Live Blogging Roussanne 2007

by Tim Elliott on October 27, 2007

Our grapes have been harvested and transported to Crushpad in San Francisco ready to start their journey from fruit to wine. That will start in about an hour from now but I’m 2,000 miles away in Minneapolis. That’s not a problem in this day and age as I’ll be joining via the Crushcam online. I’ll also be live blogging our progress here; stay tuned…

11:18 a.m. CDT – The Crushpad Cam is a bit choppy on my MacBook but the audio is fine… looks like the group is assembling now…

11:31 a.m. CDT – Alan has sent me pictures of the fruit… looks good with some raisins to sort out, etc. Several group members are online now on the Crushcam… and the first bin of Roussanne is in the sorting table now…

11:51 a.m. CDT – Several group members online chatting now trading Roussanne picks to try… sorting going well so far…

12:03 p.m. CDT – Now the group is getting geeky on yeast ;-) D47 & QA23 or shall we try BA11?

12:11 p.m. CDT – Sorting/Crushing complete… now the cold soak begins…

12:20 p.m. CDT – Just spoke with our winemaker and we will inoculate next Tuesday or Wednesday with D47 & QA23 yeasts (one in each barrel)… pressing is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. CDT today, so I’ll be back on the press cam then… will also post some photos here.

6:02 p.m. CDT – Back on the Crushnet cam, now focused on the press… not sure what is going on right now…

6:49 p.m. CDT – The Roussanne is finally going into the press…

7:09 p.m. CDT – Seems the pressing is near complete… a nice report from group member Robin on the juice; sounds like we have a good one in the works… a lot more as we get into fermentation, etc.


Friday is Roussanne Day!

by Tim Elliott on October 23, 2007

I just found out that the grapes for our open-source Roussanne will be harvested this Friday. There’s still time to join the group and participate in the sorting and crush, either online or at Crushpad in San Francisco. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll be here in Minnesota for harvest but there will be a few group members in attendance and I’ll be holding court online.

To join us, sign up at Crushpad and join the Winecast group.

Update: Well, harvest is on Friday but because the winery is 4 hours north of the vineyard, we’ll be sorting, crushing and pressing the grapes Saturday… I think I’ll live blog the event here Saturday morning/afternoon depending on your timezone.

Target Acidity?

by Tim Elliott on September 20, 2007

The next element we need to consider for our open-source Roussanne, is target TA (total or titratable acidity). Since pH is the measure of the intensity of acidity, I will include both of these together in this post.

Roussanne is a high acid variety so we should have good acidity to work with right off the vine. If needed, we could acidify with tartaric acid which is very common in California winemaking and not something to be avoided, unless necessary, like watering back. The high acidity of the Roussanne can be blended back some with the addition of fatter varieties like Marsanne or Chardonnay which we will explore further as we go along.

So the main decision here is the intensity of the acidity, measured by the pH. The higher we go makes the wine more impressive by itself but sacrifices it’s friendliness with food. My preference is for the most food friendly wine here but I’m open to your comments and suggestions.

Next, we’ll get into yeast; such fun!

WBW 37: Roussanne

by Tim Elliott on September 12, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday logoIt’s again time for Wine Blogging Wednesday with the theme of Indigenous Varieties suggested by this month’s host, Dr Vino, Tyler Colman.

I had high hopes to be able to feature some of the hybrid wine grapes developed to withstand the weather extremes here in Minnesota. So I searched out producers of Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, and Marquette. But I came up short on my afternoon of tasting at two local wineries and searching in local wine stores so these “indigenous varieties” will be written about another time.

So my backup plan was to write about my new obsession with Roussanne. As you know from my now daily posts, I’m making a wine from this grape at Crushpad along with many of you. Part of the research before crush is to nail down the style and other characteristics of Roussanne so I’ve been tasting quite a few of these wines of late. One of these wines hails from the Costières de Nimes in the Languedoc Roussillon region of France: Chateau L’Ermitage, “Cuvée Sainte Cécile.”

But before I review this wine, let me back up and talk about Roussanne and what makes this an “indigenous variety.” When Tyler introduced this theme, he asked us to find a wine made with grapes native to the region the wine is made. Unlike other Rhône grapes that are actually from Spain (Grenache being a good example) Roussanne can trace it’s heritage back to France’s Rhône Valley. Sticklers for detail might point out that Languedoc Roussillon is not the Rhône, but Costières de Nimes is just across the river from that famous region, so this wine is technically “indigenous.”

Roussanne gets it’s name from it’s russet color when ripe and is one of the more difficult grapes to grow. A late variety to ripen, Roussanne is very susceptible to rot and mildew. Therefore, it’s one of the most obscure white varieties with only a few hundred acres grown outside of it’s native Rhône. In the northern Rhône, Roussanne can only be blended with Marsanne. In the south, other varieties such as Grenache Blanc and Viognier are also permitted along with Marsanne.

Roussanne is known for it’s unique herbal aromatics and bracing acidity so blending with other grapes is most often what winemakers choose. In California and Australia some are bottling the variety on it’s own but the vast majority of the best examples are taken from the southern Rhône model and blended with Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne and sometimes Chardonnay.

One of Roussanne’s most interesting aspects is it is one of a few white wines that benefit from extended bottle age. Somewhat like Riesling, the wines are fresh and bold when young but take on very interesting bottle character with 10 or even 20 years of cellaring.

Ch. L'Ermitage BlancChateau L’Ermitage is located in Costières de Nimes, literally across the river from the southern Rhône. Along with sea breezes from the Mediterranean, the vines benefits from soil mostly made up of fine pebbles which is typical of this terroir. Chateau L’Ermitage grow traditional Rhône varietals Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.

Tasting Notes:

Chateau L’Ermitage Blanc, “Cuvée Sainte Cécile”, Costières de Nimes 2006 ($20) – A blend of 70% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc and 10% Viognier.

Very floral and fresh with ripe pineapple, white peach, orange peel and almond aromas. Rich in the mouth with ripe pineapple and pear flavors finishing bone dry with good acidity. A very nice introduction to Roussanne blends at a steal of a price.

13% ABV
Synthetic cork closure
Score: 92
Rating: ★★★★☆

Thanks again to Dr Vino for a great theme this month. I’m looking forward to tasting some wine from Portugal when my friends Gabriella & Ryan host next time.

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?