Roughly 65% of the Merlot grapes are grown in the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. These hilly, warm growing regions add rich concentration of cherry and red berry flavors and great color. Los Carneros is the second area, where cool weather and lean soils promote intense, spicy flavors of mint, coffee, and tobacco while maintaining high acidity. The combination of these two areas produces a wine of unusual depth and a wide range of aromas and flavors.
All vineyards are harvested and sorted block-by-block and lots culled from each. Each vineyard lot is then fermented separately in open and closed-top fermenters, depending on the vintage, to allow the flavors to develop. Fermentation takes place at temperatures ranging from 78° to 90°F for seven to 20 days. The grapes are punched down or pumped over by hand two to three times per day to maximize the extraction of flavors and soft tannins while minimizing the introduction of astringence. The wine is then racked and placed in 80% American and 20% French new and used oak barrels for 15 to 18 months' aging. In the summer following the vintage a base blend representing slightly over half of the final blend is racked, blended and returned to barrel until final assemblage the following spring. This approach allows the wine to marry in the cellar and lengthens the blending process to assure only those wines beneficial to the overall blend are incorporated. This method of winemaking is complicated but results in the winemaker having a variable palette of flavors to blend together to make the most intense, layered, and balanced wine from the vintage. This individual attention allows selection of only the most interesting components without having to use a substandard lot. On average, about 15% of the vintage is eliminated before bottling.
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