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Brandon Lapides is winemaker at Armida Winery in the Russian River Valley wine region.
Winemaker Biography
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Ask the Winemaker
What is ML Fermentation, Malolactic Fermentation, Secondary Fermentation?
Why do wines get better with age?
How do you pair wines with dessert?
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 1-2
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 3-4
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 5-7
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 - Finale
What’s so special about Syrah?
Harvest 2009, First Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Second Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Third Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Fourth Interview with Winemaker B
Harvest 2009, Final Interview with Winemaker B
Winemaker B Interview - Harvest 2008 – Weeks 3-4 What has happened in the last two weeks since we last spoke? How are the grapes fermenting? Have you received more grapes?
Winemaker B: We have been 8 full days now without any grapes. So we are in a weird lull. Between the fog coming back last week and the fact that we got 2/100 of an inch of rain Friday 9/19, that has slowed down the ripening of the grapes. The grapes on the vine have remained the same, meaning that the sugar and acid have not changed in a week. This can be a very good thing for the grapes’ flavor when they are picked. Another good thing about this lull is that it will allow us to empty all the open-top fermenters so we will be ready for the Zinfandel and Syrah when they come in.

VV: What grapes are due to come in next?
WB: We should be getting the remainder of our Chardonnay starting Friday 9/26 through the following week. The combination of the warm weather we are having these last couple days and the rain and cool weather we had last week will get these last Chardonnay grapes rockin’!

Our Devil’s Gulch vineyard in Marin County is looking the best it has ever looked. We are going to get a real pristine crop from there. So that means we are still a week to a week and a half out from getting our final Pinot Noir. This Pinot will come in 3 weeks after the first crop and it’s going to be fantastic. We will get about 2 open-tops, which is equivalent to 11 tons. We are so excited about our Devil’s Gulch vineyard. The Pinot we picked from there last year, which is still in the barrels, is absolutely fantastic!

VV: Tell us how your Chardonnay is doing that you harvested three weeks ago.
WB: We basically have half of our production in right now. Everything is percolating and fermenting away as it should. This can take a long time because we use indigenous fermentation, which means that we use whatever natural yeast came on the grape skins and are present at the vineyard itself. Those yeasts take a little bit longer to get going, and a lot of the natural yeasts themselves will only be able to ferment to about 5% alcohol. Then they will die and a stronger strain will start taking over.

As of right now we have consolidated our first Chardonnay. When we barrel ferment Chardonnay, we only fill a 60 gallon barrel with about 50 gallons of wine because the fermentation is going to produce foam and expansion and stuff like that and you don’t want to loose any wine because you’re just foaming it over. What happens, though, is that at the end of the fermentation, when you are almost sugar dry, you need to consolidate those barrels. So what was 25 barrels of 50 gallons of wine now becomes 20 barrels with 60 gallons in it. Once that is done a lot of what needs to happen is managing the temperature once again.

Most of the Chardonnay will stay in the barrels and continue to ferment and age until around March when we will do our blending of the Dutton Ranch Chardonnay. The Rued Vineyard Chardonnay will stay in the barrels for about 16 months. We feel that this extra time in the barrel allows the wine to soften up and it also helps the body of the wine

I wanted to take a minute to report on our Pinot Blanc that is still in the steel tank fermenting. It is one of the best Pinot Blancs we’ve ever made. It came in at 23 degrees brix, which means it will be about a 13% alcohol wine. The flavors are an incredible apple cider right now. We are fermenting it now at 52 degrees, so it is doing a nice slow fermentation. It’s going to take it 4 weeks to finish its primary fermentation because we do it at such a low temperature. We will probably bottle it in January, which can seem kind of early, but we like to preserve the freshness of the flavor.

Our Gewürztraminer grapes are just getting balanced on the vine and should be ready for picking by next week. It too is looking real good and should make into and incredible wine. We will be making it in an Alsatian style.

