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RAMEY RULES, continued

Continuation of interview with David Ramey
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The new winery in Healdsburg was opened in February of 2001, and it's undoubtedly one reason why David Ramey's 2001s taste so good.

APJ: What are you trying to achieve here?

DR: Balance, harmony...deliciousness.

APJ: And what would you say youíre trying to avoid?

DR: Heaviness, coarseness, clumsiness.

APJ: Youíve got a lot of structure here for such a ripe vintage as 2001. How do you achieve that? Do you acidify your whites at all?

DR: Iíve found that, ideally, good vineyard sites donít require acidification. Hyde doesnít require it. But I will acidify if necessary -- only the juice. If you do that right, you never need to acidify the wine.

APJ: You donít seem to be afraid of alcohol. These are plenty big.

DR: Thatís right and I think itís a misconception that great Burgundy doesnít achieve these alcohol levels. White Burgundy will get up to 15% alcohol -- in great years. And why should we care about the average year in Burgundy? We should care only about the great years and the great sites.
     Here in California, we have no problem achieving the power. We need to bring out finesse and minerality, and thatís certainly part of what Iím shooting for.

Part 3. "Man makes wine,
God makes vinegar..."

APJ: The wines are all very clear. Did you do a polishing filtration?

DR: No, theyíre all unfiltered. I know thereís a non-interventionist trend thatís resulting in low-acidity, cloudy wines. But that's not necessary -- these wines are all natural yeast, sur lees, unfiltered.

APJ: How often do you stir the lees?

DR: We stir the lees weekly, between the finish of primary and the finish of malolactic fermentation.

APJ: And how long does that usually take?

DR: Well, we donít innoculate for malo [Editorial note: this means he doesnít add yeast to trigger the malolactic fermentation], so it often doesnít happen until spring or even summer. As a result, the wines could receive batonnage for six to eight months.

APJ: So how do you clarify them?

DR: The polished look comes not from filtering, but from fining right before bottling.

APJ: Can you explain for our readers what that involves? So much is being said about filtering these days, and hardly anyone gets into the pros and cons of fining.

DR: Well, filtration is a modern phenomenon, but fining has been done for centuries. We use either milk casein or isinglass. The protein is positively charged -- and the tannins in the wine are negatively charged. So if you do it correctly, it takes out both the solids and the excess tannins. That means you get a silky texture on the wine.

APJ: Thatís a fascinating point. The way itís usually discussed when itís mentioned at all, youíd think fining was just a cosmetic thing.

DR: You know, thereís an old saying -- man makes wine, God makes vinegar. There is a role for the winemaker to intervene and do positive things!

APJ: How about your oak program? [Editorial note: I noticed an unusual richness of mineral flavors in these Chards and wondered if that might be connected with less new oak.] How long do the wines stay in barrel, and how much is new?

DR: The appellation wines get 35% to 40% new oak and about a year in barrel. The single-vineyard wines receive 65% to 75% new oak and spend 20 to 21 months in barrel. I havenít seen the need to use 100% new oak so far.

APJ: What do you do for fun when youíre not making wine?

DR: Hmm. I like to goof off with my kids. I like eating and drinking! I like cooking.

Part 4. "Chardonnay is the red wine of whites"

APJ: What got you so focused on Chardonnay?

DR: Itís the major white grape in California. Chardonnay has more flavor, texture, complexity, more going on. I know thereís a lot of anti-Chardonnay talk these days. But that's silly. I mean, Sauvignon Blanc is great -- but you never open a second bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, do you?

APJ: [laughs] Can't say I have very often!

DR: But with the right menu, you can open three different Chardonnays -- you can build up. Chardonnay is the red wine of whites.

APJ: You've certainly got your own style of Chardonnay. Very different from Kistler, for example, which I also happen to love.

DR: A critic once told me "Kistler tastes like a Boterro, compared to Ramey, which tastes like a Modigliani." I like that comparison. That's the intent. I'd like to find a Modigliani print to put up there on the wall.

Part 5. Now about those reds...

     Again, these are sensational. Prices for the single vineyard cuvťes aren't cheap, but they may be less than what you're paying for similar (or lesser) quality -- and if you're hunting down great 2001s for your cellar, the Jericho Canyon is a must. Everything's relative when you're wine-crazed. If you paid $100 for the 2000 Rudd Jericho Canyon, maybe you'd agree that $80 for the 2001 Ramey Jericho Canyon is a decent deal:

I'll say it again. If you liked the 2000 Rudd Jericho, youíre going to die for the ***+2001 Ramey Jericho Canyon Vineyard, Napa Valley. Same winemaker, same vineyard, stronger vintage -- and wow, does it taste good even now. Black and grapey, with compelling aromas of mocha and blackberry. To call it penetrating on the palate would be understatement. Finish lasts at least 30 seconds For those who care, the cuvťe is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 19% Cabernet Franc. 2001 trophy hunters, take aim.

