Tuesday, October 27, 2009

92 Points...and what it means...Part 2

As for the winemaking itself, absolute, rigid, unrelenting cleanliness is the sine qua non of a 92 point wine. "The secret to pollution is dilution", is another way of saying, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." When cleaning barrels, clamps, hoses, pumps, ferment bins, picking bins, siphons, bungs...heck, everything in the winery... cleaning is not "a lick and a promise". Cleaning is being exquisitely careful about cleaning everything thoroughly, completely, and every time it is used. Bisulfite and dilute acids in washings help kill bugs or fungi in the low pH or high pH range. Basically what you want is a winery floor that if you dropped your sandwich on it, you could pick it up and eat it without worrying about it. That is the definition of clean.

As an aside, some years ago a commercial winemaker was helping me with some homemade wine, and due to fruit flies, he had covered the half ton bins with mosquito netting. Well, the bins were in his garage, and I noted his cat balancing on the rim of one of the micro bins. Sure enough, the cat fell in the fermenting wine, and the winemaker said, " Ah, no worries, it won't make any difference." I later had some of his commercial wine, and frankly, it tasted like wet cat fur. Well, this is an extreme example of how not to do it, but I have also seen in a large custom crush facility, one winery's grapes dumped into the destemmer right after another's, with no cleaning of the destemmer, or any of its allied equipment. Thank goodness that wasn't around here, but nonetheless, if the first load of grapes thru that destemmer had Botyritis, so then, did every other load of grapes that got processed. Hence, "The secret to pollution is dilution", ie, wash and clean everything with each use, and do so vigorously.

A complete and thorough knowledge of winemaking is essential, and also so are all the whistles and bells which include:

---high quality destemmers that cause minimal injury to grapes,

---Mistral sorting tables(moving or vibrating conveyor that removes bitter, tannic, green shot-berries, and manual removal of any remaining stems or otherwise imperfect grapes),

---d'le stage equipment for removing a reductive taste in a barrel wine

---low pressure, variable speed pumps that don't beat wines up

---rigid selection of barrels, and an impeccable system of insuring neutral barrels remain free of disease (boytritis, mildew, bacteria)

---minimal time between harvesting and crushing

---cold, slow, fermentations

---frequent, expensive chemistries done on wines to be certain pH, TA, and Brix are where they should be

---variable pressure wine press to separate juice from skins, without pressing at too high a pressure to prevent juice from crushed seeds(tannic) becoming part of the wine, and also to keep the wine from being "beaten up"

"The less trauma to a wine, particularly a good wine, the better it will be", is a mantra that is spot on.

Returning to the 100 point scale, 100 point wines are rare and are truly nectar of the Gods. 99 to 95 point wines are still in rarefied air, and 94-91 pointers are spectacular wines; 90 points is a wine to be extremely proud of. For that matter, wines from 89 to 86 points priced under $15 bucks is probably a heck of a good buy. As noted previously, problems arise when an $85 bottle of wine garners only 83 points. At that point it is safe to say that the winery was way too proud of that wine. Competition being what it is...well, in the midst of a ghastly recession, that $85 bottle will probably be selling for $20-$25 sometime in the next 6-12 months.

The last and most important part of 92 points, however, is reproducing it next year...and the next... and the next...and so on. 92 points one year and 83 the next is generally not ideal for building the brand. To establish a name for the winery, scores need to be consistently in the 90s. High 80s are fine, but some, if not most of the winery's wines need to be in the 90+ category. And when that rare 94 or 95 does come around, it is a cause for major celebration.

One final thought about Steve Heimoff, who actually was the one who rated our Paso Bordo...He feels his top score is 94-95. Only that rarest of wines gets his 100 point rating ,and he remembers just the small handfull of wines and wineries so honored. Thinking again of Heimoff's 92 rating, it is even more impressive when one realizes his top rating is going to be just 2 points higher than the 92 points awarded Paso Bordo. With that in mind we are once again re-dedicating ourselves to continue producing the perfect grape, and thence...the perfect wine.

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