Is the light at the end of the collective tunnel…a Rosé of Merlot?
We all need something light and bright these days, right?
We’ve been through so much in the past two years. Fires, Covid, and messy politics all around. And 2020 was particularly rough here on Spring Mountain and Napa Valley. They say great things come out of adversity. So, interior monologue aside, let’s dig in.
In mid-August of 2020, well before harvest even started, the LNU fire choked our skies with smoke. Ashfall was a daily constant. Conscientious winemakers began conducting pilot fermentations in their labs to check for smoke taint. While the fruit itself may smell and taste sound, it’s not until the sugar has fermented that you can detect the primary compounds responsible for smoke taint. Before running an analysis for Guiacol, m-cresol, and all the other phenolic compounds, we knew we had a problem. The trial fermentations had no fruit character and reeked of smoke, tar, and wet cigarettes. The entire vintage was a loss. We made the difficult decision to not make any wine from the 2020 vintage, the exception being our 2020 Pinot Noir which was harvested before the smoke from the LNU fire drifted over our vineyard.
As the dust (and ash) settled, we were scratching our heads about how we would fill the void from this missing vintage. Red wines weren’t a problem. As we barrel age three years, I still had time to adjust our 2019 blends to bridge the gap until the 2021 vintage would be ready to release. It was the white wines that were going to be the issue. Sure, I could try to release the 2021 Chardonnay a bit earlier, but then we would always be stuck in that cycle. Then it hit me. All these bad smokey 2020 rosés coming out…why not make an awesome rosé from the 2021 vintage?
For those of you who have been wine club members for a long time, you may recall the short-lived mis-adventures of “Mr. Pink”, a rosé from Schweiger Vineyards. After falling demand (and a cease and desist order from a Mr. Tarantino), we discontinued “Mr. Pink” after four vintages. Occasionally, we would have club members ask, so why not fill their request?
My preferred rosé is more French in style, picking the fruit less ripe than we would for traditional red wine production. Most domestic rosés are a byproduct of red wine production when the winery performs “saigner” (French: to bleed) where they bleed off free run juice to increase color, phenolics, and tannin in over-cropped valley floor fruit. These rosés often are higher in alcohol and have an aromatic and flavor profile similar to the red wines they are based on. The technique I use, bringing in at a lower sugar, produces a crisper wine with bright acidity.
As I was sampling the fruit, I really wanted to focus on the strawberry characteristics our Merlot has at this stage. We also put in about 15% Malbec to capture its mouth-watering acidity. We destemmed and crushed the fruit right into the press where I held the juice on the skins for about an hour. I’m not a fan of pale pink or orange wines. I wanted this to be a rosé with intense color and boy did this work!
Our 2021 Rosé of Merlot is more red than pink! Much like our Sauvignon Blanc, we fermented the rosé in older French barrels. The intention was not to get an oak or toast character, but to give us the opportunity to age the wine sur lies. Sur lies aging and weekly stirring of the lees not only enhances and rounds the mouthfeel, but naturally clarifies the wine. While the wine is fermented dry, there is a perception of sweetness. This is a result of the aging on the yeast cells, which produces a rounded mouthfeel without adding sweetness to the wine.
After a ten-year absence, it was fun to dabble in the rosé world again. I originally planned to release this in our fall 2022 club shipment, but I thought, “Hey, this is tasting awesome now. I want people to enjoy it now and throughout the summer!”
2021 Rosé of Merlot is released and ready to be in the wild. Enjoy poolside, on the patio, with a meal, or on its own. If you enjoy this wine half as much as I did making it, you’re sure to have a great time!