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VanWineFest: Celebrating Robert Mondavi and getting to know Stuart Henry

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It takes a lot of patience for white wine and a lot of attention to detail because the flavours are more fleeting. Temperature is important and maintaining those flavours requires the tanks to remain cool or the barrels to be kept in a cool room. Red wines, on the otherhand, go through Malolactic Fermentation (ML) often, so they need to be kept warm until the ML is finished before being stored in a cold room. 

Towards the end of harvest we might take a day off and give our guys a rest for the weekend and not pump over the wine's fermentations on one day. We'll be back to it on Monday and give it a little extra time of pump overs. Same with topping up, you can miss a topping by a week or so and the wines won't fully be affected negatively, whereas with white wines if you're making Chardonnay and you miss a stirring or you don't top them, the wines react and it's noticeable.

Joel's thought process is that making white wines, even if it is a small batch or a couple hundred cases, makes you a better winemaker because you can be a little sloppy with red wines.

With Chardonnay especially I find it goes through this death and resurrection, where you love it after it's done fermenting when it's really bright, fresh and fruity. Then the fruit kind of goes away, it gets a little oxidized and the fruit comes back after it's stirred and it's sulphured and has some time.

We (Ravenswood Wines) make some taste room only white wines that never leave in any kind of distribution. Those wines are fun but nerve-wracking for me. Many of them are made and bottled within a few months of each-other so there is very little window for me to blow it. I'm paranoid during harvest that the cooling is going to get turned off or I'll miss the window to stop the must, so the alcohol and sugar balance won't be right."

What's your favorite wine right now? 

"I think my favorite wines right now are Rhone, either Grenache or Syrah or blends of those varieties. Although, I have been tasting a lot of Chardonnays at the festival and in general.

We make a small amount of vineyard designate Chardonnay, and I feel somewhat inadequate making that wine. It's great to make a lot of one thing, like Zinfandel, because you really feel like you know how to work with the different vineyard expression and sites. When we just make one Chardonnay a year, I can't really play with different barrels or try tank ferment versus barrel ferment because there is just one lot of Chardonnay. I've been tasting a lot of different Chardonnay and talking to a lot of people about what to do, what kind of barrels to use, and if they put it all in barrel for fermentation, or if it is a combination of barrel and tank fermentation. That's been fun for me."

Any advice for aspiring wine-makers?

Make, and drink, as many different varieties of wine as you can.

Especially in California, but I think it's true in the New World in general, we make primarily the Bordeaux and Burgandy varieties of wine, which do well in those regions and specific areas outside of those regions. But a lot of Cabernet and Chardonnay, for example, are grown in places they aren't  well-suited to; they're grown because that's what is going to sell.

I think tasting wines from around the world, trying different varieties, and having a chance to make a few tonnes of Tempranillo, Verdello or Albariño is beneficial to an aspiring winemaker. 

I think that consumers are beginning to get more adventurous, it'll be a slow road but there is a fad right now of white blends and red blends in California. Traditionally consumers have looked for varieties they like, and buy those varieties, shying away from those they don't recognize, like Viognier or Grenache Syrah. 

A friend of mine makes a Syrah in Napa and he had a hard time selling it as a Syrah, so he took the same wine and bottled it as a red blend and it sold better. It's a bit sad because it's a beautiful wine, but I think people are just more open-minded when it comes to a red blend, the way they have expectations around a varietal."

In addition to being a Winemaker Stuart is also a computer whiz. He used his science and web skills to create a website called WineAdds, to assist winemakers in calculating additions, thus speeding up the process.

For more information on Ravenswood's "No Wimpy Wines" check them out online.

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