Behind the Scenes: Blending the 2016 Sangiovese


Wine:  2016 Kagan Sangiovese, Dry Creek Bench Vineyard, Sonoma County 

We want to take you behind the scenes to show you how we develop one of our beautiful, complex wines. We'll follow the journey of our 2016 vintage Sangiovese from harvest, to barrel, through blending, to bottle. 

The weather was once again on our side in 2016. With warm temperatures peaking early in June and then cooling off until harvest, the weather pattern allowed the fruit to fully ripen at a slow pace, making for beautifully complex and inky red wines.  

We harvested the grapes on September 14, 2016 and brought them into the winery. The fruit was immediately de-stemmed and sorted, then it was cold-soaked for 3 days before fermentation. Once the grapes ferment we press the juice off and run it into oak barrels.

Choice of barrel is an important issue in wine-making. Our goal at Kagan Cellars is to make "old-world" style wines from "new-world" fruit, so we consistently utilize French oak barrels. While American oak is a good choice for some wines, it tends to impart a stronger flavor into the wine. We find French oak allows us to make more elegant, fruit-focused wines. In addition to the origin of a barrel, the age of a barrel and it's prior utilization is also important.  Utilizing a brand new barrel will result in a wine with more pronounced oak flavors, such as vanillin, caramel, butter, or nuts.  In the same vein, utilizing a barrel that has already been used to age a wine from a prior vintage lends both more subtle oak flavors and some of the qualities of the previous wine.  The toast level of a barrel can also have a tremendous effect on the wine.  In order to create "toast", coopers (barrel-makers) will burn the interior of a barrel in order to add more complexity to wine.  Toast levels range anywhere from "neutral" (no toast) to "heavy".  The level of toast can impart numerous qualities to a wine, from fresh-baked bread aromas to smoke and tobacco flavors.  We aged our Sangiovese for 16 months in three different types of French oak barrels. We used both new barrels and 1-year old barrels in a combination of toast levels, but none exceeding medium toast.   

Once our wines are in barrel, we leave them to rest until the spring when we have our annual "barrel break".  This is when we open the barrels and taste them for the first time after barreling.  It's exciting, and sometimes a little scary, to taste something that's been constantly morphing and changing for the last 6-months.  While you always anticipate how a wine will come out given the vintage's weather, harvest, and aging, it's still a surprise every year!  

The process begins when we open the barrels and get a sense of what the vintage gave us. This is the baseline for what we have to work with.

The 2016 Sangiovese aroma was very heady, filled with notes of sandalwood and subtle fruit.  When we tasted the wine, we found good acidity and tannic structure, which are hallmarks of a traditional Sangiovese from Italy. Because our wine “proofed” like a traditional Sangiovese we decided to maintain its vineyard designation when blending.

In order to put the name of the vineyard on the label of a California wine, no more than 5% of another wine can be blended into the base wine. Although it is a small percentage, 5% of the blending element wines can have a huge effect on the finished product.

While we were very happy with what Mother Nature gave us, we did think that the wine could use more complexity in the mid-palate and a longer “finish”. Finish is the experience of flavors lingering after you have swallowed a sip of wine. 

Our 2015 Sangiovese from the same vineyard, Dry Creek Bench, was lovely; so for our first 2016 blend we tried what worked for our 2015 vintage. 97% Sangiovese and 3% Petite Syrah had given us nice fruit, great acidity and polished tannins. But things never stay the same and the same blend in the 2016 vintage led to an almost "overripe” fruit flavor and muted the aromatics, giving the wine a mono-tonal feel. We tried another blend: 96% Sangiovese, 3% Petite Syrah, and 1% Syrah. This blend had a much more complex aroma with spice and floral tones, and it enhanced the red-fruit in the mid-palate, but it was still lacking that perfect finish. 

So, we kept going…we substituted the Syrah for Malbec in the blend and added some Petit Verdot for finish. After seven more trial blends of different amounts, we found a lovely blend that maintained the traditional profile of Sangiovese.

The final blend of 97% Sangiovese, and just under 1% each of Petite Syrah, Malbec, and Petit Verdot maintained the aromatics, acid, and fruit we loved, with added notes of pepper and graphite, and a nice, long finish. We walked away with a nice, round, very balanced and complete wine...Kagan Cellars 2016 Sangiovese, Dry Creek Bench Vineyard, Sonoma County.

Now, it’s all your for the taking! 



Emily Trout