September 1, 2021
Here it is the first day of September and the grapes at two of our Eastern Washington Vineyards are being picked as I write this. Tomorrow is the first day of crush for 2021! In case you are wondering, this is early. We have crushed grapes in August before (in 2015) so this is not the earliest on record but it is indeed early. Normally I throw out 9-11 as the typical starting day for harvest and we are certainly ahead of that. It has been a warmer than normal year and it was predicted that the grapes would be early when we had that mega-heat spell back in June. A lot of people have asked how that early heat spell effected the grapes. The answer is not a lot, an early heat spell is better than a late one. Temperatures well over 100 degrees F can cause lower acidity and sunburn when they occur in August or September, but that early heat has much less effect because the grapes are so tiny.
Still, we have had pretty sustained heat this summer with lots of triple-digit days. While I was in the vineyard last week, I got a pretty good chance to assess the appearance and the flavor of the grapes, then pulling samples and having Robert run analysis back here at the winery gave me a great overview. I went to eight different vineyards, some in cooler sites some in warmer. Overall, I was pretty pleased with what I saw: minimal sunburn, smaller than average berry size, medium to small crop size and good flavors. Yes, I would say that the acidity in some of the warmer sites was below average.
The other big concern, which has become a yearly one at this point, is the potential threat from smoke taint. While there has been some smoke hanging around, it has not been at high levels in most of the areas that we get grapes. I feel pretty good that we will not have an issue this year however, we still have a couple of months of potential fire season, so we are not completely out of the woods yet.
It is always a high-energy time of the year and I am excited to see the grapes come in. We have a great crush crew coming in tomorrow morning and I have a bottle of sparkling wine chilling for our annual blessing of the grapes before the first ones drop into the crusher/stemmer. Tomorrow it is Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot, a total of about 12 tons. Then it’s back to the vineyard for more samples and planning for the next round.
Wish us luck! I promise to keep in touch.
Because of Brian Carter Cellars success with our white wine blend Oriana, I thought it would be good to take a closer look at white blends. While red blends as a category have significantly increased in popularity over the last couple of decades, white blends remain more obscure.
This is not unique to any one area; those areas that tend to be best known for their blends such as Bordeaux and the southern Rhone both have significant, although smaller, production of white wine blends compared to their dominant red blends.
When we compare red varietal wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah dominate, while red blends are often secondary in spite of increasing popularity. On the white wine front, the varietals of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc still dominate while many white varietals inch forward, such as Pinot Gris, Viognier, and many others. With a few exceptions however white blends have not hit the mainstream.
Let’s review white blends, from traditional to inventive, from mainstream to obscure. As mentioned above Bordeaux has long made white blends which are still popular today. They have been made with the varieties Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc but can also contain smaller amounts of Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris. While somewhat harder to find the white blends of the southern Rhone Valley have a long tradition made from a longer list of grapes, including Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Picpoul, Bourboulenc and more.
We also need to remember a couple of wines that are not always thought of as white blends, such as Champagne and Sauternes. Champagne can be 100% Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, but the classic blend is both, with smaller amounts of Pinot Munier and Pinot Blanc often found. Of course, you can argue that Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier are not white varieties, but we are talking white wine made from red varieties. In the case of Sauternes, we are talking of a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris occasionally present.
While these may be the better-known white blends, there are many lesser-known traditional examples such as those from Rioja containing the varieties Malvasia and Viura. Now, circling back to Oriana, let’s take a deeper dive into non-traditional bends. The sky is the limit on what you can use in these blends, as opposed to most European areas where what varieties you can grow is strictly controlled. Looking around the marketplace there are certainly popular white blends such as Conundrum that have been around for a while. This is a California blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat, and Viognier. You probably have seen Ménage à Trois on the shelf as well, made from Chardonnay, Muscat, and Chenin Blanc. Here in Washington, Delille has made a good name for themselves with Chaleur Blanc a very traditional Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. One of my favorites, also here in Washington has been made by Thurston Wolfe Winery from Pinot Gris and Viognier called PGV.
