by Darrel Hopper
This 2015 Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend was judged a Gold Medal and Best in Class at the 2018 Saanich Sommeliers wine competition. Following is the method used:
SOURCING GOOD GRAPES
My first rule is to always purchase the best grapes that I can afford. In winemaking one cannot create a quality wine that wasn’t present in the grapes to begin with. You can still mess up a wine made with good grapes, but you can’t magically add quality to a wine made from inferior grapes.
Beyond the selection of a growing region, growing practices in a vineyard are significantly important. Take the time and effort to search out a good grower…. a person with a good reputation in the region where you intend to purchase wine grapes. Low grape cropping levels and early leaf thinning by the grower make a very real difference to the phenolic content and overall quality of the resulting wine made from those grapes. The harvest methods are also important. Hand harvested grapes are subject to less damage than machine harvested grapes and less likely to be exposed to spoilage issues prior to the winemaking itself. For this wine I sought out grapes from a vineyard managed by a skilled and knowledgeable grower associated with major Okanagan wineries. His vineyard practices provided the quality of grapes I needed. They were not cheap, but their quality made the best starting point, and while I had to make a substantial investment to secure them, I was delighted with the quality. If you don’t make the investment you can’t expect a superior wine at the other end.
TRANSPORTATION OF WINE GRAPES
The timing and transport conditions were the next consideration. Prolonged transportation time and excessive exposure to warmth encourages deterioration in the grapes and growth of unwanted moulds, bacteria etc. The strategy that I employed in making this wine was to travel to the vineyard, pack the freshly picked grapes into stacking totes and to transport the grapes home myself. This adds a necessary degree of certainty over the conditions …. something commercial transportation can find difficult. Transportation times were at their shortest, there was no bulk crushing due to container movement, and driving at night meant the grapes never warmed up above 15 Centigrade. You have to think of the transportation if you are going to purchase fresh grapes and expect to get the best quality out of them.
PROCESSING ON ARRIVAL
So now you have the grapes on the crush pad. They look great and smell wonderful. Now the work of winemaking can begin. The next step is the details…..pay attention to the details. I decided at the outset to add some SO2 at the crush in order to keep the grape must in good condition and to stop any natural fermentation from starting during the cold soak. I added 20 PPM of SO2 stirred into the crush as I went along. Next into the crusher/ destemmer, and then must analysis. Specifically PH, TA and Brix levels, paying attention to these in relation to the style of wine that I wanted to make, and reflecting on the growers information. Both the Cabernet Franc and the Merlot were found to be at 24 Brix and the PH at 3.5. The numbers were right on, but a small addition of tartaric acid was added to move the PH down a bit (3.4) in anticipation of the effect of a malolactic fermentation later on in the process.
The next step was to do a short cold soak (2 days) during which time the enzyme Lafaze HE was added as was VR Supra Tannin to assist in colour stabilization. I fermented these grapes in different lots using Lavlin D80 and D254. The D80 is known to emphasize a strong fruit-forward profile and I wanted that characteristic to be dominant in the wine. I tend to use more yeast than the minimum called for. I usually add an additional 25% and may go up to 50% if I feel that the conditions for the ferment are going to be difficult. I prefer this heavy culture to get things up and going as soon as possible to remove a sluggish start and the possibility of spoilage organisms getting a foothold. I gave the yeast a full routine of Go-Ferm, Fermaid K and DAP. During the active fermentation I did pour-overs, transferring the must from one fermenter to another. This provided mixing of the cap and juice, as well as oxygenation, and the opportunity to cool the must, and permitted me to do some seed extraction at the same time. My maximum fermentation temperature was 27C .
The must was pressed at 0 Brix. I didn’t attempt an extended maceration on this wine. I kept the pressed and free-run together, let them stay on gross lees until the fermentation completed at 0.994 SG. During this time I started the malolactic culture and its nutrients. After the fermentation was completed I allowed the wines to settle off the solids and racked the wine into oak barrels. I aged them for 10 months. At the first racking I blended the Cabernet Franc into the Merlot. Because I did not have new oak barrels, I used tannin additions during the aging…Tan Cor Gr Cru for aging and Tannin Plus as a finishing component. I also used a light egg white fining prior to bottling just to soften and polish the wine. The wine was carrying an SO2 concentration of 45 ppm at bottling and had been monitored throughout 3 rackings and biweekly top ups. It was bottled without filtration.
It turned out to be a very nice wine!