I may be underrating the **2001 Ramey Diamond Mountain District. The aromas are sexy as all get out -- violet, blueberry, hint of band-aid -- and itís juicy and delicious when you sip it, but some dusty tannins on the finish give me a little pause. The grapes come from fairly high up on Diamond Mountain, above Diamond Creek Vineyard. Itís 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Iíd like to taste this again over a meal. Five years in the cellar may be all it needs to show well.

Finally, **-Ramey 2001 Claret Napa Valley offers outstanding current drinking. Sniff it and you get licorice, cocoa and cassis on the nose. Flavors veer to blackberry-mocha-milkshake. Made from declassified juice that would have gone into the single-vineyard wines, itís plummier and softer. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot. Priced at $36. 

APJ: So where is Jericho Canyon?

DR: It's northeast of Calistoga, at the base of Mt. St. Helena and the Palisades. It was planted around 1990-91.

APJ: I wish my knowledge of that area was a little more precise. Anywhere near Chteau Montelena?

DR: Close. It's east of there, up the Lawley Toll Road.

APJ: Rudd bought their grapes in 2000, right?

DR: Right. I found the vineyard for Rudd and made their Jericho Canyon wine for 3 years. Now it's the same winemaker, same vineyard, different label.

APJ: You know, you made some terrific wines for Rudd, in the toughest vintages of the decade. Would you call 2000 tougher than 1998?

DR: Similar, I guess. And 1999 wasn't that easy either! I'd say the 1999s are really vins de garde. The 1998s are friendlier, and the 2000s are drinking very well right now.

APJ: How long do you think you could you cellar your 2001s?

DR: Well, if I had to point, I'd say 10 years for the Claret, 20 years for the Diamond Mountain and 30 years for the Jericho.

APJ: I know some of my readers will want to pull a cork as soon as they get their stash. How soon could I open the Jericho and really enjoy it? 

DR: I'd drink a bottle right away--within two months--and see for yourself. The deal with supple tannins is that, like the '82 Bordeaux vintage, it's the quality of the tannins, not the quantity, which creates the suppleness. In fact, the 2001 Jericho is the most tannic wine I've ever bottled -- yet it tastes great now, especially with meat of any sort or cheddar-type cheese.
     By saying it's a 30-year wine, I'm not implying one has to wait that long to enjoy it, but that, given proper storage, it shouldn't go over the hill within that time frame. It is a delicious wine now, and what one gains in potential suppleness or complexity with bottle age is at the expense of fruit. Tastes good now, tastes good later -- but different. That's the new mantra.

APJ: Would you decant it? 

DR: Yes, I'd do so an hour or even right before service, since it's a young wine and will benefit from being opened up. In addition, as it's both unfined and unfiltered, you may find a small amount of sediment which would be good to leave behind.

APJ: Tell me about the Diamond Mountain wine. How old are the vines?

DR: They're young vines. This is their fourth leaf, first harvest.

Part 6. Okay, how did you do it?

APJ: It's got tannin, this is a whole lot juicier than young reds from Diamond Creek. What are you doing here?

DR: Picking ripe, basically. It is a very tannic wine, but the ripeness makes them round and supple.

APJ: And then what do you do?

DR: It's the same basic vinification for both the Diamond Mountain and the Jericho Canyon. One important step is that there's no press wine in either of them. Don't need it -- they're naturally dark. These grapes give everything up so easily! So the press wine goes into the Claret.

APJ: And then?

DR: Let's see. Cold soak, natural yeast. Then it heats up and we pump over for about 2-3 weeks. You don't need to push it with these grapes. You get all the fruit pretty easily.

APJ: And what goes into the Claret besides the press wine? Kind of unusual to save the press wine for that.

DR: The Claret gets the declassified free run, plus all the press wine. Yes, the old way would have been to save the press wine for the good stuff.

APJ: How much new oak did you use?

DR: The 2001 Jericho was aged in 50% new Taransaud oak. The Diamond Mountain got 40% new oak, same type. The 2001 Claret received no new oak -- the barrels were two to four years old -- but it spent the same time in barrel.

APJ: Before we wrap up, what would you say is being done WRONG with California red wine?

DR: At the high end, I don't have much criticism. I think Bob Parker has been a very good influence on red wines -- he's spot on. There was an Atlantic Monthly article that celebrated Parker for breaking the Bordeaux cartel. I think that's right. What he's done is shine a spotlight on wines with real substance and real lushness. That's very valuable.

For more information about Ramey wines,
email info@rameywine.com

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