Look around and you can see that just about every variety has been used for blending and just about every region makes one. I found on the internet an “Abracadabra” like blend made on Long Island called Bridge Lane that contained 29% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Blanc, 18% Riesling, 14% Viognier, 9% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Gewurztraminer. Got to try that!
Let’s finish with a taste of Oriana.
Probably most of you know the story of how I intended to make a Rhone based blend of Viognier and Roussanne but decided it needed some high acid low alcohol Riesling to bring it to perfection. Many people have asked why we don’t make another white blend and I have always struggled to come up with something I like as well as Oriana. I am also often quoted as saying how often I am told that Oriana is someone’s favorite white wine. Peaches and apricots from the Viognier, figs, and melons from the Roussanne and apples and pears from the Riesling, let the wine open up in the glass. Perfect with crab, shellfish, Asian food, sunshine, and good friends.
Brian Carter, Winemaker
I am inspired to sell more of our delicious Opulento Port-style wine in the summer months. While I still can enjoy a glass of this wine after dinner with chocolate desserts including ice cream, or fruit, I admit the appeal during the winter months is even greater. The other inspiration for Port-based concoctions is the demand for cocktails which continues to mount.
These Port-based drinks tend to fall into three categories for me:
1) Opulento addition to sparkling wine with other additions.
2) Port addition to muddled fruit and soda water.
3) Port additions to various combinations above plus spirits.
Don’t be afraid to experiment; the fun is figuring out what you have on hand and what you like!. Here is an example of some different Opulento based cocktails that you can easily make at home. I recommend chilling all ingredients, including the Opulento, before starting.
For the sparkling wine stay away from expensive Champagne and use Prosecco, Cava or inexpensive domestic sparkler. Gently mix together all ingredients, ice is optional!
- Two oz. Opulento
- Two or three oz. of Sparkling wine
- A shot of Orange Bitters
- A twist of Lemon
- Mix and add ice as desired
This could be the healthiest alcohol you can consume.Add limes and fruit to a tall glass, muddle, then add crushed ice, Opulento and soda water. Mix.
- ¼ lime, cut into three wedges
- Approx. 3 oz Strawberries, raspberries and/or blackberries
- Crushed ice to nearly fill glass
- 3 oz of Opulento
- soda water to level of ice
Overdo (or Overdue if you really need one now)
Measure the Opulento, Gin, Campari and Amaro into a mixing glass three quarters full of ice, stir to chill, strain over one large ice cube in an old-fashioned glass or a champagne coupe. Squeeze the oils from orange peel onto the top and drop into drink.
- 1 oz of Opulento
- 1 oz of gin
- ½ oz of Campari
- ½ oz of Amaro
- Wide piece of orange peel.
Many thanks to Cathy Casey for her help with these recipes. I had a lot of fun perfecting each one. Enjoy!
Brian Carter, Winemaker, Brian Carter Cellars
The wine grape variety Petit Verdot has been getting more attention lately, and for good reasons. I predict that it will be getting a lot more in the years to come, mainly because people are discovering what a great wine it makes, not to mention, the wines keep getting better.
A little history on the grape:
It is one of the five classic grape varieties found in the Bordeaux region of France. Because it requires more heat to get ripe than all the others, it is rarely found on the Right Bank but almost exclusively on the Left Bank, where the heat and the well-drained soils allow for more sugar accumulation. Chateau Margaux is one of the more prominent proponents of Petit Verdot, where the vineyards have about 7% of this variety. The former winemaker there, Paul Pontallier, was quick to recognize the vital contribution this grape can make to the wine, including color, structure, and aromatic complexity.
There are no Varietal Petit Verdot's made in Bordeaux, and I think it is safe to say there are also no Petit Verdot dominant blends. However, like all of the other Bordeaux varieties, Petit Verdot is now spread worldwide from South America to Australia and from Tuscany to Long Island. Found all up and down the west coast of the USA, the variety is generally on the upswing because the climate is getting warmer, allowing more sites to excel with this grape.
