In The Barrel Room: When Wines Coalesce

By Winemaker Matt 
In: News

I’m back from Thanksgiving break and Harvest is a few weeks in the rearview mirror. You might be thinking that us winemakers can start to relax for the winter. In fact, now the heavy lifting really begins.

Many people assume that because we’re done with Harvest, winemakers get to enjoy some downtime, maybe even go on vacation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The new wines are in a sensitive stage.  We are monitoring their progress through the secondary or Malolactic fermentation. Only when this process is complete will the wines be put away in barrels to age for the next year.

I call this the time of the year when the wines coalesce. To coalesce means to grow together or to unite into a whole.  I have spoken in the past about our tradition at Kendall-Jackson of keeping our wines separate from the vineyard and throughout aging.  This leads to the multiple 100-wines-per-day inventory tastings I’ve written about.

At this point in the year, all the varied and sundry wines we have produced for the 2010 vintage of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet and Merlot will come together for the first time. No small feat.  I am currently overseeing the pumping out of over 10,000 barrels of the aforementioned Cabernet, Merlot, as well as some of the other Bordeaux varieties we produce.

At Kendall-Jackson, we have a hands-on philosophy for all of our barrel work.  We want to make absolutely sure that each individual barrel belongs in the final blend.  Also, if any individual barrel has developed any spoilage characters, we hold that one out for special treatment or destruction.  This means that one of the winemakers has to be on hand to smell or taste every single barrel.  That’s a lot.

On the upside, this helps keep us in touch, really in touch, with our wines.  We get to see how each wine has evolved.  Also, we get to see how the different barrels that I select to use with these wines have contributed to its overall character, aroma and mouthfeel.  It’s a good thing.

So, these days a winemaker finishes the day with stained hands and a black tongue.  It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.