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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Very Young Wine

On Friday, I had the chance to travel back to Alpha Omega with Arleigh, this time to review and taste the wines that he is going to use in his current unnamed wine project. We met up with the winemaker, Frederic Delivert and were lead into the fermentation areas to try out the very oyung wines.

As I mentioned before, the wine for this project is going through an open fermentation process in barrel, eschewing the more common and much more highly visible large stainless steel tanks more commonly used in winemaking currently. This process allows for various benefits, including increased tannin integratiuon and flavor development. We would get to taste directly from the barrels the wine is actually being fermented in. The grapes were allowed to naturally express their juices, the process of pumping, fermentation and 'punching down' would actually be the forces that bring forth the juices. The wines we tasted have been fermenting for about two weeks.

Naturally, at this stage, the wine is rather hard to disitnguish it's final characteristics, there is still yeast and the wine is quite full of sediment. We got to taste both Cabernet sauvignon and Petit verdot. The grapes went into the process somewhere around 25 Brix and is not in the neighborhood of 4 to 5 Brix. This is getting close to the point where it will be placed into barrels for aging. As shown in the photos, the entire fermentation, in this case, was accomplished on the lees.

Here is a shot of the lees in the top of the barrel, they look like raisins

Here is how we pulled the juice from under the lees, it is remarkably not high tech...

And the wine we pulled, note that the color and clarity is not quite there...

Frederic and Arleigh, discussing wine, or women, maybe song...

A shot of the AT wines in barrel fermentation, note that there are two barrel heights, the shorter ones are Bourgogne barrels, the taller ones are Bordeaux barrels.

I love the textures of wineries, there are patterns everywhere, these are barrels in closed fermentation, the technique favored by Jean Hoefliger for some of the Alpha Omega wines...

These are used barrels lined up, probably recently taken out of the fermentation process when the wines that were in them were moved to closed barrels...

The colors of wine are so vivid, it seems the overcast and fall weather in Napa makes those colors even more intense. A final shot, of Fred, grabbing a sample of the 2010 wines that he made for Clark Claudon.

The project is still a long ways from fruition, although the wines we tasted were quite good for very oyung wines that had no barrel time. There will still be two years of work to make it all come together.


  1. I wiki-ed and found that lees is dead yeast, but it says it is at the bottom of the barrel, and the picture on wikipedia looks nothing like the "raisin" here. Why is there such a huge difference?

  2. Because my terminology is sloppy. The wine is on the lees, it is also still with the skins and in a process of 'punch down' which agitates the lees. You can taste the yeast still. The wine will soon be filtered and taken off the lees and skins.