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the magic of montemaggiore Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Montemaggiore FermentationThere have been two occasions where that sort of experience had a profound effect on me.  One was when we first started out in 2002, our very first vintage, when we did a custom crush at another winery (we hadn't built our winery until 2004, so for our first two years we made our wine at other wineries' facilities).  In 2002, we happened to make our wine down in the Russian River Valley, which is about a half hour away, so I would go by maybe once a week just to taste the wine and see how it was doing.  And I'll never forget one time around the end of January, Vince was with me, and we tasted the wine together… {pausing} and that wine was just terrible!  It was absolutely awful!  I said, "We're doomed!  This thing that we've put all this time and energy and money into is a big disaster!  This wine is just terrible!"  We had a consulting winemaker at the time, so I called him at like 8 o'clock on a Friday night: "Help!  Our wine is terrible!"  And his response was like, "It's Syrah.  Calm down."  Lo and behold, two weeks later, the wine was completely different!  Syrah, when it's really young goes through a roller-coaster.  You may taste it at one point, and think it's the worst wine you've ever tasted.  But then a couple of weeks later, you taste it again and might think, "Wow, I make a pretty good wine!"  And then two weeks after that, "What happened to my wine?!"

NM:  Wow!  So it really goes through a tumultuous phase — and this while it's aging in barrel, long after fermentation?!

LC:  Yes, absolutely!  And so, for me, I'd been used to making Zinfandel as a home winemaker; I'd focused pretty much exclusively on Zinfandel.  If you put Zinfandel in a barrel, it gradually and slowly matures — same thing with Cabernet.  They just go along smoothly.  Well, Syrah goes through these [up and down] cycles, which gradually narrow and then settle out.  But especially for the first six months, you just can't get too hung up over what you're tasting — good or bad, frankly.  And so that's one of the instances where you have to take the Tahoe option!  {laughing}

Another example with our latest vintage, the 2005 Syrah, happened a few years later, after I'd gotten used to the early roller-coasters.  I'd gone so far as to do the bottling, then tasted the wine in bottle a week or two later: "Oh, my god!  What happened to this wine?!  This is terrible; I'm doomed!  I have 725 cases of this wine, and it's just awful!"  Now, as computer scientist, I'm used to the fact that if there's a bug [in a program I've written], I just do another release — no problem!  Well, with wine, when you put it in bottle, that's it, you're name is on it and you have to stand by it from now until eternity.  I panicked.  I figured that all the hard work I've done to build up our reputation was all going down the tubes.  And so after all that, I finally just decided that there was nothing I could do about it and that for the next six months I was just going to ignore the problem as if I'd never tasted the wine.  I decided I just couldn't deal with it and that I was play ostrich, stick my head in the sand, and pretend that it never existed.  Six months later, I tasted the wine again: "Oh!  Well, that's actually pretty good!"  At first, I thought it was good only compared to how I thought it was going to be — kind of like when you stop knocking your head against the wall; it feels better once you stop.  But then as I continued tasting it, I decided that it wasn't just because I expected to still be awful; it really was pretty good!

So, in talking to a friend of mine — I have a lot of friends who are way more experienced in winemaking than I am — I said to him: "I don't know what's going on.  This wine was just terrible, and then six months later it's actually decent.  Am I deluding myself?  Is it going to be terrible again in another six months?"  So he said, "The thing is, we're very lucky to be working with a very forgiving product."  And that's just it: wine is something very forgiving, very resilient.  You may have problems, perceived or actual, but sometimes the best thing to do is just take the Tahoe option!

NM:  It sounds like what you're describing is bottle shock — only much more extreme!  What did you finally discover as the cause or explanation?

LC:  Well, I didn't discover anything in particular.  Because, as I said, I stuck my head in the sand; I wasn't about to investigate!  But, if I were to speculate, I think it was a combination of two things.  First off, right after bottling wine does go into bottle shock.  And usually that's characterized by what I'll call the 'dumbing down' of the wine, where all those beautiful aromas and subtleties that you got on the palate [just before bottling] have seemingly vanished.  At that point, it's an okay wine but nothing all that exciting.  That's how bottle shock typically manifests itself.  My thinking is that somehow with this wine, bottle shock manifested itself in a different way.  There was something about this wine in that year — it had been a spontaneous fermentation to begin with, so it already had things going on that I'd never experienced before.  Maybe it was something to do with that, maybe it was just this natural cycle that all wines go through.  Who knows.  All I know is that it worked itself out, and I'm very happy for that!



 

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