Defining the “Red Wine Drinker’s White”

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In 2016, Roussanne clusters hung on the vine through October.  La Cuadrilla waited for the Roussanne to ripen for almost a month after finishing the red harvest.  The crew passed the time picking olives and taking down bird nets.  This delay explains a lot about the behavior of our Roussanne wines.  With the longest hang-time in Ballard Canyon, the extra month of maturation allows for further flavor development and concentrated richness.

2016 Roussanne Harvest: In Pursuit of Tan

Once the September heat waves swept through Santa Barbara County, Ruben Solorzano noted that the 2016 grape tan seemed to be the darkest in the vineyard’s history.  Prior to rotating, the exterior facing side of the clusters appeared almost amber.

 

Hand Rotated October 6 and 7, the formerly shaded side of the clusters transformed from green to gold-tinged, slowly catching up to the weathered tan on the other half of the grapes.

2016 Roussanne Harvest: Experiments in Co-Fermentation

The first pick of Roussanne was intentionally under-ripe, as winemaker Kyle Knapp decided to add a layer of Roussanne grapes on top of an open-top Petite Sirah fermentation.  The Roussanne will tame the black-hued, burly Petite Sirah; lending a round smoothness to an otherwise intense, edgy wine.

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Back in the vineyard, sugar levels tasted much sweeter in the colored grapes than the green grapes.  Taking a representative sample proved impossible – tests swung back and forth up to 5 brix within 24 hours.  We reverted to making picking calls based on coloration.  Two weeks after rotating the grapes, La Cuadrilla made their first early morning sweep, cherry-picking the prettiest clusters.

Once crushed, the sugar content of the juice proved lower than expected.  We waited another week to allow sugar levels to rise.  When we resumed harvest, we made a pass through the oldest vines in the L’Avion block.  The juice here came in sweeter than anticipated, so the next morning we picked a less ripe block to co-ferment.

We finished the L’Avion block over the next days, continuing to co-ferment a small portion of less-ripe fruit in an effort to lend balancing acidity and guarantee the final alcohol won’t be high enough to come off “hot”.

Soaking Up

With the canopy starting to weaken and rain forecasted, we made the call to bring in the remaining Roussanne grapes – officially finishing harvest Thursday, October 27.  For the first time, Kyle Knapp decided to leave the juice macerating with the crushed skins for a few hours.  This technique, coined “soaking up”, allowed sugars locked in the pulp and skin of dehydrated grapes to be absorbed by the juice.  We were able to glean up to 2 additional brix through soaking up.

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All of the Roussanne will age in new French 500 liter puncheons for the next 15-20 months.  This time next year, we will play with the diverse blending components.  2016 L’Avion could likely turn out to be one of the richest and most hedonistic, while the Estate Roussanne might be leaner, more balanced and mineral driven.

Aging Potential

As the dark golden color suggests, our Roussanne ends up behaving like a red wine. And like a great red wine, Roussanne, and especially our benchmark bottling, L’Avion; is meant to age.  The complex secondary flavors collected through the long growing season can take years to open up.  The rich texture, stemming from Roussanne’s naturally low yields, slowly envelopes the French oak framework – wood employed to frame and buttress the wine for long-term stability.

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2011 Vintage Spotlight

In the cooler 2011 vintage, we pushed Roussanne to the limit, harvesting up until Thanksgiving.  Even with the extended growing season, 2011 L’Avion didn’t have the walloping, hedonistic flash of a hotter vintage.  But now, 5 years after picking the pretty, evenly rust-colored grapes, the 2011 has grown into itself – a L’Avion that any L’Avion lover will fall for.

Toasty oak has integrated into the fruit to create a Pears Flambe note above the hallmark L’Avion golden pineapple honeysuckle ripeness.  The only indication of the cooler year is a lively, clean finish with just a touch of balancing crispness.  We loved the wine when we popped the cork, but decanted for a few minutes, the wine exploded.  Of course, it’s tough not to get excited by the intense golden color of the full-decanter (a hardy recommendation for enjoying an older vintage of L’Avion, especially with guests).