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by Fred McMillin
for August 9, 2000

 

Stir the Lees, If You Please


Prologue

Mick Schroeter

Lees (sediment) being stirred by ace winemaker, Mick Schroeter

"The yeast lees were stirred every three to four weeks for eight months."... Geyser Peak Winemaker Mick Schroeter


The Rest of the Story

Solids form during and after fermentation. They settle slowly to the bottom of the vessel and the wine is drained off. BUT WAIT! The French have known for years that, if properly handled, the sediment can add flavor. So, about 20 years ago, some California vintners started aging Chardonnay on the lees, even stirring it periodically to increase the contact.

I have seen them settle through a glass-ended barrel such as that in the photo. Typically, there are three bands, opaque solids on the bottom, a cloudy layer above the solids, and then a very clear layer on top. Obviously, stirring is needed to provide continuing contact. As an aside, in Burgundy the lees of some wines are so prized that after the contact is ended, the sediment is transfered to lesser wines to give them a flavor boost. In Chardonnay, that boost is a creamy complexity... which you certainly can find in...


Our Wine of the Day

1998 Block Collection Chardonnay
Russian River Valley, Big River Ranch
Geyser Peak Winery, Geyserville, Sonoma County
Production—Only 550 cases.
Character—Lovely, gentle, will not overwhelm even lightly-seasoned fish and fowl.
Rating—Best White in our last blind tasting.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Price—$23


About Those Other Words

Block Collection—The grapes from Lynn and Scott Adams' Big Ranch Vineyard came from a certain portion or "block" within the vineyard, of particularly high quality. That's why there were only those 550 cases.
Geyserville—Founded in Sonoma County in 1851 by Elisha Ely to publicize the hot springs that bubbled up as small geysers.
Geyser Peak Stature—Former co-owner of the Oakland Raiders pro football team, Henry Trione, did not have a winery of great repute when he bought it in the 1980s. But he brought in a great team, Pres. Dennis Pasquini of Sebastiani, Aussi ace winemaker Daryl Groom, Daryl's teammate Mick Schroeter, P.R. star Tim McDonald, et. al. How did it work out? He just sold it for a cool one hundred million bucks to Fortune Brands (Jim Beam spirits, Titleist golf equipment etc.)
Contact—Office of Tim McDonald, (707)857-9463, FAX (707)857-9401


Postscript

  • For much more, see the Oct, 16, 1998 WineDay, "Bleak At The Peak".
  • For information on our San Francisco wine lessons that will include learning about lees and tasting Geyser Peak wines, FAX (415)567-4468.

     
    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

     
     


    This page created August 2000

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