Les Welcome

Whether by intent or tragic typo, you’ve landed on the home of Les Garagistes winery collective. If you’re new to our dark cabal, a rich and heady stew of bad French grammar and subterranean winemaking awaits. But where to start? Here are a few suggestions:

Thanks much for stopping by. Our 2014s are gently aging in the cellar, and another exciting vintage is just ahead. Hope you can join us for it, and let us know what you think of what we’ve cobbled together.

The cabernet long-soak: Day 46 & Press

This thing is ready. What was increasingly bitter and awkward tannins have, like a caterpillar, transformed into a smooth, silky butterfly almost overnight.

There’s still some EA in the cap, but since EA is a surface dweller (it needs oxygen to survive), we scrape off the top 1-2″ before press. Then we let the free run drain from the bottom of the fermenter before shoveling out the grape must into the press, setting it aside so that even if the pressed grapes are still stained with a bit of EA, we’ll at least have clean, lovely free run.

But as far as we can tell as the actual press progresses, we’ve scraped off any compromised fruit: this stuff tastes and smells fantastic!

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The Cabernet long-soak: Day 30

As of today, we’re approx 28-32 days out from sealing the Cab away. So now that we’re close to our guess about when it’ll turn, we need to start really paying attention.

Of course, we’ve been tasting/smelling the Cab every 4-5 days. We’re getting some EA on the surface – a little disturbing, for sure – but a stern talking to with argon and sulfite sprayed over the cap seems to have really knocked it to its knees. In fact, when we bellows’d the plastic this morning, it actually smelled close to pretty straight.

And the wine itself, below the cap, continues to be totally clean. But it has been changing — today it had evolved more of a planty, stemmy aspect, something we both felt was interesting (that is to say, not a defect). Maybe a bit more richness.

Still, it’s hard to say where this thing is in its evolution. The acidity is high enough, that for me at least, it’s hard to get a read on the tannins. Right now, they taste just fine to me, though they should be getting increasingly astringent up to the turn. We’ll definitely keep an eye on it…

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Analysis and update: Mourvedre, Cabernet, and Sangiovese Rosato

Last grapes standing during crush 2015
That’s two Mourvedres in the corner, the Sangiovese Rose along the far wall, and the sealed Cab Sauv in the foreground. Here’s what’s still percolating down in the winery, and what the heck we’re doing about it:

Mourvèdre

After a rocky start — a wild ride of wine nutrient issues — it’s smelling lovely and almost done: this morning, about 3 brix on one, and 3.7 brix on the other. My guess is that it’ll be ready to press Tuesday, maybe Wednesday.

Because we split this ferment into two smaller vessels, there was less thermal mass, and therefore the MV didn’t reach the temperature it usually does. This year, I’m experimenting with cooler, longer ferments for all our grapes (to emphasize fragrance all around, the theory goes), but this has been exceptionally cool, only barely getting into the 70s. So a couple days ago, I wrapped them with an electric blanket and applied some gentle temperature, the goal being to get it at least into the upper 70s so we get at least a tad more body and richness. So far so good: this morning, we’re at 75.

I don’t think we want to let this one go completely dry — until the cap falls, that is, extracting every last bit of skin contact we can — because to me, the MV is all about fragrance and balance. But I’ll be tasting it over the next few days to keep an eye on it.

Sangiovese Rosato

Man does this smell lovely. It’s almost done, too — maybe 2.2 brix. Unlike the reds, though, I don’t want to let this one go completely dry in the open-topped fermenter it’s currently in — too much possible oxygen exposure as the ferment dies down and produces less and less CO2 to protect itself.

So probably tomorrow I’ll be racking it off into carboys to finish its ferment in a more controlled environment.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The deal is sealed! I’ve had it gassed and sealed with bungees for a few days now, but the bungees don’t give a complete seal. So yesterday we opened it up to check it — and it was still fermenting a bit! We punched it down and tasted it, and already the tannins are rising, nice and chalky/chocolately. But then we regassed it with argon, and we formally sealed it up with duct-tape.

So now we wait for a bit. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the last time we did this we pressed approx 40 days after sealing. Counting from the first day I sealed this sucker, that would be November 15. We’ll be checking it before then, though. I’d say the first check should probably happen 3 weeks out, or around October 27.

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The Manchurian juice: whole berries in the Grenache

When we pressed the Grenache a few days ago, all seemed well. It tasted fantastic, and had surprisingly excellent structure. This will be a mighty fine wine, even cry beaujolais-like as James said: wonderful, joyful fruit but with just the rright amount of tannic backbone.

We had more whole berries at crush than usual, though. And that was okay: a whole berry ferment would only accentuate the lovely fresh fruitiness that’s the hallmark of this with for us. When we went to press, that meant that, paradoxically, the wine got sweeter them more we pressed as those whole berries now surrendered their hidden treasure – treasure a few days behind the rest of the must because the berry walls insulated the internal juice from everything outside it.

But then two days later, by the time we racked it off its gross less, the Grenache was stinking up the joint: hydrogen disulfide, and its delightfully nauseating rotten egg fragrance. Which was totally odd: there wasn’t even a hint of H2S when we pressed. What the hectare?

