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.

Bung poppin’ daddy!

Les Garagistes bung tie-downIt’s a sign spring is here: not the chirping of birds, or the gentle unfolding of delicate flowers, but the popping of bungs. As the weather warms, wine expands and the pressure in the head space between wine and bung grows, ultimately popping out the bung you’ve carefully seated.

If you’re lucky, sometimes you hear it pop, and respond quickly enough to see the bung still bouncing around the floor of the winery. A little air exposure isn’t the end of the world, even if you don’t catch it immediately, but the danger is if you miss it for a day or so. And then, less seriously, have to hunt the popped bung down – they’re surprisingly agile and can cover a lot of ground.

So this year, we’re trying something minimize that problem: improvised bung tie-downs.

Continued …

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This won’t hurt a bit

Extracting oak chips from a barrel of cabernet sauvignon

Scalpel! Sutures! Drinking straw! The sweet tedium of performing an oak-ecomy on a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon.

About a week ago, I felt like the Cab could use just a bit more depth, and for this varietal at least, what oak can bring out in its fragrance. So I wrapped a few ounces of French oak chips in a cotton mesh bag and suspended it in the barrel. A little oak goes a long way — and I want this Cab to taste like Cab, not oak — so I checked it every other day until the balance I wanted to achieve seemed to have come to pass.

Then the trick is to get it out, the oak chips now expanded to wider than the barrel opening. I’m sure there’s a smarter way, but this is how I do it: pull out as much of the bag as possible, snip the end off and splay it around the hole. Then grab bits at a time, continuing to pull the bag further out.

Interesting for about 4 minutes, then damn tedious. At least you’re surrounded by the fragrance of toasted oak when you do it.

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More like Prudy, please

A nice, if not entirely deep profile in Slate of humble viticulturist Prudy Foxx, who relies as much on intuition and experience as science in managing world-class vineyards. Says one of her clients,

She’s just one of those people with great intuition, and in grape growing, that’s so important. It’s so refreshing to walk the vineyards with her. She has all the botanical and scientific knowledge, but it is the intuitive side that is so important to growing anything. It is in her veins.


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First racking of 2013

Last night Garagistes Mark, Barabara and Greg convened in the basement with me to mess with the heads of our Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Or in other words, racking — moving a wine from one vessel to another to variously fine by leaving sediment behind, soften tannins, and add a touch of oxygen to nudge the wine a bit further toward maturity.

First up was the Merlot, which I’d been snuggling in an electric blanket in order to move malolactic fermentation along. Aside from turning the malic acid in a wine to lactic acid (which works to soften the overall je ne sais quoi), malo also produces a bit of CO2, creating a thin blanket of protection from evil-doers like bacteria and over-exposure to oxygen. The problem is that malo starts so close to winter, it usually doesn’t have much time to bask and thrive in the coveted 55-degree-and-up weather window. As a result, it often goes into hibernation, job unfinished, until things warm up in the spring. So, because you can’t protect the wine with sulfite (which would hobble the malo even more than the temperature), that means the wine’s unprotected until the birds start to sing again.

To get around this, I’ve been moving the blanket around the cellar in order to keep malo from slacking off and refreshing its Facebook page until April. Then, as soon as a wine’s done, I can zap it with a little sulfite and all bacterial boarders will be repelled.

So when we went to rack, the Merlot sounded nearly through malolactic fermentation. Continued …

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Two down, five or so to go

As of last night around 10pm, Merlot and Viognier are bank yo.

The Merlot was amiable and lush, but surprisingly, not as overripe as I’d feared. We’re at about 26 brix (which is a measure of the sugar in the grapes), which in turn translates into about 15.5% alcohol. That’s a little rocket-fuel-y for genteel palates such as ours, so we’ll be adding some water, as well as acid, to bring this cuddly critter of a wine back into balance.

From the numbers and how it tasted, I think we ended up picking the Viognier at the perfect time. The sugar’s at 26 also (so as you might guess from the Merlot’s numbers, we’ll be watering back a bit), but the pH is at 3.45, which is phenomenal. So we’ve got a wine that, right off the vine, is already pretty balanced. Can’t wait to smell it fermenting… mmmmmm …

From the numbers I’ve seen from the vineyard, next up will either be the Cabernet Sauvignon or the Syrah, and very possibly in the next 5 days or so. So keep an eye on this space …

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The gods appeased

An offering to the gods at Stonehenge
… though we definitely high-tailed it out of there before they discovered it was Merlot…

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Let 2012 begin!

Today’s the first crush of 2012! Quarter-ton dollops of Merlot and Viognier will get us started – not a tsunami of fruit, but enough to get us warmed up before the larger harvests downstream.

What a difference a year makes: last year, we brought in Merlot (an early-ripening varietal that’s always the first to come in for us) on October 8, nine days later. The Viognier is even more striking: we picked that on the 15th of October. Practically winter!

So yes, the weather this year has been much more accommodating, though the cool weather and long hang times of last year did get us acid profiles that made for naturally beautiful and lively wines. This year will be more typical: more lush, but as always, we’ll need to keep a gimlet eye on acidity and alcohol.

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