August 3, 2010

Dante’s cellar notes

Filed under: News — burke @ 2:56 pm
Dante Mondavi, Continuum Estate, Napa Valley, 2009

Dante Mondavi in an oak fermenter, Continuum Estate, 2009

Greeting from the Continuum Cellar!

                Working in the family business has taught me a lot and given me great respect for all the hard work of the preceding generations.  I have come to know that we are Mondavi’s and that wine is in our blood!

                I am extremely excited about our 2008 Continuum.  Working the last 4 vintages has given me the chance to witness the magical evolution of our wine from ripe grapes arriving at the cellar doors, thru fermentation, and finally to bottling; the 2008 is undoubtedly our brightest star yet.  The key factor in this evolution is the fact that the blend is now 70% Pritchard Hill grown.  Resting 1300-1600 feet in elevation above the valley floor, Continuum Estate has very rocky red volcanic soil with spectacular views.  The combination of the altitude, steep slopes and our intensive farming practices means we tend to have very low yields at two tons per acre.  These low yields are due both to the site and to our fruit thinning practices. The goal is to achieve greater uniform ripening and encourage more free hanging grape clusters. More filtered, less direct sunlight gives us more control in the vineyard and avoids over exposed or over shaded fruit.

                Our 2008 is very elegant yet powerful.  My grandfather‘s classic description fits the new vintage, “A sign of a great red wine is an iron fist in a velvet glove.”  In other words, a great wine should be soft and approachable today yet have the structure to age and stand the test of time. This is true of our 2008; it has real depth of richness and an amazing structure.  The final blend is 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petite Verdot and a small amount of Merlot to complete the wine. Bottling is still two months away but I can’t wait to share this new vintage with everyone!

                Our cellar team works hard and is very dedicated to creating a single wine to stand among the world’s finest.  Our winegrowing team is made up of my father TIm Mondavi who over sees all aspects of Continuum especially the cellar as he is director of winemaking, Kurt Niznik, our winemaker and Carrie Findleton, our cellar master.  I enjoy working with this fantastically talented group of people very much.      

                Let me take you on a little cellar tour to present a glimpse of what crush is like at the winery. The morning starts at about 6 am (it is a long day; if we’re lucky we leave by 8pm) with pumpovers, punch downs and barrel ferment rotations.  This aids the fermentations, keeps the tank healthy, keeps the yeast active and extracts color and tannin. All of our fruit is handpicked early in the morning and arrives at the cellar in small gray picking boxes. We have two sorting tables, the first of which our team uses to pick out any grape clusters which may be flawed.  We also match the grapes we are crushing whether Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet Franc or Petite Verdot, for a consistent berry size with our de-stemming cage to ensure a clean de-stemming.  It’s pretty key to have the grapes come out one side and the stems the other.  It also keeps the boss happy, which was my first big lesson in 2007! 

               We then sort out any raisins or jacks (stems which may be attached to the berries) on the second sorting table.  Now comes the time to gently crush the berries (without crushing the seeds) and gravity feed the fruit into one of our fermenters.  We typically cold soak the first couple days before we begin fermentation. The cold soak period brings out the fruit flavor and color in the must without heat. Continuum has eight open top French oak fermenters, two cement fermenters and 15 barrel fermenters.  The oak fermenters tend to give the new wine a softer texture while the cement fermenters bring more mineral characteristics to the wine. Each of these different vats or barrels is stirred regularly to mix the lees (spent yeast cells) into the fermenting must and extract more flavor and texture as well as protect the new wine from oxidation. 

                 After 30 or more days of fermentation and maceration, we drain the new wine to 100% new French oak and basket press the pomace (leftover skins) into barrel as well.  The basket press slowly squeezes the pomace together until nearly all the wine is released.  Pressed wine has much, much more color, tannin, lees and a sweetness which only comes out when we squeeze the ity bity remaining raisins. I like to call it flavor country.  The large oak fermentor tanks hold a single 5 ton lot of wine; this new wine will fill 11 barrels in total, 8 of which are free run and 3 of which are pressed wine. All our vineyard lots are kept separate until blending and maloactic fermentations take place in barrel.   More or less at the end of the day I d have to agree with this famous quote

 “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei

Hope to see everyone at Continuum Cellar or at Continuum Estate soon!


Dante Mondavi

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