The variety has its downsides for sure. In addition to being a late-ripening grape, it tends to be an uneven ripener, requiring several passes during the growing season to eliminate those clusters that are behind. Also, Petit Verdot is not a big producer, partly because of those extra clusters taken off and that both clusters and the berries tend to be small. However, one thing that does help make up for the crop size is that this varietal often has three clusters per shoot instead of the usual two.
Moving from the vineyard to the winery, Petit Verdot has its challenges for winemakers as well. The relatively high acidity combined with the high tannin content can make a wine that is tough to drink. That combination of sourness and astringency can create a battle in your mouth that makes it seem like the wine is winning and your tongue and cheeks are losing. Therefore, winemakers need to be careful not to extract too much tannin from the skins during the fermentation process.
The other allies that winemakers use to tame the wine are blending with softer grapes such as Merlot and Malbec and giving the wine time to soften, both in the barrel and bottle. When picked at full maturity from the right site and made properly, the wine is well worth the wait, and a good Petit Verdot or Petit Verdot-based blend can develop for a decade or more.
At its peak, the wine is big, dark, and complex. What I like most about a Petit Verdot wine is its distinctive floral aromatic quality that resembles the smell of violets. On occasion, it can also mimic lilacs.
While I have been using the Petit Verdot as a blending grape for several decades, it was in 2005 that I decided to take the bold step of making a Petit Verdot-based blend, one of the first-ever made. Giving this wine the time it deserved, it was released in 2010, which was the celebration of my 30th vintage in Washington, and therefore the wine was named Trentenaire, which means "of thirty years" in French. Now, having just released the 2016 Trentenaire, it continues to be many people's favorite.
Let's keep the celebration going!
Brian D. Carter, Winemaker
To our beloved community,
In Brian Carter Cellars, we are committed to keeping you safe and informed.
On May 13, 2021, Governor Jay Inslee announced that Washington state will adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) new federal guidelines for masks. This new guidance is for fully vaccinated people, meaning people who are two weeks removed from their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Please see below for our recently updated mask guidance:
- Employees and guests who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear a face mask.
- This mask guidance applies to both indoor and outdoor spaces.
- Employees and guests who are not fully vaccinated or simply feel more comfortable should continue to wear a mask while indoors or outdoors.
- Guests are not required to show vaccination cards or any other proof of vaccination.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact us anytime via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (425)806-9463.
Thanks for your continued support.
The Brian Carter Cellars Team
Spring has sprung in Western Washington. And what a perfect time to drink pink as Brian Carter Cellars celebrates the release of the first wine from the 2020 vintage, our Abracadabra Rosé. This delicious Sangiovese-based blend is the perfect complement to sunshine, friends, and spring cuisine from salads to salmon.
Gone are the days of Grandma’s sweet rosé, welcome a new era of European dry-style rosé. Ours is a high acid, almost bone-dry version with mouth-filling flavors and a stunning electric pink color guaranteed to rock every day into bliss. As I often say, “Open a bottle of Abracadabra Rosé and, I guarantee that the sun will come out…Well, eventually it will!”
Just a few notes on how rosé wine is made. There are three basic techniques:
- Pick and press reds with or without skin contact.
- Saignée of crushed red grapes.
- Adding red wine to otherwise pale pink or white wine.
The first technique, is the most traditional and the most common which allows you to pick the grapes at ideal ripeness for rosé.
After picking, the grapes are either crushed or go directly to press. If you want to extract the most color from otherwise low color grapes, the crushed grapes can be allowed to sit in contact with the juice for up to 24 hours before pressing. This is the primary technique used at Brian Carter Cellars although we have so much color in the Sangiovese we use, we put the grapes into the press whole cluster with no crushing and no skin contact. This gives us a lower astringency and a less aggressive finish to the wine.
The second technique, called saignée (French for bleed) is also used at Brian Carter Cellars, although it only accounts for about 25% of the final wine. This is where we take larger berried varieties harvested for a red wine such as Sangiovese, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, and after crushing we ‘bleed’ a percentage of the juice off the skins to give a higher ratio of skins to juice. The saignée process gives us red wines left in the tank with a darker color and more extract and at the same time gives us some rosé material that has extra body when added to the ‘pick and press’ derived juice. To further enhance the final wine, we generally ferment the saignée in neutral barrels on the lees where we get added mouthfeel to the final blend.
