OK, so yes. I know that January 1st is “just another day” in the year, not really any different than March 22nd or October 24th (except maybe the weather). But still, we all tend to take this beginning of the New Year as being a chance to reflect and start something new.
Although the wine industry is steeped in tradition and we essentially make wine the same way as they did hundreds of years ago, there’s always a chance to make a change here and there. Here at Madroña, some New Year aspects are mundane and behind the scenes. Others are coming down the pike with an opportunity to partake with your senses. Regardless, for us, there’s an excitement in the air that can only come from hints of change.
Perhaps the most important new idea we’ve had is something you’ll never see. A small business like ours seems very straightforward, but looks can be deceiving. Truly, the winery business is super complex with facets lying in agriculture, marketing, science, logistics, sociology, accounting, etc. Everything is inter-related, yet communication is often deemed a luxury (being put aside to work in the vineyards or restock the tasting room).
Our change for 2017 is meeting once a month with all parts of the winery…cellar, sales, tasting room, vineyard, office and events. We sit around the table at our house, discuss the needs of each of the areas, look forward at the next three months, brainstorm a bit, taste some wines and have something to eat. It’s simple and saves time in the future, but still it’s a new idea for our 40+ year-old business.
Some of the excitement in the cellar with the New Year actually started during the harvest. We have a litany of experiments and trials that we embraced during the fermentation of several different wines. With the first rackings here in January, we’re just now getting a glimpse of our successes. Of particular note are the following:
- Partial whole cluster (whole berry maceration) in several Zinfandel lots, Nebbiolo and Malbec. Essentially, we destem some of the fruit going into the open-top fermenters and then dump a bin or two of unprocessed grapes (stem and all) directly into the tank. Although the juice separation takes a bit longer for pumpovers, we’re finding that fruit characters are equally intense as those lots we destem fully, and the palates are softer and rounder. And that’s just three months into the process.
- Another Cab Franc experience. With the Rucksack vineyards starting to produce Cabernet Franc (with two new clones for us), we found there was an opportunity to take Cab Franc education to the next level. So we currently have in barrel the Cab Franc #1 (from Rucksack), Cab Franc #2 (from our big block of Cab Franc at Madroña), our Cab Franc #3 (from our small East Block here at Madroña) and lastly our Cab Franc Exp, which was a saignée (juice bled off) from our Cab Franc #2 and then fermented on the pressed skins of Cab Franc #1 (it’s a super complex mixture of characters).
- The first ever Madroña Grenache Rosé, harvested early to let the rest of the Grenache on the vine (for a red wine) hang longer for intensity of color and fruit. The Grenache Rosé is completely dry with a very light onion skin color with beautiful yet elegant fruit. Already bottled, we plan to release this wine in April or May.
- We decided to pick separately all the Malbec that was dry-farmed in the vineyard. We find that characters in wines made with this Malbec have just a hint more depth and very interesting characters. The plan is to keep it separate its entire life in order to bottle it by itself.
- We’re looking towards getting better integration of characters on our dry Portuguese blend (Seco) with a very early blending of the Alvarelhao, Tinta Cao and Touriga Nacional. This popular wine with its higher pH will only benefit from an earlier bottling, and the early blending may allow us to trap even more fruit.
As for the vineyards, I’m only going to scratch the surface of what we’re doing. If we look at what helps make our winery unique (as each winery is), we have embraced keeping our older vineyards (planted in 1973-1974) even if they don’t produce nearly as much as younger vineyards.
From a dollar and cents (or sense) point of view, replanting our aging vineyards here in Camino would allow us to tighten the spacing between the vines and get more like 5-6 tons to the acre. Currently, we’re getting somewhere between 1.5 tons/acre (Cabernet Sauvignon) to 3.5 tons/acre in our Riesling. But the fact is, these older vines are giving us a quality of fruit that I will never see again in my lifetime if I replant now.
Thus, tweaking the vineyards a bit with looking at new irrigations systems and more turning of the nutrients in the soil may get our older producing just a bit more while keeping the focus on the incredible characters we get. It just takes the mindset to move more resources into the vineyards.
So in a nutshell, we’ve taken this New Year as an opportunity to work on Madroña while having some fun doing it. Now, if I could just follow my resolution to stretch by back every morning. Ah, I guess there’s always next year!