Last week I had the GREAT privilege to finally meet one of my favorite winemakers in the world, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. He visited New York City and graced us with a “Producer Night” at the ridiculously good Anfora Wine Bar (A personal NYC favorite) in the West Village where Joe Campanale is one of the owners and helms the beverage program. We tasted through several of his wines as he described the vintage, the weather, the vinification process, etc. all sitting rapt with the conveyance of this intimate knowledge.
Randall was telling us about his 2009 Contra. It’s delicious. My tasting notes include the following: raspberries, earth, meat, the kind of herbaceous, subtly leather finish I adore. But I digress. Somewhere in his description of the wine, the words (Insert pregnant pause here.) “OAK CHIPS” (Insert record screech here.) passed his lips and I sat there dumbfounded. How on earth could this guy—this wizard of biodynamics—use OAK CHIPS?! “Heresy!” my mind cried. ”Off with his head!” Somehow I managed to keep a completely cool exterior as I continued the tasting.
Five minutes later I more or less forgot about the whole thing and went on to enjoy a fabulous dinner and conversation without so much as a single photo or note taken. I was quite proud of myself for that. But I digress again.
A little time passed and the oak chips floated back into my mind and I just couldn’t let it go. I had to ask. So I emailed Mr. Grahm. Below is the entire email thread for your reading pleasure.
You mentioned that one of your wines had oak chips used in part of the process. Would you be willing to elaborate on that? I’ve personally been opposed to oak chips and am very curious to hear your take on it.
And here’s the really fantastic part:
Dear Raelinn,We have been in the habit of using oak chips in our fermenters for red wines for the following reason: The tannins from the oak chips bond with the grape’s anthocyanins and thus keep the anthocyanins from oxidizing and falling out of the wine. This helps to support the wine’s structure as well as to stabilize the color. There is a modest sensory pick up of oak character at this stage, but these flavors are extremely labile and essentially disappear by the time the wine is pressed off. It’s a bit of a emotional reaction, I would suggest, to summarily reject the use of oak chips in wine, but support the use of relatively new oak barrels. Myself, I don’t like to use oak chips in wine after fermentation, because at that point, the character of the oak does tend to integrate less well into the wine, rather like seasoning a dish at the very last moment before serving, rather than allowing the flavors to gradually incorporate. Myself, I think that the flavor of oak in wine must be very subtle indeed lest it dominate and occlude the other more interesting aspects. I think that for me, one has to be open-minded, and take something like a Tantric view of things – everything that exists can be used as a sacrament of some sort if handled with the right sort of consciousness. Hope this is helpful.
I think that for me, one has to be open-minded, and take something like a Tantric view of things – everything that exists can be used as a sacrament of some sort if handled with the right sort of consciousness.
I think that for me, one has to be open-minded, and take something like a Tantric view of things – everything that exists can be used as a sacrament of some sort if handled with the right sort of consciousness. – Randall Grahm