by Michael Havens
Cave Dog Red: There is no other, and this is it. From a unique site and my dedication to wines of balance and grace comes this most individual red wine.
Great wine demands thoughtful decisions at every stage of the process, from planning a vineyard through bottling. All this is the result of attentive care, not just passively working a vineyard site, and certainly not leaving nature to its own devices in the cellar. Unlike trendy neo-primitivists, I believe it’s just common sense to heed 3,000 years of hard-earned winemaking lessons.
Indigenous yeasts? Sure. Responsible farming practices? Absolutely. But humans make wine; nature makes vinegar. So I spend lots of time contemplating the details, considering the conditions of the vintage, looking at best practices, and drawing upon decades of cellar experience to create wines with nuance, grace, fine texture, balanced structure, charming aromatics, and perfectly ripe —read: not overly ripe. Think Cheval Blanc, old-school Château Pavie, and Louis Martini’s best Special Selection bottlings: suave, deep and complex. Need I say more?
I do? OK, here goes:
Harvesting is done with precision in the vineyard, with crews sorting out any unwanted elements. In the winery the clusters are 100% de-stemmed and lightly crushed. At this point, I typically add a small dose of sulfur to the grapes to control any undesirable microbial activity. It’s a technique that’s been used for millennia.
After crush, fermentation begins without inoculation. (Some may erroneously call these “natural yeasts,” but the proper term is “non-inoculated.” We can all agree to call them “indigenous,” since they do populate the winery.) I ferment in open-topped tanks, and to preserve the wonderful aromatics I get from these vineyards, pump over the cap as gently as possible, typically twice a day. I taste each lot daily to evaluate extraction.
Once primary fermentation is complete, I drain the free-run juice and press the pomace gently, making sure to keep the press wine separate to evaluate its quality. Like primary, malolactic fermentation starts without inoculation. After being pressed gently, the wine settles for up to two days in small tanks, is then racked it into barrels, about one third of which are new. I select barrels for their subtle contribution of tannin, seeking a medium to medium-plus toast from some of my favorite French coopers: Boutes, Atelier, Orion. I then allow the wine to age for 16 to 20 months in barrel and bottle it unfined and unfiltered.
The goal is a wine of subtlety and elegant balance, reflecting the complexity of the site from which it comes. These wines will grow and develop with aging, not just surviving but evolving.