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Dick Minnis
September 26, 2018 | Dick Minnis

Newsletter: Late Spring 2018

Newsletter: Late Spring 2018

Around the Winery: Spring is here, and with the warmer days, those final few barrels that didn’t complete Malolactic Fermentation last fall are finally finishing. This signals the next major step in the evolution of Bray Vineyards’ wines. All the barrels of each individual varietal will be racked into a stainless steel tank which achieves uniformity of that wine. Then, after the barrels are cleaned with a steam pressure washer and the wine’s SO2 is adjusted to protect against microbes and oxidation, most of the wine will be returned to the clean barrels. I say most because our winemaker, Joel Medina, will draw off and set aside several 750 ml bottles for the next important step. These samples will be representative of both the base wine and will also be available for any potential tweaking of the other varietals. At this point in the life of the 2017 crush, the wine is starting to come together. A wine that a few weeks ago just seemed clean but uninteresting, now begins to show some of its varietal characteristics and hints of future potential. Joel isn’t looking for a finished wine at this point, but rather his goal is to identify and adjust any gaps in the wine’s sensory profile. The earlier this is accomplished, the more integrated the final product.

In the Vineyard: April is an interesting month in the vineyard. All the hard work of pruning and mowing is finished, and the vines are really starting to grow. In the absence of sunlight, a grapevine shows negative gravitropism; a tendency to grow away from the ground. However, with the interjection of light, the vine becomes positively phototropic, and it will grow towards light. As a climber, the vine never supports itself, so no effort is wasted on developing girth. Each cane on the lateral vine has been pruned to 2 buds. As these buds begin to develop into new canes, they will form nodes at regular intervals. Each node produces a leaf on one side and either a tendril or flower bud on the other. Thus, vegetative and reproductive mechanisms are created simultaneously, giving the vine all the potential it needs to produce next fall’s harvest. The warmth and sunlight of spring starts the process, and the object now will be to assist and direct the new growth in a manner most beneficial for each varietal. Grapevines do not form terminal buds like some plants, but will continue to grow as long as there is sufficient heat, soil moisture, and nutrients. That growth signals the next important step in the vineyard, which is suckering (also known as shoot thinning). A process that will continue in various degrees all the way up until harvest.

Up-coming Events: 

Our annual Spring Wine Club release party will be on May 12th from 1:00 pm until 4:00 pm. Pick up your wines while enjoying some food and a relaxing environment. Eric Burns will be preparing and serving a meat and cheese appetizer mix with crackers and garlic bread using Bray extra virgin olive oil. The party is free for all Club Members (2 per membership) and is $15 per guest. Please RSVP by either email to brayvineyards@yahoo.com(insert link), or call (209) 245-6023 not later than Wednesday, May 9th.

May 5th is the fourth annual Amador Four Fires wine and food extravaganza which is a cut above the typical wine tasting event.  This new concept in wine and food festivals is designed to ignite your senses and is an “all inclusive” event. Bray Vineyards is excited to be participating, and we will be pouring a total of 6 wines combined, distributed in the Iberian, Italian, and Rhone sections of the event. In addition, Bray’s tasting room will remain open until 5:00pm on Saturday to offer a 20% discount on the wines we poured at the event to Amador Four Fire attendees. The special discount will also be available on that Sunday, just remember to bring along your Amador Four Fires ticket stub.

Mini-Trivia:  Lately in our trivia section we’ve been looking at the origins of some of the varietals we grow at Bray. This month will delve into the origin and history of Cabernet Sauvignon, arguably one of the world’s most popular red wine varietals.  The ‘king’ of red wine grapes is also one of the most planted grape varietals with over 721,000 acres worldwide.  Interestingly, Cabernet Sauvignon is also a relative newcomer to the vineyard. Similar to other famous varietals, Cabernet has its share of myth and misconceptions regarding its origins: we seem to like a good story almost as much as we like a good glass of wine. One popular explanation hinges on the French word ‘sauvignon’ being derived from the French ‘sauvage’ which translates as wil d. The implication being that Cabernet is a wild strain of Vitis Vinifera native to France. There was also some conjecture that Cabernet Sauvignon was an even older varietal; possibly the famed Roman ‘Biturica’ grape described by Pliny the Elder. In fact, throughout much of the 18th Century it was commonly known as Petite Vidure or Bidure which suggested some relationship to the roman Biturica. However, by the end of the 18th century, the grape was more commonly referred to as Cabernet Sauvignon 

In 1996, a team led by Carole Meredith at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, surprised the wine world when they used DNA fingerprinting to determine Cabernet Sauvignon’s lineage. Comparing the DNA of 51 different varietals and using 30 distinct microsatellite markers within that DNA, a statistical analysis pointed to a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Ampelographers (experts in grape classification) have long suspected a connection between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, another distinguished varietal of Bordeaux vineyards. There are similarities between both their physical features and their aromatic profiles; each having blackcurrant and pencil box characteristics. The contribution of the white wine grape Sauvignon Blanc was a complete surprise. The “sauvignon’ name similarity was merely a reference to the resemblance of both grapes to local wild vines rather than a suspected lineage. Prior to the 17th century, there are no records of grape breeders making hybrid varietals, so Cabernet Sauvignon was most likely a natural crossing of two common varietals somewhere in Bordeaux.

