Whenever I am pouring Deerfield wine for people who have never had it before I always try share with them the idea behind our winemaking technique. It occurred to me that the readers of this blog have been oddly neglected especially considering that by now you have a great deal of insight into the process of making the wine. In fact, there are so many different approaches to winemaking that understanding the guiding philosophy is critical to making it. You can learn the “how”, but when you also grasp the “why”, well, that’s when the picture comes into view. Why do we clean equipment three times before we use it? Why do we wait so long before we release our wines? Why are Deerfield wines so darn tasty?
One of the core tenets of our winemaking philosophy is an overriding dedication to cleanliness. As I wrote in some of my earlier blog entries cleaning every square inch of the winery and its equipment is integral to the life of a cellar rat. Often to do a job that takes ten minutes 30 minutes of cleaning is required before and after. But all the attention to detail is well worth it because, as Robert says, “wine reflects its environment”.
Another key element in our strategy is careful selection of the fruit that we make wine from. We utilize a three tiered system to sort the grapes: An initial sort is performed in the vineyard as the bunches are harvested. Once transported to the crush pad and weighed, the grapes are again sorted by cluster and we remove any bunches that aren’t perfect. Mold, mildew, raisins, under-ripe – anything that doesn’t belong gets tossed. Then after the grapes go through the destemmer, they are sorted once more by the individual berry. This is a process that is only practical for a boutique winery due to the fact that it is a meticulous and time consuming endeavor. It is of the essence, however, because removing everything but just the grapes keep the resulting wine low in histamines. When the yeast encounters a foreign body that it does not recognize it produces histamines to protect itself similarly to the human body. It has been shown that histamines can provoke allergic reactions which may cause the headache that some people associate with red wine. Because of the careful attention we put into production people who typically suffer from migraines can enjoy world-class red wine that they otherwise would never be able to.
Another thing I always point out is that Deerfield’s flagship wine is a blends. Sure, we have some truly excellent single varietal wines (like our Old Vine Zin which recently got 95pts from the wine enthusiast) but the majority is made from more than one varietal or one vineyard, or both! Red Rex alone has seven different varietals. Why? Because, as Robert has told me, winemaking shares many of the principles of cooking. The evidence of that is clear: Skilled winemakers are also talented chefs. Why does that matter? I believe you would be hard-pressed to find a recipe that uses only a single ingredient. By adding different varietals you are enriching the tasting experience. Each one brings something new to the palate, each a unique personality to explore. There’s always so much talk about terrior in conversations about wine. How the confluence of environmental factors in the vineyard create a unique flavor. By including grapes from different and sometimes distant locations, you can allow the distinct terriors to mingle and the result can be wonderfully complex wines. The key is balancing all these flavors on the taste buds. It’s no easy feat and perhaps that’s why some winemakers shy away from blending. There’s far more to say on the topic of blending and Robert has invited me to sit in on some technical blending trials so I will have more on the subject soon.
Deerfield Ranch Winery focuses on what we call “clean” wine. Clean wine is low in both sulfites and the histamines that are created by the yeast. What this means to you is that you can enjoy Deerfield wines without the fear of the dreaded red wine headache or a sulfite hangover the next day. You can read more about it here, but the gist is that the yeast produces histamines to protect themselves when they encounter toxins in the fermentation process. We make sure the yeast only find what their looking for when doing their job in the fermentation tank by feeding them a healthy diet, sorting our grape three times to ensure only beautiful fruit is present, and by maintaining rigorous sanitation procedures.
We have our own water treatment facility we recycle 98% of all water that we use. You take a tour of the facility with the winemaker on Cellar Rat TV. In conjunction with our own well, we’ve created a model for what a sustainable winery can be. We recently added a state-of-the-art ultra violet light sanitation system that completely sterilizes all of the water at Deerfield without the need to use any chemicals. The system passes the water through three ultra violet light chambers that irradiate the water in a continuous flow with ultra-violet light (trust me, NOT a bad thing) so that no microbes come out the other end. We’re thrilled to add this to the winery because it guarantees us that the water we use in the winemaking process is completely pure.
Making clean wine isn’t just about one thing though. It requires a concentrated and thoughtful effort at every stage of the winemaking process, from the vineyard to the bottling truck. It’s worth the effort though. I personally am terribly affected by sulfites in wine. We use sensitive equipment to gauge exactly how much oxygen is dissolved in the wine and then add only enough SO2 to seek out and bond with the oxygen, leaving behind only inert SO3. Often when our wines are first release the SO2 is lower than 10 parts per million which is below the human threshold. That number even decreases as the wines age. For those people (like the winemaker’s wife, PJ) who suffer from headaches that make drinking red wine an awful prospect, Deerfield offers a delicious revelation. If you are one of those people, go ahead, try a glass of Deerfield! You won’t be the first person to discover that you can enjoy red wine again.