L’Avion Roussanne: A Test of Patience in the Winery

Over Sashi Moorman’s 12 years of making Roussanne, he has experimented with countless techniques to make L’Avion as delicious as possible. Sashi influences Ruben’s work in the vineyard, coaxing the Roussanne to even ripening (BLOG LINK). Once picked, Sashi owns all responsibility for the end wine and must figure out how to accentuate every ounce of terroir. As Ruben says, “We give Sashi the best fruit, so he should make the best wine!”
More jaded vintners are often quoted, “a winemaker’s job is not to mess up good fruit.”
Needless to say, Sashi analyzes every step of making L’Avion.

To Crush or Not to Crush:
The grapes arrive at the winery in the early morning and the first decision must be made. Should we put the whole grape clusters directly into the press or do we need to de-stem them first, and sort each individual grape?
With the cooler 2010 vintage, even after tireless cultivation and multiple harvests only selecting the ripest clusters each morning, Sashi saw the need to put the grapes through the de-stemmer prior to press. We were then able to throw out any under-ripe grapes on the sorting table.
For the 2011-2013 vintages, Sashi skipped the crushing process and put the whole Roussanne clusters directly into the press.
Whole-cluster fermentation allows the stems to serve as a natural filter and clarifier. We avoid synthetic filtration because we don’t want to take away richness and texture from L’Avion.

Pressing: The True Test of Patience
Once in our high tech EuroPress bladder, we have many pressure cycle options. With our late ripening Roussanne, it’s important to squeeze every bit of sugar out of the grapes. Up through 2012, we increased the pressure over a 2 hour period.
This all changed in 2013 when we got our hands on the technical data of one of the Rhone Valley’s highest acclaimed Roussanne producers. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose the winery’s name. The numbers showed us that this producer takes more time, an entire additional hour, to press the clusters. This allows for gentle extraction of skin tannin and acidity leading to a more balanced wine.
With our first load of Roussanne, the ripest one cluster or two from each vine, Sashi put the 3 hour gentle press cycle to the test. The juice tasted great, but we ended up with only 120 gallons of juice per ton. The result of dry farming, we would need even more time to extract juice from the pulpy, thick skinned Roussanne grapes if we were going to forgo high pressures. Assistant winemaker John Faulkner let the press continue on for a fourth hour. Twenty more gallons per ton dribbled out of the press with the same outrageous, perfectly balanced quality. Our friend and vintner Chris King of De Su Propia Cosecha explained that the further benefit of a gentle, whole cluster fermentation lies in allowing the skins to retain potassium. If the potassium releases into the juice, it acts as a buffer to the acid, possibly making the end wine flabbier.
With the process of loading and cleaning out the press, the four hour cycle means that we can only finish two press loads per day. And a long day it is!

Long Native Fermentation: The No Brainer for Stolpman Vineyards
An exhausted John Faulkner summed it up, “we figured out that the ideal Roussanne winemaking methodology mirrors its long, lazy ripening season. La Cuadrilla trims down any excess yield, leaves for sun penetration, rotates clusters for even sun-tan, and then takes weeks to pick ripe grapes. We now attack pressing with the same patience, and at the end of our long harvest, patience is thin.”
Sashi and the team pour each gallon into new 500L French Puncheons and forklift them into the cold Lompoc Cellar. Here, native yeasts go to work, gradually turning the sugar into alcohol. This process will continue through the holidays. Malic acid will give way to richer lactic acid by late spring. From what we’ve learned from Roussanne, there’s no point in rushing the natural process.