One of the earlier possible recorded references to Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the 18th Century and Chateau Brane-Mouton. Baron de Brane ripped up the white varieties on his estate and planted a red variety called Vidure whose name derives from the French words ‘Vigne Dure’ or hardy vine; a reference to the tough nature of Cabernet Sauvignon. That name is still used today in some parts of the Bordeaux region. Unfortunately, in that period there was considerable name confusion among the grapes of Bordeaux, and the name Vidure was also used in reference to Cabernet Franc. An account book written by the Mayor of Libourne in 1763 referred to the grape as Petit Cabernet, and the first modern spelling of Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t appear until 1840. The famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux Châteaux gave Château Mouton a first growth classification while right next door Château d”Armailhac received a fifth growth rating. These two estates are now both owned by the Rothschild’s and were likely the original source for many of the Cabernet vines distributed throughout the Medoc region of Bordeaux, but the exact time and origin of this now famous varietal is still conjecture.

The 1855 classification originated as a marketing vehicle to promote Bordeaux wines at the ‘Exposition Universell de Paris’, a celebration similar to a World’s Fair held today. The classification was based simply on the price of wine from each chateaux and was concerned with only the left bank vineyards of Bordeaux. The ploy was widely successful and the wines of Bordeaux rose to worldwide prominence. At the time, the red wines of the left bank were blends consisting of some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. It was the Phylloxera epidemic that started in 1869 that help propel Cabernet Sauvignon to its premier position in left bank blends. The solution to dealing with Phylloxera was to replant the local varieties on resistant American rootstock. However. Carmenere, Malbec, and even Petit Verdot did not respond as well as the other Bordeaux varieties to the new rootstock, and a large percentage of those vineyards were replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon. There were two other far reaching consequences of the Phylloxera infestation. The French lowered the vineyard density from 20,000 plus vines per hectare (2.5acres) to between 8,000 and 10,000 vines. They also learned that Cabernet Sauvignon did best in the gravely soil of the left bank while Merlot and Cabernet Franc prospered in the clay and limestone of the right bank. These developments led to an increase in the region’s wine quality and eventually the perception that Cabernet Sauvignon was the world’s premier red wine grape.

It may have been both name recognition and the perception of quality that initially fueled Cabernet’s worldwide distribution as a red wine grape. From its roots in Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon has migrated to nearly every major wine producing area in the new world. Cabernet’s vinicultural characteristics were certainly part of the reason. The vines are hardy, and are naturally resistant to numerous insects and diseases. The vines also bud out later than most varietals which helps avoid frosts. Cabernet also tends to produce low yields of small thick skinned grapes that present consistent structure and flavors typical of the varietal.

Spanish colonists planted the first grapes in California before Cabernet had even come into existence. The first vineyards in continuous productivity were those of the California Mission system, but the famed Mission grape was most likely a cross of native vines and Spanish varietals. Even after Cabernet was firmly established in Bordeaux, it was unlikely that much of the varietal made it into the mission system because of the cost of importing vines from France.  The first solidly documented record of growing Cabernet Sauvignon in California is attributed to Jean-Louis Vignes, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1831. He was dissatisfied with the wine made from the local Mission grapes and decided to import vines from his home area of Bordeaux France. Eventually his production exceeded demand, and by 1840 he was shipping wine to Northern California. However, the population explosion attributed to the 1849 Gold rush was the real impetus for the growth of the California wine industry. It was Agoston Haraszathy, who arrived in 1858, who put California winemaking on the road to respectability. His initial attempts to grow grapes in the bay area failed because the foggy climate inhibited their ripening fully. He then purchased a small vineyard in Sonoma, renamed it Buena Vista, and hired Charles Krug as his winemaker. Later the State Agriculture Society published his “Report on Grapes and Wine of California”, which was a practical guide for viticulture in the state. In 1861 he embarked on a grand tour of European vineyards and returned to California with over 100,000 cuttings comprising some 350 different varieties. Among them were cuttings from Bordeaux, and Cabernet Sauvignon finally had a firm footing in the State.

