California's Next Super-Consultant
CONTINUING our interview
with Mark Aubert, winemaker
for Peter Michael and Colgin
(Click here to return to previous page)
APJ: Where does the fruit for the Cuvee Indigene come from?
MA: Part of it comes from Block 48 and part from Block 22 -- another famous part of the
Gauer Ranch. Some of the 22 goes into Mon Plaisir as well.
Part 7: The new vineyards at Peter Michael
APJ: Now lets talk about the Peter Michael Belle Cote Chardonnay. I was
really impressed when I opened a bottle of the 1997 Belle Cote a couple of weeks ago. This
is a relatively new label, isn't it?
TWIN TERRORS, 1997 Belle Cote Chardonnay and 1996 Les
Pavots proprietary red wine from Peter Michael.
MA: Its a really hedonistic wine, isnt it? Its a whole new project.
New estate vineyard. When I got to Peter Michael in 1990, one of the jobs that was staring
me in the face was to get this vineyard established.
They found a beautiful 15-acre section of the estate.
Its on Peter Michaels land in Knights Valley.
APJ: Is that the one thats really high up? I remember visiting a high, cold
vineyard in March of 1995.
MA: That would be the one. Its about 1500 feet up. We recently planted one
thats even higher, but the Belle Cote was the highest.
APJ: What clones are planted in Belle Cote?
MA: Three different clones. I selected them based on some of my favorite wines at the
I was really in love with the Sees clone which was planted on
the Torres estate. I had a good friend at Torres in the late 80s with whom I used to
taste often. Thats an old Wente clone. Not heat-treated. Lots of tropical, dried
apricot, lemon zest, all kinds of interesting nuances. Bubble-gummy.
The next clone I chose was an old Wente from Gauer Ranch Upper
Then the third is the Musqué clone. Matanzas Creek made this
clone famous with their Chardonnay. Its very perfumed. Sometimes it even reminds you
of a Gewurztraminer or Riesling. Full of terpenes. Very fragrant.
So with all three clones, Belle Cote has something for
everyone. Something for your sense of smell, something to taste...everything you could
I think the 97 is the best yet -- but the 98 may
be better still. More natural acidity than weve ever seen before from that
particular vineyard. The 97 will be very nice wine to drink 2-3 years out, but the
98 may give 5 years of wonderful drinking.
APJ: Any other new vineyards we should know about?
Theres a new vineyard just below Belle Cote. It's called
La Carriere and it's planted to Dijon clones and some old Wentes. Now this is a really
La Carriere means "the quarry" and the vineyard does
look like an old stone quarry. It was planted in 1994, but now it's starting to hit
stride. It looks very good.
APJ: When will La Carriere come online?
MA: The first vintage was 1997. It was a small bottling. It only produced 1 ton an
acre. In 1998 we produced about double that. It's a young vineyard
Part 8: The story behind Les Pavots
APJ: Now lets talk about the Peter Michael reds. Up until recently they were
most famous for their Chardonnays. Were reds always part of the picture?
MA: When Helen Turley got to Peter Michael in 1986, she helped to evolve a Cabernet
vineyard -- one that was later all torn out because of phylloxera. Then, starting in 1989,
she planted a new vineyard, which is now Les Pavots. Its 24 acres of some
very sought-after clones of Cabernet.
She met David Abreu. And David gave her some great cuttings of
Cabernet, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Youve heard of Abreu Madrona Ranch? Well, some
of the cuttings for Les Pavots came from Madrona.
David was also able to get us cuttings from Bella Oaks
vineyard -- which is a daughter of Marthas Vineyard, and of course the cuttings for
Marthas came from Margaux.
So the clones in Les Pavots have a great pedigree.
Its also an extremely rocky site. The soil is a
composition called Ryolitic Tuff, which is a volcanic ash with lots of rock. It runs at
about 50% to 70% naturally occurring stones. Which gives the wine a wonderful minerality.