The third technique for making rosé where a small percentage of red wine is added to white wine is the most common method used in Champagne in the production of sparkling rosé. While this technique is sometimes used in this country, it is not as common for making high-quality rosé.
A final comment on two common rosé wine myths:
1) Rosé should only be consumed in the spring and summer
2) Rosé should always be drunk within a year of their release.
At least for me and many of my friends, drinking rosé is something we do all year long. It is just too good not to. Also, depending on the wine and the food being paired with it, the wine can evolve into something more complex and more serious with time, which is why I stow away a bottle or two to drink a year or more after release.
Drink Pink My Friends!
Brian Carter, Winemaker
We at Brian Carter Cellars believe in making and selling wine in the most earth friendly way. Sometimes this means making wine by hand using humans instead of machines. That is why 100% of the grapes we use are hand harvested. Once delivered to the winery the grapes are hand sorted before fermentation. All of the red fermentations use hand punch downs in small fermenters instead of pump overs in large tanks.
Sometimes it means minimal intervention during winemaking such as using native fermentations instead of inoculated yeast. We also believe in using oak barrels not added oak extracts. While we do use sulfur dioxide in order to avoid oxidation and microbial spoilage, we monitor the levels carefully never adding more than is necessary.
This type of minimal intervention is also used by my growers in the form of Integrated Pest Management or IPM. IPM means carefully monitoring pests or disease and only using pesticides when really necessary to preserve the crop. The growers I work with realize that when you spray pesticides it not only kills the undesirable pests but often kills their predators and the predators of other potential pests as well. Once you apply pesticides there is often an explosion of bad bugs down the road that leads to more and more pesticide use. My growers realize that the vineyard is an ecosystem that, when well maintained, works with minimal intervention. Using IPM means being out in the vineyard more, paying attention to what is happening and mostly doing nothing else. This results in a healthy balanced vineyard.
Brian Carter Cellars believes in sustainability both in the winery and in the vineyard. I believe that the best earth friendly programs are under the ‘sustainability’ moniker because sustainability takes into account all aspects of the environment including the health of the vines, the other organisms living in and near the vineyard, the air, the water, the people and even the business itself. Unless you pay attention to all of these, any of them can bring the process of growing, making, and selling great wine to a halt.
Unfortunately, while programs exist in other states, up to now there has not been a sustainable certification program here in Washington. I am, in fact, on the Sustainability Committee of the Washington State Foundation, a charitable organization supporting the industry through many ways, including scholarships. One of our long-term missions has been promoting the sustainability of the industry. The Sustainability Committee was formed to help bring a Certified Sustainability program to our state. The good news is due to hard work of many industry members we are almost there! In fact, in 2021 the first vineyards in the state will be entering the pilot program and by 2022 we should have grapes harvested that are fully certified. Brian Carter Cellars is committed to having all of its vineyard sources certified in the next 5 years. This will be a game changer. Expect to see our labels with a “Washington State Certified Sustainable” emblem prominently displayed in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, enjoy Brian Carter Cellars wines knowing we are doing our part to keep the planet safe and of course, the wines delicious.
The Washington Winegrowers Association has honored longtime Washington winemaker, Brian Carter with the 2020 Grand Vin Award.
Carter was presented with this prestigious award by Robert Takahashi, Brian Carter Cellars second in command, for the impact and contributions he has made to the Washington wine industry during the past 41 years. Linn Scott, Chairman of the Wine Research Advisory Committee, Mark Wheeler MD, former Chairman of the Washington Wine Industry Foundation and Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, Director of Viticulture & Enology Program at WSU came to Woodinville to surprise Carter at his winery with the honor.
Henick-Kling noted that “Carter has been involved in research, education and has set the example for so many winemakers in the state.” Grape grower Dr. Mark Wheeler said of Carter “the three words that best define Carter’s career are artistry, generosity and friendship.”
