In most years, the first grapes harvested in Napa Valley from Yountville Vineyards go into creating delicious sparkling wines. At Hill Family Estate, some of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are picked early in the season to produce their high-quality, vibrant, and crisp Brut Rosé or other sparkling wines. Be sure to try some at your next wine tasting Yountville.
The grapes for Hill Family Estate’s sparkling wines are grown in one of their environment-friendly, dry-farmed vineyards. These vineyards rely strictly on Mother Nature for moisture rather than irrigation to develop the crop. As a result, wines from dry-farmed grapes tend to make wines with more complexity and lower sugar content with slightly lower alcohol levels.
Dry farming methods, according to Imbibe Magazine, have been used for centuries in Europe and now in other growing areas of California.
Sugar and Alcohol in Sparking Wines
To produce their sparkling wines, the Hill Family Estate winemakers begin with those initially harvested grapes that tend to contain less sugar than wine grapes picked later. The Brix level, a technical measurement that indicates sugar levels and ultimately the alcohol level of the wine, is typically 19º to 20º for these early grapes. The product that hangs on their vines longer will increase their sugar levels and may range up to 27º for late harvest Cabernet Sauvignons.
The target Brix levels for finished wines of the grapes vary by variety. For Rosé, for example, the target Brix may be 18º-23º. For Riesling, the target Brix may 20º-24º, and Merlots might be around 23º-25.5º.
Therefore, grapes picked first for sparkling wines generally have a higher acidity level (less sugar) and are intended to yield dry, crisp, and refreshing wines.
Hill Family Estate’s Sparkling Wine Production
After the earliest grapes are analyzed while still on the vines, the harvests at the vineyards start early in the morning while the air is cool to preserve the quality of the raw material. Once picked, the early Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are transported to the winery, where they are usually combined and fermented together.
However, now that the harvest has begun at Hill Family Estate Winery, the 2020 early crop of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are fermented separately since these are ripening at different rates.
Once the grapes arrive at the winery, they will be pressed as whole clusters and the juice transfers to tanks for cold fermentation.
Once the wine has fermented, the winemakers at Hill Family Estate employ their traditional sparkling wine process (or “methode champinoise” in French) to create their high-quality products.
The steps of the process are:
- After re-checking the chemistry of the fermented juice, some sugar and yeast are added to bring wine to target levels.
- The wine is then bottled and enclosed with crown caps, much like the ones that top beer bottles.
- In the bottle, the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation that creates CO2 carbonation within the bottle.
- The wine remains inside the bottles for 1 to 1.5 years.
- Once the fermentation in the bottle is complete, the bottles will undergo frequent “riddle” or turning to move all sediment into the neck of the bottle.
- When the sediment has been collected, the neck of the bottle undergoes a freezing process. The freezing causes the residue to disgorge from the bottle once the cap is removed.
- The wine may then be supplemented with additional sugar or wine to create the perfect degree of dryness.
- The bottle is then stoppered with the typical champagne cork, “caged” with the characteristic wiring, and the foil is added.
At this point, the sparkling wines will be ready for release and available for customers to enjoy.
Visit Hill Family Estate
Although reservations are required because of the current pandemic, Hill Family Estate invites guests to come to enjoy winetasting in their Yountville Tasting Room surrounded by the beautiful Yountville vineyards.
Hill Family Estate has adopted strict protocols to protect the health of all guests and staff members. You can even prearrange a tour of one of the surrounding Yountville vineyards to add a bit of additional winemaking information to your experience.