Up here at the Monte Bello Estate, we very recently hosted a wonderful group; a Japanese film crew. As it turns out, they happened to arrive on a day when the production team was pressing some Pagani Ranch zinfandel, and it proved to be an excellent opportunity to see a press happen live and in real-time.
Pressing is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; grapes are put in a container of sorts, and they’re pressed, in order to squeeze juice out.
Most of the juice that goes into Ridge wines is what you’ll see commonly referred to as “free run”; meaning, no pressing (or “extraction”) is required to obtain it. The juice essentially just makes its way out of the grapes of its own volition over the course of the fermentation process (In one of the video clips below, you’ll hear winemaker Eric Baugher –over the noise of the press! — explaining that about 75% of the available juice from the vineyard emerges as free run, while the remaining quarter continues to reside in the skins; thus, the press).
Free run juice is traditionally considered to be of a most pure, most elegant, most subtle character. That said, to make wines of the ageable and complex sort that Ridge Vineyards always strives to present, structure is very much required. And given that much of what we consider to be the vital structural components of any given wine are to be found in the skins (color and tannin, for example), a bit of extraction can potentially be very helpful in crafting a final assemblage.
For example, let’s say the free run juice of a particular vineyard parcel proves to be delicious, fruit-forward, elegant, beguiling, but just a tad light on the palate. A bit of pressed juice from the same parcel can be introduced to the “blend,” bringing a bit more intensity, and a tad more muscularity as regards tannin architecture. No tricks; it’s still the same vineyard, the same juice, the same personality, but with a modulated handling, different flavors can be obtained.
To complicate matters, we don’t just press. We do “press fractions.” Meaning, we press the same juice at different levels of intensity (i.e. pressure) and capture the results in separate tanks, so that they can be taste-tested in different assemblages with the core free run juice. Again, no tricks, just different handlings. What you’ll taste in the end is still essentially not much more than pure juice, but depending on whether press juice was added (and what “fraction” thereof it was), and in what amount(s), you’ll experience more or less of certain characteristics. To my mind, it’s a beautiful and singular way to work with what Mother Nature delivers, in such a fashion as to honor her, without changing her.
So, back to our primary story: Japanese Film Crew, Pagani Ranch Grapes, and a press.
Here are a few excerpts of me filming the filming. I hope you enjoy!