Scholium Project

2007 Babylon Tenbrink Vineyards

This is our richest, ripest year for Babylon yet. The wine has a very full Amarone character that makes us very happy. No raisining or dried fruit at all, but very complex, nearly strange flavors and aromas. One can still sense a great degree of dark fruit, and nothing is strange about this. But the fruit is a colleague at best and does not dominate. Star anise, Balsamic vinegar, blood sausage, rosemary…wild, barely civilized, as usual.

The reasons for this excellence: our most perfectly ripe fruit since 2004, harvested without any raisining, damage, rot, threat of rain. Nothing. But then all kinds of strange things started happening at the winery. The cooling system failed and we had to enforce the cold soak with thousands of dollars of dry ice and pumpovers. We could not seal the big stainless tank outside and it started raining. So after we passed the most explosive period of fermentation, we drained the tank to one of our wooden tanks indoors. Then we transferred the must; pretty much bucket by bucket. That surely stirred things up a lot, and amounted to a huge reorganization of the fermentation that we never would have done normally. Then the fermenation stuck, at about 5 brix. Inexplicably. So we drained a bunch of wine off, used recently harvested hudson syrah to start a new fermentation (that we called “The Bomb”), and gradually introduced the stuck wine into the Bomb. When we filled a 350-gallon tank with well-fermenting (re-fermenting!) wine, we began to transfer it back to the tank and began pumping it over. For several days, the tank remained stalled. Finally, it began fermenting again. The fermentation was slow at this point, and for the first time, we decided to drain and press the wine and put it down to barrel when it was still sweet— at about 1% residual sugar. We thought that the wine was continually improving during this very long maceration, but it could not go on forever! Because of the long maceration, we did not press at all. The wine finished fermenting during the summer of 2009.

This wine is composed of 100% Petite Sirah from Steve Tenbrink’s remarkable vineyard on the Jones Ranch in Suisun Valley, about 15 miles east of the Carneros of Napa. The valley is warmer than Carneros, but not by much. The soils in most of the surrounding vineyards is very deep and rich alluvium, similar to the middle of Napa Valley— and not great for growing grapes. But this vineyard sits on an ancient river bed: a few feet below the surface of the soil one finds a deep layer of sand, and beneath this, the ancient cobble of the river. For this reason, the vineyard offers growing conditions as if it were rocky and not bottomland. The vines were planted in the 80s and grafted to Petite Sirah in the 90s, and because of the soil, they exhibit perfectly balanced growth, with none of the excess vigor one might expect from the site. On top of this, Steve farms the vineyard organically and without irrigation. It is truly a superb site.

We harvest this vineyard very late; toward the middle of October. The fruit is desiccating on the vine when we bring it it. The tannins are rich and ripe, and the fruit is now beyond the horrible jammy stage, and well into a kind of dried meat savoriness. We bring the fruit in, introduce it gradually into 600 liter puncheons turned vertical, with their heads removed. We stomp the fruit thoroughly as it goes in, intending to break every berry and release some of them from the stems. Then we refrigerate the puncheons for a week or so and macerate the fruit to release a wide spectrum and depth of flavor. Once the fermentation begins, we encourage it by heating and bring the whole system up to about 95 degrees and keep it as warm as possible for 3 weeks or a month. During this time, we are climbing into the puncheons and performing pigeage-- foot treading— no less than 4 times per day. The fruit is rich and strong and we want it to give everything up.

We matured the wine for 24 months in two neutral 220 liter barrels, without topping or SO2 for its whole life. The wine is bottled with 0 free and about 40 mg/L total.

A note on the name: when I first started working with this fruit, I was making wine in Napa, and always had many colleagues around. In 2003, the Tenbrinks made their first delivery of fruit for Scholium for me, and brought the grapes to the winery I was then working at in Napa. My friends were astounded that I was bringing grapes from an outside region, and one with absolutely no reputation for quality, into Napa. They reminded me of the Ancient Romans, and the way that they viewed everything outside of the walls of Rome. Everything outside was barbaric, uncivilized. Babylon, as opposed to Rome.

Total production about 70 cases.

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