Spring 2019 Winemaker Insider

One of the joys of living in the Walla Walla Valley is the distinct four seasons we experience each year. Yet, this year, it seems fall lasted until the end of January with some beautiful days warm enough for outside lunches and enjoyable motorcycle rides. Although winter was initially shy, it became buoyant February 1st through March 12th, keeping the high temperatures around 20 degrees and the lows barely above zero. Coincidentally, the snowfall also broke some records of length of time on the ground and quantity, especially so late in the season.

Last year at this time, the vines were already showing some activity with signs of sap flow. Even though there are still some patches of snow remaining across the valley as I send this newsletter, I do not foresee any major problems caused by this unusually cold weather but a delay in the start of the growing season.

These temperatures could have been ideal to make an ice wine but they came too late. While making a Botrytis wine is a spur of the moment decision taking advantage of the development of the noble rot during harvest, making ice wines like we have done under our Poet's Leap label is a real commitment. We need to leave healthy clusters on the vine and bet on having cold enough temperatures in December. The cold temperatures induce the formation of ice crystals in the berries, increasing the concentration of flavors, acidity and sugar in the remaining juice after pressing.

Weather during the 2018 harvest was worthy of an Indian Summer. Beautiful days and cool nights in September and October encouraged the hang time of the grapes, optimizing physiological maturation of the phenols while preserving good balance and vibrant fruit. Across the board, all the varietals excelled at showing their full potential, from the elegant well-balanced lively whites, to the well-structured yet polished red wines showing richness and complexity. Our Sangiovese, harvested at Boushey Vineyard, is a good example. The weather allowed us to harvest at the end of the growing cycle when the canopy was shutting down, bringing that beautiful fall color to the leaves, yet the maturation was evident with lignified stems and seeds, great concentration of color and flavors, refined tannins and the vibrant character that transpire in Saggi.

Allen could not have chosen a better vintage to spearhead the creation of our first ever Sauvignon Blanc. We used different fermentation vats to increase its complexity. We fermented parts of the blend in a concrete egg for the minerality and in a couple of stainless steel drums for freshness. We also experimented with various neutral and new French oak barrels to increase the overall viscosity and to add layers to the aromatic profile. Jorge racked it off the heavy lees and we blended the different components prior to bottling. I usually avoid the comparison of Columbia Valley wines with other wine regions, but if I did, I'd say that the final blend has a lively acidity worthy of New Zealand, a flavor spectrum reminiscent of Sancerre and the richness of Napa.

2019 - A Year to Celebrate
This year is my 30th year in the world of Viticulture and Winemaking as I enrolled for a four year degree in Avignon in 1989. 2019 is also my 25th year in the United States. I arrived on April 15th, 1994 for a one year internship in the Yakima Valley at Staton Hills.

Although I was initially surprised by the absence of good baguette, cheese or saucisson, I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest for its landscape diversity, the pristine wilderness, the friendliness and welcoming people and the potential to grow all kinds of crops, including world-class wines.

I met my wife-to-be, Marie-Eve Gilla, that month as well. Five years later, 20 years ago, we were married in France with many friends; among them were the Smalls of Woodward Canyon Winery and the Shiels of Dubrul Vineyard in attendance. Early this March, we had a very snowy birthday party for our daughter Suzanne, who turned 15. Her brother Olivier is soon to be 17 and is a year one designated driver. Another milestone in 2019 will be the 10th vintage of the Côté Nicault's Rhône style wine with the release of the 2015 vintage in April!

Whether you have a question, are planning a trip to Walla Walla or just want to say "Hi!", I would love to hear from you. I hope to see you all in the near future, a glass of wine in hand.

Santé! Gilles Nicault

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