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Grape to Glass - Pay Attention to Extraction

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We keep a close eye at Grand Cata on the concept of extraction. Though most of this process happens during fermentation, we felt it needed its own Grape to Glass installment.

Why is extraction so important? Put simply, balance. We love wines with the proper balance between all of its core components. A wine that’s over-extracted, or one that’s under-extracted, will have holes and lumps that distract from the overall enjoyment of a wine. Basically, improperly extracted wines are distorted.

But what is extraction? If you’ve ever made stock before, you’ve already got your head wrapped most of the way around the concept. Just sub out the vegetables, herbs, bones and aromatics, and replace them with grape must, comprised mostly of the grape skins.

Skins have a ton of flavor and textural compounds in them. Pull too much of these compounds into the wine, and just like stock, the result is too intense and devoid of finesse. Too little, and what’s the point? And also like stock, the appropriateness of the result depends on the ingredients and the goal at the end.

For example, the prized pork stock that’s used in Ramen takes almost two days to make. There’s a lot of extraction going on. Yet, it’s still subtle in the right ways, extremely flavorful, and completely inappropriate for making another Japanese classic, Miso soup. The context matters.

In the wine world, compare Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. One has thin skins and delicate flavors, the other thick skins, and rich, complex flavors. If you over extract Pinot Noir, you end up with something that tastes like cough syrup. If you under extract Cab, the wine feels weak and uneasy, and you’ll miss out on key characteristics that fill out the experience. However, with both grapes, you can easily go too far the other way. Over-extracted Cabernet will take decades to calm down in the bottle enough to drink, and even then it may never even out. And Pinot Noir that’s not extracted enough has little character.

So what are some of the ways that a winemaker controls extraction? They start in the vineyard, by assessing things like sun exposure, timing of harvest (recall the first Grape to Glass piece on the importance of grape-picking), soil type, and the age of the vines. In the winery, some classic techniques include punching down the must using a pole to make sure more of the skins come into contact with the juice, rack and return, and pumping over.

Rack and return means you let the must settle, then “rack” from below the must, and then pour the juice over the must. Pumping over is similar, except instead of transferring the bottom layer of juice into another vessel first (racking), a pump is used to take the juice from the bottom of the tank and spraying it over the top. In all three cases, the goal is to get more of the juice in contact with the must.

If you want less extraction, removing some of the must is one option. You can also remove it all together once you get the extraction you want. Finally, shortening up or elongating the fermentation will either lead to more extraction (longer), or less (shorter). You can do this though temperature control, choice of yeast, or both.

So next time your looking at a crystal clear Sauv Blanc (super low extraction), or a young Cabernet (high extraction), marvel at the dance between nature and humans that wine represents, and think about how different that wine could have been had the winemaker made different choices as it relates to extraction.

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Spotlight: Julia Zuccardi

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One of Argentina’s most famous brands, Santa Julia by Zuccardi, gets its name from Julia Zuccardi. Julia joined us recently to help us introduce to the shop Santa Julia cans! Take them on a camping trip, river tour, or casual picnic. Crush them when you’re done to save space, and feel good knowing they’re easier to recycle than glass bottles!

For those of you unfamiliar with Zuccardi, this family-run, winemaking powerhouse produces some of the best wines in Argentina.

We asked Julia while she was here what inspired the move to canned wines. “We wanted to give people the opportunity to take their wine to different ‘consumption situations,’ like the pool, or camping, places where a bottle is tough.”

She also explained how they came up with the idea. After hearing this, it doesn’t surprise us that Zuccardi has managed to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to trying new things and staying innovative.

“We have a ‘creativity team,’ with members from all over the company. Some are from the winemaking side, others from marketing, etc. We get together once a month to discuss ideas that could help us innovate. We always want to innovate, as long as we never sacrifice on the quality of the wine. That’s #1 for us.”

Julia also helped clear some things up for us in regards to her role with her family’s company. The wine in the Santa Julia wines are made by her brother, Sebastian, now. However, the line is named after her. Her parents, Ana and José Zuccardi, named it “Santa Julia” not long after her birth. However, unlike her brothers, she didn’t grow up with a desire to work for the company, or in wine in general. She slowly realized her passion for showing people unique and unforgettable experiences, and that the family company offered a special way to do that.

As Head of Hospitality for Zuccardi, Julia has her fingerprints all over guests’ experiences at the family’s multiple properties. She told us about Casa del Visitante, a restaurant on the Santa Julia property established in 2005. It focuses on barbeque and empanadas, prepared in outdoor clay ovens called Orno de Barro. Julia and her team have curated a myriad of experiences, from bike rides through vineyards with tastings along the way, to pairing courses, to learning to cook dishes from the restaurant’s chef, to hot air balloon rides!

At another restaurant on the Santa Julia property, Pan y Oliva, they have an organic garden right outside. There they focus showing the world of Argentine olive oil, as the family also produces incredible olive oil. Here, she deliberately wanted to dial back the fancy and sometimes stuffy experiences centered around wine and food, and go for something much more laid back and approachable.

Self-described as shy and loving the simple things in life, Julia derives strength and a sense of calmness from her favorite title, mother. She’s also a professor of English at the National University of Cuyo, and loves to travel. We’re glad she took the time to travel and visit us at Grand Cata! Come back anytime, Julia!

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May's Wine Club - Celebrating Cataluña!

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We love wines from all over Spain, but there’s a special place in our hearts for Cataluña. Pedro actually lived in Barcelona, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, in his early 20s. Many wines from all over the northwestern corner of the Iberian peninsula are world class.

In case you aren’t familiar with the geographical and cultural make up of Spain, there are many parts of the country that have very distinct histories, cultures, and even languages. While nearly everyone in Spain can speak Castilian Spanish, many prefer their ancestral languages. In much of Cataluña, Catalan is more commonly spoken than Spanish, and there are even pockets where Spanish isn’t spoken at all!

From a cultural and historical standpoint, Catalan has long been the artistic, modern, avant garde part of Spain. Salvador Dalí, Antoni Gaudí and Joan Miró are all from there, and Pablo Picasso spent his early career in Barcelona, honing his skills and developing the approaches and philosophies that would lead to his masterworks. This artistic and innovative spirit shows up in their wines as well.

Like their language, history, and culture, Catalans also have indigenous grapes they take great pride in. The most famous style of wine produced in Cataluñia is Cava, followed by wine from Priorat. For this month, though, we wanted to dive a little deeper. We found a still Xarre.lo (pronounced “char-el-lo”, one of the three main grapes used in Cava, and a Sumoll (“suh-muy”), a lighter colored, relatively thin-skinned grape. The Xarel.lo is silky and a touch creamy, with a beautiful finish that reminds us of Albariño, and the Sumoll will appeal to any Pinot Noir drinker, especially those that love Burgundy.

We will be having the release party this Sunday, as usual. We understand that some of you may be traveling this weekend, so we already have Wine Club available to pick up right now. Both of these wines make perfect sense for any Memorial Day celebration!

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