"I've always thought Durif quite a tannic wine Dan, what do you think?"
This from Peter Brown, who had just walked past the open vats of 2003 Family Cellar Door Durif, still soaking on skins after ten days.
What he really meant was "Have you completely lost your mind? That wine is going to be so grippy that no-one will be able to drink it for at least fifty years without their gums starting to bleed!"
Poor Peter had to walk past the vats for another 11 days and I can't imagine what it did to his nerves, but I know what it did to the wine...
Red wines get all their colour and tannin from the skins, with the alcohol created during the fermentation acting as a sort of solvent. In principle, the longer the grape skins are in contact with the wine, the more tannin gets extracted. With a really hefty wine like Durif there is potential to make something far too aggressive - hence Peter's concern. So why have winemakers traditionally used long macerations in regions like the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux?
The answer lies in the air - oxygen. True, as the wine sits on skins, more tannin gets extracted, and after seven to ten days the result is really mouth puckering. But then a transformation starts, the tannins start to bind up with oxygen and they become softer, more mellow and rounded in texture. And after three weeks on skins the result is wonderful. Yes the wine is tannic, but those tannins have a depth, a structure and complexity that carry the wine to a whole new level. Also the lengthy skin contact has extracted all sorts of otherwise hidden layers of flavour.
Long macerations are to be the hallmark of the Family Cellar reds. With the 2003 Family Cellar Durif awaiting release, you can be the judge as to whether Peter's sleepless nights were worth it.