In 1983 we produced half our Pinot Noir by pumping-over and the other half we "punched-down" the old fashioned Burgundian way called Méthode à l'Ancienne. A Burgundian barrel whiz, who sells various French barrels in the States, visited Navarro’s cellar in summer 1984. Monsieur tasted these two versions of the same wine while we remained mum. He first tasted the "pumped-over" version and described the fruit as strawberry, cherry and cinnamon but with a polite grimace, he added that it tasted manipulated. We were puzzled. Then he tasted the "punched-down" version and smiled "Ah, now I can taste the vineyard." We were flabbergasted as he proceeded to tell us exactly how we had made each wine, simply by tasting what was in the barrels nine months later. By then the gentleman had our attention. We listened when he suggested we should change coopers; we should age our Pinot Noir in barrels produced from Allier oak, coopered by Remond with staves bent over medium heat for a medium toast. We took his suggestion and ordered just such barrels.
In 1983 we began experimenting with "punching down." The juice and skins are mixed more gently by hand. Pinot Noir seeds are the most bitter of all the red grapes so by avoiding pumps we reduce bitter tannins and minimize aeration resulting in softer fruit in the finished wine. Charlie’s Dad has been the mechanic at Navarro since Charlie was a baby. Charlie’s punches leave no doubt; he’s not a baby anymore.
Catherine Desbois-Mouchel, proprietress and manager of Tonnellerie Remond enjoying Navarro’s latest Pinot Noir with Navarro’s winemaker Jim. Her diligence in producing quality barrels has resulted in demand outstripping supply; Remond barrels are sold on allotment. Navarro is Remond’s oldest customer in the USA.
The flavors from Navarro’s Pinot Noir and Remond’s barrels support and augment each other; the oak seems like an extension of the grapes’ flavors rather than an addition. 18 vintages later, Remond barrels still match our Pinot the best. The wine has silky tannins, complex flavors from 14 tiny vineyard sites and warm, toasted oak wraps it up with a hug. Gold Medal winner.
Prior to 1983, like most California wineries, we fermented Pinot Noir in stainless tanks, pumping the juice from the bottom of the tank over the skins at the top several times a day to keep the skins wet and extract maximum flavors and tannins from the skins and seeds.