An Exclusive Look at How World-Class Wine is Made
It’s no secret that great wine is made in the vineyard. This fact is never more obvious than during harvest (happening right now), when skilled vineyard crews fan out across wine country picking grapes at their peak.
But what makes a truly exceptional wine? Before our busiest season of the year began, we sat down with Director of Winemaking Nate Weis to dive into behind-the-scenes harvest decisions that impact wine quality. Our biggest take-away? It’s impossible to talk about harvest in a vacuum. Stand-out wines are the product of countless practices, choices and commitments made both during harvest and throughout the year – in the vineyard, at the winery, and over many a handshake.
Read on for our exclusive look with Nate at how world-class wine is made.
- The other 10 months of the year. Nate and his team visit every Silver Oak estate vineyard multiple times all year long. Having a long-term view allows for timely decisions about irrigation, fertilization, pruning and beyond. Plus, when winemaking and viticulture work closely together everyone is focused on the end product: wine (not grapes).
- Long-term grower relationships. While our number of estate vineyards is growing, we also source fruit from long-standing growers – many of whom have been working with Silver Oak for 15-20 years or more. “The longevity is astounding,” Nate shares. “We know each other so well that we can easily work towards united goals with every vintage.”
Boots on the ground during harvest. With our rock-star winemaking and cellar teams dialed-in when grapes arrive at the winery, throughout harvest Nate spends nearly all his time in the vineyard tasting fruit and making picking decisions. The result? Fruit that consistently represents our signature wine style, measured by freshness and a lower sugar content (Brix) produces moderate alcohol wines. Nate notes that, “if you’re not out there every day looking for it, you won’t find it.”
The 2am wake-up call. While not unique to Silver Oak, night picking is an important practice as it protects fruit quality and keeps picking crews out of the heat of the day. Cold fruit picked at night preserves freshness and aromas, saves energy and gives the winemaking team better control over the fermentation process. Bonus? An early start to the day means our cellar crews wrap up crushing early, allowing them more time to focus on other quality measures.
High-tech tools. Technology advancements at the winery are the icing on the cake, automating 80% of things that can occupy the cellar crew’s time during harvest. This allows the crew to focus on being precise with the other 20%, making the difference between good and great wine.
Investment in the future. Nate’s biggest observation? “Thanks to the Duncan family, the focus is never on whether or how we can get something done, but how we should get it done. This approach allows us to singularly focus and dream about what might help us be that much better.” In other words? As you’ve likely heard us say before: We have yet to make our best bottle of wine.
It’s a good thing we caught up with Nate before harvest began, as these days he’s a pretty tough guy to track down. Harvest is at full throttle, keeping Nate in the vineyard and our crews picking and processing fruit seven days a week.
Love the thrill of harvest? Check out our first post of the season: Harvest: How to Rock When It's Go-time.
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