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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

Chateau St. Jean

Splendid Gardens & Wine at Chateau St. Jean

By Alexa Chipman May 7, 2017

Resplendent with pink and white roses, Chinese lantern bushes of dangling fiery blossoms and mandarin orange flowers, the grounds of Chateau St. Jean are dazzling in springtime, with meandering pathways, picnic tables and benches to enjoy a glass of wine. Its European style, known as the “chateau” by neighbors, who inspired the name, was built from 1916-1920 as a summer home for a family from Michigan. They were popular hosts, and received a magnolia tree gifted by Luther Burbank that stands to one side of the patio, nearly 100 years old. Although not conceived of as a winery, there were white wine grapes planted on the original estate.

Chateau St. Jean

In 1973, the property was purchased by a family interested in founding a winery. Jean was the only woman in the group, and “Chateau St. Jean” is in her honor. The visitor center, housing the main tasting bar and patio, gift shop and mini café, was built in 2000 to mimic the other buildings. When arriving, walk through the ivy-wrapped archway, into the formal garden, past a playful fountain, and through to the low-roofed building on the opposite side to enter the visitor center and check in for your tasting.

There is a wide range of options at Chateau St. Jean. For a quick flight, choose four samples of their most popular varietals out on the patio with a beautiful view of the garden. Another outdoor experience, with vistas of the vineyard spread out to the road, is the Chateau Cheese and Wine Pairing, with higher end options paired with mouth watering local cheeses and a friendly server ready to answer any questions about the flight. Inside the restored chateau is the Reserve Room Tasting, private tastings, and what I would recommend—the Cinq Rêves Library Tasting. It is on the pricey side, currently $75, but it features their award-winning wine spread through different years for comparison. The Cinq Cépages ages well, with tannins slowly fading through the years, and this is a unique opportunity to taste it in action.

Chateau St. Jean Roses

The winery hosts exciting events, often French themed, such as the Fête de la Fleur, which is open to the public, and Great Gatsby, for wine club members. Bring a basket of food for lunch and purchase a bottle to enjoy their picnic area, shaded by a grove, rose garden patio surrounded by climbing flowers that are spectacular in May, or join the wine club to relax in a patio area of comfortable couches. For a vintage wine country wedding, the grounds are open for reservations and include the upper story of the chateau with elegant preparation rooms.

Chateau St. Jean formal garden

Tasting notes from the Chateau Cheese and Wine Pairing flight:

Pinot Blanc
It has a dainty violet bouquet with mildly sweet geranium taste that is delightful.

Viognier, Sonoma Valley 2015 (Winery Exclusive)
The delicate orange blossom aroma with a bright flavor pairs well with the nutty, buttery Spanish Mahon cheese. It is intense for a white wine, without dominating acid that brings down similar wines.

Chardonnay, Cold Creek 2014 (Winery Exclusive)
Slight black currant aroma with a grapefruit note to the flavor, it is spectacular with soft goat cheese that mellows and balances it. This is one of the best chardonnays I have tasted—even if you are wary of the varietal, give this one a try. The winery has eight different styles of chardonnay, all with French oak barrels, not stainless steel.

Chardonnay, Sonoma County Reserve
From four local vineyards, it has the smell of an ocean breeze and wonderful lingering aftertaste of refreshing peach.

Chardonnay, Le Seul (The Star)
Created with malolactic fermentation for a less acidic, relaxed flavor, it comes from a high, cool climate vineyard. Its dusty aroma gives way to exotic pineapple and melon flavor with a trace of oak on the finish. It is another distinctive and unexpected chardonnay that I would recommend.

Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2013 (Winery Exclusive)
The scent of a summer afternoon hiking through manzanita brush on Mt. Lassen comes through with this wine, with echoes of smoke and an earthy mushroom and cedar flavor that is soft on the palette.

Cinq Cépages, Sonoma County 2013
The first Sonoma area wine to be awarded “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator, it lives up to its reputation. Surprisingly smooth for having cabernet blended in, its tannins are kept in the background—truly luscious red wine.

Gewürztraminer, Sonoma County 2014
Dry with an almond aroma, it takes the stage with orange blossoms and apricot. The flavor is solid, but average, and pairs well with a hard, salty cheese.

Late Harvest Riesling, 2012
Honey assaults the nostrils with this intense, syrupy sweet wine that you could almost pour over pancakes in the morning. It is excellent in small doses as an aperitif.

Website: www.chateaustjean.com
Hours:
Daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: 8555 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood CA