The most nerve-racking part of sparkling wine production arrives about eight months following harvest. We select the final Brut cuvée during the summer, then add sugar and yeast to re-ferment the wine; bottles are filled with this ready-to-ferment potion and then sealed with crown caps. Alcohol inhibits yeast growth, so adding yeast to a wine with 11% alcohol requires ideal conditions to produce a reliable, slow re-fermentation. We once produced a 1989 Chardonnay cuvée but, being sparkling wine newbies, we didn't appreciate the yeast's reticence in re-fermentations and found ourselves in a jam in July of 1990. What's worse than all the bottles not fermenting? When some bottles have fermented and others failed to start. The sad solution was to un-bottle the wine. We aged the reclaimed wine in cask until the 1991 vintage, re-fermented the wine on fresh yeast, then blended it into a new and larger Pinot Noir-Chardonnay cuvée, our first—and hopefully only—non-vintage sparkler.
Bins of newly bottled Brut . After bottling we tend to fret until we can affirm that the fermentation proceeded as planned. For several weeks following bottling we measure the pressure inside numerous randomly chosen bottles of Brut . If all went well, each bottle has adequate pressure and the amount of pressure is uniform across all of the samples, indicating the fermentation completed in every bottle.
The 2013 and 2016 cuvées had no such problems and they display distinctive qualities from both the vintage and the pause before disgorgement. In 2016 the berry size was large, resulting in fewer skin phenolics and producing an elegant cuvée which sports apple and pear aromas with a bright lemon-verbena spritz that hints of rising bread dough. Gold Medal winner.