We’re small, very small, in lot sizes. But big, really big, in aspiring to create great wines.
Pinot Noir is our focus, and takes the most time and thought.
It is our firm belief that the best wines are made in the vineyard. So it all starts in the field for us. The beauty of what we are able to do here at Charmant Vineyards is to control the process all the way from the vine to the wine. We do the farming AND the winemaking. So we are winegrowers. The French refer to this as being a ‘vigneron’.
At harvest, the grapes are picked by hand, and field cleaned, so little if any MOG is brought up to the winery. Our winery building is just steps away from the fields, so no long-haul transportation required in the sun on the back of a truck from far-away vineyards to the winery. The grapes are harvested at the optimum time, when physiological ripeness is achieved, rather than a predetermined level of acidity or °Brix/sugar.
In the winery, we replace expensive gadgets, where possible, with expertise. For example: our fermenters are not spendy gleaming stainless steel jacketed tanks. Rather they are 1 and 1½ ton open bins which by their very small size will ferment on the cooler side.
These are gravity filled directly from the destemmer. The destemmer is fed from a production line that includes a vibrating sorting table and an incline conveyor, where what little leaf and other removal that is needed takes place by careful hand sorting. The production line is gravity fed by a bin dumper under manual control to optimize feed rate and minimize fruit degradation. No sulfur dioxide is added as is done routinely in MOST other wineries. This requires more vigilance in fermentation but preserves the vineyard’s microbiome, an important contributor to the sense of place and terroir that we seek in our wines.
We chill off the bins and cold soak several days to allow the native flora and wild yeasts of the vineyard to flourish and go through their natural life cycle with most dying out at about 2% alcohol. Here the fresh wine’s evolution continues under the influence of various strains of yeast. Each of these are carefully selected to preserve and enhance specific characters we have identified within the respective vineyard blocks. The alcoholic fermentation takes about a week to reach 0° Brix. This is on top of the 4-5 day cold soak. The final couple percent of residual sugar sizzles out over another week or so.
During this period the cap is punched down by hand and the new wine tasted daily to gauge it’s progress. A press timing decision is reached based primarily on mouthfeel and aroma development. No simplistic “press at dryness” regimen can ever really capture the essence of each year’s uniqueness. Total time in the fermenter has varied from 14 to 28 days over our vintages and lots.
After draining the free run juice, pressing is a chore involving manual transfer of the must to the press. Again we rely on experience and expertise to determine how long and hard to press. Unlike many, perhaps most wineries, we include the press fraction back into the free run wine, thereby ensuring that all the characters of each block remains through to the final wine. The perceived risk of undue astringency or bitterness is addressed by our stylistic choice of an extended post-alcoholic maceration (skin contact) and appropriate barrel elevage.
Malo-lactic (or secondary) fermentation occurs in the barrel, for better integration of tannin and a noticeable improvement in the mouthfeel’s ‘finesse’. At the end of malo-lactic, each lot is married back together to even out the impact of the new barrel components and then is returned to their selected barrel group. Each fermentation lot has had a carefully assembled group of French oak barrels which we feel will again emphasize and preserve the unique characteristics of each vineyard block, and achieve the variation that we’re striving to create. Barrel types and mixes are different for each block, and our barrel-selection criteria includes the following key attributes: forest, grain, toast level, and ageing. And of course the cooperage. We favor a moderate to low percentage of new oak as we deeply appreciate the presence of fruit characters as the most important highlight of the final wines.
Then there is the barrel elevage – the bringing up of the wine through maturation. Time and patience with appropriate evaluations as time passes are key here. There are key tasting points in the wine’s evolution. The first ones occurred immediately post press and then post ML consolidation. In the summer of the first year, when most wineries are pulling their wines for bottling, we do our first critical evaluation to address minor faults and for probable blends in the following year. The barrels are topped and tidied up to rest through the new vintage activities and the next harvest cycle.
As an aside, a typical winery follows a once every two weeks topping regiment on their wine barrels, which results in multiple sulfite additions throughout the winemaking process. Our approach at Charmant Vineyards involves VERY limited topping and barrel openings, resulting in much less risk of oxidation. Consequently, and importantly, our approach results in virtually no sulfite additions whatsoever.
At about 14-16 months of age we taste through the barrels again and start selecting which wines go where. These tastings follow this general pattern: initially we just taste each barrel, making notes paying particular attention to the impact of barrel choices (to refine future selections) and getting the individual wine characteristics in mind.
A sorting note addressing potential use follows, such as:
- Use anywhere! (What we want – a high standard!)
- May be suitable for the Single Block selection.
- Proprietor’s Reserve wine blend candidate which will benefit from extended aging.
- Estate wine blend candidate – the largest lot and intermediate bottling timing.
- Lé Refugié blend candidate – faster maturing and having earlier approach-ability.
Then we get down to it.
With the discussion of individual merits we find the favorite “complete” barrel(s) where everything is in the balance we want and will improve with another year’s aging. The Single Block selection has been found!
Now the hard work. Blends of barrels. And re-blends, first in our glasses – each proposing and critiquing the results. The Proprietor’s Reserve blend needs a tight core of fruit and excellent structure. The Estate is a broader brush where each block’s contribution can be seen complimenting and enriching the final result. Both of these wines will see more aging and so the “ready to go” barrel(s) are sorted out for early bottling as Lé Refugié. This will bottle at the same time as the younger white wines. However, Lé Refugié bottles are held for as long as a year before release.
But… we’re not done. In glass blends are pretty standard in the wine industry. However, there is a problem when blending different lots, as they may react in unclear ways, which is especially hard to evaluate when doing in glass blends only. This is the very complexity that we’re pursuing, so we make up a bottle of each of the candidate blends and return in a week or two to retaste and reconsider alternatives. This iterative process continues until we’re satisfied that we have the best that we can do from the season.
The Estate blend will have another six months or so in barrel and be bottled in August before the second harvest after it’s vintage. This wine also is held in bottle for another year before release – putting it at three years of age at release.
The Single Block selection and the Proprietor’s Reserve wine will remain in barrel for about another year post blending decision. Both will be held in bottle for 16-18 months before release to further allow their bottle evolution to fully develop their characteristics before release at close to four years of age.
Recapping the age of our wines upon release:
- Lé Refugié: 2-2.5 years
- Estate: 3
- Single Block and Proprietor’s Reserve: 4
Compare this with most other wineries: 1 year only!
So there you have it – a summary of our handcrafted Pinot Noir winemaking at Charmant Vineyards.
A simple goal – great Pinots. A complex execution. Driven by attention to detail, all the way from vine to wine, and from our heart to yours.
 Material other than grapes.