What’s in that barrel?


I recently spent some time with the tasting room team at a local Napa Valley winery learning what was in their 2008 barrels.  The winemaker described how the wine’s flavor is impacted by the soils, lighting, temperature and water drainage.  Hearing all the variables that impact the flavor of the wine was interesting.  However, it was amazing to taste the difference these items had on the wine.  The Pinots we were tasting from the barrel had sometimes subtle differences while others were distinctly different.  How could vines just 300 feet apart produce such different flavors?  The differences are obvious to the winemaker since he knows the vineyard block like the back of his hand.  The first barrel we tasted came from the top of the hill where the grapes received plenty of sun and had good drainage.  The next barrel’s juice came from the bottom of the hill were there is a lot of shade from the giant oaks and the soil is dense and is recipient of water flowing downhill.

The more wines we sampled and the more data that was shared it became quite apparent that being a winemaker was a blend of science, art and passion.  Being a winemaker is a very complex job. 

Oh yeah, what type of barrel would you use for the juice?  French, American, light, medium, or dark toasted each will impact the flavor of the wine.   There are many variables in winemaking and they start in the vineyard which even the best winemaker has a tough time predicting the impact the weather will have over the course of the growing season. 

I realize that what’s in that barrel is years of planning, hard labor, significant investment, understanding the vines that produced the grapes and a desire to produce the best tasting wine possible.  Like anything in life the closer you are to the activity, the clearer your vision will be of it.  As I get closer to winemaking I am discovering there is a lot more in that barrel than juice.

Until next time…pull a cork and enjoy!


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