“What exactly are you doing in the cellar this time of year” is a frequent question received from fans. It is true that once our Syrah or Grenache or Pinot or Chardonnay head to barrel we trust all that is left to do is wait and blend. Blending surely is something we spend a lot of time doing when we are not visiting our loyal customers during the off-season! And while vineyard visits have begun in earnest for 2012, cellar duties are largely limited to the realm of quality control.
Our Assistant Winemaker extraordinaire Joe Nielsen has a regular program of barrel and lot sampling set up to eye the progress of our wines. There are several easy measurements we can make that act as proxies to potential problems we would want to know about. The principle of these is a rise in Volatile Acidity (VA). VA is collection of different aromatic compounds, the primary being acetic acid, or in lay terms: vinegar. Most spoilage organisms…wait, let me explain that. No known pathogens live in wine which is one reason wine has been so successful for so many thousands of years. So by spoilage, we mean yeast or bacteria that negatively alter the overall flavor of the wine.
Most spoilage organisms either produce acetic acid (again, read vinegar) as a principle or corollary product of their physiology. Some VA is produced throughout standard fermentation and there is a tolerable amount we don’t worry about. Our concern is primarily the way initial levels of VA change throughout aging. Increases over time may indicate microbiological activity and warrant further investigation. We must remember that the natural end product of fermented grapes is not wine, it is vinegar. We are trying to prevent that from happening!
There are a few other measurements we include that serve a similar function to VA: proxies to things that may be detrimental to wine quality. By keeping a close eye on these we can actually intervene less in the wine’s evolution because we catch problems early if they occur at all. The frequent sampling required ensures that we also taste the wines often monitoring changes to blending components, honing our blending skills, and securing that only the best of the best make the blend.
So what do we do this time of year? Aside from hosting our fans at the winery, dining at great restaurants, and drinking incredible wine; we use proxies like VA to eye the quality of the wine. Another detail orientation of Donelan Wines that ensures the wine you open with your next meal is a result of the vineyard and cellar work, not some yeast or bacteria’s intrusions.