Winemaking practices are the lens through which a wine from a particular site will be seen. I want that lens to be as clean and in focus as possible. My approach to winemaking is, first and foremost, to encourage a great wine that is representative of the time and place from which it comes. There is a detailed explanation on my methods below, which constantly evolve, but in short, I use practices I feel neutrally and gently aid the grapes' transformation into a finished wine. I do the minimum that I feel necessary to encourage a stable, ageworthy, hopefully beautiful wine, that has that high degree of precision.
Metrick wines is in large part my arena for wine exploration, so as specific as what follows sounds, I am constantly toying with my methods as my understanding develops, constantly trying to improve.
Every single factor in a wine's production can have an influence on the final wine—every decision is important and deserves consideration. This is not to say that every aspect of winemaking requires “intervention”, but a decision not to do something may have more marked results than the decision to do something. Vineyard practices and harvest-timing decisions aside (which are the most important), these decisions include (a short list): destemming/whole cluster/partially de-stemming; which grapes to sort out prior to crushing/pressing (if any); leaving some intact clusters or grapes or crushing completely; adding SO2 at crush or not; if so, how much; size and shape of fermentation vessel; punch down or pump over and how often; temperature control or not; if so, what temperature?; pressing timing (dry, still fermenting?); pressing duration and pressure; encouraging or discouraging oxygen at the time of pressing; and so on. Again, this is a short list, and does not include sanitation decisions and practices, insect control, and many other factors in the winery, or the even more crucial practices and decisions in the vineyard, which have an even greater impact on what ends up in the bottle.
Here are a few of the choices I make, which I feel are the most important, and which result in my wines tasting the way they do:
In wanting that lens I mentioned to be as clear as possible, my primary goal is to avoid anything that would overshadow the character coming from the grapes themselves: meticulous cleanliness, aging in neutral vessels (neutral oak, stainless, concrete), and doing everything I can to encourage a clean fermentation. In 2019 I switched from neutral cultured yeasts to spontaneous fermentations. I believe that encouraging fermentation the from vineyard microbiota present on grapes can lead to the most authentic representation of a vineyard (that is, to the extent this is actually possible: most "native" microbiota die by 7% alcohol and nearly all spontaneous fermentations are taken over by winery resident Saccharomyces cerevisiae--it rare on grapes and in vineyards, and is what carries out and competes 99.9% of wine fermentations). However, spontaneous fermentations only lead to the most authentic representations if the fermentation is clean--the story the grape are trying to tell is just as overshadowed, or censored, by perceptible volatile acidity or ethyl acetate as it is by perceptible oak character. Taste-wise, I feel spontaneous fermentations lead to greater depth, but at the cost of some aromatic precision.
In the vineyard, I work with my growers to maintain leaf coverage. By protecting the grapes from the intense Southern California sun, more delicate and diverse aromatics are maintained: herbs and earth in reds, floral, citric and stone-y in whites, which would otherwise give way to more generic fruit character. In California, most vineyards routinely strip all leaves from the fruiting zone. Growers like this as it helps airflow and spray penetration to avoid disease, many winemakers favor it as it leads to the ripe, fruit forward flavors critics have lauded in recent decades, but this also overexposes grapes, leading to fruit dominated aromatics (which past a certain point of ripeness could be achieved anywhere on earth, thus ceasing to represent a site) and less vibrant acidity/freshness. I ask that only leaves from the canopy's interior and below the grapes are removed, to allow for some airflow--in California, despite our overapplicaton disease prevention strategies, viticulture is pretty easy relative many of the world's great wine regions.
For red wines, shade grown grapes may not have the ideal form of tannins and color for maximum longevity, but my primary concern is always aromatics and freshness, so I do what I can in the winery to build a solid structure that will last a very long time. In short, this means the early removal of lees to maximize how much color is available for polymerizing with tannins (lees adsorb and destroy color molecules early in a wine's life), and encouraging oxidative polymerization of these compounds. (More on this in an article I wrote here.)
At bottling, reds are unfined and unfiltered, whites see a very gentle bentonite fining (a clay, which is very gentle on wine character and not harmful to humans), and are only filtered if they did not go through malolactic fermentation (to avoid the risk of it happening in bottle).
This is a good overview of what I feel are the most important choices I make that lead to the character of my wines. Please don't hesitate to write with any questions.