It’s been more than a decade since the Marquette grape made its debut on the commercial market with its promise as the great red hope of a full-bodied wine from the north country. When Lincoln Peak Vineyard‘s Chris Granstrom was growing some of the first baby Marquette vines in his nursery and thinking about making wine, the conventional wisdom was to treat Marquette with as much of the finest oak one could afford, after significant skin maceration, with a long sleep in the cellar.
While a number of awards have been won for wines manipulated in such a manner, there are those, myself included, who think that tastes are changing and some new thinking is required. Its become clear that wood can easily obscure the purity of fruit that’s available in Marquette and it in its case, less may be more, and maybe even none is best.
2016 was a bumper year for Marquette in Vermont and it seems that this surplus led to an idea sprung up sui generis among some like-minded local winemakers, although each with their own spin on the process.
They endeavored to make a nouveau-style wine by employing varying degrees of carbonic maceration. This is the approach most often associated with the young wines of Beaujolais which, by the holiday calendar, are hitting the market this week. It’s also a technique utilized in “natural” wine circles as a way to capture the bright youth of ferment. It does this through a metabolic process by which, in the absence of oxygen and the presence of carbon dioxide, grapes convert a portion of their sugar into alcohol as well as capture some specific chemistry that we experience as aromas and tastes.
In some instances this process can yield overt flavors of banana and bubblegum, but it’s not something that seems to appear in Marquette save for when it’s coming right out of the initial tank to press. The production wines made in 2016 by Lincoln Peak and la garagaista and a test run at Shelburne Vineyard showed so much promise that the wines are becoming part of the regular or semi-regular program.
As far as I can tell, Vermont seems to be the groundbreaker in experimenting with Marquette and this process on a production level, in the cold-climate wine category.
I’d never purchased a whole case of a single “Wine of Vermont” until I tasted the 2016 nouveau that Chris Granstrom made at Lincoln Peak. It was juicy, smooth, savory, bursting with back cherry, plum skin-tasting tannins and spice. A mind-bending melange with reference points in grenache, gamay and zweigelt.
The 2017 version is leaner, given the cooler, wetter season, but still of the same stripes. I’ve had one open for a couple of days now, and it has been a reminder that these wines are also showing real aging potential. Chris was not quite as happy with the 2017, having left it in the co2 tank a couple of extra days. I told him I was still impressed, and after having hit a home run the first year, not to be disappointed about hitting just a double the second. Part way through harvest, I happened to stop by the day they were transferring the 2018 from tank to press and it was already tasting generous and in the same ballpark.
I’ve personally been playing with partial carbonic for a number of years in my own winemaking with good results, using already fermenting juice in the bottom of a sealed vessel, as a CO2 generator. A talk that a Michael Marler gave at Les Pervenches in Quebec during a TasteCamp expedition, stuck with me. It was about using carbonic and gentle, short maceration to both showcase the fruit aspects of cold climate red grapes and to mitigate the incorporation of any potential vegetal aspects.
While delving into the chemistry a bit more, surfacing Jamie Goode’s article and a section in his book “The Science of Wine,” one particular nugget of information stood out. Carbonic maceration also has the potential to convert malic acid into pyruvate, then into acetaldehyde and then into ethanol. Which means that cold-climate grapes, with their higher ratio of malic to tartaric acid content and their low pH, could benefit from this transition, both in degrading the malic through the process and creating a more favorable pH environment for more complete malo-lactic fermentation. It would also mean more alcohol than initial brix readings would project. I spoke with Shelburne Vineyard’s Ethan Joseph about his process with Marquette, and as we were talking he pulled up the chem assays and reported a noticeable drop in TA and rise in pH after coming out of the carbonic tank.
Since reading Patrick McGovern’s books on the ancient history of wine, I’ve had the notion that partial carbonic maceration is probably one of the original forms of wine’s manifestation. Grapes, when collected and put into a sealed vessel, whether clay pot, animal skin or stainless steel tank would assuredly go through a similar process. Berries would leak juice, that would spontaneously ferment in the bottom of the vessel, creating a carbondioxide blanket that would fill the space, driving out oxygen. Intact berries higher up in the column would begin the enzymatic process by which sugars and malic acid would become alcohol. Four days later, and many thousands of years ago, someone opens that vessel and are blessed by the kiss of bacchus.
Joseph did a test batch in 2016, and the first planned production run was lost in a bladder press failure in 2017. There’s a 2018 batch in the pipeline now, that had an extended period in the anaerobic chamber, and it’s still settling as it finishes a spontaneous malolactic fermentation. La garagista did a whole cluster, old style partial carbonic, with a sealed tank and trodden by foot before press in 2016 that was not intended to be a nouveau but was released immediately because it was so delicious. It disappeared fast. The 2018 is working now and will be out when it says that it is ready.
Lincoln Peak has kept the pace, and this will be their third vintage of a nouveau and the release event is scheduled for this weekend. I’m mired in house renovations and not sure I’ll make it over the mountain to the party, but I’m sure going to call in and reserve an order to pick up on the way to the family Thanksgiving feast. I want to bring some to share, because it was well received the last two years. Come to think about it, maybe I should get two cases.