Red Leaf Rose

Never say never.  Nothing is never a lesson to nobody.  Be careful what you wish for.  What’s the worst thing that could happen?  All sayings my mother, rest her beautiful soul, told to me numerous times.

I’ve never had a desire to make Rose.  Rose is for me one of those wines to be simply enjoyed; in other words, drunk without need to tear into every detail of what the winemaker did to make the wine. 

Pinot Noir fits into this category as well, as does sparkling wine and dessert wine.  In fact, I might even say these wines require a special kind of personality to make them and it doesn’t fit my personality as a winemaker.  But I didn’t say that I would never make one of these wines.  And it’s a good thing, because at least it means I’m still honest.

Pinot Noir I made in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s with Tony Soter at Etude.  I’ll never forget the first time I shoveled a bin of Pinot Noir grapes, whole cluster, into a roller crusher set precariously on a tank top while I was balancing just as precariously in the bin of grapes 15 feet off the ground on a fork lift.  Madness, crazy madness.  But, before I knew it, I was designing a better crusher for the tank top, getting into crazy yeasts, and scheming on no racking barrel aging regimes.  And, of course, I learned a lot.

The sparkling and dessert wines are a little stretch of the definitions because what I made was a sparkling Muscat in the style of Moscoto d’Asti.  Stuff was damn delicious if I do say so myself.  But without the continuous nudging from my then client, Naoko Dalla Valle, it wouldn’t have happened. 

Naoko is such a generous person and would frequently invite me to lunch and dinner parties which were always wonderful.  Dessert was always some type of fruit accompanied by a Moscato d’Asti.  Yum. 

Naoko would then say to me, “Wouldn’t it be nice to make one of our own, Mia?  We have those few rows of Muscat vines near the garden you know.” 

It took a little while, but sure enough soon I was checking out the sugar, acid, alcohol, and dissolved CO2 status of the Asti wines and making my plans.  Fausto, the vineyard foreman and cellar master, and I spent almost as much time that year making that sparkling Muscat as we did the other Dalla Valle wines.  Naoko, Fausto, and I were very happy with it, as were all her guests who got to enjoy the wine at dessert.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Dead Fred Cabernet Vineyard.  2008 has been a stressful year in many ways, but if you’re a vine it’s been especially stressful.  Second year of drought, worst spring frost in more than 30 years, back and forth hot and cold spells, finishing up with warmth and low relative humidities.  Just like humans, when vines are under lots of stress, they’re more likely to become sick. 

If you’ve been following the Selene blog, you know that about 1/3 of the vineyard is clone 8 Cab on St. George rootstock and was picked in September.  The other 2/3 of the vineyard is clone 337 on 110R and it’s been lagging behind in maturity.  Really the sugars just stopped moving, stuck in the low 22’s for weeks.  Trace and I were out there a lot, looking for ways to separate the leaders from the laggards, breaking down by rows and elevation, but weren’t able to see anything.  Then some vines started to show some red leaves, not classic leaf roll virus per se, but something out of the ordinary. 

Mike Wolf, the vineyard manager, suggested that we look at the difference between the green leafed vines and the red leafed vines.  Trace and I were skeptical and had some trouble tasting any difference.  Part of the problem was how variable the red leaf vines were. Some were mostly red leaf, some had a few, and some only one or two red leaves. 

We finally decided to sample very strictly—if the vine had even one red leaf, it was sampled with the red leaf vines.  Our results showed the strictly green leaf vines were at 26 Brix and the red leaf vines were at 22 Brix! Huge difference.

With some help from Nola, a woman who works with Mike Wolf, we were able to mark all the red leaf vines so that we could, one, pick them separately, and two, map the problem in the vineyard so we can deal with it in the future. 

Which is how the idea for Rose came up…while we were picking the red leaf vines, one of the vineyard owners, David Goldman, showed up to talk to Mike and me about options for the future.  One of the questions he had was what I was going to do with the grapes.  I told him make great Cabernet out of the green leaf stuff and keep the red leaf stuff separate, probably selling it off in bulk.

David was pretty bummed and as we were talking about alternatives, that included replanting the red leaf vines, Mike comments about how that might be the best thing to do so we don’t end up with “rose colored Cabernet” from these vines again.

Uh-oh, what did he say? I’ve got this fruit from the red leaf vines that’s too low in sugar (about 23 Brix now) and high in malic acid (about 1.5 g/L) to make good red wine from, but the flavors aren’t green (they’re floral and strawberry). Sounds like a recipe for Rose to me. Before I commit, I calculate that I’ll lose money either making crummy red wine or tasty Rose, but I’ll lose less money making Rose!

So I call Trace, who is very busy in Chicago pouring Selene at a trade tasting, and say, “I know you’re busy so just two words, Cabernet Rose,” and hang up. Now I’m committed, can’t take it back after telling her because she would NEVER forgive me.

So, I’ve been having fun thinking about hours of skin contact before pressing, various options for press cycle programs, yeasts, stainless vs. oak barrel fermentation, not to mention names for the wine, labels and packaging, etc.

Of course I worry about stuff as well…Is the wine going to turn out good? Are we going to be able to sell it? And then I hear my mother ask, “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?” I have a lot of answers to that question, but she says to each of my answers, “No, that’s not the worst thing.” Finally, I ask her, “Okay, what is the worst thing that could happen?” And she says, just like she did when I was a kid, “You could die. Now do you think that’s going to happen? No. Okay then. Get on with it.” – Mia

One Reply to “Red Leaf Rose”

  1. Dear Mia:

    I am a research plant pathologist, USDA-ARS working on grapevine virus diseases, now retired. Have you examined the graft union on red leaf vines? If my hunch is correct there may be a thin brown line at the scion-rootstock junction. I would be curious to know what you find. Thank you.


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