Photo: Ravines winemaker Morten Hallgren shows off the free run pinot noir, which has not yet gone through malolactic fermentation
For perhaps the first time ever, Ravines Wine Cellars winemaker Morten Hallgren is preparing to add acid to one of his wines.
"This is highly unusual," he tells me on a crisp October day.
The variety in question is the hybrid Cayuga, which Hallgren uses in small amounts to blend with Vignoles to create his Keuka Village White (the only wine in the Ravines portfolio that is not 100% vinifera).
Hallgren has carefully followed the flavor development in the various vineyards from which he sources grapes. This year the near-record heat has brought very high sugar levels, but flavors were not developing at the same pace. As a result, Hallgren has decided to pick most varieties at higher brix levels than normal, allowing the flavors to fully develop.
"It will mean slightly higher alcohol levels," he concedes, before adding, "and it's worth it this year, because the flavors have turned out beautifully."
In fact, the flavors are so intense that Hallgren decided to give his pinot rose only about 24 hours of skin contact. "It was amazing to see that much intensity, that fast," he explains. "Anything more than about 24 hours would have been over the top."
Riesling will be coming in soon, and grower Sam Argetsinger is pleased with the acid levels in his grapes. But gewurztraminer, which will also be picked for Ravines soon, will almost certainly need more acid in the winery. "You don't like to do it, but gewurztraminer can be tricky, and picking too early could have compromised the flavors," Hallgren says.
He is particularly excited about the pinot noir, and a sample showed precocious aromatics -- the kind more often associated with mature, bottled wine. "At this point I'm just looking for an aromatic presence and I want to be sure the tannins are soft and integrated," Hallgren says. Ask him if that's happening in the 2010 pinot and you don't need an answer. You can see it in his eyes as they light up.
In several weeks the cabernet franc, often the muscle of the Ravines Meritage, will arrive. The 2010 version will be wildly different from the 2009, which in turn shows a different kind of character than the 2008. And so on. "Americans are more accustomed to drinking wines from California and South America, and each year is pretty similar," the winemaker laments. "If you drink French wine, you know that vintage variation is common and is something interesting. I hope our customers feel that way, too."