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The Art of Making Waxwing Rosé

Dear <<First Name>>,

I often get asked, “How do you make Rosé?”  It’s a great question.  There are many ways to do it.  For Rosé I love dry, tart, crisp wine that is lightly colored, mostly free of phenolic (astringent) qualities, thus refreshing to drink.  It should have a long clean finish with floral and fruity flavors and aromas.  With those parameters in mind, I start with Pinot Noir grapes from cooler coastal vineyard sites and harvest the grapes at a relatively low sugar level (usually 21-22 degrees Brix).  At this level of ripeness I should get a wine with 11 to 12% alcohol.

Nearly ripe Pinot Noir grapes on a cool coastal morning.

In the winery the grapes go into the press “whole cluster” without processing through a crusher/destemmer.  As the air bladder in my press inflates, the clusters are forced against the outside wall to release the juice, which is very pale with almost no pink color at first.  The longer the press cycle goes and the higher the pressure inside the drum gets, the more color is extracted from the skins of the Pinot Noir grapes.  This is the trickiest part of making a Rosé for me: I want to get enough color into the juice to last through fermentation, aging, and filtration, but with increased color comes added astringency.  So I’m looking for just enough color but not too much.

Here I am checking the air pressure of my press, which I bought used from a winery in Santa Barbara.  It's an old-fashioned model, but still going strong!

From the press, the pink juice then goes into a temporary holding tank to settle for 24 hours.  I "rack off" the juice from the pulpy sediment and transfer it into 70 gallon stainless steel barrels, add yeast and let the juice ferment in the coolest corner of the Waxwing cellar for as long as it takes to go completely dry (sometimes up to 3 weeks).

In the glass is fermenting Rosé juice.  It is very cloudy due to the enormous amount of yeast cells actively fermenting sugar to ethanol.  On the right is a standard red wine fermentation; the skins are fermented with the juice in order to extract color and phenolic material into the juice.

After fermentation I rack the wine off the fermentation lees (spent yeast cells mostly), add a touch of sulfur dioxide to prevent a secondary malolactic fermentation from taking off and stopper the barrels for a period of aging before bottling in the late winter or early spring.  On the way to the bottle, the wine is sterile filtered to prevent a secondary fermentation in the bottle which could leave a cloudy wine with lots of sediment.

In a nutshell, I use dark skinned grapes to get juice with just a touch of color and then ferment the juice just like I would for my Riesling or any white wine (no skins in the fermentor).  Using high-quality Pinot Noir grapes ensures delicious flavors of citrus, cherry and melon.  I only make 30 to 90 cases per year of Waxwing Rosé and it is always sold out by July.  If you want to make sure you get a few bottles for your cellar, become a member of my wine club.  Hit reply and I'll get you enrolled.

Future Tasting Opportunities at Waxwing:

Our next open house at the winery will be Sunday, June 28, 2 to 5 pm.  Would love to see you there.

Recent Waxwing Press:

  • Wine blogger Ken Zinns reports on a visit to Waxwing in April, here.
  • Waxwing friend and Cool Climate Syrah specialist Cyrus Limon reviews the latest Waxwing Lester Family Syrah.

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