When visiting Keller Estate and near the end of the winery tour, we walk our guests from the wine production facility, through the cave, and back to the tasting room. Lined up, we see a few hundred French oak barrels along the cave walls, many stacked two high. Here and there, one notices a few dozen stainless steel barrels, and the question has been asked: when and for what wines does Keller Estate use those barrels?
Stainless steel barrels have only been used for aging since the 1950s. Their use swept through Chablis and Europe, and across the US wine-making regions adding a new facet to the wine-making toolkit. The oak barrels in use for centuries adds oxygen, tannins, and layers of flavor to the wine during barrel aging. While that is desired for most red wines and many Chardonnays, those same flavors can overwhelm the taste of many white wine grapes. Stainless steel does not let any oxygen into the barrel, resulting in freshness and a crisp character to the wine. As the wine develops, it builds a more fruit-forward profile, both in aroma and taste.
At Keller Estate, we use French oak for our Pinot Noirs, Syrah, and most Chardonnays. For our Rose of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Oro de Plata Chardonnay, we choose to ferment in stainless steel tanks and age the wine mainly in stainless steel barrels, as it allows us to capture the essence of each varietal and the expressions of the estate.
Additionally, there are many advantages to using stainless steel barrels:
These advantages, along with our cool Petaluma Gap climate, contribute to light, fresh, crisp, and food-friendly wines.
Keller Estate is thrilled to release its 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir at the May Release Party on Saturday, May 11, 2019. This is the first signature wine made by Julien Teichmann, our winemaker since May 2018, and it is stunning! The salmon colored Rose is a reflection of his and Keller Estate’s winemaking philosophy: letting the wine reflect a sense of place in the cool Petaluma Gap. It is as if Julien’s years of study and work, from cool European climates to multiple stops at lauded wineries across Northern California, all conspired to present the perfect La Cruz Pinot fruit at harvest.
Keller Estate allocates specific Pinot blocks to the Estate Rose, a more French approach to Rose that you would find in the Rhône’s Tavel appellation, or in Burgundy, if Burgundians decided to make rosés. Instead of ‘bleeding’ some of the Pinot juice from the tank as a by-product of standard red wine fermentation, known as the saignée method, Julien employed a whole cluster press, just as he does for the Estate Pinot Noir. Once the grapes were crushed, Julien allowed only 3 hours of skin contact before racking the juice by separating the skins.
The 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, as most Keller Estate wines, is of a lighter, more terroir driven style. The wine is clean, approachable, low in alcohol, and acidity driven, but the resulting fruit speaks of warm summer days and gentle breezes. Notes of tangerine, orange zest and a dash of apricot produces a crisp freshness, soft tannins, and a burst of Pinot Noir fruit. Unfortunately, production was limited to less than 100 cases. Get it while you can!
Winemaker notes: 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir
How have the recent weeks of unseasonably warm weather affected the vineyard?
"Well uh yeah the lack of rain and the early heat tried to wake up the vines but these cold temps and the blow 30 nights have put them back to sleep, they tried to wake up and they have gone back to sleep if we get the rain in the forecast that will help. Vines wakeup due to soil temp, so rain or frost will keep the vines from waking up showing “Bud Break”.
We are currently at 7 inches of rain which is 40% of our normal rainfall, we want to be somewhere between 20 and 25 inches of rainfall by the end of the season, so we are keeping our fingers crossed for the rain. Right now our irrigation ponds give us an ability to have a 2-year supply, and the little rain events that we have had have not increased the reserves, the soil moistures are decent. So we will be good throughout the season. Our landscaping crew will have to use reclaimed water this year to keep the grounds looking good."
What is your prediction of How this will affect the rest of the growing season?
"Right now we have dodged a bullet by avoiding early bud break. If it stays cool through March, we can expect that we will be normal to our growing season. However, depending on how hot it is through April and June will determine when we have to start watering. Generally, our first watering is after 4th of July. Since we are not in a frost zone here at Keller Estate so there is no worry about freezing.
We are going to be doing a water event to add nutrients to the soil in April if all goes well. We might have to go to a more Flair nutrient application depending on if we need to conserve our drip line water. We will need to be a little more dynamic with our farming this year and be able to react to how warm then next few months are. "
Do you have a Bottling Update?
"The 2017 Chardonnay blends will be started in March and will be bottled by the End of May. We are doing a custom blend for the Sonoma County Vintners Barrel Auction that will be happening in April if anyone is interested. It is a unique blend that I make every year for this event, and I am very excited for how this turned out.
We only rack only once and are tasting the barrels and evaluating which barrels are performing well and getting the blends together in my head."
What the biggest challenge right now?
"Our biggest challenge right now is our transition to organic farming, it is a real challenge. We have to break down the estate into three parts, soil nutrition, and herbicides, pesticide/fungicide. So the soil nutrition is probably the easiest to handle and that is going to be a pretty easy transition, however, the fungicide is also relatively easy to transitions over, the biggest challenge is the herbicide. There are very few organic herbicides that are effective, generally, it comes down to manual manipulation i.e. weed whackers or tractor attachments. Either way, there is an additional strain on the labor force to be able to take that on. We are working on the best scenario, to allow for this transition to be made. The growth under vine can increase mold risk and cause competition in the vine. It really comes down to a big monetary investment to transition to organic.
This is the right time of the year to do this, and we are working out our game plan for the complete transition. We are going to a 100 percent organic fungicide program for this year and hopefully implement our plan for organic herbicide as our next steps. I am focusing right now less on the wines, as they are doing very well, and more on sustainability, this year’s action plans, and our transition to organic farming."