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5 Tips From Michael Mondavi’s Winemaking Team

Eat Drink Travel

So many people tell me they want to make their own wine, and while there are a lot of wineries that will let you play with blending, there’s nothing like learning from some of the best. If you’re attending the “Winemaker for a Day” experience, you’ll be working with the pros at Michael Mondavi Family Estate to make incredible California wine, and you’ll go home with two cases of your own creation.

With a robust team consisting of a winemaker (Rob Mondavi Jr.), associate winemaker, production manager, information specialist, and five cellar workers – the estate produces six different brands and more than 25 wines. With all that work, they offer a rare wealth of knowledge.

Here are five winemaking tips the Mondavi team shared with me. Some of these might even come in handy when you taste as well:

  1. Rinse the glass with a splash of the wine before tasting, as the glass may impart other aromas and/or flavors. And rinsing with the wine itself means it won’t get watered down.
  2. Always give a minute (or more) between tastes so you have a chance to experience the finish fully. You may discover something interesting later in the finish.
  3. Keep your palate alert. If you are blending, taste each wine first, and then reverse the order. For instance, if you have five different Cabs to blend, taste through them singly first, one through five, then taste five through one. This way, you won’t have prejudice for or against a certain blend due to carryover.
  4. Blend the ones you like together to see if they act synergistically, or antagonistically. Compare and contrast. Just remember that those flavors you’re experiencing aren’t linear with wine. For instance, adding twice as much isn’t necessarily going to make something taste twice as good or bad. Try lots of different combinations.
  5. There is no predicting, but there is forgetting. Above all, take notes.

When you graduate to a more advanced level of winemaking, you’ll also face more challenges. I asked Jeanette Schandelmier, Associate Winemaker & Quality Control Manager at MMFE, what most people don’t realize about the winemaking process, and she offered up some information relevant to winemakers and wine drinkers alike:

“Most wine goes through two fermentations, alcoholic and malolactic. During alcoholic fermentation the sugar is changed into alcohol and CO2 by yeast. During malolactic fermentation, malic acid is changed into lactic acid, diacetyl and CO2. Diacetyl is the chemical that makes butter taste buttery, and, by extension, that makes wine taste buttery. Most Chardonnay goes through malolactic fermentation while most Sauvignon Blanc does not – so no surprise, Chardonnay is often called buttery but not SB.

“Maybe everyone knows, but Cabernet Sauvignon is normally aged in barrels (after both fermentations are complete). But they may not know that here it’s also “SO2’d and topped” monthly. That means every barrel comes down, gets scrubbed, opened, sulfur added, filled to the tippity-top and closed back up. Some bad bugs (bacteria) such as acetobacter, which causes wine to turn into vinegar, is an obligate aerobe. This means if there is no oxygen around, it can’t multiply and wreck the wine. Some other bad bugs hate sulfur. Thus, if you fill up the barrel all the way, no air can get in there, and if you keep the sulfur at the right level as well, no bugs.”

Do you have specific questions for the Michael Mondavi Winemaking team? Post them here or send them to me via Twitter @mindyjoyce

Happy winemaking!