In honor of American Independence Day, we are writing this blog about red, white and rosé wine… made from Pinot Noir. The process is similar for most red grapes, but we’ll highlight Pinot Noir here. Pinot Noir is a light and lovely red grape. It goes by other names, in different places: Pinot Nero (Italy), Spätburgunder (Germany) and Burgundy (France- this is a location, but if you have a red Burgundy- it is made of Pinot Noir).
Many do not realize that Pinot Noir can be made into a red, white and rosé wine- it’s all about how you treat the fruit when it comes in the door- the cellar door.
If you want to make a red wine out of Pinot Noir, you would process the fruit- which could mean sorting out bad fruit, destemming, adding CO2 to protect from Oxygen and putting in a temperature-controlled tank to soak up the red pigments before allowing fermentation to start (this is in high-end Pinot Noir wines- lower quality wines see less hands-on attention). Then, the juice ferments on the skins anywhere from 5-14 days- all the while picking up more color and flavor. You get what you pay for when it comes to Pinot Noir and wines made from it- Whether you leave it on the skins or not. We have been making Sonoma County Pinot Noir for 15 years and love it, but decided that if the price of our wines at Lucky Rock Wine Co. were going to be affordable, we would need to blend with Sonoma County Pinot Noir-use it as a blender- and find great vineyards from other counties in California. We have found them, after a lot of looking. The multiple county sourcing helps bring the quality up, and the price down. Last year the average price for Sonoma Pinot Noir was around twice the price of some of the other vineyards we use, but not twice the quality.
If you wanted to make arosé of Pinot Noir there are several methods to do so. Two we will highlight areSaignée(to bleed) and Vin Gris (Grey Wine)- typically made from fruit picked for rosé. These styles can be made from nearly all red grapes, save for the couple that have red juice AND skin. For aSaignée rosé, you bring in the fruit for red wine and “bleed” off juice from the normal fermentation make the ‘skin to juice’ ratio higher… like adding two teabags to you tea. This limits what you can do with your rosé wine, but can make your red wine better (in theory). Pinot Noir, especially Sonoma Pinot Noirs, can benefit from this to help bring out more flavor and color in the finished wine. Therosé byproduct is what you keep instead of throwing the bleed-off down the drain. It can make a nice wine, but is typically higher in alcohol and lower acid- not the most ideal for making a rosé, and therefore needs to be amended by adding acid and/or water (to bring the acid up and the alcohol down). Rosés from “dedicated fruit” are made from fruit picked with the intention of making a pink wine. This is more expensive, but makes betterrosé- by most wino’s standards. Since the fruit can be picked at whatever sugar and acid levels you are seeking in your finished wine, it is more in line with what people making rosé would want from the fruit. The fruit is put right into the press after picking and usually has lots of CO2 and some Sulfur added to keep it safe from Oxygen- which can lessen the aromas and weaken color. Pinot Noir typically already has issues with keeping deep color, so this can translate into Vin Gris or ‘grey wine,’ and can be very lite in color. Sonoma County Pinot Noirrosés are a little more expensive due to the higher cost of fruit, but can be very nice, when done well.
This process is rarer when it comes to Pinot Noir. People don’t expect whites from reds and are confused by the Blanc de Pinot Noir title, but it can be done just as easily asrosé. You might pick it early like grapes for a rosé of Pinot Noir, but when you press it, you might press it a little more gently so as to limit the amount of pigment from the skin in the juice. If you have ever had a Champaigne, it is most likely made of Pinot Noir, or, its not too distant cousins, Pinot Meunier (red skin) and Chardonnay (white skin). It would have gone through one of the last two processes to create a white or rosé wine.Again, red, whites and rosés can be made from a large number of grapes, but some lend themselves better to one process or another. We find that Pinot Noir, for being as fragile a grape that it is, can make wines of any style pretty well- The fruit for that wine needs to be high quality from the start. That means being grown in a place like Sonoma County which is famous for it’s Pinot Noirs. The climate, and therefore location, must match the grape that is growing there- otherwise you sacrifice quality. You can find other grapes that work well in even warmer regions as long as they don’t get too ripe, too fast OR that are able to maintain higher acid in that higher heat. There has rarely been a wine that we won't try, sometimes you get some stinkers, literally, but it’s always a learning experience. Go try a blanc de Pinot Noir, if you can find one.