I’ll begin by stating that this event at Hermann J. Weimer (HJW) Vineyard was advertised as a barrel tasting… I did not realize it would become an epic barrel/cellar tasting where we would try everything from a brand new 2016 Chardonnay to a 1999 Cuvee Brut- that’s 17 years of deliciousness. But let’s start from the beginning.
This event at HJW was focused on sharing the different aspects of wine, from its beginnings in a nursery then vineyard, it’s development through fermentation to bottling, and the amazing things that happen as it ages. Jenny and Theresa greeted us with glasses of Rose, and we were off to taste…
Round One: Vineyard Lessons and Librations
We began our epic tasting by learning more about the vineyards themselves. In addition to being a fantastic winery, HJW Vineyard also manages a vine nursery, grafting quality rootstocks onto different types of vines to prepare them for planting. I won’t go into detail about the importance of grafting, but it is vital to survival of the vines and also pretty cool. Thijs showed us the process of grafting the stock onto the vine, using a nifty machine that cuts both ends and locks them together like puzzle pieces.
At this station, we sampled two wines, a Field Red 2014, that had notes of green pepper, cigar box, and black fruits with a big chewy tannin and nice zingy cherry acidity, and a Field White NV (non-vintage) with notes of lemon, apple, spice, stonefruit, and a medium body and acidity. They are called field blend wines because unlike normal blends where separate wines are made then mixed, these wines are produced from vineyards where the grapes are mixed together in the field, so when you make the wine it is blended throughout the entire process.
Round Two: From the Barrel to your Glass
At this station, Fred and Dillon poured samples straight from the barrel and tank to give us a sneak peek at the upcoming vintages. What is fascinating about this process is how
2016 Chardonnay: Made using only grapes from their Magdalena vineyard with new large format Hungarian oak barrels, it has notes of bright pear and citrus with hints of vanilla and spice from the oak, slight peach and stonefruit on the palate, and a good acid.
2016 Cabernet Franc (made with new Hungarian oak): The wine starts with strong notes of spice and green pepper on the nose, followed by a big chalky tannin and black berry and cherry notes on the palate.
2016 Cabernet Franc (made with old French oak): Unlike its counterpart aged in Hungarian oak, the nose begins with fruit, blackberries and black cherries with hints of vanilla and cigar box on the palate, a big chewy tannin, and high acidity.
What is fascinating about these two cabernet francs is their difference simply from being aged in different types of oaks. It is a great way to see how oak changes wine, and how different ages and types of oak impart different notes. To experience this, you’ll need to try it from the barrels because the two are going to be blended together for the final wine. (Although it would be super cool to continue to try them separately and compare them against the blend… maybe hold a few single oak bottles back fro comparison? *wink wink*).
Round Three: Library Wines aged to Perfection
This is the station I was most looking forward to, not only was it staffed by the incomparable Jeremy, it had the sparkling wines. We got to try a range of wines from a 2007 Pinot Noir that had notes of cherry, leather and lead, with a light chewy tannin, to a 2011 Riesling with bright lime curd and citrus, minerality throughout and a sweetness balanced out by acidity.
The really fascinating part was the 2006 Cuvee Brut. We tried three different versions of this wine, each one different due to a small change, the date at which the wine was disgorged. Disgorgement is when the sediment is removed from a sparkling wine after fermentation. It is the date at which the wine has completed its cycle of production and is ready for selling. (Hopefully I got these disgorgement dates correct…)
2006 Cuvee Brut, disgorged December 2013, was the most distinctive with notes of raisin toast, bread crust, and a creamy fabulous lingering taste that was balanced out by a nice acidity.
2006 Cuvee Brut, disgorged February 2011, had notes of cooked pear and crusty bread, and was lighter and brighter than the 2013 disgorgement in flavors and body.
2006 Cuvee Brut, disgorged February 2010, had notes of pear, citrus, toasty brioche, with increasing dough and yeast notes that continue on the palate, balanced out by a bright acidity.
Final Tasting Notes
So the tasting didn’t end there… I think we totaled up that by the end of the night we had tried around 25 different wines. Due to palate fatigue (which is totally a real thing), I stopped taking detailed notes by the end (my final tasting note of the night, for wine #21 just reads “lemon”, clearly note a good tasting note). If you get the chance to go to one of these amazing events, I strongly suggest you do. Tasting wine throughout the production process is a great way to learn more about the work that goes into creating wine- you gain an intense appreciation (and are often in awe) of the work that the team does to create what you drink from the bottle. You also learn a lot about how small differences in production, like timing, oak style, blending or leaving alone, growing with other grapes or singly, aging or drinking new, can have dramatic effects on the wine we taste.