Barrel Tasting Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir from the 2014 Vintage with sommeliers.

Originally posted: 8/11/2014


Nora and Tara from NASA (North American Sommelier Association) stop in during our yearly in-house cellar tasting day (we taste every barrel many times, but only one day do we taste every barrel in the winery to set us up for final blending).

In this video, we discuss what we tasted in the 2013 vintage from barrel, and how it seems that we are dealing with a vintage with two personalities.

My perspective was that anything picked after October 1st has a big, jammy, fruity presence and is quite New World.  Pinot Noir picked in September (less sugar, higher acid) shows an amazing earthy complexity, very Burgundian even though we're 6000+ miles away and have little to compare to Burgundy except pinot noir and delicious food.

The act of tasting wine for blending is an integral part of our yearly work.  We need to make 4 blends out of 55 barrels.

Here's how it will break down:

'Estate Pinot Noir' (The 'Big Blend):  47 barrels (about 1050 cases) of wine blended together to make the 'Estate Blend'.  Even though this is blended from barrels that do not go into the other smaller blends, this blend tends to people's early favorite because of a secret of the wine industry rarely discussed:  a wine blend tends to get better and better with every barrel added.  It's gestalt!  Meaning the sum always tastes better than the individual pieces.  There's no holes in this blend.  It is absolutely complete, and often my favorite barrels are specifically chosen to be blended because I think they will add something important to the 'big blend'.

'Vigneron Select' Pinot Noir: 4 barrels go into this blend (90-100 cases), and we try to use all four clones of PN: Pommard 4, 115, 667 and 777 so it's a complete clonal 'show' of the whole vineyard.  These barrels are the 'porridge in the middle' of the best rated barrels from my notes.  If the wine is super earthy and elegant, we choose it for Signature.  If it's dark and rich and ripe we mark it for possible blending in the 'Dark Side' blend.  But if its perfectly centered, lovely and balanced for our main criteria of VS:  WILL IT AGE?!  This is our focus with VS:  we want to produce a wine that will age gracefully for at least 10 years every vintage!

Signature:  A Two-barrel blend (45-50 cases) that shows the elegant, earthy, restrained, more Continental style of pinot noir that our family loves, but seems to get no love in the press.  This wine will be a little lighter in color and extract, and show the earthy nuances and complexities that Clos Pepe possesses in spades.  This wine will also age gracefully, but will get to earthy a little earlier than the VS blend.

Dark Side:  I went into a mythical forest in a dream and came upon Robert Parker telling me to let the fruit hang, ripen more, and 'Come to the Dark Side'.  Actually it was Brian Loring in his Big Friggin Truck in 2010 after I admitted that the fruit was so ripe that I had to dilute the must a bit to get a dry wine under 18% alcohol.  It was that kind of year.  Brian looked smug and said in his best heavy-breathing Vader voice:  Welcome to the Dark Side.  This wine is what it sounds like:  a testament to California sunshine and some of the ripest, most expressive pinot noir fruit on the planet.  Expect an explosive nose and a glass-staining color that will certainly get attention even in a blind tasting at a magazine.

Hope you enjoy learning about wine tasting in the cellar from barrel.  Leave some questions here, or give me an idea for my next Wine Blog!

Posted on August 11, 2014 .