tenuki wrote:So not sure why I didn't wonder about it until this offering, but what exactly does barrel aging do? Why PN for 9 mos. and Cab for a year and a half? Partly to impart oak, but then people switch to neutral. How many months does it take to impart oak? If it's just for aging and to let the wine progress, why take it out at all (economic reasons aside)? How do you tell when to take it out of the barrels, is it just when the tannins have softened enough so it's drinkable? Thanks,
I realize that there was another answer to this already, but fugured I'd chime in as well. Time on oak is certainly a subjective call depending on the wine in barrel, the barrel, and the desired effect. Even Pinot Noir is often aged for 2 years in Burgundy, due in part to the tighter, more tannic nature of the grapes than we often get in California Pinots. I have also found that in extraction of oak from new barrels (defintitely dependent on the barrel, toast level, and forest), the initial extraction builds up to a peak in the first several months, but often the oak is rather harsh and disjointed. From what I have heard, this has to do with rough extract being the first thing to go, and it's not until later in the process that you start to extract more of the softer elements from the barrel. Over further time in barrel, all of these elements begin to bind together into larger, softer tannins which helps to make the whole package more palatable. You can still have a lot more time to go once it's time for the bottle, but you want to achieve a balance between the fruit and the structural components, not allowing fruit to diminish so much that there's nothing left when the tannins soften up after aging. Once again the cooper, forest, and toast level all affect this process and the decision to bottle or keep the wine in barrel longer, as does the wine itself.
The three wines in this trio are an interesting example, in that the La Brisa was bottled in August 2007 (about 9-10 months in barrel), the Red Label was bottled just after Harvest in November 2007 (13 months, although this was partially for logistic reasons due time constraints during the August bottling) and the Peregrine was bottled at the end of January 2008 (15 months in barrel, because it was very tight in barrel and needed more time to soften up).
In 2007, the wines were are showing well in barrel pretty well, and I decided to bottle everything pre-Harvest 2008 and allow any further aging to occur more slowly in the bottle. In this case, I wanted to capture the fresh side of the fruit that was showing in July and August, and didn't want further barrel aging to diminish that.
Every year I look at the wines individually and make the call, and while I think that most of our 2008's are going to be bottled in July and August 2009 (9-10 months in oak), I still may hold off on some wines until January depending on how they're doing in June and July.
Hope that helps - the earlier answer to your question and your own self-answer were both great already.