Vin de Glacière
Posted 01 October 2003 - 03:52 AM
For those who may not be aware of exactly how you produce your 'Icebox Wine,' and for those of us who may simply be a bit fuzzy with the details, could you spare a few words on how your method came about? To what extent is mucat canelli better suited to the freezing, and have you made attempts with riesling, in an effort to capture what we find in Alsace and Germany? To what extent did trial and error reveal the perfect temperature and time for which the grapes are stored? Where or from whom did you stumble upon the use of acacia? Assuming demand for the wine continues to grow, how have your methods and sourcing changed to respond to greater production, or has the process always dictated a fairly limited release?
And since you've surely been forced to choke down a fair number of desserts paired with the Vin de Glacière over the years, can you recall a few that came close to creating that elusive synergy?
PS. As it was several years ago (just before you let Alex loose to do your dirty work), I wouldn't expect you to remember, but we shared a table at a dinner here in Michigan, and amid the barrage of wine geek-speak that night, you remained humble yet amusing; I've always recalled the simple bit of wisdom you offered this young novice, something along the lines of Cote Rotie being the 'sexiest' wine on the planet. Thanks for the fond memory, and the years of humour and 'refreshment' since.
Posted 01 October 2003 - 07:12 AM
Thank you very much for your very comprehensive question and it is very nice to hear from you. I have always been interested in dessert wines and began playing around with muscat back in '84, when I made a faux vin de paille. ( Faux because I didn't actually use straw mats but rather dried the grapes in a prune drier in San Martin, CA.) The wine came out really nicely despite my utter inexperience (I remember calling Walter Schug after the grapes arrived and asking him, "Walter, how do you make sweet wine?") but it was extremely time-consuming and expensive. In '85 I hit upon the idea of using a vacuum must concentrator to concentrate the juice and frankly, this technique was somewhat less successful. In '86 I thought, what the heck, let's try freezing the grapes. In fact, I had only dimly heard of the process of cryo-extraction and I don't think anyone was really doing that commercially even in Europe. It just seemed logical that a grape wouldn't really know if it was frozen on the vine or in a freezer. I did a small experiment with some Thompson seedless grapes that I got at the local Safeway - results inconclusive, but decided to go for it with some muscat grapes from the Arroyo Seco Vyd. in Greenfield. Again, miraculously, things just sort of worked out. We really had no idea precisely what we were doing. In those days we froze the grapes down in Castroville and schlepped them up to the winery in Bonny Doon. It took a bit of trial and error to ultimately conclude that the grapes really needed to thaw about 30% to really hit it on the money. If you put totally frozen grapes in your press, they will resemble marbles and tend to agglomorate - sort of like having big chunks of cement rolling around in your press. In those days, every 40 lb. lug box was dumped by hand into our small 1 1/2 ton press and we literally pressed frozen grapes for about a month solid. Over the years, we have graduated to a larger press and have refined and automated the technique somewhat so it is just such a complete hassle.
For those of you just joining us at home, what happens when you freeze grapes is that you get the formation of ice crystals inside the grape. After the water freezes, the the sugar syrup freezes and then when you thaw the grape, the process works in reverse, so the sugar syrup thaws first and the ice stays frozen. When you first start pressing the frozen grapes, the Brix of the juice will be maybe 40-42 degrees (this is almost like pure sugar). As the grapes continue to thaw, the Brix of the juice gradually drops, and we will conclude the pressing when the Brix hits about 33, thus giving us an average Brix of about 37 (still very sweet.) We ferment the juice very slowly, using aromatic enhancing yeast (VL1) and in fact, we generally don't have to stop the fermentation as it tends to crap out by itself at 12% alcohol and maybe 17% residual sugar.
There is no mysterious reason why I started with muscat; I just did and since the wine came out so well, I've stuck with it. We began using only muscat canelli but over the years have added orange muscat and moscato giallo (aka malvasia bianca). There was a very crazy year - I think it may have been '87 when I went completely nuts and made ice wines from semillion, riesling, gewurztraminer (people still call us about that) and grenache! The riesling should have been outstanding, but I remember it as being not so interesting. In retrospect, I think that I did not give it a real chance. It might be fun to revisit making Riesling Vin de Glaciere someday but right now we are really up to our ears in various projects.
I'm still utterly intrigued by dessert wines - we made a late harvest viognier last year, which is just now on the market and is quite interesting, and we're doing it again this year through air-drying the grapes al fresco, which should be very interesting.
As far as the acacia, I got that idea from Patrick Ducourneau, who besides being a winemaker in Madiran and inventor of microbullage, is a keen student of wood. Acacia is a very gentle, slightly aromatic wood that seems to contribute a savory character to sweet wines. I can't afford new barrels (made out of anything) for the wine, but we use a very judicious amt. of acacia chips in the fermenter and it seems to offer a nice counter-balance of tannin to the otherwise perhaps excruciating sweetness.
I look forward to seeing you the next time I am out your way; please don't be a stranger if you come to Santa Cruz. Cheers, RG
Posted 01 October 2003 - 07:15 AM
Posted 01 October 2003 - 10:14 PM
While we're on the subject of sweet wines, and borrowing the idea from someone else, who mentioned eastern European varieties, I may have your next challenge (assuming some parcel of central coast vineyard bears any similarities to those botrytis-prone plots of Hungary).... Furmint! Sweet, dry, off-dry... I'd love to see your interpretation, whatever form it might take. And surely the name itself, furmint, let alone 'puttonyos' or 'aszu, offers something for the BDV creative/marketing department to ponder.
Posted 02 October 2003 - 07:26 AM
Great suggestion. Oddly enough there used to be a stray, wild Furmint vine up in the hills of Bonny Doon. Where it came from, I have not a clue. It would be crucial to find an area that would be conducive to botrytis and such areas do exist in California, but not systematically. I will let the idea continue to furmint. Cheers, R.