Those of you that follow me on the Instagrams know that a cellar update post was coming, however you probably didn’t know that it was going to have this title…or a slight twist.
Per standard operating procedure I take a drive out to the winery to see how the “kids” are holding up. In this case I am talking about the 2013 & 2014 Merlot and the 2014 Riesling. Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of where these wines are at I have to get one little thing off my chest:
I really suck at this whole shameless self promotion thing (at least it feels like it).
This will make more sense in a minute because after going out to check in on those wines yesterday something clicked. It was one of those “Eureka!” moments that really caught me by surprise. One of my new year’s resolutions was to be better about talking up this little project of mine. Usually I am fairly tight lipped and answer any questions as quickly as possible while hoping to avoid any further discussion. Why? Like I said, I suck at self promotion. Deep down I am fairly shy and slightly insecure and the last thing I want to do is be a pompous jerk who does nothing but talk about how great his own wine is.
It was either my father or grandfather who said: “Don’t trust a winemaker who only drinks his or her own wine.” Actually… it might not have been either of them, but I am pretty sure it came up at some point. Either way I have taken that statement to heart. Let the people decide for themselves and don’t be that guy or gal who talks a big game without backing it up. As a result I overcompensated for my fear of being “that guy.”
With that being said I am going to take a moment and go through why yesterday was such a big deal for not just the wine of MTGA but for me as well.
I have 14 barrels of wine out at Conn Valley Vineyards where I do all of the processing and aging of the Merlot. I have two more barrels of Riesling that were processed in Sonoma and then trucked over to Conn Valley once the juiced had gotten through the fermentation side of things and has been barreled down. For the time being I am going to stick to talking about just those 14 barrels of Merlot that make up both the 2013 and 2014 vintages.
For tasting purposes I usually go through the once and twice used barrels first of each vintage then circle back around to the new French oak barrels since they can be a bit more potent. The 2013 and 2014 vintages break down like this:
- 12 of the barrels are once and twice used French oak from varying cooperages (six for each vintage).
- 2 of the barrels are brand spankin’ new Sylvain French oak barrels (one for each vintage).
So yesterday after noon I start off tasting the 2014 Riesling to hit the reset button on my taste buds. I had also just finished my morning coffee and there are few pairings I enjoy more than a refreshing white wine and black coffee…#truestory. With my taste buds ready to dig into the bulk of their work for the afternoon I started going through the first six barrels from the 2013 vintage. All of them are basically right where I want them; tasting extremely well but each barrel still had an apparent edge that will smooth out over the next few months before they get bottled up. I felt really, REALLY good about how the 2013 Merlot was tasting and suddenly felt extremely relaxed putting the finishing touches on it prior to bottling. With that sense of relief it was time to move on to the next few barrels
So I followed that tasting series up with the first six barrels of the 2014 vintage. They definitely packed more of a punch. The 2014 Merlot has just made the transition from being alcoholic grape juice to wine so it was by far edgier than the 2013. You could taste the fruit, the oak, feel the tannins and acidity but none of them were in harmony. That said it has only been in barrel for about five months so it has a solid year or year and a half to go before I even consider bottling it up. Patience, as always, will be a virtue. At that point, I could taste the progression of the vintages before it (2010 through 2013) and see how the 2014 would fit in to the lineup. I felt like I knew exactly what had to be done and wasn’t giving any of my fermentation or cellar ops a moment of doubt. I made the adjustments I needed to make based on the growing season and I was running with them.
Next came the two new French oak barrels. The 2014 Merlot that was racked into one of them has only been there for about a month. There was a noticeable difference from the other six barrels; the new barrel had started to give off some of its toastiness, oak tannins and some of those classic barrel spices but it was literally the tip of the iceberg of what was going to come. I wasn’t worried about the influence of the new oak though, I knew that the wine could stand up to it and over the course of the next few months the roughness that was readily apparent would start to integrate and smooth out. The wine won’t end up woody or out of balance as long as I do my job.
Last but not least came the real moment of truth: the new barrel that I was using for the 2013 vintage. This was the first new barrel I had ever used and as a result I had my doubts. Hell even six months ago I wasn’t overly impressed with what it was doing to the wine but I fought off my own knee-jerk reaction to remove the wine from that barrel and kept it there as the official R&D section of MTGA. I was risking burning a new barrel and 60 gallons (300-ish bottles) just to entertain a what-if. So what did I think this time around?
It. Kicked. Ass.
Never in my, admittedly short, winemaking career had I been so happy with a decision I made. Yes, I have been stoked on the first two vintages of Merlot and I still am. Yes, I could not believe how much fun getting a Riesling into the lineup was. This was different though. The new barrel I was using was a gift and the last thing I wanted to do was squander it. The barrel I bought for the 2014 vintage came out of my own pocket because I trusted that getting this “reserve” (or whatever I am going to call it) Merlot into the lineup was going to be the next giant leap for MTGA.
For the first time in the five vintages I’ve made I had all the confidence in the world without being “that guy.”
Call it a eureka, an epiphany, an “ah-ha” moment or whatever you want to call it…all I know now is that this MTGA thing is off to the races and I have never been happier to have started this endeavor or excited for what comes next.