Winemaking: Tradition Meets Innovation
1. Decide When It’s Time to Harvest the Grapes
HALL’s harvest is always in multiple stages. The blocks (sections of vines that are all planted in the same type of soil with the same vines) in each of our vineyards are rather complex. Within the same vine variety, we will strategically graft specific rootstocks (the lower portion of the root of the vine) with specific clones of a vine variety and plant them in the soil and microclimate that we think will result in the very best fruit. Since the soil within a single vineyard can vary dramatically, we may have many different small blocks in each vineyard.
Many different plantings make our vineyard management much more intensive. Our various types of vines mature at different times. Certain blocks of Merlot just happen to mature early while certain blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon seem to want to hang around forever.
How do we know when to pick? Our winemaking team, led by Winemaker, Steve Leveque, tastes and walks every vineyard many times, watching for flavor development. Harvest usually occurs sometime between mid-September and late-October depending on the growing season. During that time of year, we sample each block of vines in each vineyard to determine if they are ready for picking.
In addition to analyzing by sight, smell, and taste, we check the sugar and acidity levels in our lab.
2. Pick the Grapes
Once we determine that harvest is underway, our vineyard team, led by Director of Vineyard Operations, Don Munk, hand picks the grapes, typically harvesting around thirty tons a day with the ability to nearly double that if additional hands are brought in. We transport the fruit in small bins to our crush pad as quickly as possible. The fruit for our single vineyard red wines along with our "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet Sauvignon is taken to our HALL Rutherford winery. Our Sauvignon Blanc and the fruit for our Napa Valley Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are taken to our HALL St. Helena winery.
3. Destem the Grapes and Drop Them into the Fermenter Tank
We place the sorted grapes into the destemmer, where the berries are separated from the stem. The berries then travel up an ascending conveyor belt and the grapes fall into a stainless steel fermenting tank. This gentle handling optimizes the quality of the fruit going into the tank which minimizes any bitterness that might come from the stems, seeds or skins. Click the video below to learn about the exciting sorting technology we use to ensure only the best fruit makes it to the fermentation tank.
4. Maceration and Fermentation
Once the grapes arrive in the tank, we cool the juice, skins, and seed (collectively called "must") to approximately 50°F and allow the juice to "cold soak". During the cold soak, which typically lasts 4–5 days, we gently pump over the juice in the tank to allow extraction of the skins into the juice. We believe this extraction at the beginning of the fermentation process allows for wines with better color, and softer, richer tannins.
Once the cold soak is completed, we warm the tanks to allow yeast fermentation. During this process, yeasts convert the sugar in the juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide. At HALL, we use both natural yeasts (i.e. those that are present on the grapes from the vineyard), and pure cultured yeasts to carry out the fermentations. We believe the combination of both types of yeast fermentations provide an additional level of complexity and individuality.
Each day, the fermenting juice is gently pumped over 2–3 times per day to continue the extraction process with the skins. The wines are analyzed for sugar and temperature daily, as well as being tasted by our winemaker to monitor the fermentation progress. When Steve determines that the wine is ready, we move on to draining and pressing. The whole process, from the arrival of the grapes at the winery to the draining and pressing of the must, generally takes approximately 21 days.
5. Drain and Pressing of the Must
The majority of the liquid in the tank at this stage is now wine, and it can easily be drained from the tank and become what we call "free run". Once the free run is removed from the tank, we remove the skins from the tank and press them to remove the remaining wine. This residual wine, which amounts to approximately 10–15% of the volume, is kept separate to determine the quality of this fraction.
6. Malolactic Fermentation
Once fermentation is complete, we move the wines to small 60 gallon French oak barrels. At this point, we may inoculate the wine with malolactic bacteria to encourage malolactic fermentation or we may allow the malolactic fermentation to occur naturally in the wine. Malolactic fermentation is a natural fermentation that converts malic acid (which naturally occurs in grapes) to lactic acid. This conversion reduces the acidity of the wine and makes it more stable for long-term storage and aging. Typically, the malolactic fermentation is complete 4–8 weeks following the initial yeast fermentation.
7. French Oak Aging and Racking
All of our wines are aged in French oak, with most wines typically being aged in at least 50% new French oak barrels. We use a variety of barrel coopers and source barrels from many different oak forests in France. Some of the coopers that we use include Taransaud, Seguin Moreau, Sylvain, Saury, and Demptos. Each cooper has its own special technique for the production and seasoning of the barrels, and therefore each producer’s barrels have their own distinctive flavor profiles. We approach the barrels from the different coopers almost as a chef would approach different spices in the making of a special dish with each having its own flavor characteristics.
During the barrel aging, we will periodically rack the wines to clarify them and help them evolve. While the wine ages, solids (yeast, solids, tannins, tartrates) will fall to the bottom of the barrel. Racking involves the decanting of the clear wine off the top of the barrel, leaving the sediment and solids behind. This process happens approximately every 3 months, and may also include a minor amount of aeration to help evolve the fruit and soften the tannins.
Our red wines stay in barrel for approximately 16–22 months to allow the wines to develop and graciously integrate the flavors of the oak into the wines.
8. Bottling and Aging the Wine
The last step in the winemaking process is the bottling and labeling of the wine, which may occur as long as 2 years after the grapes have been harvested. Once the wine is bottled, we typically allow the wines to age for an additional 6–12 months in the bottle before the wines are released for consumption. This additional aging allows the wines to further develop, soften, and evolve to the delicious and complex style that is a trademark of HALL wines. Many of our wines will continue to develop and improve with additional years of cellar aging, and we hope that you will continue to enjoy them for years to come.