Through the years I have come to believe that Livermore Valley Chardonnay shows best with barrel fermentation and extended barrel aging. Like the wines of the Carneros, Livermore Chardonnay has some flesh on its bones, and barrel fermentation helps to round its rough edges and give it age-ability – a Vin de Garde as the French would say.
Fruit dominates a Livermore Chardonnay; the barrel’s task is to frame it, to give it context, and to add complexity. No single type of barrel, or any single cooperage, is adequate to the task of creating a complete Chardonnay. Some barrels make their presence felt on impact, while others work their magic on the mid or back palate. Some barrels offer up smoke, while others are like a spice jar.
Then, there is the question of how new the barrel is. New barrels are quick to impart their impact on the wine, while neutral (many times used) barrels provide little impact at all. With the proper mix of new and used barrels, we can extend the aging of the wine on its lees, which provides enhanced weight and mouthfeel to the wine as well as gives it aging potential. Ideally, we would like the wine to age with its lees for eight to twelve months – perhaps emptying out the past years vintage with the arrival of the new! This requires the use of barrels of varying ages that will be mixed together in the final blend.
For our Del Arroyo Vineyard Chardonnay, we have narrowed our selection of coopers to three: Seguin Moreau, Francois Freres, and Le Roi. The table shows the barrel selections for our 2016 (our November 2017 release) and our 2017 Chardonnay, now undergoing secondary fermentation in barrel. In 2016 we settled on an equal distribution of new, once used, and twice used barrels. For 2017, there is just a slight alteration in the selection of the new barrels, with the addition of a neutral barrel.
With the passing vintages, we think we are getting closer to capturing the full potential of the fruit we harvest from Del Arroyo. A large part of our success will be the result of our methodical selection of barrels suited to the vineyard’s terroir.