Brian serves on the Wine Research Advisory Committee where for over 30 years he has helped steer the research programs at WSU and is also a current board member of the Washington Wine Industry Foundation where he serves on the Sustainability Committee.
He is also a long-standing member of the Foundation Block Advisory Committee which has the essential role of keeping the states vines clean from disease. Perhaps most significant, he has been involved in the winemaking at dozens of Washington Wineries over his long tenure in the state.
In addition to twice named Winemaker of the Year by Washington Magazine, three-time winner of the Grand Prize at the Seattle Enological Society, and Winery of the year in 2015 by Wine Press Northwest, Brian is most proud of what he feels are individual awards that center on how he has personally contributed to the industry, in addition to the Grand Vin Award:
- 2007 Honored Vintner at the Washington State Auction of Washington Wines
- 2004 Industry Service Award given by the Washington Wine Grape Growers
- 1996 Alec Bayless Prize awarded by the Washington Wine Commission
“I am deeply honored to be chosen by my peers in the Washington Wine Industry for this prestigious prize. I continue to believe in giving back to an industry who has given so much to me. It has been so rewarding to see the Washington Wine Industry grow from what was once a backwater to a big player in the world of wine.”
The Washington Winegrowers Association serves as the synergistic leader and unifying voice – through advocacy and education – for growers, vintners, partners, and policymakers.
Dear Wine Club members and friends,
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued support during these unprecedented times.
Throughout the past months we have been closely monitoring the coronavirus COVID-19 developments and following guidance from the CDC, as well as state and local officials, as we keep the well-being of our guests and staff as our top priority.
We remain committed to provide you with a safe and memorable experience when you visit Brian Carter Cellars Tasting Rooms.
Our current health and safety practices include the required use of protective masks for all staff members and guest unless they are seated. To maximize social distancing within our patio tent, we are offering limited outdoor service at 25% capacity by reservation only. At this moment, we are unable to accommodate guests under 21 and pets.
We have also strengthened our cleanliness and hygiene practices including more frequent, longer hand washing, as well as cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and items in our tasting room.
While the State of Washington is now allowing us to open indoors at 25% capacity, we have, out of an abundance of caution, made the decision to remain open outdoors only at least through the month of February. We feel this is the best policy for the safety of our customers and staff, and we will review the situation again on March 1 to decide at that point on how to proceed.
We employ these measures to ensure you can enjoy the best wine tasting experience when visiting us while also offering a safe workplace for our staff.
We thank you for your patience and understanding.
While we have enjoyed seeing some of you on our outdoor patio during the past months, we look forward to welcoming all our members and friends for indoors service in the near future. Meanwhile, be safe, and stay well. For daily updates please reach us at email@example.com
The Brian Carter Cellars team
November, and December and January, while a bit more relaxed than the previous two months of harvest, are pretty busy in the wine cellar. In particular, we perform the first racking of our red barrels.
While rack or racking is a common winemaking technique, what is it? In simple terms it is pulling the ‘clean’ or less turbid wine off the top of the barrel while leaving the lees behind. This of course begs the question: Geez, what (in the heck) are lees?
This starts me off on a longish description of the advantages and disadvantages of those murky fluids that collect on the bottom of tanks, barrels and even bottles of wine that have undergone fermentations. In general lees are the inevitable compacted ‘sludge’ that we eventually need to get rid of if we are going to give you a clear wine. We can look at lees as our best friend or our worst enemy depending on the winemaker, the style of wine he or she is trying to make and the stage of the wine.
In fact, when I was at winemaking school in Davis, California, we were taught that lees were evil and that the sooner you could get the wine off the lees the better the wine would be. Lees were full of material that at best would take away from the fruit of the wine and at worst encourage off aromas and ultimately spoilage. While this overly cautious philosophy was not totally incorrect, most winemakers have rejected this notion. In fact, lees can be a highly effective tool in making a wine more complex both on the aroma and the palate in many types of wine.
First of all, what are these lees? They are largely spent yeast cells that have completed the alcoholic fermentation. When all the natural sugar is used up, the lees fall to the bottom of the vessel and start to break down. Most of them are dead, but not all. In addition to spent yeast there will be spent malolactic bacteria in the lees in those wines that undergo a malolactic fermentation. Similarly, to the yeast once the malic acid has all been converted to lactic acid, they will fall to the bottom of the vessel. It is unlikely that they contribute as much to the organoleptic (aroma, flavor and mouthfeel) properties of the wine but their impact should not be ignored. The third major component of the lees is finely divided particulate matter that came from the grapes themselves. The quality and quantity of this material varies considerably depending on many factors including the condition of the grapes when they came in.
For instance, if they were frozen, there will be a lot more grape material in the lees. In general winemakers want to limit the amount of grape material in white and rosé wines, and therefore will settle and rack of the juice before fermentation. However, many winemakers will talk about the benefits of taking some of the lighter lees when racking off the clear wine and leaving the heaviest material behind. A large amount of grape material in a wine that you are leaving for extended lees contact is generally considered undesirable, resulting in more off aromas and possibly harshness on the palate.
So, what are these lees good for? The practice of leaving the wine to age on lees can be broken down into several categories. Perhaps the most common is leaving white wines, especially Chardonnay, on the lees for extended aging. In France this is called aging “sur lie” (sir-lee) or literally “on the lees”. This practice is commonly combined with “Batonnage” (bat-on-naj) which literally means stirring with a baton; I have pictured our stainless-steel baton that we use to stir our barrels.
The combination of sur lie and Batonnage is often called Burgundian winemaking because the technique apparently originated there and is very common when making barrel fermented Chardonnay in that region.
Today it is used around the world and with other varieties as well such as barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. At Brian Carter Cellars we use it in particular with the Array Chardonnay, stirring the lees on a monthly basis from the time it completes fermentation until just before it is bottled. Normally this is done for about 9 months between November and July but in the case of Nina’s Reserve we extend the process for another year giving us a full 20 months on the lees. I also like giving a portion of the Oriana and Abracadabra rosé some barrel fermentation in neutral barrels followed by sur lie and batonnage, although in this case it is only for about 5 months. We also get some benefit from leaving the stainless-steel fermented portion of Oriana and rosé on the lees for a similar period.
Another common way that lees are used is in extended aging of sparkling wine in the bottle. An important part of the complex process of producing wines using the méthode champenoise is the aging of the wine on the lees prior to riddling and disgorgement. In Champagne, this aging is required to be at least 12 months for a non-vintage and 36 months for a vintage champagne. Some houses will age their wines for over a decade giving them the greatest impact of lees aging. During the aging process the bottles are typically shaken every 6 months to help in the breakdown process and to minimize the compaction of the lees.
The third way that lees can be used is in the production of red wines where, instead of racking the wine off the lees after malolactic fermentation, the wine is simply topped up with the addition of some sulfur dioxide. It could be left this way for months to years and either stirred or left unstirred. This practice is a bit more controversial amongst winemakers. While I have tried this technique, and have seen some benefits especially in mouth feel, it has also led to some less attractive wines. In particular the production of hydrogen sulfide is a significant risk.
So why bother? What do lees contribute to the wine? Here is where I need to be careful not to get into too much complex chemistry! As the lees breakdown they contribute a variety of soluble compounds to the wine. The compounds are mostly derived from the cell walls of the yeast and can be broken down into the categories of polysaccharides (long chain sugars), amino acids (proteins) and mannoproteins which are a complex combination of both.
These compounds add weight to the palate of the wine as well as a complex array of aromas and flavors including yeasty (similar to bready), cheesy, toasty, nutty and floral. In addition to the direct organoleptic influence of lees they can have other benefits including protecting the wine from oxidation, softening the harsher effects of oak or red wine tannins and reducing the need for fining agents such as bentonite due to increased stability in the wine. One significant advantage often cited in the production of sparkling wine is the effect of the lees aging on the quality of the bubbles in the wine, making the mousse finer and more persistent.
Hopefully you learned something in the never-ending wine education. Something else to contemplate as you open that next bottle, smell, taste and enjoy!
Brian Carter, Winemaker, Brian Carter Cellars