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From Vine to Wine

Fine Cooking Issue 40
Photos: Amy Albert
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Like other types of farming, winemaking is a job where nature is boss. “Seventy-five percent of it is the grapes and the gift of a great site,” says Ric Forman. “Then it’s up to the winemaker not to blow it.” Forman began his career more than thirty years ago, running a large vineyard that produced 75,000 cases a year. But early on, a trip to France turned him on to artisan techniques, and the introduction was a revelation. Eventually he pared down and went out on his own, now making just 4,500 cases a year at Forman Vineyard, his tiny estate winery in the Napa Valley.

Of being small-scale, Forman says, “You can observe and adjust—you can feel, smell, and taste what’s happening, so nothing gets ahead of you.” He adds, “Some people might get weird working alone, I guess. But this way, I know it gets done right.”

A vintner judges ripeness by tasting the grapes, chewing the skins and spitting (spit from red grapes should be dark), examining the pulp (it should be translucent), and checking the seeds (they should be brown).
Sugar level, called brix, is measured by looking at a few drops of juice through a refractometer. A brix of 23° to 25° (depending on how the grapes look and taste) means it’s time to pick the fruit.
Forman transfers Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from fermentation tank to crusher. After crushing, the juice returns to the fermenter for two weeks before being moved to oak barrels.
After crushing, fermenting, and transferring to oak barrels, Forman clarifies his red wine with a traditional egg-white fining. Beaten whites are stirred into each barrel. Particles cling to the whites, which settle to the bottom of the barrel, softening the wine’s tannins and sweeping it clear. Months later, Forman pours a brilliant, unclouded wine off the sunken lees and lets it continue aging. While bigger wineries fine with elaborate equipment, ferrying the wine between barrels and tanks, Forman prefers to fine by hand in the barrel so “the wine is less meddled with, ” resulting in richer flavors.


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