With our tanks and barrels full of Pinot Noir, we’re past the peak of harvest, with 75% of our estate fruit in the winery. Now we are laser focused on bringing in the Chardonnay from Lone Oak Vineyard. As we harvest, we determine which lots might be candidates for our Lucienne Chardonnay. Although we have a pretty good idea which vineyard blocks will make the cut based on clonal selection and previous years’ experience, we try to remain open. The lots we think are destined for Lucienne are gently pressed and placed in small oak barrels where they’ll go through fermentation and aging. Additional Chardonnay lots are fermented in small, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, which we keep at a nice cool temperature to preserve the fruit characteristics.
Even as we harvest our Chardonnay, we’re playing musical chairs with the Pinot Noirs. Some lots have been barreled down, some are ready to be racked out of tank and put into barrel, and others are still fermenting. We check every tank multiple times a day to see how the fermentations are progressing. Our goal is to have all the Pinot Noir in barrel by late October/early November.
We did have a little rain here this past Sunday. It didn’t amount to much, but it was a reminder that wet weather is around the corner. We need the water, though we hope the rains can hold off for a few more days of harvest.
Juan Josè Verdina
Last week and this week have been all about Lucienne Pinot Noir, with harvest ramping up as we bring in fruit from each of our Santa Lucia Highlands estate vineyards. The cellar is starting to fill up, and our three-ton fermenters – which we affectionately call “tanquitos” because of their diminutive size – are filled to the brim with hand-picked, hand-sorted Pinot Noir.
These tanks have open tops and punch down devices that allow us to gently push the caps (the solid matter of grape skins and pulp that forms at the top of the tanks) down, submerging them to extract more flavor, color and structure. Punching down the cap of each tank is something we do several times a day as the juice is fermenting to wine, so it’s quite labor intensive. Once the juice has fermented dry, we press it off the grape skins, keeping the “free run juice” - juice released from the grapes as they are squeezed under their own weight – separate from the mechanically pressed wine.
The free run juice is considered the best, and always forms the base of our Lucienne Pinot Noirs. We put these lots into new French oak barrels. The press wine goes into neutral barrels that we keep on hand for blending later on. Press wine can be useful for plumping up the mid palate and enhancing the color and structure of the finished wine.
As we start to barrel down these first Lucienne Pinot Noirs from 2021 we’re getting a better sense of this vintage, and so far we are very pleased. The grapes have had a little more time on the vines, giving the wines good concentration, tannin and acids, even in their youth. The aromas in the cellar are magnificent.
Juan José Verdina