Specificity of vineyards
Our fruit comes from the small vineyards of individual farmers. These vineyards offer sites or farming practices, or both, that cannot be duplicated. For this reason, each wine is a single-vineyard bottling and bears the name of its vineyard. The remarkable exception to the principle of size is is Lost Slough—it is anything but small, but it is farmed perfectly by one man whose care and understanding of the vineyard are more than proportional to the vineyard's hugeness.
We work very closely with each farmer as partner rather than client. The winemaking is inevitably guided by the fruit that the vineyard produces; but the winemaker may reciprocally influence the farming of the vineyards. But much more important than influencing, or much worse, shaping, the vineyard to the winemaker's needs– much more important is to discover excellence in the vineyard and then attend to and exalt it.
Husbandry of microbes
Once we have harvested the fruit, our prime task is husbanding the microbial population of our wines. We do this by interfering as little as possible in the spontaneous development of a natural (if invisible) ecology in our fermenting wine. We do not sterilize the fruit, juice, or must; we do not add commercial yeasts, enzymes, acid, bacteria. If the developing system veers toward winemaking disaster, we intervene. If not, we add and take away nothing. We observe the developing system through the signs available to our senses: we taste, we smell, we measure temperature. We punch down, pumpover, and sometimes chill the must to delay or slow down a given activity–but outside of these activities, we do nothing to interfere in the development of a stable and complex living system in our wines.
The exception here is in our production of white wines that do not go through malolactic fermentation. We began making such wines as a study project in 2005, and we found that they tasted very good-- and muc more important, they seemed to display the excellence of some vineyards more clearly than if we had allowed the wines to undergo this bacterial fermentation. For that reason, in some wines we use relatively high amounts of sulfur dioxide to inhibit the fermentation activity of malolactic bacteria. This is an immense and maybe even violent intervention. We do it because we are fascinated by and devoted to husbandry of the microbes, but we are not zealots. The wine is OF the microbes, but not FOR them.
In general, the flavors that we seek in our wines come from ripe fruit, long macerations, and long maturation in barrel. When one of our wines demands by its own nature a variation from these principles, we vary (see the 2004 Glos). Otherwise, we seek to transmute the fruit, not to preserve it. We seek not the primary aromas of the freshly-sliced apple or the just-bitten plum, but the secondary and tertiary aromas of rose petals, chocolate, roast coffee, dried fruits, hung game, old leather, dried mushrooms, a broken firecracker. These aromas depend most of all on the undisturbed elevation of the wine in barrel. No sulfur is added in barrel, the wines are topped seldom, and they remain in barrel until they develop a ripeness that is peculiar to wine, not fruit. During this period of maturation, the microbes reach equilibrium and the wine become used to air. The result are wines that are sturdy and prone neither to bacterial spoilage nor to oxidation. They are used to, and have overcome, these threats before they ever make it into bottle. The wines that did not survive this rigorous elevage never see a bottle. They disappear.
The foundation of these wines is the vineyard that produces each one. The winemaking is very much the same for each wine. The character of the vineyard and the microbiology of the barrels each dwarfs the range of possible characteristics suggested by various varietals. For this reason, varietal designation has seemed insignificant for this project. A given wine is not a “cab” or a “merlot” in this project; it is a Tenbrink or a Hudson.
Typical designations of appelation are not useful here for similar reasons. One wine is not “Napa” in character, while another is “Monterey.” The specificity of the vineyard is so much more significant than the appelation that we avoid such a general (and non-specific) designation.
On the other hand, the realm in which all of the project's vineyards are found is the dream-world of California. For this reason, all of the wines bear the California appelation and a single vineyard designation.