The Essence of Essence

There is a lot of excitement about Essence wines around these parts lately, for reasons that will soon become clear …

And in that spirit, we convened another RIDGE In The Round Session this past weekend (the wrap-up will be in a follow-up), to have a look at an Essence. Not the Essence that was causing all the excitement, mind you; that’s something else. Which will soon become clear …

But in the meantime, back to our Essence. Or should I first ask, “Hands up for who knows what an Essence is?” Well, from my office deep below the Halls of Monte Bello, from which I can scurry, gopher-like, through a myriad of tunnels that allow me to pop up anytime, anywhere, on the Monte Bello property (running the risk, of course, of being whacked in the head with a rubber mallet!), I can’t see any raised hands, so perhaps I better offer some explanation first…

And who better to explain than Paul Draper himself, who has written the following:

What classifies a wine as an ESSENCE?

  • The wine was vinified from grapes that were intentionally left to hang on the vine for an extended period of time.  During this added length of time, the grapes concentrate the flavor and sugar by on-the-vine dehydration.  Typically the sugar, when picked, exceeds 35oBrix. (Although this is impossible to measure due to the soak out effect of the dehydrated berries.)
  • The fermentation typically stops naturally at an alcohol content between 10.5 – 13% v/v with substantial residual sugar remaining (generally 6-10+% w/v).  The combination of high alcohol and residual sugar content creates an intolerable living condition for saccharomyces cerevisiae (and most other microbes, including acetobacter) due to osmotic pressure within their cell walls. This allows the wine natural stability from future spoilage while aging. 
  • Generally this natural stability allows for bottling without filtration, and therefore occasionally one may find sediment in such bottlings.
  • The typical attributes for essences are: unctuous ripeness, jam, plum, raisin, candied fruit.  The palate tends to be amazingly thick, heavy, viscous-syrup, dense exotic fruit definition, and spicy.

Sugar is a natural preservative to allow for extended bottle aging.  An essence, 30 year old, will still have amazing depth of flavors, color, and richness.  The complexity increases as the essence takes on caramel- like flavors as the primary sugar combine into more complex polysaccharides.   

After perusing this document with the rest of our esteemed staff, I made my dramatic flourish, unfurled my cape in the brisk winds, and reveled in the collective gasp as its silken black-and-crimson folds fluttered beautifully above the offering that suddenly, magically appeared in my trembling yet sure hand; an Essence!

What Essence, you might ask? This Essence, says I:


From the back label, a wee bit more information:


2003 Zinfandel Essence, bottled January 2005


After a late start in spring, intense heat in early September ripened these grapes far beyond the norm. We first picked on September 20. Then—realizing we had a dessert wine on our hands—delayed the rest of the harvest for four days to gain even greater concentration. At these high sugars, the wine took four more days to show signs of natural-yeast fermentation. We pumped over daily for color and tannin extraction; by the eighth day, despite the remaining sugar, fermentation had come to a halt. We pressed, and just before racking to barrel, included the still-richer press wine. Ten months in air-dried american oak added spice to the intense black fruit. This is a delicious young wine, which will continue to develop over the next five to eight years. EB/PD (11/04)


Initial sugar at harvest 35.6% By Volume
Residual sugar in the wine 10.0% By Volume



And less than 300 cases of this wine made, can you believe it!

And on that note, I need to go write the RIDGE In The Round Wrap-Up (see next post, coming to a theater near you. Soon)!

Categories: Vineyards, Viticultural Salmagundi, Zinfandel

Tags: , ,

5 replies

  1. Christopher,
    Curious…how does Paul/et al decide which vnyd they’re going to use for their Essence?? I know that BeniDuusi won’t do it for them anymore.
    At one time, they made a PetiteSirah Essence. Will they ever do that again?
    For the record, there will be soon (I presume) a new Geyserville Essence ’07. It is absolute killer essence….maybe the best one yet.
    What I’d like to see…a MonteBello Cabernet Essence. Suggest that to Paul and watch him roll his eyes in consternation at the idea!!

    • Thanks for your comment Tom! Regarding vineyard selection, let me talk to Paul, and I’ll try and get back to you very soonish; as to the 07 Geyserville Essence, agreed. What a wine! And lastly, I look very forward to suggesting to Paul that he do an MB Essence!


    • Tom,

      There’s been at least one MB Essence, although it is labeled California Cabernet Sauvignon and I think it was an accident. According to the label, it’s 100% Monte Bello from 1979, and it was released in 2002 or 2003.


  2. I’m usually not one to question Mr Draper, but I wonder if this statement is always true – “The wine was vinified from grapes that were intentionally left to hang on the vine …” ? I’m thinking of the ’79 Cabernet Sauvignon Essence that was released a few years ago. Was this intentional ? I understood the grapes, intended for the ’79 Monte Bello, over-ripened by mistake.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: