"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog to write about aspects unique to them and their wines. This week, we are proud to feature Neil Koch, proprietor and winemaker at Canepa Koch Wine Cellars. Neil trained under Philip Melka at Seavey Vineyards, Bryant Family and Vineyard 29, and was assistant winemaker at Lewis Cellars.
"From Forest to Barrel to Bottle" by Neil Koch featuring “the dude”
As the rain starts to fall in late November, all the wine from the previous vintage is in barrel. For our wine, “the dude”, the barrel is not just a vessel for 18 months, but plays an important role in the maturation of our wine.
The barrel process starts in the oak forests of France with the most prevalent species being French sessile oak (Quercus Petraea). The trees in these forests can be anywhere from 200-300 years old. For example, in the French National Forest of Troncais, Napolean first planted these trees to be used for ship masts.
Once the French government deems the trees are “ready”, the logs are cut and sold at auction to cooperages (barrel makers) in France. These cooperages then cut the logs into staves (the wood pieces which make up the barrel) and age them in seasoning yards for 24 - 36 months. After the seasoning process, the staves are formed into barrels using galvanized hoops, then toasted on an open flame to the winemaker’s desired toast level.
After 12 years of making my own wine, I am still amazed by how much influence a barrel has on the outcome of a wine. Mark Canepa and I have been making “the dude” since 2009 and have used 100% French oak in all of our vintages, both red and white.
Typically in red wines French oak adds sweetness, body, length, and structure. Darker notes, such as chocolate, espresso, and spice are brought out in the wine. It transforms brighter red notes into darker richer components. In white wines, the barrel adds texture, spice, caramel, and butterscotch components, while fattening the wine’s mid palate.
The barrel’s toast level also greatly impacts the wine. A lighter toast adds more wood structure to the body of the wine, but fewer toast related aromatics. Higher toast levels elevate the wine’s aromatics and impart a sweeter, toastier component.
For “the dude” Napa Valley Red Wine, we typically use a blend of medium plus toast and heavy toast to add structure and increase complexity in our wines. The fruit from our Rutherford vineyard needs more structure, such as a medium plus toast, while our Atlas Peak and Coombsville fruit can handle a higher toast level.
Come Spring 2015, our wine will make its final transition to bottle, where all of these factors including wood sourcing, seasoning, toast level, and barrel aging have played a part in making “the dude”.