VV: How are the Pinot Noir grapes doing? Are they still fermenting in the open-tops?
WB: We still have about 20 open-tops fermenting right now. I think that they are going to turn out really well. I especially like the grapes we got from Marty’s Vineyard, where we get the clone 777. We are getting some really nice colors and aromas coming from the tanks. Now the biggest question awaiting us is, when do we press this wine? Even when the sugar has gone dry, is the wine benefiting from staying on the skins for a little bit longer? Is there more tannin structure? Every day it changes so much, we need to taste every tank daily to see how it is, and if it is ready to press. Pretty soon we will have a log jam, because when each open-top tank is ready, we need to press it, and we have only one basket press that can fit only one tank at a time.

VV: How long does it take to press a tank?
WB: For us, we first drain the tank; take all the free-run juice out of the tank. That is basically all the wine that is not in the skins and seeds themselves. We drain the tank for about 3 hours to get every last drop out of it. Then the remainder of the grapes go into the basket press. Once there it’s about a 2 hour process. The best part about the basket press is that it creates its own filtering device through the skins themselves. The main challenge with the basket press is that since there is a lot more sugar in the skins than in the free run juice itself, you need to keep tasting the juice during the two hours of pressing to make sure you stop at the right time. The Pinot grape is very sensitive and if you press it for too long you can over do it. So between checking on the open-tops and the pressing, this is the most important time in how the Pinot Noir will end up aging and tasting.

VV: Once the Pinot Noir has gone through its primary fermentation in the open-tops, when does it go through the Malolactic (ML) fermentation?
WB: The ML will start coming up within the next 1-2 weeks. Once everything has gone completely dry, and there is no sugar remaining, then we will inoculate with the ML bacteria. That will get the second fermentation going. In a couple weeks when we talk again we will talk about transferring the pinots to the barrels and the inoculation process.

VV: Does each winery use their own method of ML, and is it a different method for each type of wine?
WB: Yes, every winery does use a different method and our winery uses the same method for our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We have our own selected strain of ML that we use that is set up primarily for our high acid Chardonnay, and also works fantastic in our Pinot Noir too. This strain is special to Dutton Goldfield Winery and we have been using it successfully for years now.

VV: When you say inoculate, what form is the ML in? Is it a liquid or a dry powder?
WB: (Giggling). That is a very good question! ML has many, many, many forms that it comes in. And that is part of the technology of the wine industry. It can come in liquid, powder, and frozen cup forms to name a few. Any way you get it, it’s all about nurturing the strain up to its full strength. It’s not something you just directly add to the wine, you build up what is called a starter culture. We take about 7-8 gallons of juice that is about to start fermenting with yeast and we let it co-ferment. This means that we are letting it do its primary and secondary fermentation at the same time. You don’t want to do this with all your wine, because it can produce high VAs (volatile acidity), and can get “stuck”, which is the term for when the primary fermentation doesn’t finish. You have to get a secondary fermentation raging, going to town if you will, in its complete exponential growth stage; then you’ll add in about 2-5% of this starter to the barrel and that will cause the second fermentation.

VV: Is there anything else about the harvest that you want to talk about?
WB: I would like to take a minute to talk about the great interns we have this year. Everyone is really helping out a lot and adding their own flavor and expertise to our harvest, which is exactly what we want. We have an intern who is educated in wine and has worked at wineries in Washington, we have one who has done work with Cabs in Napa, one who is from the East Coast who moved out to Napa because she knew that wine was her passion and wanted to learn hands-on. One intern has never worked with wines before and just graduated from the University of Alabama, but while there got into a wine tasting group and started loving wine and decided to give it a go and try out this industry. No better way to get a feel for this industry than working during a harvest.

WB: Well I need to go with an intern and do a punch down. Thank you for letting me continue telling our story of Harvest ’08.
VV: No, we should be thanking you for sharing the happenings at Dutton Goldfield Winery. We really appreciate it, and we have received some great responses from some of our readers saying how much they are learning, and how much they enjoyed the first interview. Good luck and we will talk to you in a couple of weeks.

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