Notes regarding my preoccupation with Chenin Blanc July 25, 2016 18:51

I began making Chenin Blanc in 2009 when I was presented with a few tons of fruit grown in the Sacramento River delta from a vineyard in Solano County. I pressed whole clusters and fermented the juice in a stainless tank, racked it once it was negative Brix and blocked ML. I was not expecting overt Chenin characteristics to show, so I was quite pleasantly surprised when they did.

Seeing potential in the vineyard, in 2010 I followed the protocol of ‘09 but paid more attention to fermentation temperature. The results were good but I felt we missed out on the complexity that really carries Chenin into the serious wine zone. The ‘11 vintage wine saw more lees contact which I believe really added another dimension on the palate. We had so much rot in ‘12 we had to hand sort it in the picking bins, losing about 30% of the volume. I hit it with sulfur and crossed my fingers. It turned out as quite a nice wine, although the high points seemed to have been knocked down.

Then, in 2013 I became so sufficiently weary of having to place my Chenin project on the back burner that I decided it was time to try out the ideas rolling around in my head.

First, I assembled a small crew and we went down to the vineyard for a 1:00AM pick. The chemistry looked good for sparkling: 3.1pH at about 17 Brix, barrel fermented, sur lie until Thanksgiving time when we tirage bottled it. The sediment was so light I decided not to disgorge, which I think is correct given that the wine is so finely carbonated.

The next pick, the “normal” pick, was split into two lots and I changed the protocol to de-stem the fruit so we could get some skin contact and a bit more oxygen to the juice. The bulk of the juice went to the 5th vintage of “stainless” wine and the rest, about 500 gallons went to barrel for an unaided fermentation. Both wines exhibited so much “Chenin funk” that I was actually quite worried that my ideas manifested themselves as ugly and angry siblings to the well mannered wines of 2010 and 2011. However, after some elevage they turned out to be some of my favorites. Well received, too. The “stainless” won the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition in ‘14 and the barrel fermented lot was included in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines on the West Coast.

For 2014, I took another step forward by adding to the line-up a Pet-Nat and another still wine. The fruit for the sparkling coming from the same vineyard in Solano County and the still from the Aparicio Vineyard in Sutter Creek.

The Pet-Nat was bottled at night after an already long day. We riddled it the following May and disgorged in June. This wine, I think, is one of the best Pet-Nats around. It ended up on several nice wine lists and quickly sold out. I saw a few bottles at Corti Brothers in Sacramento last week and the last of it is in Rouge Tomate’s cellar awaiting their reopening.

The mountain Chenin from Aparicio is by far my favorite. I blogged about it earlier this year highlighting its unique pedigree and history. There is so little of this wine produced that very few will be able to taste it. Only the first couple hundred folks on the mailing list will have the opportunity to purchase this wine.

The 2014 “stainless” is sold out, but the barrel fermented version is still available around the Bay Area, Sacramento and southern California.

We bottled the 2015 barrel fermented wine last Saturday and it should be released next Spring. The ‘14 traditional method sparkling is still in barrel and will be en tirage after this harvest. It’s release is dependant upon how it develops over the next few years. The ‘15 Pet-Nat is riddled and the plan is to disgorge early in August with a planned release sometime during harvest. Perhaps we can celebrate a successful ‘16 harvest with bubbles!

So, what’s new for 2016? One more still wine, that’s what! I was fortunate enough to secure Chenin Blanc from a vineyard in south eastern Sacramento County just up the street from my cousin’s house in Herald, CA. This fruit comes highly recommended and I can attest to the high quality based on the wine made from this vineyard that I have tasted. Considering how much I love field blends, both for the added complexity in flavor, aroma and texture, and for the sake of respecting our winemaking/viticultural history, I intend to field blend in some Chardonnay and/or Sauvignon Blanc. I’m very excited to work with this fruit and although I am also happy to add another Chenin Blanc, I am still on the prowl for more sources.

More than anything I love drinking these wines and sharing them with family and friends….friends of Chenin Blanc.

Thanks for indulging. Cheers!

-Craig Haarmeyer