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The harvest is well underway at our estate Margarita Vineyard and the crush is on at our winery, which means that several of the 2014 vintage wines are now happily fermenting away.
But while fermentation is the most obvious and celebrated part of the crush, there’s something else important taking place right now: maceration.
Maceration signifies the leaching of “phenolic” materials—such as tannin, color and flavor compounds—into the new wine by way of the skins, seed and (sometimes) stems. In other words, maceration is vital to developing the color, flavor and tannin structure of any given red wine.
Since red wines are fermented with grape skins and seeds, the maceration process takes place naturally as the fermentation progress and the grape matter breaks down (see above photo of mid-fermentation wine). However, maceration must be managed and manipulated in order to make great wine.
Here’s how we manage maceration at Ancient Peaks:
Cold Soaking: This is the act of soaking the “must” (the juicy crushed grape mass) prior to fermentation, typically for 24 to 48 hours. “Once fermentation starts, the presence of alcohol tends to extract more seed tannins, which are harsher,” says Winemaker Stewart Cameron. “When we cold soak, we’re mainly getting flavor and color extraction. So cold soaking allows us to create a more extracted wine without the tannin levels getting too astringent.”
Punchdowns/Pumpovers: As fermentation proceeds, the grape matter tends to float to the top of the bin or tank. By punching the mass down into the wine, or pumping the wine over the top of the mass, you make sure that everything remains mixed during fermentation. “There has to be contact between the skins and the wine in order for these compounds to be extracted into the solution,” Stewart says. “It’s something you have to manage throughout fermentation.”
Extended Maceration: This is the act of leaving the wine on the skins after fermentation for a period of time, to develop further extraction. However, we don’t employ extended maceration at Ancient Peaks. As Stewart explains, “We typically have enough tannin in our Margarita Vineyard fruit naturally, where I don’t think a short-term extended maceration would help. If our tannins and phenolics were light, then it might be something we’d consider.”
So there you have it, the lowdown on maceration, the unsung hero of red wine creation.
The crush is on here at our estate Margarita Vineyard, as we finish up our Sauvignon Blanc harvest and move into the picking of our Merlot. Several other varietals, such as our Zinfandel (pictured above) and Cabernet Sauvignon, will follow over the next four to five weeks.
Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor is already bullish on the 2014 vintage. “It’s pretty exciting. The fruit is looking really good, and we’re seeing great fruit intensity in the fermenters.”
Mike says that the grapes overall this year have low juice content, partly as a result of the ongoing drought conditions.
“There’s not much water or plumpness in the grapes this year,” he says. “The tragic reality is that we’ve had so little rain here on the Central Coast, but the silver lining is that the grapes have a high skin-to-juice ratio. This results in more fruit intensity, and that’s going to make the wines taste really good.”
As we wrote earlier, the harvest at Margarita Vineyard is a bit earlier than normal, but still far behind many vineyards in our region, owing to our coastal proximity and pronounced marine influence. The spring can be quite cold at Margarita Vineyard as well, so we’re always on the later side for bud break, and then the marine cooling lengthens the growing season come summer and fall.
Another signature of the 2014 harvest season is that many varietals at Margarita Vineyard are set to reach peak ripeness in rapid succession. This is what’s known as a condensed harvest, and it will require long hours in the vineyard and cellar to make it all happen.
“This is one of those harvests where we need to fasten our seatbelts,” Mike says. “Pretty soon, it’s going to come fast and furious, but we’ll be ready for it.
The Central Coast’s signature food and wine event is almost here, and we are happy to be right in the thick of it…
Indeed, the main event of Sunset Magazine’s Savor The Central Coast will be held right here in Santa Margarita at our historic Santa Margarita Ranch on September 27-28.
The main event will feature a Marketplace with offerings from more than 100 local wineries and restaurants. Other attractions include a Farm to Table Stage and Travel & Adventure Stage (more on that below), as well as a Central Coast Pavilion and educational seminars from leading chefs and winemakers. Trust us, your palate will not be disappointed, and your eyes will be opened!
In addition to pouring our wine at the main event, we are also leading an Ancient Peaks Adventure Tour on Thursday, September 25—and tickets are still available. During this tour, you will be invited to walk on the wild side by creating your own unique blend (see action shot below) of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Malbec.
Under the guidance of our Director of Winemakeing Mike Sinor, your personal blend will be bottled, custom labeled, and finished with a wax dip. The festive blending session concludes with a gourmet lunch hosted by Sunset’s Wine Editor Sara Schneider in the heart of Margarita Vineyard against the backdrop of the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains.
Also, our affiliated Margarita Adventures zipline canopy tours will take over the Adventure Stage at the main event on Saturday from 1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. and Sunday from 2:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. During these free sessions, Margarita Adventures will showcase its entire tour experience spanning ziplines, history, nature and wildlife. We won’t spill all of the beans yet, but be on the lookout for decked-out guides, four-legged friends and much more.
We look forward to seeing you at Savor the Central Coast!