Winery: Creating a Winery to Match a Vineyard
|What do you do when you have a 550-acre vineyard that
you believe produces the best Bordeaux varietal wine grapes in California
and maybe the world?
If youre Robert Mondavi Winery (RMW), you re-invent the way
you make Cabernet Sauvignon and spend $27 million to remodel the 34-year-old
winery youll be making it in. Then you dedicate a new multi-level
building to the production of about 225,000 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon
annually and name the resulting winery facility To Kalon, which is
Greek for highest quality or greatest beauty.
The To Kalon estate vineyard is a star, declares Genevieve
Janssens, director of winemaking at RMW, Oakville, CA. It is
one of the most extraordinary vineyards on earth. The Napa Valley
vineyard on the Oakville bench was first planted by H.W. Crabb in
the late 1800s. It has gravelly loam on the slopes with more alluvial,
loam, and clay soils towards the valley floor.
Robert Mondavi began buying acreage in Oakville in 1966 and now owns
a total of 770 acres, of which
655 are planted. Of those, 105 acres are part of Opus One, RMWs
joint venture with Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. The rest will eventually
provide the To Kalon cellar with 900 tons of fruit annually.
To Kalon will produce RMW Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (current release
1997; 20,000 cases; suggested retail [SRP]: $120 per bottle), To Kalon
Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (1997; 1,000 cases; SRP: $150), Oakville
District Cabernet Sauvignon (1997; 14,000 cases; SRP: $50), and some
additional To Kalon vineyard designates when grape sourcing allows.
Though the 2000 vintage was the first to be processed in the remodeled
production facility, much of the To Kalon Vineyard is still in redevelopment.
About 460 acres have been replanted in the last 10 years due to phylloxera
at a cost of about $14.5 million. Many are in high-density blocks
as closely spaced as 4x4 feet (2,723 vines per acre). These blocks
are just achieving the quality that the winery seeks for its To Kalon
Until more To Kalon fruit is available, only a limited amount of the
To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon will be produced (1,000 to 1,500
cases from the 2000 vintage). In the meantime, and in addition to
the RMW Reserve and Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignons, the winery
will use this facility to produce a portion of its Stags Leap District
Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as district Merlots and other wines.
Remodeling of the original winery to be completed in 2001
has resulted in a new gravity-flow, red-wine production facility with
a footprint of more than 20,000 square feet. A three-level structure
eliminates the need to pump must from the crusher to the oak fermentor,
sluice pomace into the press, or pump wine into barrels.
Grapes are harvested into 35-pound lug boxes and transported to the
winery. Elevators carry them up to the mezzanine level where they
are hand-sorted, destemmed, and lightly crushed into 16-ton (5,000
gallon), French oak fermentation tanks for primary fermentation, followed
by extended skin contact of 35 days or more at warm temperatures of
81° to 83°F.
After primary fermentation and warm extended maceration, fermented
grapes go to one of the four five-ton Marzola basket presses, where
they are pressed. The wine is transferred to French oak barrels in
the first-year, underground barrel cellar directly beneath the fermentation
room. The cellar holds 1,200 barrels one-level high for unrestricted
|A return to
Thirty years ago, Robert Mondavi Winery was a pioneer in the use of
stainless steel for cold fermentation of white wines and clean fermentation
of red wines. However, for the past several years, the winery has
been experimenting with oak fermentation, a traditional method that
is returning to favor in Europe.
Timothy Mondavi, winegrower and managing director of RMW, reports
that Oak fermentation imparts complexity, richness of texture,
intensity, and depth of color, which is ideal for our reserve and
district red wines, and particularly enhances the fruit from our To
Fifty-six 16-ton-capacity, oak fermentors were installed in June 2000
by a team of French craftsmen from Tonnellerie Taransaud together
with Gene Nelsen and his team of American coopers from Al Bellagio
Wood Tank Co. (Healdsburg, CA). After tank construction at the cooperage
in Cognac, each stave was numbered, and the tanks were disassembled
and shipped to the winery for reassembly. (Taransaud has also recently
provided oak fermentors to Haras de Pirque in Chile, Chateaux Pontet
Canet, Canon La Gaffeliére, La Monodotte, and Montrose in Bordeaux,
and Harlan Estate in the Napa Valley).
