Some more about the 2005 Pinot. First of all, my P-Chem study partner at U.C. Davis was Kathy Joseph, who a year later started the tiny Fiddlehead Cellars while all the rest of us went off to work for big established wineries, only later to realize that Kathy had the right idea all along. (Apropos of nothing, Kathy happens to be Hugh Hefner’s lawyer’s daughter, so there were always lots of Playboy mags lying around her house for study breaks.)
A decade later, Kathy and her husband had prospered enough to invest in her own Pinot source, planting around 100 acres in the Santa Rita Hills and calling it Fiddlestix. This was a lot more fruit than she could use in her own program, and she sold it to dozens of other wineries who each got to negotiate their choice from the rich mix of clones she had planted.
I have always loved this vineyard, but was often disappointed by the excessive ripeness I encountered when it was allowed to ripen excessively, producing wines which were still good, but characterized by heat, bitterness, raisiny aromas and aggressive dry tannins. So I decided to do a small batch just to show what could be possible if the fruit were picked ripe but not overripe.
By that time, I had been experimenting with exotic filtrations for over a decade at Vinovation, and I learned a cool trick. The low phenolic content of Pinot makes it difficult to extract its own color, because this requires cofactors which help to build copigmentation colloids. There are lots of things you can use to add cofactors (Viognier in Syrah, Trebbiano in Sangiovese, Palamino in Garnacha, oak chips, etc.) but they screw up the delicate taste profile of Pinot.
We had been taking heavy press wine from sparkling production and filtering out the nasty tannins by recirculating the wine against a super-tight crossflow filter called an ultrafilter, tight enough to retain the tannin colloids but loose enough to let all the aromatics pass through, thus producing a lovely Rosé in the filtrate and a tannin concentrate in the retained portion.
We noticed a funny thing. Just at the end of the filtration, when the tannin retentate was starting to thicken, we got a concentration of Pinot Noir cofactors coming through the filters. These are not harsh or bitter, but they are the glue that holds the tannin colloids together.
We discovered that when we added a tiny amount of this Pinot Noir cofactor concentrate to a Pinot Noir fermentation, it allowed amazing amounts of color and flavor to extract themselves from the skins without adding any character of its own. We tried 1% in a ton each of clones 115 and 667 from Fiddlestix with amazing results. For the 115, it accentuated the cherry aromas and solid tannins. With 667, an entirely different result, instead extracting floral and spice notes characteristic of this clone.
The wine is a 50:50 blend of these, with amazing flavor depth yet utterly silky in its structure, only now beginning to show where it will go in another five or ten years. We gave it 36 months in neutral barrels to give it a chance to marry and begin to evolve aromatically.
Let me conclude with some general notes about this puzzling variety. Pinot noir is challenging for a number of reasons. Its low tannin not only makes it fragile and vulnerable to oxygen, but also causes it often to fail to fall clear. The anthocyanin pigments which are responsible for terminating tannin polymerization, thus preventing dryness, are more vulnerable in Pinot than in most red varieties.
Anthocyanins are stabilized by a glucose molecule which is bonded in conjunction with the colored phenolic part of the molecule. Of course, microbes want to eat that glucose, so plants have developed a defense, which is that these attached glucose molecules are protected from enzymatic attack by yeast by an acylation, essentially a small attachment which prevents the active site of these enzymes from fitting correctly around the glucose. Pinot Noir lacks this protection, thus its anthocyanins are easily lost to suspended yeast, so we have double trouble because Pinot tannins are too weak to fall clear.
This is a little taste of what’s in my book, which is at times pretty geeky, because I want you to get what it’s like to practice this craft. If the science sails over your head, I think you will still gain an appreciation of the craft.