I'm Getting Screwed

I try to be as much a minimalist as possible in life. I don't like to over-complicate things, and I'd always rather look at the forest than get bogged down in the trees.  I am a firm believer in Murphy's Law. So, when I started formulating a plan to finally make wine for myself, I wanted to practice what I preach.  This is why I make only one blend.  This is why I chose to use screwcaps instead of corks.

Wine first started to be bottled, rather than transported in casks or amphorae, sometime in the late-17th or early-18th centuries.  People were stoked to be able to carry small volumes of wine with them, and a cork was a great way to reseal the opened bottle.  For hundreds of years, few thought this technology needed improvement; sometimes the wine smelled musty, sometimes the cork dried out and the wine became oxidized- oh well.  When fancy instruments like gas chromatograms were developed post-WWII, we could finally see what individual molecules were in a sample of wine.  The most common of the strange, musty, moldy smells could finally be isolated: 2,4,6-tricholoroanisole (TCA.)

Corks come from the cork oak, Quercus suber, which is native to the Iberian peninsula and northwest Africa.  One peels the outer bark off, but the tree survives and grows more bark.  This bark is punched into cylinders and then washed before shipping to wineries around the world.  Cork taint, the wet newspaper smell mentioned above, is produced from either natural molds on the bark or as a byproduct of the chlorine bleaching process during manufacturing.  TCA is detectable by the human nose at very small levels, around 3 ppb, so it doesn't take much cover up all those aromatics the winemaker was trying to preserve.  The number of bottles affected ranges from 0.5%-2.0%.  I would be surprised if any other manufacturing industry tolerated failure of a component at this level!

Screwcaps are made from aluminum alloy and come in any number of colors and finishes.  The actual part of the cap that touches the wine is lined in layers of polyethylene and, sometimes, foam or tin.  These layers serve to protect the wine from too much oxygen and to avoid picking up any metallic off-flavors from the raw aluminum. There are even screwcaps that mimic corks for the amount of oxygen ingress allowed (usually around 0.1 mg/L of O2 per year.)  Since most screwcaps let in less air from outside, you must be wary of certain things when sealing your wine this way.  Any reductive characters (rotten egg, cabbage, corn) will likely reappear in the bottle, even if they went away in barrel.  To avoid this, I rack my barrels in the spring and make a rough blend.  I try to get some vigorous splashing in the tank and don't bother using inert gases to blanket the wine.  This "clean" wine is put back to barrel to mature until bottling in late-summer.

The last thing I want is for someone who doesn't know my wine to think it smells like cork taint.  I could lose that consumer forever.  I promise to do everything in my power to make sure that every bottle you buy is sound and meets your expectations – just minus the pop.  I don't love screwcaps, but I do prefer them.  

It’s Always Darkest before the Dawn

It’s always hard to tell how a harvest will turn out.  2012 was fresh and lively from the start, immediately likeable, yet still leaving you wanting to come back for more; its depth and weight, put on gracefully over the year in barrel.  2013 raced away, a horse scared by a crack of thunder, fleshier, yet more reticent. This wine is pretty now, but still angular, like a teenager growing into their body.  2014 was hot.  We had no winter and across Southern California the heat of July and August was remorseless, rain was but a bitter memory.  Across the Santa Ynez Valley, winemakers were prepping for harvest, fingers itchy on the trigger.

We bottled all 440 cases on August 22nd, with an improved label and our custom logo on the screwcap.  No rest for the wicked though, as I brought in the first of 2014’s fruit on the 25th, a full month earlier than 2012, weeks before 2013.  Drought conditions caused all of the Pinot vineyards in the area to go from under-ripe to very-ripe in a few days.  Many picked early, giving up flavor for bracing acidity, eager to brag about it, like the kid who raises their hand too much in class.  Many more picked too late, making super intense, extracted Pinots, like it was 2004.  Despite my worries, things turned out great, bringing all of my fruit in at modest sugars, good acidity and nice, clean ferments.  The weather gave us good stem lignification, bringing the whole-cluster component up to 33% this year, adding spice and structure.

So, for now, the wines are resting in their barrels, calming down after a hot and busy harvest, and full of potential.  I am back at work in LA, planning big things and waiting for my life to go upside-down with our first baby at Christmas.  In the meantime, I will be pounding the streets, searching for a home for this Weatherborne wine, hopefully on a shelf or table near you.

Harvest 2014 Is Near

We spent an early morning in the Sta. Rita hills collecting grape samples. In the U.S., the most common unit of sugar density is Brix. Brix (symbol °B) is a scale of measurement that quantifies the total amount of soluble solids in a solution. Basically, think of it as the grams of sugar in 100 mL of grape juice. After fermentation by yeast, this gives us the amount of alcohol in the wine. There are many indicators of ripeness, but this is the easiest one to measure.

Climate change and the subsequent drought in California have advanced ripening for this growing season. We had veraison (color change) in the vineyard before July 4, and we will be bringing all our fruit in by the end of August. The earliest since the very hot year of 2004. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Garagiste Festival

Photo by: Laura Simak

Photo by: Laura Simak

On March 31, we were featured in the Santa Barbara News-Press in reference to the Garagiste Festival in Solvang.

"'Garagiste' is a French word long used to refer to rogue, small-lot winemakers who, often working out of their garage, make wine by often bending traditional rules... [the festival is] a boon for winemakers like Cris Carter."
Saglie, G. (2014, March 31). Small wineries, big crowds. Santa Barbara News-Press, pp. A4.

 

And today we had a great feature in the Wine-Ding Road blog.

"... it was probably one of the best Pinot’s I’ve tasted – the perfect balance of juicy fruit and a hint of spice.  I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for Weatherborne…"

 

We appreciate the support and can't wait to get this project off the ground.

Santa Barbara Independent Features Weatherborne

Weatherborne Wine Co.: Unlike many small-batch winemakers, Cris Carter took a fairly traditional route to winemaking via school at UC Davis, and yet he decided on making beer for a living at Golden Road Brewery in Los Angeles, with this pinot-noir-focused project his side gig. Expect that to change, for this first vintage of Weatherborne — the name is a nod to his family’s aviation history — from the John Sebastiano Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills is tremendous: raspberry on the nose, nice brown spice, and brilliant acidity yet with long-lasting fruit flavors. See weatherborne.com. 
– http://www.independent.com/news/2014/mar/27/garagiste-vintners-gear/

What to do in LA while you're waiting for harvest