"Growing up I never knew what I wanted to do, coming from San Diego, I didn’t have any agriculture background,” Alt said. “I got into Cal Poly, and of course you have to declare your major, so I was willing to roll the dice and figured wine would be a fun avenue to explore. Wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it, grow it, or sell it, but I chose the winemaking side and fell in love".
“What I wanted to do in college is intern in as many places as possible, be it a lab, vineyard, winemaking facility,” Alt recalls. “I wanted to be as well-rounded as possible. My goal was always to be able to run a facility all by myself, to be able to do everything. One of my favorite opportunities was interning in Germany with a biodynamic vineyard and a winemaker who won winemaker of the year a couple of years ago.
Among the many wines Alt has had the pleasure of producing during his career, one of his most exciting releases thus far was the 2017 Four Chords Bordeaux Blend from Parrish Family Vineyards. This complex and intense blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot garnered a 95-point rating from Wine Enthusiast and is a club member favorite!
“I saw an opening in our program at Parrish, we had the Estate Cab, our Reserve Cab and the Silken, but I knew the other varietals we grew and were making wines with would complement each other in a blend,” Alt says. “In the Four Chords, we were very purposeful with the development. Petit Verdot gets the mid palette, Malbec will get that fleshiness which evens it out, the Cab is the main structural component that makes it angular. I thought people would be interested in this blend, and it is very different from anything else we make. That wine was also a real test of my blending skills.”
Alt has had the privilege of working with some of the best names in Paso Robles wines, among them David Parrish. “I met David at a Taco Tuesday event years ago and he offered me a position here with Parrish Family Vineyard, and at the time I turned him down since the offer was close to harvest and I was working with another winery,” Alt recalls. “But eventually I came to my senses and found a way to join the team. David is a great mentor, he’s taught me a lot and given me every opportunity to succeed.”
“Hopefully my love and care for these wines show through,” he says. “That’s kind of your goal as a winemaker, that your passion can show through in that glass and make people happy.”
We have been growing our Sauvignon Blanc at the Adelaida vineyard since 2013, while we had been using the fruit to produce our Estate Sauvignon Blanc since 2016, the winemaking team was compelled to try something new. They wanted to do a sauterne-style wine as it would be a nice addition to our lineup as we didn't have a sweet wine.
What is a sauterne? Sauternes are from the Bordeaux region of France and they feature not only Sauvignon Blanc, but also Sémillon and Muscadelle. They tend to be heavier in body, sweet, and have notes of stone fruit, tropical fruit, florals, toasted sugar, coconut, and baking spices. It all depends on the fruit and barrel program, as you do age this style in barrels to add the wonderful body and secondary flavors.
Back in 2019 we took the leap and held back some Sauvignon Blanc clusters from the main harvest in September and allowed the grapes to stay on the vine to develop more sugar. In November 2019, we harvested the remaining Sauvignon Blanc and they were raisined with colors of gold and pink-purple. Hence the term, Late Harvest because it was last to be harvested and allowed to develop more sugar, or higher brix (measurement of sugar). We normally pick at 21 brix for the Sauvignon Blanc, but for this wine, we picked at about 35 brix.
Below is a video we recorded in the middle of the processing the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc with Cellar Master Ethan and Assistant Winemaker Cody sharing about this new wine:
*I'm sorry about the background buzz from the winery!
One thing you may notice from the video is the vibrant color. It looks like orange juice! That color fades away during fermentation. After talking with Assistant Winemaker Cody, I learned more about why young wines have a cloudy color that is nowhere near what the finished product will look like. This is known as browning and it's a normal thing that happens during pressing wine. The oxygen dissolves causing the color. It also has some lees and sediment that are stirred up making it not as clear. The CO2 that occurs in fermentation helps lift the oxygen and at that point begins to change the color to be more clarified and golden rather than yellow-orange.
During fermentation, the winemaking team used a weaker yeast so the process would stop at 15-16% alcohol and allow there to be residual sugar in the wine.
What is residual sugar? This is what makes wine sweet. Dry wines have no residual sugar because they have had all the sugar eaten up by yeast during fermentation. Sometimes wine tasters think that sweetness in a dry wine is sugar, but that is most likely the fruit notes of the palate. So, if you like wines that are "sweet" in a dry wine then you would want to look for wines that fruit-forward, less tannic, and have spent time in stainless steel or little time in the barrel.
After processing, the wine then journeyed to oak. The Late Harvest aged in 35% new French oak and 65% neutral oak for about 16 months. This gave the wine more body than our traditional Sauvignon Blanc. Typically, the winemaking team ages Sauvignon Blanc in stainless steel to keep it light and crisp, whereas the Late Harvest is aged to be heavier bodied with more creaminess and caramelization.
The day we bottled the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, I got to taste it and it was delicious. The notes I got were apricot, lemon and grapefruit jelly candies (think of those Sunkist ones), cream soda, toffee, and then a beautiful brush of acidity. I love the acidity in this wine as it helps balance the body to keep it from becoming cloyingly sweet.
For the winemaking team, it is such a rewarding day to take the wines that have been worked on for a couple of months or years and finish them. They get to see the once grapes transformed to wine and then placed in the bottle. It is also rewarding for the team to do something new and have it turn out to be wonderful. No longer a thought, but a reality.
As far as packaging, it is different from our other bottles as the label is with gold accents and the bottle is smaller, 375ml (rather than 750ml). Our whole team voted on the bottle shape for a few days in bottle planning. It was very sophisticated as we lined up 2 options on the counter and then did a tally on post-it notes. It became a bit of a competition, jokingly, as one bottle was being picked by a landslide and the other was lonely with 1 tally mark. But that team member began convincing other team members to bring them to her side. Haha. Alas, the popular bottle was chosen. It was a good attempt! In summation, it was a team effort in picking the packaging.
So, importantly, how should you serve this? Chilled. I would recommend a smaller glass so you can easily access the nose. This will age well. I have yet to try it after being open a couple of days, but feel this would last longer open than a stainless steel, crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Regardless, this wine will age in the bottle for some time.
And then what do you pair it with? You can do dessert with this wine. I would say tarts would be lovely with it like a lemon, coconut, or almond. Cheesecake would be simple and decadent with the Late Harvest. For the release weekend, Estate Chef Samantha paired it with aphrodisiac macarons; fig & pistachio, strawberry balsamic, and raspberry chocolate (awesome!). The fig & pistachio macaron was my favorite with this wine, so taking inspiration to home, try thyme mascarpone figs with roasted pistachio and honey drizzle.
And then let's not forget cheese & charcuterie as this would be beautiful with a board for starters or dessert, I mean why not! Here are some thoughts; baked brie, Fromarer D'affinois Blue Cheese, St. Agur Blue Cheese, Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, Asiago Rosemary, Idiazabal, Manchego, Honey Bee Goat Cheese, Oakdale Lemon Quark, Foie Gras, Duck Prosciutto, Alle Pia Calabrese Salami, and Smoking Goose Spruce & Candy Salame. Add some fun accouterments like quince paste, bacon jam (Olivas de Oro does one), Marcona almonds, dried nectarines, dried cherries, homemade candied pecans, pumpkin seeds, shortbread biscuits, sourdough, or brioche toast...you'll be set!
I hope you enjoyed learning more about this new wine. Cheers, and if you're a club member, you can pick up this wine here!