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That's what you can do

duke & duchess of dutcher Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Dutcher Crossing vineyard

DM: There are five of us [wineries], really, that have their grapes and we're all very different in style.  But you can still taste the vineyard across each of the different styles.  There are people who come up here and go from winery to winery just for Maple [vineyard-sourced] Zinfandel.  It's one of the better recognized vineyards in Dry Creek.  It's beautiful; they manicure their vines meticulously.

Values in Vinifying

NM: I think we'll agree that everything starts with the grapes themselves.  Really what you're doing in the winery is acting as a medium for those grapes, by taking their message and bringing it out into the world, the bottle, the glass.  Beginning with the grapes, things can only go downhill because the highest potential for a great wine is already inside those grapes; the question becomes whether a winemaker can fully manifest that potential.  It makes sense, then, that these growers have deep concern: they want to ensure that the winemaker who ultimately gets their fruit is able to fulfill the promise inherent in the fruit that's grown to such high standards.

DM: The Maples are also finicky on their style.  They have their opinion on all the wineries' styles.  They have their opinion on oak and alcohol and…

KD: Brett!  No Brett!  When I was interviewed, we talked about winemaking choices.  Tom Maple asked me, "What's your feeling on Brettanomyces?"  I told him that Brettanomyces, in small amounts, in some wines can be a positive thing.  But there are certain varieties that I don't believe it works with at all.  And one of those is Zinfandel.  He immediately said, "That's the right answer!  That's what I wanted to hear!" {laughter}

NM: Tell me a little bit about more that.  It seems to me that Brettanomyces in New World wines is shunned across the board, whereas in some Old World styles of wine it's appreciated, almost revered.  Can you elaborate on your position with regard to Brett and speculate as to why there are different opinions on it across the wine world, and even just here in California?

KD: Brett is a spoilage yeast.  In very broad terms, if you have a fruit-driven wine like Zinfandel, the characteristics of Brettanomyces (leather, wet horse) simply don't work with that style.  But you can have a little of that in Cabernet — you don't want Cabernet to be purely fruit-driven; a fruit-driven Cabernet is not going to be very good.  Cabernet should have aged characteristics.  Syrah, too, tastes better when it has some age on it.  So, a little bit of that unique, earthy, organic quality in small amounts in those wines is complexing.  But it's conflicting in fruit-driven wines.  Another example is Pinot Noir, at least California Pinot Noir, where I just don't think Brett works at all.

NM: I was alluding to a palate affinity among a great deal of drinkers of Burgundy, wherein you often do find pronounced evidence of Brettanomyces.  That begs the question: has Brett been appreciated in some styles of Old World wine because it's been there all along and is assumed to be an integral and necessary characteristic of those styles, or is the Brett simply a remnant of unhygienic winemaking and therefore a flaw that should be corrected?

KD: I have a pretty strong opinion on that.  I get slammed by my peers, but I don't have an appreciation for old white Burgundy.  I don't like old white wine, yet there's an entire group out there in the world who does.  And, quite honestly, I don't have an appreciation for old Champagne, either.  I do not like oxydized white wine!  So, I tend to be more New World in nature.  I appreciate freshness.  And though I'm not looking for New World wines to be only fresh, I appreciate freshness and I think Brettanomyces steals freshness from wine.  Now, as a caveat, I like using native yeast, and native yeast fermentation also steals freshness from wine.  But, it's about yin and yang: native yeast gives something back to the wine.  So, I don't want to oversimplify by stating that good wines should just be fresh.

NM: Speaking of freshness, there's quite a bit in the Maple Zinfandel.  There's also a good deal of restraint in its fruit profile, in that it's not overblown or exaggerated — qualities we often find in a lot of other Zinfandel, even at this super-premium level of quality.  This particular wine, I would say without a doubt, is one that can be easily enjoyed with food.



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