Practical Winery
65 Mitchell Blvd, San Rafael, CA 94903
phone: 415-453-9700 ext 102
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The bottles are manufactured by Saint-Gobain and purchased through Demptos Glass. X Winery is increasing their “green packaging” effort in 2010, switching to Saint-Gobain’s ECOSeries glass. All inks and materials are lead-free and do not prevent recycling of the glass bottles.
In the vineyard
XWinery works with small growers who are focused on sustainability, and whose combined viticultural experience is more than 80 years. The vineyard sources contribute to X wines’ varietal intensity, flavor, concentration, and well-balanced structure. Renaudin encourages vineyard partners to obtain California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) certification.
In Napa Valley, Spring Mountain appellation vineyard sources are defined by rugged terrain and small terraced vineyards that extend from 400 feet to 1450 feet in elevation. The hillside vineyard sites use vertical Gobelet trellising to produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot grapes for X Winery.
Just north of St. Helena in Napa Valley, the Roach family (investors in X Winery) own a premium block of Bordeaux vineyards. Renaudin works hand-in-hand with Clark Vineyard Management overseeing this 107-acre property with four blocks: six-year-old clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon,; 43-yearold Cabernet Sauvignon (dry-farmed and head-trained), “House Block” Petit Verdot, and “Old Block” Petit Verdot. Almost all of this premium fruit is used in the X Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Truchard Family Vineyards (planted on the Napa side of Carneros in the early 1970s) and Sangiacomo Vineyards (growing grapes on the Sonoma side of Carneros since 1927) both supply grapes to X Winery.
In Lake County, X Winery sources grapes from the Nova and Shannon Ridge vineyards. “This area has been growing winegrapes since the late 18th century,” Renaudin says. “Clear Lake is the largest natural lake in California, and acts as an air conditioner during warm summer days, cooling grapes to allow them to ripen at optimum levels. The Lake County appellation is a special gem in Northern California’s distinct growing environment.”
X Winery buys grapes from more than 15 growers in 5- and 10-ton lots, and one large 40-ton lot.
Wine style and production
Renaudin is using several custom processing facilities to produce wine that is approachable for early consumption, with appropriate acidity, tannin, and structure, and with alcohol content under 15%.
The first X Winery release was 800 cases of a 2000 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($20), 600 cases of a 2000 Paso Robles Petite Sirah [$20], and 250 cases of a $45 Napa Valley 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon from Pope Valley and St. Helena vineyards.
To improve wine quality, winemaking trials began in 2004, adding Laffort enzymes to achieve greater phenolic extraction, leading to enhanced color and flavor and softer tannins without astringency. Very little cold soak occurs prior to yeast inoculation due to enzyme addition. Today, every fermentation lot receives enzyme addition, such as “Lafase HE Grand Cru” on red wines and “Lafazym Vpress” on white wines.
“Enzyme addition is a ‘greener’ process since the wine spends less time in the fermentor,” notes Renaudin. “Enzymes have a long history in ultra premium winemaking.”
Renaudin likes to oxgenate red wines early in primary fermentation, and may include a rack+return [délestage] to achieve better mixing.
Renaudin is fond of the Penfolds (Australia) Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend produced with short skin contact. Today most X red wines are pressed off fermented skins before the wine reaches 5° Brix. Inoculation for malolactic fermentation may occur along with primary yeast inoculation or after pressing the wine from fermented skins.
Yeast trials also began in 2004. Various yeast strains are used for specific enological purposes, such as targeting specific aroma and flavor profiles, and for better control over the fermentation process. Over the last four years, X Winery has partnered with Laffort to conduct trials of new yeasts developed to create more efficiency in winemaking.
In 2009, six different yeasts (D254, F15, RX60, BM4x4, RB2, and RC212) were added to specific red grape varieties, and three yeasts (VL1, CY3079, and X16) in white wine production. The addition of enzyme and a specific yeast has helped produce a more approachable Petite Sirah.
Syrah and Zinfandel are fermented in stainless steel tanks with oak inserts.
An average of 20% to 30% new oak is used during malolactic fermentation to obtain the desired oak component, without overpowering the fruit aromatics. Barrels come from a variety of coopers. A mix of French and American oak is used — that Renaudin believes makes for more complex wines. In the spring, when blends are created for specific wines, additional oak ageing is considered.
“We have good success with filling the drum of the press with CO2 before axial-feeding
destemmed Sauvignon Blanc grapes to obtain juice for the largest component of our white X blended wine,” adds Renaudin.
Since 2005, all wines receive one crossflow filtration before bottling. The free SO2 level at bottling is 30 ppm for all wines.
Sales and distribution
Renaudin encourages X Winery staff to learn many aspects of the business to become Renaissance workers, able to share responsibility in multiple job functions. This allows him to employ fewer people and control costs, which translates into lower wine prices for customers.
“We have taken an untraditional approach in tackling the challenging three-tier distribution system,” explains Renaudin. “Working with independent distributors, X Winery avoids excessive costs associated with large distributors. This novel approach has presented challenges, including limited market reach and catering to a customer group that has a variety of needs. Our competency has been one of production efficiency but with recent internal promotions and new marketing-focused staff additions, I feel that our reach and needs will improve.”
X wines are distributed to approximately 30 states, with 10 states the top sales priority. Off-premise sales are estimated to be 80% retail, 20% restaurant.
Renaudin is proud of their marketing feedback loop to production staff to continue to improve X wine styles. “Many wineries (including us) face the challenge of sales and production regularly butting heads,” notes Renaudin. “We have spent more than eight months developing a production/ marketing feedback system, including bringing in third party bestin- practice supply chain consultants to assist with improving the flow of critical information. This alleviates natural friction that will occur between sales and production.”
Part of the feedback systemincorporates the actual customer. “We listen and constantly try to ensure that consumer feedback is considered when creating our wines.We have developed our following by basing our wines off of consumer tastes,” adds Renaudin.