In a sea of mass-produced wines, thoughtless blends, and plastic corks, many wine connoisseurs stick with wineries they trust to adhere to the classic, tried and true style of winemaking. In this seminar at the NJ Food & Wine Festival, Stag’s Leap winemaker Christopher Paubert lead a tasting of classic California varietals and back vintages, which we tasted alongside the wines of second generation winemaker Josh Phelps from his winery Taken.
What I thought would evolve into a two-sided discussion about the merits of classic vs. contemporary winemaking practices took an entirely different shape. Christopher and Josh, representing the classic and the contemporary, respectively, seemed to borrow the best and most beneficial practices from traditional and more modern winemaking, blending the old and the new as it suited their wines to bring out the best in each varietal.
Christopher articulated,”the new trend is what it was fifty years ago,” meaning that new wineries have wised up and look to their predecessors for guidance and tradition. He also conceded that Stag’s Leap, and many more classic wineries, now blend science and technology with tradition, resulting in a more dependable crop of grapes year after year. Forty years ago, sugar and acidity were the only benchmark for making a good wine. Today, Stag’s Leap measures the tannins of the wines each day, and checks temperature and the levels of oxygen to pinpoint when the wine reaches its zenith. Today, winemaking is a more vineyard based profession, with less time spent in the cellar and more spend outside tending to and monitoring the vines as they grow.
Sustainability is another point where classic and contemporary winemaking borrow from each other to the benefit of both. Technology, used judiciously, allows for the use of less chemicals and fertilizers. Traditional farming practices, where different crops are planted and grown to enrich the soil and deter pests, also keeps chemicals to a minimum.
As for wine styles, Josh expressed his hope that “the sweet, over the top California style is phasing out,” in favor of more balanced wines. Both wine makers also commented on the trend of fermenting wine in cement tanks. Is it a game changer? Probably not. Both Josh and Christopher ferment their wines in stainless steel tanks, before aging them in oak barrels. They both use mostly French oak, but play with small amounts of American and Hungarian oak in smaller batches, when trying to create a spicy or smokey flavor.
For the full post, and details on the specific wines we tasted, visit Devil Gourmet.