Target Alcohol?

by Tim Elliott on September 11, 2007

The next question to deal with for our community-generated Roussanne is target and maximum alcohol. This one is somewhat linked to how ripe the grapes are when harvested and which yeast we will use to transform the juice into wine. But we can always “water back” very ripe juice to lower the alcohol if required (not my first choice).

Alcohol gives the wine body and weight on the palate but too much can produce off odors and a “hot” finish. Too low and the wine is thin and watery. The range Crushpad has is between 13-15.5+%. Shall we shoot for 14% but limit to 14.5%, or perhaps aim a bit lower?

The Question of Style

by Tim Elliott on September 10, 2007

Near the top of the Crushpad 30 White Wine Plan Companion is a simple question:

Style: Describe characters you would like to highlight or downplay in your wine.

Sounds like a simple request but one that I find difficult to put into words. Sure, I’ve had some Roussanne I really liked from both California and the Rhône but what were the specific elements that made these wines something special?

RoussanneBefore we get into this any further, let me back up and talk about the Roussanne grape as this might be new for some readers. Roussanne is native to the northern Rhône region of France where it is one of two white grapes, along with Marsanne, allowed in the appellations of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and St. Joseph. It’s also grown in the southern Rhône where it is often blended with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Clairette Blanc.

An inconsistent producer, Roussanne is not grown in large quantities anywhere in the world and there are less than 250 acres planted in California today. The name Roussanne most likely comes from it’s russet-colored berries when ripe. Wine made exclusively from this grape is highly acidic, but high in aromatics, so other white grapes are often blended to balance the final wine.

The Westerly Vineyard was established in 1995 by entrepreneurs Neil and Francine Afromsky. These were the first wine grapes planted in the Happy Canyon area of Santa Barbara’s warmest wine region. They planted 85 acres of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties and developed a name for the vineyard with their Westerly Vineyards brand. Last year they sold the Westerly Vineyard to Chicago financier Jack McGinley, but retained the “Westerly Vineyards” brand and access to the grapes grown in this vineyard. Thus, the vineyard name change and it’s unclear if we can use Westerly on the label of our Roussanne this vintage.

Westerly Vineyards Roussanne is released as a blend simply called, “W Blanc” which is mostly Roussanne (75-80%) blended with Viognier. Both the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate have favorably reviewed Westerly Vineyards W Blanc which I will excerpt below:

Wine Spectator:

The 2004 W Blanc Estate (75% and 25% respectively) exhibits a light gold color along with a gorgeous nose of honeyed flowers and tropical fruits, good underlying acidity, and bold, exuberant, intense flavors nicely buttressed by acidity and tannin. This serious, French-styled white is reminiscent of an exotic white Hermitage. Drink it over the next several years. 90 points

Wine Advocate:

The 2003 W blanc (80% Roussanne and 20% Viognier) offers up a beautiful, crisp bouquet of rose petals, apricots, and exotic tropical fruits (passion and guava). An elegant, streamlined effort, it exhibits more minerality than most California dry whites, as well as a dry, well-delineated, ravishing style. Drink it over the next 1-2 years. 90 pts.

Although this sounds almost exactly like the style of Roussanne I prefer, it seems to lack the aromatic and flavor characteristics of mandarin orange that I find so fascinating with this varietal. Perhaps this aspect will be in our grapes or we might need to trade some juice with another Crushpad Marsanne group to introduce this complexity. I will buy some bottles of Westerly Vineyards W Blanc to taste for myself and will also bring them to group barrel tastings of our wine as a benchpark.

Whatever the final decision, what do you think we should aim for style-wise with this wine?

Make The First User-Generated Roussanne!

by Tim Elliott on September 9, 2007

Now that harvest is getting into high gear in California, it’s time to make some decisions on the winemaking plan for the Roussanne we will be making together at Crushpad. Being a late ripening varietal, our Roussanne will not be ready to harvest until mid-October but there are 30 decisions to make in the coming 4-5 weeks before the grapes are picked.

Westerly Vineyard Roussanne

So everyday from now to harvest, I will blog about each decision and invite readers to comment that will influence our decisions for each item. Those who join the Winecast Crushnet group will have inside access and directly effect these decisions because this is our wine, not my wine. The first 50 members will be assured a one-case allocation of the final product and the opportunity to lend a hand directly in San Francisco or virtually via the internet. Should the group exceed 50 by harvest, I will work with the folks at Crushpad to increase production.

To join the group, just sign up over at Crushnet and request to join the Winecast group. It’s free and easy to do in just a couple of minutes. Depending on the timing of the harvest, I will be on hand for the sorting and crushing of the grapes at Crushpad. I hope to see many group members there. We’ll also get together for barrel tastings in San Francisco and Minneapolis as the wine develops.

When I first announced this project a few weeks ago, I knew there was another blogger/podcaster working with Crushpad on a wine but had no idea it was Gary Vaynerchuk from Wine Library. I think this is great and will definitely join his group to make a Napa Cab. I also hope to be able to get Gary on Winecast to compare notes on our approaches in making our first commercial wines.

A very interesting Wine 2.0 adventure awaits, join us.

Roussanne, My New Side Project

by Tim Elliott on August 13, 2007

CrushnetAfter almost three years of podcasting and blogging about wine, it’s time I try my hand at making some.

I’m pleased to announce my new side project in collaboration with the folks at Crushpad: Roussanne 2007.

Yep, I’m going to make a couple barrels, perhaps a bit more depending on demand, of one of the great white grapes of the Rhone, Roussanne. And not just any Roussanne, but grapes grown in the Westerly Vineyard (now known as McGinley) in Santa Ynez’s Happy Canyon area. This is just north of where I grew up and it will be great to get back to my roots and explore what it means to be a winemaker again.

Although I have never mentioned it here, I have made wine over several vintages. My first efforts were from canned concentrates in the mid-1980′s which ended in wines that mostly were poured down the drain. Undeterred, I continued my quest in the obscure vineyards of Oregon, Wisconsin with two vintages of Marshall Foch, Leon Millot, Dechaunac, Aurore and Seyval Blanc. These wines proved to be much more drinkable with some actually quite quaffable. But they were not what I was looking for so I stopped with the 1990 vintage. Although I later moved near the Finger Lakes in New York, I was never tempted to restart my winemaking until I could make wines from vitis vinifera grapes grown in my home state of California.

This vintage my wish has been granted and I will make Roussanne, perhaps blended with other Rhone whites, and podcast and blog the experience with you.

And you can directly participate by joining my Crushnet group and being on my advisory committee. Not only will you help me make all the decisions for this wine from fermentation procedures to aging to labeling, but you’ll also get a one-case allocation of this rare wine. A maximum of 70 members will have the chance to taste this wine in barrel and in the bottle.

Just sign up at Crushnet and then search for the Winecast group and join. Shortly thereafter I’ll approve your membership and you’ll be in for a great ride.

So who’s in?