We just got back from a Wine Technology Group seminar on Tannin yesterday. All three of us ladies were treated to a full day of intense lectures on tannin maintenance and extraction in both the vineyard and winery. We frequently attend these kinds of lectures and the faces of the primary players in Washington’s wine industry are old hat. Most of the lecturers are professors at WSU. Both Anais and I have certificates in the WSU Enology and Viticulture program and Talia is currently attending the program. Of course, we hugely benefit from the knowledge and work of these special people.

So what did we learn?

Our biggest take away is that in spite of the trends encouraged by wine critics, writers and bloggers most folks in the industry try very hard to manage tannin extraction in wine. Those giant mouth scrubbing beasts that we associate with certain regions in the state are not the norm. While we have attended many other seminars on tannin as an indicator of quality-i.e. The more tannin a wine has the better the wine—we found that researchers and winemakers in Washington lean toward balance as a precursor for premium wines. Of course, this has been our focus from the beginning.

So how do we maintain balance?

The longer a cluster hangs on the vine the more skin tannin it develops. Long hang times mean higher sugars, less acid and often more jammy characteristic. More frequently winemakers misunderstand the demands of consumers and push toward longer and longer hang times. This a big mistake! To achieve a balanced wine with varietal typicity, a winemaker must chose to harvest when the time is right, and hopefully after a lot of careful discussion with growers.

Tannin is produced in the vineyard via canopy management, water restriction and leaf thinning in the ripening zone. Heat and sunlight produce tannin, which the grape produces to protect it against early predation. When clusters are loose and straggly all surfaces of the berry can access sunlight and heat. Small clusters are achieved through deficit irrigation at the right time, depending on the moisture load of the soil, soil composition and shoot growth. It is the job of the grower to allow for maximum phenolic development in the vineyard. Our growers do an excellent job at this!

We harvest earlier than most winemakers in order to preserve acid, lower sugars and a lower pH. We hope that careful vineyard management will allow for adequate phenolic development to create complex and balanced wines that reveal varietal characteristics to contribute to complex blends. Our style of wine making is to extract more subtle phenolics and aromas while taming the tannin in the skins, and avoid the tannin in the seeds altogether.

For us balance is achieved through the careful mitigation of viticulture, harvest parameters and winemaking techniques. Maturation and barrel use are other players in the game, although we use so very little new oak in our program. We do not use additions and adjuncts. Our goal is to make wine free of powders, gelatins and chemical stabilizers. We use some enzymes at harvest on our whites for clarification later on as well as bentonite clay for heat stability. Our reds have no additions other than SO2.

Grapes+yeast+time can make gorgeous wines without adding chemical gunk.

Honest wine.

Rachael Horn, winemaker