I’m back on South African soil and amped to tell you the rest of the story of how I ended up in the Dolomite mountains of Italy. By now you’ve probably guessed that I was there to visit my coopers.
In Episode 1 – 2 weeks ago (click here if you missed it), I invited you to order a mixed case of 3 vintages of Confessions of a White Glove Chaser. This gives you the opportunity to taste the 3 wines, all with varying percentages of this specific oak exposure, next to each other. If you still want to join in, we do have a few more cases available, so you’re welcome to email Aneen@blankbottle.co.za to order. For my suggested step-by-step approach to tasting these wines, see below.
But first, Chapter 2 of the story…
Spending 5 days in the Dolomites tasting (so many) wines and comparing fermentation vessels is an experience I can best describe by sharing the picture below:
It turns out that buying trees is very much like buying grapes – it’s all about terroir. I was presented with a cross section of a tree that was cut down in 2021. That specific tree was planted in 1818. Jip, 204 years ago! WWHHAAT!!? my brain shouts. This means that when the Eiffel Tower was constructed in Paris this tree was a young adult. World War I and World War II bomb fragments stuck in these trees is a real issue when they cut these trees into staves.
This family-run cooperage is driven by generations of experience. The process is fascinating to put it mildly. They hand-pick the best trees from the best forests. Once the tree is cut down the leaves and branches stay intact for as long as possible. They kind of suck the sap from the tree to remove as much moisture as possible.
The wood is then transported as huge trunks to a site 1400 meters above sea-level. The cooperage down in the town at 260 meters above sea-level goes on skeleton staff as the team heads up the mountain for a couple of weeks. Then begins the careful measurement and cutting – there’s absolutely no margin for error. You are working with a 200 year plus tree.
These staves are stacked in heaps like you would stack a fire (see photo below). They then stay outside, exposed to the extreme mountain elements for 4 – 6 years. The rain/sun/snow comes and goes and the wood gradually becomes dryer and dryer. Not too long but not too short – depending very much on the characteristics of each individual tree. You need to get rid of all green flavoured sap but still need flexibility.
Once a year these coopers pack their bags to come to South Africa. They view themselves as kind of partners in the wine. For them to do their job best they need to know as much as possible about my wines. We taste and taste… the topic – they blend a barrel to best suit your style of wine. It goes something like this (seriously, no kidding): A few planks from a German tree with low tannin levels dried for 3 years, some planks from a 4-year aged French oak tree and the barrel heads from 6-year old mountain-aged heavy tannic wood.
The goal – to create a barrel where the wood will not overpower the wine but rather become part of the foundation of the wine. To best showcase the vineyard, not their barrels. Underlying spice rather than dry tannins.
It was harvest 2020 when my first Dolomite casks arrived in the Cape and, on top of a full load of grapes, I transported the first 2 barriques to the BLANKBOTTLE mothership. The result: for you to decide.
So if you have received a case that contains 2019, 2020 and 2021 Confessions of a White Glove Chaser, this is how I suggest you approach it: open a bottle of each Monday evening and each night drink one glass of each. The wine should keep you going until the weekend but to play it safe, make sure that by day 4 you’ve drunk them all. They will be on their peak by day 3-4.
And now over to you. Open those wines.
Confessions of a White Glove Chaser 2019 – No new oak.
Confessions of a White Glove Chaser 2020 – 20% new oak.
Confessions of a White Glove Chaser 2021 – 34% new oak.
Awaiting you feedback (this time of year I don’t have plenty time to respond but I can assure you I will read all your feedback).