Having barely survived Prohibition, Cabernet Sauvignon entered the 1960’s with a mere 615 acres of documented vineyards, which was a miniscule portion of the State’s 85,000 total acres of wine grape varietals. In 1976 Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sponsored a wine competition between French and American Cabernet’s and Chardonnays. The results, which became known as the “Judgement of Paris”, shocked the wine world. The Californian entries took the top spots with a Stag’s Leap Cabernet and a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. This much publicized event is often given credit for spotlighting the potential quality of Californian wines and being the impetus for Cabernet’s explosive growth in Sonoma and Napa Counties. While the former is certainly true, the acreage planted to Cabernet Sauvignon actually declined following the “Judgement of Paris”, and didn’t reach its previous 1976 acreage totals until 1989. Not surprisingly, it may have been the wealth generated by the dot-com boom of the late 1990’s that was the real impetus for growth. The explosion of Cabernet plantings began its meteoric rise in 1997, and by 2000 there were over 69,000 acres. Last year’s grape acreage report cited over 92,000 acres of Cabernet, which accounted for 30% of all red wine grapes grown in California.

Like all grapes, soil and climate (or what the French call terroir) can have a significant impact on the final profile of the wine. California, with its diverse topography, complicates the matter. While there are only four soil types in Bordeaux, California has over 30, and nearly as many climate variations owing to the influence of elevation on the different vineyards.

Cabernet Sauvignon’s classic expression is as a full-bodied wine with high tannin content and crisp acidity; both of which give this varietal good aging potential. The variations on the classic profile seen in California Cabernets are more a function of the climate than anything else. Cooler climate Cabernets typically have notes of, mint, cedar, and bell pepper. Pyrazine is the compound responsible for that herbaceous bell pepper aroma. It is present in all grapes, but found in higher concentrations from varieties that have originated from Bordeaux. The compound is gradually destroyed by sunlight as a grape ripens, which is why climate is so important with Bordeaux varietals. In under-ripe fruit, the bell pepper dominates and can give the wine an undesirable herbaceous quality.

Vineyards with moderate climate and coastal stratus clouds can produce grapes with ripe tannins, and fruit that expresses black currant aromas with overtones of black cherry and black olive. Where the climate is too hot, or if the fruit is left too long on the vine, Cabernet’s aromas veer towards cooked, jammy or stewed fruit. The key is to find just the right site or microclimate to produce fruit with optimum ripeness. At Bray Vineyards, the cabernet is planted behind the winery buildings on an easterly facing slope that moderates the amount of sun the vines receive. Coupled with the late blooming character of the varietal, these vines receive a relatively shorter exposure to heat and light which counteracts any tendency for over-ripeness.

Vineyard yields can also have a significant impact on the concentration and flavor of the wine. Cabernet is naturally vigorous and on the wrong rootstock will over produce, accentuating green or herbaceous flavors. Careful suckering, and attention to the fruit leaf ratio is also important. Bray’s Cabernet yields a modest   2½ tons per acre, which concentrates the fruit of our small number of vines.

Cabernet is a varietal that can reflect the style of the individual winemaker while still adhering to the recognized aromas and characteristics of the grape: in short many of us would recognize it in a blind tasting as Cabernet. These core attributes allow the winemaker considerable latitude to express the winery’s style. The grape’s small size and thick skin have a lot of phenolic compounds and tannins available. How much extraction is used is up to the winemaker. Early Bordeaux wines were often left on the skins for three weeks while the winery staff took a hunting holiday after the harvest. This resulted in intense, but extremely tannic wines that required years of aging. Winemakers also have the option of using fining agents to soften the tannins for earlier release. Fermentation temperature is also critical with more fruit expressed at lower temperatures, and more flavor components at higher ones. The final piece of the puzzle revolves around oak, which Cabernet loves. How much and what type are certainly a style statement. Oak has a softening effect on the grape’s tannins and adds another array of wood flavors to complement the grape’s already complex bouquet. The degree of toasting the barrel receives has a substantial impact on the wine, but in broad terms, American oak offers stronger wood flavors and notes of vanilla, while French oak contributes more tannins and has subtle notes of spice.

Remember, if you have a question that is looking for an answer, then E-mail it to newsletter@brayvineyards.com.

Website:  Brayvineyards.com is the place to go for additional information on the winery, upcoming events, and past issues of this newsletter.  It is also the online store for our current inventory of direct shipment wines, the available library wines, Bray logo clothing, and other winery paraphernalia. If you can’t visit us in beautiful Amador County, then perusing the website is the next best thing.

Tasting Room: Our tasting room is open on weekdays (except Tuesday) from 11 to 4 and from 10 to 5 on weekends.  In May, the tasting room will be pouring: the ’17 Albarino, the '16 Barbera Rosato, the ’14 Brayzin Hussy Red, the ’12 "La Dama Oscura" Sangiovese, the '14 Petite Sirah, and the ’07 Petite Sirah/Zin Port.  We also have a red table wine available in a refillable one-liter bottle emblazoned with Bray’s tractor logo.




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