Many of us grab a glass of wine for so many different reasons – after a long hard day, in celebration, to pair with a great meal, in good company or just to unwind and relax. How many of us though have ever really given thought to just how elaborate the process is to get us that delightful glass of wine?
As casual drinkers of wine, many of us understand the basic principles of winemaking to be that of growing grapes, picking grapes, stomping grapes, fermenting grapes and voilà … like magic, wine suddenly appears.
My experience with vineyards thus far has been spending plenty of afternoons in a tasting room, enjoying a typical pour of 1.5 ounces of 3-4 varietals and taking a few moments to capture the aesthetic beauty of a winery from the outside looking in. When the opportunity arose to go behind the scenes of the winemaking process at Cambria Estate Winery, I was astounded with the complexity of the process in its entirety.
My personal tour guide of the vineyard and facilities for the afternoon was Winemaker, Denise Shurtleff. We started by exploring the area where freshly picked grapes are brought up to the facility. White grapes are pressed as whole clusters and then transferred to the tanks located at the top of the parking lot. This juice is held in the tanks for two days before transferring into the barrels used for fermentation. The white wine fermentation process last for 7-10 days and will remain in the barrels for the aging process.
Red grapes are received at the “crush pad” and are immediately removed from the stem before being placed in fermentation tanks located inside. These grapes are in the tanks for a total of 14-15 days with the fermentation process taking about 7 days to complete. When this process is complete, the red wine is removed from the tanks and transferred into barrels for aging.
Augers gently move the picked grapes toward the crusher.
Did you know that you want to keep wine in contact with the cork to reduce possibility of oxidation? If the cork dries out, air is more susceptible to entering the bottle. Thus, winemakers suggest keeping your bottle on its side, tilted slightly towards the top to keep the cork moist.
Our next stop was to visit the cellars. Generally speaking, red wine ages for roughly 7-14 months while white wine ages for approximately 7-10 months. The smell of oak and wine is robust on your senses and leaves you tempted to sneak a sample!
French oak barrels
French oak barrels
Did you know that while the wine is aging it will evaporate 1-3 inches and the process of “topping” the barrels off throughout the months ensures no air contact with the wine (which causes oxidation) occurs inside the barrels? As we all know … air and wine don’t mix!
We were off to bottling and packaging next, which was currently at a stand still until they begin bottling the 2013 wines starting this May through the first of September.
Next, a brief tutorial and peek inside the labs where they are constantly testing and measuring certain variables. It left me wishing I paid more attention during biology and chemistry courses!
Exploring the vineyard estate was up next. An east to west running vineyard that is over 2 miles long and 1 mile wide located on the Santa Maria bench (hence the name “Bench Break” is used when naming a few of the wines) provides ancient soil for Cambrias 100% estate-grown wines. As we drove up, around and through block after block of vineyard, it was clear to me that a certain sense of pride takes over here at Cambria Winery – quality and care of their land and wine has never subsided.
Cambria’s Bench Break Vineyards
Did you know Cambria is a Sustainability in PracticeTM Certified vineyard? It’s these very methods that define the character of the Estate.
A view of Cambria’s Estate Vineyards
While in awe of the landscape and panoramic views, it was in these moments of walking through the vineyards with Denise that I came to have such a utter gratitude for the care, devotion and respect to the craft of winemaking that results in the bottles of wine we drink. From the leaf removal, clustering-thinning, pruning and picking that occurs year in and year out, it is the small attention to detail that makes Cambria a remarkable winery resting in the foothills of northern Santa Barbara county.
Even though it’s early spring, the vineyards are fully immersed in the 2014 growing season.
In spending time with any employee at Cambria, you quickly come to understand an underlying quality of passion and commitment that each of them have towards the wines produced here. Spend an afternoon in the tasting room or stop on over for a weekend event, whatever it may be … come prepared to appreciate a selection of wines that’ll make you slow down and enjoy the Cambria experience.