Growing & Winemaking


Winemaker Interview: Adam LaZarre

July 2011
by Laurie Daniel
Winemaker Adam LaZarre fell in love with wine while he was serving in the U.S. Navy on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula in the late 1980s. So much so that when he returned to civilian life, he enrolled in the enology program at California State University-Fresno. He graduated in the mid-1990s and worked at Jekel Vineyards and Constellation Wines in Monterey County and at a custom-crush facility in Lodi.

Where LaZarre really gained recognition was during his eight-year tenure at Hahn Estates in Monterey County. He had been recruited by consulting winemaker Barry Gnekow, and it was Gnekow who introduced him to a lot of winemaking technology. “He always encouraged us to try new things,” LaZarre says. About three years ago LaZarre, who was living in Paso Robles, Calif., left Hahn for a job closer to home and became winemaker for Villa San-Juliette in San Miguel. He’s also the consulting winemaker for Hearst Ranch Winery and has his own label, LaZarre Wines, where he makes Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

Wines & Vines: You’ve been using Flash Détente for your Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon at Villa San-Juliette. Why did you decide to use it, and what have the results been?

Adam LaZarre: It made sense to me for a few reasons: First, our vineyard is in a neighborhood (San Miguel, on the east side of the Paso Robles AVA) that requires a considerable amount of leaf shading to protect against sunburn. I don’t have the luxury of repeated cool seasons to allow for the amount of hang time required to consistently beat the pyrazines out with ultraviolet rays. As I’m sure your readers already know from your previous articles on the equipment, Flash Détente removes virtually all traces of the compound through the process. And in a particularly cool year like 2010, when extreme levels of pyrazines were present at harvest, this process would’ve been particularly valuable, especially from the reports I’m hearing from my friends up on the North Coast.

Which leads me to another benefit: With Flash Détente, I can comfortably pick the grapes at lower sugars so that I can avoid the costly process of de-alcing down the road, if necessary. Flash only costs us somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 per gallon, on top of standard crushing fees. I’m still of the old-school belief that lower alcohols with concentration still produce better-flavored and better-structured wines. Of course, in the world I live in, anything below 15% is considered lower alcohol. We do everything possible to reach balance through viticultural processes, but having this process available to us allows for consistency on a year-to-year basis, which is pretty important if you are trying to achieve the miracle of brand loyalty.

I did speak recently to a winemaker from a large, very successful winery in Lodi who suggested (and I agree) that this process can revolutionize winemaking in regions like the Central Valley, Paso Robles and other regions with hot days and large diurnal swings. We utilize Monterey Wine Co.’s equipment up in King City, but I understand there is a machine up in the Lodi area, too. I’ve heard they cost around $1 million. I’m hoping the laws of physics can be violated just enough so that they can produce a tabletop model.

Tannins for color, aroma and bottle shock

Because seeds are separated from the must during Flash Détente, and seed tannins help stabilize color compounds, winemaker Adam LaZarre adds VR Supra tannins during fermentation of his Villa San-Juliette Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. LaZarre says the product, made by Laffort, adds structure to the midpalate and helps fix color because of its anti-oxidative properties. “Sometimes color can be a challenge, and anything I can do to fix my pigments early is a blessing,” he says.

LaZarre also uses a variety of tannins throughout the aging and bottling process. He says that Tannin Plus, a Laffort product extracted from oak, “noticeably lifts the aromatics.” He uses Ellagitan Rouge, an AEB product similar to VR Supra, for color stability, and Taniquerc, an oak-derived AEB product, “is great for lifting the back end and adding a pretty oak note on the nose.”

LaZarre adds that he often doesn’t have the luxury of extended bottle aging before the release of his wines. “Running out of product can mean the kiss of death” in by the glass programs, he says. “There are times, more frequently than I would prefer, where I have to bottle, then immediately ship out to my distributors. Any combination of products like those I mentioned as well as some new ones I am experimenting with can help boost those characteristics in a wine that normally shut down during bottle shock and can help make the wine consumer-ready in very short order. I will generally skip much of the tannin-finishing protocol on those rare occasions when I can barrel a wine for 18-24 months, then lay the bottle down for another six before release.”
W&V: The flash process also creates steam that goes into a condenser. (That steam contains the pyrazine compounds.) I assume you’re discarding the condensate because of the pyrazines, but are you replacing it with water?

LaZarre: We leave out about 4% to 5%, based on the concentration of flavors in the grape. I figure we are going to bleed off a percentage anyway, so why not do it at the point of process?

W&V: You’re using Pulsair on a number of your wines. Why, and what have the results been?

LaZarre: For those unfamiliar, the process is quite simple. Several vents are welded into the bottom of your tanks at various even intervals. Through the use of either a manual or automated controller, oxygen is introduced in short blasts in sequence through each of the vents. The oxygen starts to lift the cap, and after several rounds, the cap rolls over with a fairly loud and violent blast. I can get a complete pump over or punch down in one quick shot. And we all know now the be nefits of introducing oxygen into red fermentations. The great thing for me is that I can roll the tanks as often as needed without the handicap of having to drag hoses, a pump and a pump-over device from one tank to the next throughout the day. I can roll the tanks three times a day—or 15, if I felt it were necessary and wanted a tank full of mush. And, it alleviates the need for one or two extra bodies during harvest.

I have tried Pulsair and pump overs side by side on several occasions through the years and believe that I get a slightly better extraction through the Pulsair process. It certainly isn’t any worse. My colors seem to be fixed a little earlier, and my tannins seem to polymerize a bit earlier, too. That could be just wishful thinking, as I am always trying to justify everything I do, but I truly love the ability to control the amount of maceration my reds get with just the push of a button.

Pulsair adds the benefit of introducing ample supplies of oxygen to the fermenting must, which really helps the yeast. I’ve found that I need to use less nutrients and have seen fewer sticky fermentations than without. It’s also a pretty painless method for mixing tanks, too.

W&V: What sorts of technology are you incorporating into the new winery being built at Villa San-Juliette?

LaZarre: We are currently finishing the new crushing facility at Villa San-Juliette Winery, and I’ve tried to automate as much as possible—as I am, for all intents and purposes, a 35,000-case, one-person show. I have Pulsair going in to support red fermentations. My tanks are designed with a slightly more drastic slope to allow for easier must removal. That also allows for better safety, as no one has a need to climb into a tank. I will have micro-ox plumbed in, as I have been using it for 10 years now and really believe in its ability to help achieve more consistent wines. I will be installing TankNet and the associated software and sensors so that I can get mobile phone alerts off-site if something goes awry.

I did see some truly jaw-dropping technology at a few fully automated wineries in Toro, Spain, last year and thought about how I could integrate it into my winery. Some fascinating things that I saw were continuous contact cold-stabilization units. If they are commonplace in the United States, I haven’t noticed them before. But they allow you to fully stabilize a wine in an hour and a half by rapidly chilling the wine down and pumping into an agitator tank loaded with a high concentration of crystals. Bitartrate continuously drops out of the wine, which is pulled off the top of the tank, filtered and ready to go. I also saw a number of beautiful brushed-steel inverted-cone fermentation tanks, something I’ve never seen over here.

Complete automation would be nice, but harvest is still my favorite time of the year, and if I don’t go home covered in skins and fermenting must, I haven’t had a fulfilling day.

A resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Laurie Daniel has been a journalist for more than 25 years. She has been writing about wine for publications for nearly 15 years and has been a Wines & Vines contributor since 2006.

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