Last week Friday and Saturday (August 9-10), LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards kicked off their 2013 harvest in Lodi by picking their 50-acre Jahant Rd. vineyard planted to Sauvignon Musqué – a clonal variant of Sauvignon Blanc that produces more flowery, less herbaceous white wines than other varieties of Sauvignon Blanc.
The LangeTwins Family Lodi Sauvignon Musqué has recently emerged as one of the region’s finest white wines: always scintillatingly crisp, fragrant and bone-dry, with a lemony lightness that makes you want to jump on a plane to Hawai`i and devour all the tropical fish you can (in lieu of that, of course, you can always enjoy Dungeness crab, lemon squeezed abalone or pan fried brook trout here on the West Coast – all perfectly delicious matches for this classic dry white).
To take advantage of the 50°-something summer night temperatures in the Delta, which ultimately maximize the final product’s freshness, the LangeTwins Family always picks their Sauvignon Musqué at night: starting at the stroke of midnight, knocking off by 7:00 in the morning. Says Aaron Lange, the family’s director of Viticulture Operations, “We use three Chisholm-Ryder Harvesters, which are 30+ years old each, and we re-build them every year.
“We still operate the first Chisholm-Ryder Harvester that LangeTwins purchased when my father Randy was the only operator, and Brad (Randy Lange’s twin/partner) hauled the loads to the wineries himself. We utilize 7-man crews: one machine driver, two gondola drivers, two walkers, and two leafpullers. We normally go with only one leaf puller, but Sauvignon Blanc is juicy and leaves sometimes cause problems for our fans, so we like to provide extra manpower to ensure very clean loads.”
In the tradition of the Langes – a family that has been farming in Lodi for over 140 years – the picking crew largely consists of full-time, year-round employees. Adds Mr. Lange, “Two of the machine drivers have 25+ years with us, and the other has more than 30 years. Only some of the leafpullers are seasonal labor, for harvest only.”
The vineyard itself, according to Lange, was “originally planted in 1982 to French Colombard on Freedom rootstock, and grafted to Sauvignon Blanc in 1999.” Grapes go into the 2,000 or so cases bottled each year under the LangeTwins Family label, and the rest are custom-crushed, fermented and bottled under other labels for a number of the family’s winery clients (still the bulk of LangeTwins Family Winery’s business).
Receiving last Friday’s Sauvignon Musqué grapes at the winery at the crack of dawn, LangeTwins Family winemaker David Akiyoshi took some time out to describe the vinification process. Explained Mr. Akiyoshi, “We usually pick the Musqué at least two different times to get a combination of flavor profiles, but I have to say, this year the first picking is about as perfect as it gets. Sugar is about 21°, 21.2° Brix, which is amazing.
“The reason 2013 is showing particularly well is because the sugar/fruit development has been tracking side by side all the way. In some years sugar development is ahead of flavor development, so we don’t quite get the ideal balance.” If, on the other hand, you are forced to wait for grapes to attain optimal flavor at higher sugar levels, you end up with wines that are higher in alcohol and lower in natural acidity – not ideal for a white wine like Sauvignon Musqué, which you always want to taste crisp, light, dry and refreshing (not flat and heavy). Adds Akiyoshi, “You never really want to have to wait for sugars to go past 22° before they are ready to be picked, because then the acids start to fall, the mouth-feel becomes fat, and the wine loses its brightness.”
The good news, according to Akiyoshi, is that “this year we saw good cane lignification just past veraison (that is, vines stopped their growth of canes and leaves, and began to focus on the ripening of fruit) – an early indication that the individual berries were getting a good head start on flavor development and seed lignification. While moderate size cluster weights hastened maturation, the fact that 2013 will go down as one of our earliest harvests also means that our acids are well in line – a real positive for Sauvignon Blanc.”
While watching the grapes going into 40-ton presses at the top level of LangeTwins Family’s gravity-flow crush pad, Akiyoshi spoke further about the winemaking process: “After the juice is pressed from the skins, the wine goes into a 30,000 gallon stainless steel tank under a blanket of dry ice, where we’ll let it settle and clarify for about 2 days. Then we’ll clear-rack the juice into the same size tank and inoculate with a yeast strain selected just for Sauvignon Blanc fermentation – a type of yeast cultured specifically to release the esters or aroma compounds that make the most attractive style of Sauvignon Blanc (that is, floral and melony fruit focused rather than weedy, “green” or vegetal). We’ll ferment at temperatures below 50° Fahrenheit for about three weeks, and then let the wine slowly start to warm up towards the end to finish fermentation.
“Following fermentation, we’ll do a single-racking into another tank, and everything will age another four, five or six months sur lie – that is, aging in the tanks on the lees (i.e. spent yeast cells). Akiyoshi also prefers to apply bâtonnage – the French method of stirring up the lees inside the tank – to the LangeTwins Musqué, which he says “adds creaminess to the wine’s palate-feel, and discernible length to the flavors along with very subtle, bread-crusty aromatics which compliment the varietal fruit character. To get this complexity, you can’t take short cuts – you have to follow through the entire process.”
By April or May of 2014 the LangeTwins Family Sauvignon Musqué (which sees absolutely no oak aging) will be ready for bottling – and consumption just in time for next summer’s fresh seafood repasts!
More photos from last Friday morning’s picking: