Affectionately nicknamed “malo”, this second fermentation is a natural phenomenon, and pretty much standard for most red wines. In barrels or tanks, it is the transformation of the grapes’ malic acid into lactic acid that gives a rounder, fuller mouthfeel. Interestingly we find that as it decreases the perception of acidity in the wine, it increases its mineral expression.
Harvesting a little earlier gives us all the required acidity for complex and balanced white wines.
Frequently used for white wines in northern vineyards, it is much less common in our climate where total acidity of our grapes is often much lower. However since converting to organic farming in 2008, we’ve seen a notable improvement in the acidity of our grapes at harvest time. Moreover, choosing to harvest our white grapes earlier, we get a better relationship between sugars and acids. At this point, malolactic fermentation becomes possible while keeping the fresh style and tension in our wines.
After several trails in recent years, we realized that the best balance for us was a blend of wines that have completed their malo with wines that had not. Each year we vary the blend in function with the personality of its vintage in order to achieve a subtle balance between “primary” aromas of crisp fruit and “secondary” aromas of freshly baked bread and hazelnut. The resulting wine is complex, with a mineral depth and an amazing brilliance.
It’s been three years now that we’ve been enjoying the benefits of malo on our Viognier. Already widely practiced in Condrieu, where it produces legendary Viognier wines, it was an obvious candidate to start doing trials. Depending on the terroir, the impact of this second fermentation can vary widely. For example, our vineyards in the southern part of Costières de Nîmes, which are naturally cooler, allow us to achieve the balance that I seek. Our 2014 trials on some barrel-fermented Roussanne and Grenache Blanc also look very promising. For example, the vibrant acidity of Grenache Blanc perfectly counterbalances the richer texture that comes from malolactic fermentation.
I’m very excited about this new color that’s been added to my winemaker’s palette. Used sparingly, it can be an integral part of the singular harmony I try to achieve with each varietal of each wine we craft at each vintage. For me, interpreting the terroir is finding the practices that respond to its uniqueness, whether in the vineyards or in the winery. This ever-increasing range of decisions, if done right, can have a beautiful impact on our terroir’s expression.