Here’s my theory:

Almost all of our wines from eastern Washington come in nutrient-deficient – its the heat mostly, but undoubtedly the soil profile. Since yeast react to nutrient deficient food sources by producing H2S (in addition to CO2 and alcohol), I always add nutrient for those microscope critters at set periods through the ferment, and this almost always takes care of it. Now and again, the grapes are especially nutrient deficient (like our Mourvedre this year), so you need to add more nutrient across a broader spectrum of the ferment. But even there, nutrient always takes care of it.

Except here. Why nutrient didn’t do the trick on the Grenache is, I think, the same reason our wine got sweeter when we pressed: we had a bunch of whole berries which were relatively sealed off from the outside world. And because they were sealed (more or less), the nutrient I added during the course of fermentation didn’t penetrate, leaving the yeast inside the berries to make do with still-nutrient-deficient juice. That therefore meant H2S production inside the berries, but probably also a slower, weaker fermentation inside them. So when we pressed those whole berries, we got little of bombs unfinished ferment, and soon enough, H2S.

Luckily, because you need stressed yeast at least in the beginning stages of H2S, once we racked the wine off the gross lees (which are largely spent yeast), the problem went away. But we’ll definitely want to keep an eye (and nose) on it…

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Shooting the moon with the Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been mulling this over, and just now had a chance to game it out with James as we tasted the Cab: we’re going to shoot the moon.

Okay, so what is this crazy talk? We actually tried this in 2009 with a Cab and it turned out great. You basically let the ferment finish, and the cap fall back into the wine, but then you seal it up for 30-45 days. At the end, you have a totally different wine, and one that’s extremely supple and velvety. If you’ve familiar with Sean Thackery’s wines, he does almost all of his wines this way.

As you might guess, the longer a wine sits in contact with the skins, the more tannin is going to leach out into it. This is accelerated by the fact that, at the end of fermentation, you’ve got the skins soaking in a solvent — 13-14% alcohol.

So usually, the idea is to press before too much tannin — and particularly seed tannin — soaks into the wine. But for some reason, if you let it sit in an airtight container for a good long while, it’ll get more and more tannic until one day — and it really happens that fast, a day or so — the hard, short-chain tannins link up into longer chain tannins. Which is science-talk for velvety, silky loveliness.

But you’ve really got to go for it: once you decide you’re going to commit to collecting all the hearts, you better get all of them or you’re toast.

So obviously, something this insane isn’t without its risks: you’ve got to keep air out of there, no foolin’, for the duration. At the same time, you’ve got to be tasting the wine every couple of days, because once the miracle happens, you’ve got to press right away or it’ll start getting tannic again.

But luckily, as I said, we’ve done this once before so I feel slightly more secure about gambling a ton of cabernet on it. And plus, what could go wrong, am I right? Heh..

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The bittersweetness of the last crush

Jeremy mans the destemmer during our last crush of 2015
Jeremy valiantly takes on the messiest job at our last crush of 2015: keeping the destemmer flowing. Luckily, after four harvest evenings spanning 10 varietals (including this pitch-perfect Mourvèdre), we had this crush thing pretty much down, and we were eating and drinking wine by 7:45.

But now, while our 2015 season isn’t over, everything starts to contract: the process moves inside for fermentation, punchdowns and pressings over the next few weeks, so smaller groups are required to coax our grapes toward wine. Ultimately, it’ll end with what Jeremy nudged down the chute last night, as the Mourvèdre eases across the finish line and into the press in an otherwise silent basement a couple of weeks from now.

That’s just how it works, and that’s fine. But as you might guess, for me this moment is bittersweet, marking as it does the end of something, even though there’s still plenty more to come. The early-morning runs out the Gorge into the sunrise, through the cow shit and fertilizer haze of Toppenish and then up out of it into the sun and majestic silence of our vineyards; walking the rows and teasing grapes into my mouth, hoping I’m aware enough to notice the moment when all the tumblers of fruit, acid, depth and balance click and align, unlocking the perfect pick; eight hours of inspiring and all-to-rare one-on-one with whoever goes with me on the trip; and best of all, coming back into the arms of an incredible, diverse and multi-generational group of Garagistes as we all bend our backs and, in a kind of focused chaos, somehow make something beautiful together.

I have to say I kind of live for that. In fact, if making wine didn’t involve it, I’m not sure I’d still be making wine 21 harvests in.

Because the arc of a vintage is like the arc of a life. It begins with a big, wide embrace of people and movement, of everything new, of whatever is now, then slowly quiets and contracts, like Haydn’s Symphony 45, until there’s only one violinist left on the stage.

Except we winemakers — we Garagistes — get to cheat all that. Next September, we’ll point our truck east, out the Gorge, and live that messy, magnificent arc all over again. Already, I can’t wait.

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A long way for a quarter ton. But it’s Mourvedre…

Mark & Renee look down the mountain and over the vineyard toward the Gorge
A panorama across Sugarloaf
An absolutely beautiful day to pick Mourvèdre.

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