port, 2013
Butterscotch lingers into a floral aftertaste with this classic after dinner port. It is luscious and sweet without becoming a thick syrup—just the right level of dessert style finish to it.

OVZ Zinfandel Port, Dry Creek Valley 2011
This port has depth to it with a tangerine, hazelnut feel that is dryer than what I am used to. It caresses with sweetness, rather than rushing into it, and is worth taking the time to savor.

Website: www.ericross.com
Hours:
Daily 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: 14300 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen CA

Sonoma County’s Secret—Imagery Estate Winery

By Alexa Chipman Apr. 9, 2017

Imagery Estate Winery Tasting Room

If you are tired of seeing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as wine tasting options, and are looking for more original varietals like Tempranillo, Malbec or Viognier right here in Sonoma County, Imagery Estate is the place to be. The atmosphere is casual and fun, with couples laughing over games in the large and beautiful picnic area surrounded by vineyards and an orchard, and lively hosts ready to converse during a wine tasting flight. It is family friendly—there were well behaved children enjoying the sunny lawn areas while I was there, and a festive feel to the grounds.

Members of their wine club have access to a sleek modern patio area and private tasting room, which was crowded with Imagery Estate enthusiasts eager to try the latest offerings. They do not advertise or sell outside of the winery—you can only purchase their wine on site or as part of their wine club shipments.

Imagery Estate Winery

I enjoyed the $15 wine tasting, there is also a seated tasting available at certain times during the day, with reservation.

Moscato 2016
This delightful white wine was impressive enough for me to purchase a bottle, which I was privileged to have signed by the label artist, who was present that weekend—Colin Talcroft, a local monoprint collage artist from Santa Rosa. The aroma is light of fresh cut grass followed by a sharp citrus taste with floral finish that lingers on the palette. It flows well, without the sweet syrupy taste that some Moscatos suffer from.

Aleatico Rosé 2016
Based on the Italian grape, it has a subtle strawberry aroma. The flavor is pleasantly soft and dry, slightly bitter, and quite bland for a rosé. It is a quiet wine, and would be lovely with lighter food or fish courses.

Viognier 2016
From their Russian River vineyard off Occidental Road, it has an intense blood orange aroma, luscious cheddar flavor and after notes of hibiscus for a pleasant finish.

Tempranillo Upper Ridge 2014
This is a wine of the deep redwoods, filled with a woody aroma, satisfying wash of bark and berries in the flavor, and bite of ashes and campfire smoke. It is a rich, powerful red wine that I would recommend on its own.

Imagery Estate is a must visit winery for anyone wine tasting in Sonoma County. They are welcoming, have picnic grounds for lunch and a bottle of wine, and offer some of the most unique wines in this area.

Why visit Imagery Estate Winery?

  • Incredible wines that you will want to buy a case of
  • Unique varietals available
  • Fun atmosphere and picnic area

Website: www.imagerywinery.com
Hours: Monday – Friday 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Location: 14335 Highway 12, Glen Ellen