Coming Up Rosés, Uncontainably

One of the nicest things about chronicling this entire winemaking odyssey is the ability to go back and see what one was thinking, before things happened. I remember, in 2009, awaiting our first harvest, announcing that we would make rosé before I died. I also said we wouldn't likely be able to make rosé until we lived in wine country.

Thankfully, the first statement turned out to be true -- and the second one false. Yes, the j.brix project needed just one year under our belts before we decided to go ahead and tackle one of our most favorite types of wine ... pink.

Rosé White Zin. Q.E.D.

While France and Spain have enjoyed crisp, dry rosé wines for centuries, many casual American wine drinkers have two words in mind when they see pink wine: "White Zinfandel."

I asked for rosé and you served me ... noooooooooooooooo!

In my college sportswriting days, a wonderful, seasoned, senior colleague would take me out to dinner whenever he came to town for a game. We'd go to the best Italian restaurant around, and as the one with the expense account, my colleague was unquestionably in charge of ordering wine.

"A bottle of Sutter Home White Zinfandel," he declared to the waiter, upon our first visit. Turning to me: "Do you like White Zinfandel?"

Too embarrassed to admit I had, in fact, never tried White Zinfandel (it was roundly frowned upon and regularly disparaged in the Big-Red-Wine-drinking household from whence I came); I said, of course, White Zinfandel would do just fine. How bad could it be? It was wine, right?

Turns out it was, technically. But my colleague had ensured he'd be the only one polishing off the remainder of that bottle -- and the ones he ordered, without fail, every time we returned in the weeks to come. Looking back, the recently developed affinity Jody and I had for the then-unaffordable Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay put me just a few baby steps ahead of this sweet concoction.

Still, the Sutter Home Experience ensured that pink wines simply weren't on the menu at our house for many years. It wasn't until much later, when we discovered the rosés of Provence and the Rhône, that we fell completely in love with the style. 

Once we started making wine, the idea was undeniably appealing to create our own bone-dry, lightly shaded rosé of Grenache. You see, love ... it makes things happen.

Fruit, Transforming

It happened in 2010. The first harvest pick on the Mesa at the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard was ours; pristine grenache-noir fruit almost -- but not quite yet -- ripe enough to make red wine. Perfect for pink. We left in the dark, and picked at first light.

Sunrise on the Mesa for the j.brix rosé pick, September 2010

We destemmed the fruit and kept it on the skins for approximately five hours. The highly scientific method we used to determine when the color was just pink enough to press: Dip a glass into the bin of must, and squint. Pour back in. Repeat in 10-15 minutes. (This worked surprisingly well for our purposes.)

Here's where we decided to pull the trigger.

Once that magic shade appeared (cloudy as can be, of course, because it's all juice and pulp at this point), we spent a few hours gently pressing the must into two neutral French oak barrels, and allowed it to begin and complete barrel-fermentation naturally, with no additions nor subtractions of any kind. Once the wine finished primary fermentation in the two barrels, we combined it into one. With the longest fermentation of our 2010 wines at 21 days from start to finish, the outrageous aromas, flavors and continual sheer sauciness of this rosé led to its moniker: Uncontainable.

That early pick -- in which the ripeness level was on the lower side, but all the flavors we wanted in the finished wine were present in the fruit -- meant that, following primary fermentation, the acidity needed some tempering before the wine was ready to go. Enter malolactic fermentation: in which sharp malic acid gets consumed by naturally present bacteria, and converted into creamier lactic acid. 

Now, we wanted just enough MLF so that the wine was pleasantly drinkable, but not enough to make it taste and feel too heavy. Strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream = delightful, right? But, whip that cream too long and you've got a bowl of butter, which I don't want on my strawberries. It's the same thing with malolactic fermentation.

Dream, Tangible

When you're making wine in super-small batches without a formula, how do you know when it's ready? Taste, taste, and taste some more. There came a point when we knew. With clear glass bottles selected and ordered, labels designed, and corks ready to go, in February 2011, we hand-bottled the one and only barrel of the inaugural vintage of the j.brix Uncontainable Rosé of Grenache.

Look out for this one.

As spring (where did it go?) hints toward summer, and the wine's had some time to integrate in the bottle, the 2010 Uncontainable tastes, well, almost unreasonably delicious. We're not just saying that because we made it. We're pleased to report it's won over some people who thought they didn't like pink wine -- and, astounded some who already did. 

But, please, don't think we're bragging, dear readers. We can't really take a whole lot of credit for perfect fruit turning into delicious wine. How did this happen, you may ask? 

I can't say for sure, but suspect this much is true: It all comes down to love.

Until next time...