In 1978 we produced our first Pinot Noir from grapes that we grew; we tank-fermented the wine by pumping the juice over the top and back onto the skins two or three times a day. Our harvest intern in 1982, who had worked in Burgundy, said we were making Pinot “wrong.” We responded with a Yankee challenge, “Show us!” Daniel found a small, discarded redwood water tank, cleaned it thoroughly, then destemmed clusters into the tank. He stripped down to his French undershorts, hopped into the tank and began macerating the fruit with his legs. This happened two or three times a day for over a week. We were at first taken aback, then amused; it was admittedly easier to push the button on a pump and not work up a sweat. At the end of crush Daniel departed but we kept his wine separate from ours. When we compared the two wines in spring, Daniel's was better. Next harvest we adapted his idea with a California twist by punching-down using sterile gloves over our arms since it is illegal in the U.S. to get skin in contact with grapes or wine. Half was made using Daniel's ancient method and the other half utilizing pumps; the un-pumped wine once again was better.
Jose Orozco punching down Pinot. We've learned that making Pinot by the ancient method produces the best results. Essentially that means avoiding mashing the grape must with a pump. After destemming into ¾ ton bins, we gently shove the skins that have bubbled to the top, back into the fermenting juice by hand several times a day.
Oak barrel staves are straight and without knots. To transform them into a beautiful curve, an oak fire is placed inside the partially assembled barrel; heat makes the wood more pliable and easier to bend. We prefer the wood from forests where the growth is slow. Barrels with a tight-grain (closely spaced growth rings) are the preferred choice at Navarro; they impart less dry tannin character to the wine than wood from trees with faster growth.
We labeled the pumped wine as Anderson Valley. The better wine was Navarro's first Pinot Noir labeled as Méthode à l'Ancienne. This bottling is made with the same fermentation regime but, by 2013, we have the advantage of better clones, rootstocks and trellises as well as more experience practicing our craft, resulting in a wine with plum, bacon and raspberry complexity. Gold Medal winner. Best of Class.
When fermentation is complete, we pour the contents into the wine press rather than pumping it.