Winemaker Update

Building Complexity | May 2018

Folks often ask me, “Dave, what’s up with making wine? Why is there so much variation in flavors and quality?” Well, from the vineyard to barrels and the work of winemaking staff in between, the answer is: it’s about building complexity.

When Sleepy Hollow was first planted in the early 1970s, there were only a few clonal options for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Most of those early plantings were the heritage Martini clone of Pinot Noir and the venerable Wente clone of Chardonnay. These were excellent choices and the wines were great, but we were restricted from an overall spectrum of flavors that could be drawn from the vineyard. Because we have a questing and restless spirit, we asked, “Can we do better?” Well, yes. Yes, we can. So, we began thinking about how to build more complexity of flavor into the vineyards by planting a broader expanse of Pinot and Chardonnay clonal choices.

You may hear us talk about the Pinot Noir Dijon clones like 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777, for instance. Let’s compare these clonal variations to apples: from Granny Smith to Red Delicious, there are many different varieties that all taste slightly different. Some are more suited to pies or ciders but they are all better when they are combined with other varietals to add more complexity.

Sleepy Hollow Vineyard gives us many beautiful flavors and qualities for free, so to speak. The vineyard has excellent soil, weather and sun exposure, virtually all the qualities that make for a Grand Cru vineyard, as we have discussed. So, what can we do in the winery to create a more complete and complex wine that enhances what we are already given in a positive and delicious way? Barrels!  

Barrels are beautiful winemaking vessels that are so much work, so much effort and yield such beautiful results. At Talbott, we use only the finest French oak barrels that add to the overall flavor and quality of our already excellent wines. Because harvest only happens once a year and barrels are quite expensive (about $1000 each, depending on how the Euro is trading), the art of using barrels to craft wines is one of the hardest to learn. By choosing certain coopers, wood from specific forests and a variety of toast levels and sizes, we can add layers of complexity that support the wine, adding to its mouthfeel and accentuating its aroma and flavor.

I have always believed, “If you make the wine of your dreams, you didn’t dream big enough.” From planting a vineyard to harvest, through fermentation, élevage and blending, we try and make the wine better and more interesting at every step. Great wines are made in the vineyard, of course, but in the winery, we do our best to shape the wines to elicit the maximum joy!

David Coventry, Winemaker