We are deep into Chardonnay production now, with grapes coming in from our Lone Oak Vineyard for the SLH and Lucienne wines and from Arroyo Seco for the Hahn Appellation Series. We barrel ferment most of this fruit, as this technique gives the finished wines complex aromas and flavors as well as a rounder, more generous texture. It is a labor-intensive process, however.
When the grapes come into the winery we press the juice off the skins ever so gently, then allow the juice to settle in tank with the temperature turned low. Next, we rack the juice off the heavy lees (sediment) that settles at the bottom of the tank, inoculate it with yeast, and pump it into small French barrels to begin fermentation. Fermenting the juice dry can take anywhere from 10 to 21 days, and since there’s always evaporation, we top up the barrels every so often to keep them full, with no space for oxygen.
Once dry, we monitor the wines for malolactic fermentation and begin the process of “batonnage”, where we stir the settled lees back into the wine, barrel by barrel, once every two weeks. This technique, along with the malolactic, gives our Chardonnays viscosity and a wonderful creaminess, again adding to their overall interest and complexity.
Although much of our Chardonnay is barrel fermented, we also ferment some of the grapes in stainless steel tanks. These wines tend to have a tighter structure and brighter fruit, and we like having them as an option when we’re putting together our final blends.
The official beginning of fall was last week and I can certainly feel it in the air. The nights are colder, the mornings chillier. The leaves on the vines are starting to yellow, signaling their readiness to go dormant. Their work is nearly complete for the year, although in the winery, we have several more weeks to go!
Juan Jo Verdina-Busch
Senior Production Manager | Hahn Winemaker
Our first grapes will arrive at the end of this week, and with temperatures predicted to rise in the next several days, we’ll be moving fast to hand harvest Pinot Noir from our Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards. As is typical, the first blocks to come in feature the Calera clone, one of my favorites because it reliably produces beautiful small clusters and tiny berries. Though the clone’s yields are typically low, the quality more than makes up for it, generating wines with amazing color, fruit, structure and tannin.
Next week we should be in full fermentation mode. In the winery, we’ll place the grapes into open top fermenters that allow us to do “pumpovers” (a technique akin to stirring a pot of soup) to gently extract color, flavor and tannin as the sugars and yeasts do their work. Because of the coming heat spell, we know the grapes will start to come in waves. We’re ready, knowing we have a good eight to ten weeks of hard work ahead of us.
Still, I don’t know a winemaker who doesn’t love this time of year. It’s the most important stage of the winemaking process, and also the time you can learn the most. There’s just nothing like being able to smell, taste and experience the transformation of grapes to juice to wine, and each vintage brings its own lessons. This will be my 21th harvest in the U.S., and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that every year is different. You just never know what harvest will throw at you, and I love that!
Juan Jo Verdina-Busch
Senior Production Manager | Hahn Winemaker
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