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NM: Focusing now on the "8" Chardonnay, I have to say it's very striking in how well it's balanced in its bright fruit profile that's also elegantly round on the palate. There are very few New World Chardonnays that I personally like because I find they're often at one extreme or the other: a great deal are overly round and creamy, stripped of the grape's natural verve as a result of heavy-handed malolactic, and others — ostensibly made in an effort to overcompensate for that trend — that are awkwardly lean and devoid of breadth. Striking a balance is where the beauty of Chardonnay lies.
WS: Interestingly, our Chardonnay goes through 100% malolactic, but it doesn't have any of those buttery qualities.
LM: And that's because it's made with natural flora. What some wineries do is to innoculate their Chardonnay with a strain of [malolactic] bacteria that is known to create a lot of diacetyl. But by using the natural flora and being very clean in the cellar, our malolactic fermentation occurs spontaneously. And instead of taking just a week, as with some of the strong buttery strains, this one might take a month, sometimes two months, to complete the process. And that creates more complexity. It doesn't just turn the malic into lactic acid plus diacetyl; rather, it creates some other bi-products that actually enhance the quality of the wine and ultimately create much less diacetyl, and therefore less of that buttered popcorn flavor. And so allowing the wine to go through 100% malolactic with no intervention makes a wine that's very stable. No fining or filtration is needed. If there happens to be a bit of yeast or bacteria left, so be it — that's not necessarily a bad thing because there's nothing left [for the yeast or bacteria] to consume; the sugar is all gone and malic acid is gone as well. And so, because the wine is stable, we don't need to add much sulfur [dioxide], other than a very small amount so that nothing will oxidize.
"These vines were planted 15 years ago, so they have some depth. When you taste the fruit, you can tell it's not just a simple expression of the varietal."
Texture is another thing that I personally focus on, so that we have a real expression of the vineyard. These vines were planted fifteen years ago, so they have some depth. When you taste the wine, you can tell that it's not just a simple expression of the varietal; it has some other characteristics. The texture is really important, because it makes the mouthfeel and allows everything else to be well-integrated — the oak, the alcohol, etcetera — so that when we taste it, it's not easy to differentiate the individual components of the wine. It makes the entire experience harmonious and seamless. And that's what I personally enjoy! So, overall, intensity and complexity are my automatic objectives, then my secondary focus is on texture.
Summing It All Up
NM: My sense is that achieving the seamlessness you've just described is one of the most challenging aspects of winemaking. It's where the true artisanship comes in and wherein purely technical training fails to master: to make a wine whose profile is so smooth and graceful that one component melds into another, which in turn melds into yet another — so that the taster cannot pick out any one of them because it's so well integrated with all the others. I feel that's where the real magic lies in a well-made wine.
WS: Education becomes a base, but you've got to build on top of that with the artisanal side, with your own creativity, with your own footprint. For me, culinary school is what brought me into the wine industry. One of the things that was taught to us there is that you learn the simple techniques and building blocks, which should spring you into whichever direction or type of food you ultimately want to create. And though I didn't go to classical winemaking school, other than some courses, I'm sure it's the same idea with wine: you learn the science behind it, but that only gets you so far in terms of what you're trying to create with your wine and really giving it your own sense of yourself and your interpretation of the vineyard.
LM: Aside from the issue of science vs. artisanship in winemaking, another really important facet of this job is clearly farming. Nature has the last word, every time. Despite all the science and artistry, we are still limited to some degree. On the one hand, for instance, some growing seasons are more challenging than others; conversely, others are quite wonderful because they express things that we simply could not, through science or artistry alone.