After harvest, the making of Windy Oaks Estate wine begins in earnest, using classic Burgundian techniques, with gravity feed and minimal handling. Because we are an estate winery, our harvested grapes travel only a few hundred feet from the vines to the winery. Throughout harvest and winemaking, the grapes are handled very gently. A wine-writer recently described our approach as extreme minimal intervention—we try not to manipulate the wine, and use no additives such as enzymes or acidulation.
There are a variety of styles of pinot noir, in part influenced by the quality of the grapes themselves and in part based upon the winemaking techniques. Our unique site combined with our winemaking approach result in a wine which is complex and relatively tannic, and will age well. We complement our grape quality by using top-quality French oak barrels. Because pinot noir grapes are among the most sensitive to the way they are handled, we make wine in a way that minimizes the amount of handling, and, as mentioned, relies on gravity throughout the winemaking process.
Prior to the start of fermentation, we cold soak the grapes for three to five days, to gain maximum non-alcoholic extraction. Following traditional Burgundian techniques, we ferment in small open-top fermenters, leaving up to 30% whole clusters in the must in years when the stems achieve a high degree of ripeness, and extending maceration to ensure maximum extraction from the skins and seeds. We also do some 100% whole cluster fermentations.
In roughly half of our fermentations we use wild yeast which occurs naturally on the grape skins in the vineyard. We run off the free run juice by gravity and then press the remaining must using a small, very gentle, computer-controlled basket press. Malolactic or secondary fermentation is left to occur naturally in barrel, and usually completes the following spring.
After press, the wine is aged in special French oak barrels, using approximately 35% new wood. We visit our barrelmakers in Burgundy each year, and work with them to get very tight-grain oak, which has been aged by the barrel maker for three-to-five years prior to making the barrels. We also want a light but long toast. These factors allow the barrels to give structure to the wine without overpowering the more subtle nuances in the wine. Aging time depends on the characteristics of the particular vintage, but is typically in the range of 17-27 months. The wine is bottled unfiltered and unfined, and aged in bottle as necessary before release.
We utilize a similar process for our Chardonnay, except that we press after harvest following an overnight soak on the skins, barrel ferment the juice, and age in French oak on the lees for about 18 months. We believe that the Chardonnay benefits substantially from the very gentle handling it receives during the winemaking process. We bottle by gravity without filtering or fining to ensure retention of complexity and subtle flavor nuances.