Sunday, March 12, 2006

Vilafonte 'Barrel Blog' - day 24

"Barrel prep"
#1- barrel selection and orders.
One of the very constant harvest cellar jobs is preparing barrels for filling. But a good deal of work goes on first. Back in October, we tasted our wines from the last vintage, and evaluated how well the new barrels of each type had worked with each block and varietal. Based on that…answering the questions: what worked? Which blocks need new oak? Which need once used, or twice used oak (French oak is what we use for wood)?do we have a cooper that we want to test this year?? Etc......we placed a barrel order.Preceding the barrel order we meet with each cooper or cooper's representative. We tell them what we want to accomplish; what we liked or found disappointing about their barrels the previous year, and ask what if any new developments they have in their coopering. Coopering barrels…from selecting the oak, drying it; preparing the staves; assembling the barrel…is very complicated; barrels are from biological elements and take judgement to make, just like wine. Each cooper tends to have a signature style, again like wine. Base on our assessment and their information, and our projection of harvest tonnage by block (a bit difficult since the vines are just budding out at this stage!) we organize our order for new barrels. What we don't do is as follows:
a. we don't use a formula such as " we need x% new oak"
b. we don't assume that each block will have the same needs as the nextc. we don't assume that a block's match to new and older oak will be the same year after year (generally as vines get older they can absorb and benefit from more new oak)
d. we don't assume that all coopers are the same. In fact we are very particular, and work primarily with coopers with a long track record for quality, style, and consistency of quality.
e. we are not driven by cost. We select the number, type and style that we believe will be absolutely the best for our wines. These barrels are beautiful works of craft in and of themselves, and are a major cost of winemaking, so their selection, care, and use is, in my opinion, one of the 4 major critical segments of refined winemaking. More on barrels later…once we have them, then what??
Zelma Long
The photo is one of our grape sorters. Her T shirt reflects perfectly the detail needed for fine winemaking!!

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