March 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
A few months ago in December, I kicked out a blog about oak in wine. It’s a big subject, so let’s dig a little deeper! At Kokomo Winery we age most of our varietals in oak barrels for practical reasons – a barrel is a 60 gallon storage vessel that is somewhat porous which allows the wine to age properly. As I was talking to some folks who came by the winery during Barrel Tasting, one of the most common questions was “how will the wine change and what will it be like after it is bottled and released?” For the most part, we were showing our barrel wines out of “neutral” oak, so, the fruit on the wine was dominate. We consider neutral oak to be two year and older barrels where the oak and toast flavor has dissipated.
This brings up the questions of new oak: What kind of toast? How much toast? Toasted heads vs. non-toasted heads? Country where the oak is grown? In what region and what size? How long was the oak seasoned? All of these oak choices and variations play a big part in the winemaking process and can make a huge difference in the end product. Overall, our main objective at Kokomo is to show the vineyard terroir from which our grapes come from ensuring that that is the dominate character. In a way, as winemakers we have to “get out of the way” so that the terroir is able to reign. However, to make the best quality wine we can we have to use a percentage of new oak.
Now that we have been working with the same vineyards for several years, we are starting to get, what we believe, to be perfect matches of new and neutral oak for not only each varietal but also for each vineyard. For example, our oak program for our Zinfandel is something like this: Timber Crest Vineyard – eastern European and French oak (from the Vogue Forest), 20-30% new, 80% medium toast, 20% medium plus toast, toasted heads on the eastern European but no toasted heads on the French. Pauline’s Vineyard – American oak and eastern European oak, 25-35% new, always medium plus toast on the eastern European and 20% medium on the American and always toasted heads. These percentages of new oak vary from vintage to vintage and we source from a handful of different cooperages to get exactly what we want.
A cooperage is a barrel making facility and their styles can be very different! The toast levels are often proprietary. There is no standard for “medium plus”. Every cooper’s “medium plus” toast level means something different. We go out of our way to source from different cooperages because we consider all of them to be our collective “spice rack” and we enjoy the mix and match process of what each cooperage has to offer.
Well, this just brushes the surface of the complexities of oak in wine and how it influences the final product. To conclude, our philosophy at Kokomo is simple – we use oak on our wine like we use salt on our food. We like a little salt for balance but we don’t want to taste the salt.
Erik Miller / Winemaker