Every winemaker has a preferred style of wine and employs various tools to work grapes in that fashion. I prefer a core of good fruit, not tutti-frutti, but with layers of complexity. Wine should have pleasing, inviting aromas and a tasty delivery from front to back on your palate. It should linger after your sip. It should accompany food and refresh with a pleasing acidity to cleanse your palate. That is what I enjoy about wine. All of my reds are bottled unfiltered and unfined because every time you try to remove something you always take out other things out as well. Filtering is a good example of this. If you tasted a wine both before and after filtering you would be amazed at what is missing from the filtered wine. The industry term for my style is minimalist winemaking. I prefer to call it under-manipulated and there is a scientific basis for doing it this way.
Wine Diamonds (Sediment/Chunks/Potassium Bitartrate)
One result of under-manipulating wine results when the wine, over time, precipitates potassium bitartrate in the form of crystals. This occurs when an ion of tartaric acid binds with an ion of potassium, which is found principally in the skins. It begins during barrel aging, but in the absence of thermodynamic treatment can continue in the bottle until the super saturated wine is reasonably stable. The crystals, sometimes called black diamonds in red wines, are a sure sign of an under manipulated wine.
Why we source grapes
The first tool in wine making is to get good grapes. Viticulture is just a fancy term and we all know it is agriculture. There are many factors that, hopefully, result in good grapes. Since I buy most of my grapes from growers I can source each varietal where I think it grows best. Dry Creek is great for Zinfandel, but Carneros, with its cooler climate, does better for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I have growers that I buy from every year and then I have my whim wines. I try a few different varietals every year because it is a new challenge, and gives me a chance to try something different.
Each year brings different weather and this may result in lesser or better vintages overall. In 2009 the grapes all came in wonderfully ripe and I was just a caretaker of good grapes. The 2010 and 2011 vintages presented challenges, given cool seasons and early rains. Most of my workhorse reds, Zin, Cab and Petite Sirah, did not ripen fully and we did not harvest them, as the resulting wines would not have been satisfactory for me. As it was cooler here in Napa and Sonoma it was also cooler up in the foothills than their average. I did not know about the early rains then, but that is always a concern with a later harvest. In 2010 I found some excellent plantings of Grenache and Mourvedre up in Amador County. These Rhone varietals helped make the Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blends I have wanted to try for years. I prefer cool climate Syrah and we picked ours, here in Carneros, the day before the big rains started. Thankfully, I got lucky and I got good grapes.
Our Alcohol levels
I also harvest at lower sugars than some as this results in lower alcohols. I prefer the balance of a wine at lower alcohols and I like the flavors of the fruit before the grapes become over-ripe or raisined. They also have a higher balanced acidity. That would be another tool: the pick decision to get the grapes at the optimal ripeness for the style I prefer.
Making Red Wines
As reds get their color and flavors from the skins I try to keep the fermenting juice in contact with the skins for as long as possible. If I can manage two weeks, and control the fermentation temperatures, I am satisfied. I started winemaking just about the time cold soaking was coming into the game. If you can keep the juice chilled you can delay the onset of fermentation for several days. I like the way this seems to add extractions to the fruit profile. Some winemakers ferment with indigenous yeasts, claiming greater complexity. When I ferment in small open top fermenters it allows me to use multiple yeast strains in different fermenters for complexity, and given a particular vineyard’s flavor characteristics I try to emphasize favorable components. As the wine is fermenting it gives off a lot of CO2 and pushes the skins up, forming a cap. Another reason for small fermenters is it allows punching down the skins back into the juice. This is a more gentle and thorough method of extraction. It is also good exercise. After pressing the finished wine off the skins I keep it in tank for several weeks to allow heavier solids to settle out before racking it into barrels. Some prefer to go directly to barrel while the wine is still “dirty”, as they like the flavors this might add. I find those flavors and aromas not to my liking.
There are tannins in the skins and seeds that can be manipulated for a fuller mouth feel instead of astringency. There are also tannins and other compounds in oak barrels. In red wines oak tannins help stabilize color and cross-link tannins, which helps build a wine’s structure. As I do not like wines too oaky I use only French oak barrels for aging. They are best, to my taste, at adding mouth feel and not being too astringent or overbearing.
Making White Wines
White wines are more obliging, as they harvest earlier. They usually do not have trouble reaching optimal ripeness in most years. I took all the chardonnay grapes from Odmann Vineyard every year since 1992 and except for the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, it is the only white varietal I produced. Now that Anne Odmann sold her vineyard I am trying other white varietals. In 2010 I made a Pinot Gris and in 2011 a Rhone-style blend and my first dessert white, a late harvest Semillon. The rains actually helped the Semillon, as it promoted botrytis that added to the flavor profile. The two tools to produce my style of white are whole cluster pressing as soon as the grapes are harvested and then a long fermentation at cool temperature. This may take a month or more and I have custom built tanks dedicated just for whites. As these varietals, produced in a fruit-forward style, do not benefit from oak due to their delicacy I am working with vessels other than barrels for aging. The problem of some aromas and flavors being changed from using closed stainless steel containers is eliminated by oxygen permeable polyethylene. These containers breathe like a barrel without adding oak. The flavor volatiles are retained and the fruit is brighter.
Dave Homewood started as a home winemaker in 1983 when he and two friends produced wine from a ton of Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon. The following year they added a ton of Alexander Valley chardonnay. In 1986 they purchased their first ton of chardonnay from the newly formed Carneros appellation and the styles of wine Homewood Winery became noted for were born.
The winery was bonded in 1988, with an initial case production of about 500 cases. Zinfandel was added to the production of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in 1992. That year saw case production soar to 2,000. All of the grapes are purchased from growers so David can choose grapes from appellations where they do best. Several of the vineyards we purchase grapes from are also small family owned operations involving only a few acres and we purchase their entire production. This allows winery and grower to work more closely together to produce distinctive vineyard designate wines. Odmann Vineyard first sold all their chardonnay grapes to us in 1992, and we have taken the entire production since then. We have added other vineyard designates over the years, including McHugh Vineyard pinot noir, John Albini Vineyard cabernet franc and Hoskins Vineyard zinfandel.
A wonderful thing about the wine industry is the willingness to share information and experiences to the benefit of others. I have a few winemakers that have been major influences in my style of wine, as I am sure we all have had memorable teachers and coaches in our lives. It certainly helps when working with a varietal of grape new to you to be able to talk with someone who has experience, to up the learning curve. I hope I have helped others as much as I have been helped? we’re all in this together.
To sum it all up, I only make wine – I would enjoy drinking.
Winemaker and Proprietor