Nearly 11 feet tall, the tanks are almost 10 feet in diameter at their
widest point and 8-feet, 8-inches across at the top. The top man-door
is one meter in diameter, and there is an external progressive opening
in the bottom head to allow removal of pomace; it is stainless steel,
outward opening, and 18 inches in diameter. There is an 18-inch diameter
side gate. Inside the tanks, a moveable sprinkler device provides
pumpover during fermentation.
Thirty-two of the tanks each have one dimpled stainless steel cooling
plate with about 45 square feet of surface area mounted off-center
four or five feet above the tank floor, situating them just below
the bottom of the cap when the tank is filled. The plates are plumbed
through the tank walls and circulate cool glycol during fermentation.
|Making To Kalon
Assistant Winemaker Richard Sowalsky heads the Cabernet Sauvignon,
Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc winemaking programs at RMW, including
the To Kalon program. He says their winemaking goal is to achieve
wines demonstrating a balance between concentration and elegance and
contends that oak fermentation and warm extended maceration are the
perfect match for To Kalon fruit.
When simple fruit expression is most prominent and tannins arent
hard, oak fermentation isnt necessary. But grapes with big,
firm tannins, as To Kalon fruit has, clearly benefit from this treatment.
The tannins soften during extended warm maceration.
In the best To Kalon fruit, the tannins are typically comprised
of monomers and short-chain polymers, which can give the young wine
an aggressive mouthfeel. If we can get oxygen into the must during
pumpover, it stabilizes color and softens the mouthfeel. This is a
very reactive time, and the phenolics are typically the most oxygen-reactive
component of the must, so this process does not oxidize the less reactive
Extended maceration (35 days on average) at warm temperatures (83°F)
enhances further extraction of tannin substrates from the grape skins
while hastening the reactions of polymerization. This results in substantial
yet approachable wines with enhanced color stability. The winemakers
determine the length of skin contact time for each wine lot by tasting
the young, macerating wines.
Sowalsky reports that the warm maceration regime was arrived at over
a number of vintages and extensive experimentation, particularly with
regard to tannin development and color stability. The peak fermentation
temperature is 33°C (91.4°F); the majority of fermentation
is carried out at 31°C (87.8°F); and our desired maceration
temperature is 28°C (82.4°F). (See Tables I and II).
|Warmth from fermentation, combined with the insulating
effects of the oak tanks and warming of the fermentation cellar, maintains
the 28°C temperature we wish to achieve during maceration.
In 2000, the best of the Oakville wines did undergo oak fermentation
and warm extended maceration. Janssens and Sowalsky believe that this
treatment would also be appropriate for some of RMWs Carneros
and Stags Leap district wines.
In the earlier To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon vintages, Sowalsky
reports that, while all lots had extended warm maceration, the 1997
received no oak fermentation, the 1998 was 58.7% oak fermented, and
the 1999 was 81% oak fermented.
The To Kalon philosophy is to allow fermentation to take place naturally,
initiated by native yeast. Sowalsky admits thats not always
possible. I base the decision on vineyard quality, grape maturity,
must nutritional status, and pH. In 1999, grapes were heat-stressed,
and we couldnt risk native yeast.
If natural malolactic fermentation (MLF) doesnt occur
under the cap, he adds, it will finish in the barrels.
The heavy press wine (1.0 to 2.0 bar inflation) is separated to
be fined following MLF and metered into the final blend, but Sowalsky
and the cellar crew taste the light press wine (0.6 to 1.0 bar
inflation) the next day, and it usually goes back into the drain
Wine going into barrel in November or December is typically blended
the following June, then fined with three to seven fresh egg whites
per barrel in November (one year after barreling).
Barrel ageing is in 85% new French oak. Wines are barrel aged
18 months, bottled unfiltered, and released after a minimum of
12 months as bottle ageing.
Janssens says another important element of the To Kalon winemaking
style is varied grape maturity. We pick according to the
profile of the vineyard, and its a big range, she
explains. If we have a vineyard yielding fruity grapes with
a low level of tannins, we pick early to avoid tired fruit with
prune, raisin, or dried fruit flavors. Others are picked with
ripe mature tannins.
Sowalsky adds, As the grapes mature, the tannins can go
up and up, but the fruit peaks. We dont want the fruit to
The yield goal for wine from To Kalon grapes is 165 gallons per
Though RMW may not be the first winery to take a new look at oak
fermentation or to opt to go with warm extended maceration, its
commitment to these winemaking techniques is certainly one of
the largest. Much as Robert Mondavi Winery was a leader in the
use of stainless steel tanks, the winery may again be setting
a standard for production of Bordeaux-style red wine in the future.