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 2015s 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 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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Analysis: Cabernet, Grenache, and Sangiovese juice and plan

Now that we’ve crushed what we brought in a few days ago, let it sit long enough to even out, and sent samples to the lab for analysis, here’s what I’m thinking about our Cab Sauv, Grenache and Sangiovese.

Cabernet Sauvignon

In short, I think we nailed the pick here: we got the spot-on flavors we wanted without having to go too high in sugar, and at a cost of too much loss of acidity. Left to itself, though, this must would make a 14.8% wine, a bit too high for my taste. So we’ll rehydrate, targeting 14%. Depending on the varietal, I’m generally targeting alcohols between 13.5 and 14%, which seems to be a sweet spot for us. Here, it’s Cabernet — a wine whose nature is bigness — so the target alcohol is on the high side of our range.

That said, once fermentation is over, and the wine’s been racked and aged for 6-8 months (during which time some evaporation will occur), we’ll re-assess the alcohol by how the wine tastes, and make any further water additions as necessary. That’s the same for all of our wines, actually — another reason I shoot a bit high alcohol-size right now – we can always drop alcohol; harder to add it.

Grenache

As we suspected, this critter came in pretty ripe. THat’s in large part because, in the vineyard, the Grenache was really odd this year: it achieved taste-ripeness long before its skins and seeds did. So we had to wait for depth and color, and this is the result. I think it tastes good, but no we really need to open the floodgates on this sucker: left without monkeying, this would be a 17% alcohol wine — if the yeasts could even take it that high before killing themselves in a drunken melee.

So the rehydration here will be pretty huge, targeting 14%. That’s too high for Grenache, but the move is so large here that I want to be conservative; we can always (and probably will) adjust later.

Its pH is also way high, not surprisingly considering the level of sugar (sugar rises as acid goes down as grapes ripen). So that too will be smacked back significantly so we not only have some balance in the wine, it’s protected microbially.

Sangiovese

Pretty lovely numbers as is, as the taste of the juice reflects. The acidity is right where we want it (Sangiovese is always naturally more acidic than the other reds we make). Then I’ll rehydrate just a bit to coax it under 14%.

Sangiovese Rosato

This Rosé is an experiment, but at least in terms of brix and pH, the numbers for Sangio apply here — though what you do with them is different. The acidity you want for a red isn’t the same as for a rose (which is closer to a white wine temperamentally), so I’ll push the acidity back down to 3.45 to start – and I’ll bet we’ll push it lower before we bottle it. Similarly, I’ll push the alcohol lower than for the red; for now, I’ll shoot for 13.6% alcohol.

All in all, the Cab’s going to be excellent, the Grenache its usual relatively uncomplicated but fun self, and the Sangiovese will be awesome, as it always seems to be from this vineyard.

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Crush #2: Three grapes, one haul

Grenache and beyond to Mt. Rainier
Our biggest pick of the harvest – Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese – and a perfect way to spend a birthday.

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The (back yard) estate pinot noir

IMG_5049

30 pounds of back yard goodness, in one 5-gallon bucket! This is actually the most viable crop I’ve ever gotten from the 21 plants in my back yard – plants I started from cuttings the acclaimed winemaker John Thomas gave me 20 years ago. Usually they succumb to powdery mildew well before harvest comes along. One of many reasons we leave to the pros the viticulture on which our wines depend.

Which isn’t to say this will be an exquisite pinot noir. Oh, no. Just that it will exist and may actually be drinkable. I’ll take it!

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