The vineyard was planted in 1989. I think the pivotal vintage
for Les Pavots was 1994. Lovely, low tannin, huge aroma. And the vineyard then was five
years old. The French feel a vineyard must be 15-20 years old before it can make really
Subsequent vintages -- 96, 97, 98 -- show
APJ: Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. Because I liked the 94 a lot but I
also felt the 1996 was even better. And given the general vintage, thats
counter-intuitive. Whats been happening?
MA: 96 is a sweeter vintage. Theres a little more fat and richness in the
mouth, because the vintage was a little cooler.
But the 97 is my finest effort from that vineyard.
Its the best. We really hit the mark with the blend -- the cepage is 70% Cab, 15%
Merlot, 15% Cab Franc. Its all working perfectly.
Heres another thing. As the vines get a little older and
deeper-rooted -- they start performing at a level thats very reproducible. Since the
96 vintage, weve seen the same character coming out of each block. So
were able to say, "Okay, Block 6 is always going to produce this beautiful
Barring natural disasters like rain, I think weve
reached a point where Les Pavots is almost on auto-pilot.
APJ: I tasted the 1997 this spring -- what a great wine! Very ripe.
MA: Very, very ripe. It's about 15.1% alcohol.
APJ: How are the vines spaced on Les Pavots?
MA: Its 5x8. Not incredibly dense. I guess that shows you dont have to be
dense to be good.
APJ: How about yields?
MA: We get about 3 tons an acre most years. In 1998 we got a dismal one and a half tons
per acre. Because the fruit set was terrible in 1998.
APJ: Now tell me a little bit about the winemaking for Les Pavots. Is that a totally
natural process as well?
MA: We dont do natural yeast. We use a lot of Bordeaux techniques here. We use an
irrigator -- we irrigate the caps twice a day.
We also heat the vats at a certain part of the fermentation
process. We actually will supplement the natural heating from the yeast fermentation. We
warm the tanks up to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
APJ: Why do you that?
MA: It gives you a flush of color and flavor. Its all by design -- were
very careful about the timing. Only at a certain time in the fermentation. Never before,
And then we do a lot of aeration mixings. We put the wine
through what we call a "sump and screen."
APJ: What does that do?
MA: Its to drive off any bad fermentation odors. Sometimes the fermentation odors
can have a sweaty nuance. Almost like a locker room. We call it "dirty socks."
The sump and screen takes care of that
Also we only use the free run juice. The press wine is never
used in Les Pavots. Its sold off in bulk.
After the wine is fermented cry, we do a one-week extended
maceration, then send it to the barrels.
It goes through malolactic in the barrels. A lot of wineries
do malolactic in tank, but we do it in the barrels. We feel we get a more seamless
integration of fruit and tannin by doing that. We use the same bacteria for malolactic
that we use for the Chardonnays.
Then the wine stays in the barrel for about 18-22 months.
APJ: Any filtration?
APJ: How often do you rack?
MA: We rack the Les Pavots about every 2-3 months in the first year. And we do it
through the heads -- barrel to barrel -- which is the traditional way its done in
Then in the second year, when we rack, we push the wine from
barrel to barrel with an inert gas. We use argon. Thats very important.
APJ: Go into that. How is it done?
MA: Well you take this thing that looks kind of like a big seltzer bottle. Its
called a bulldog. And it pushes the wine out of the barrel. You have to use argon. It
imparts no flavor to the wine. Does nothing to it.
APJ: Does that give the wine any spritz?
MA: No. Carbon dioxide would, but argon doesnt. Thats the a big selling
point of argon. It doesnt dissolve very readily in liquid.
The argon is really gentle and it also keeps the oxygen away
from the wine. Thats very important too.
APJ: So what happens next? How do you finish the wines?
MA: Before bottling, we put all the wine together using the argon-push technique. No
pumps. Its very tricky.
But bear in mind that the different vineyard lots for
Les Pavots have already been blended together. Its already blended in the barrel.
Its aged as one wine its entire life.
For example, in January of 1999, we classified all the
different vineyard lots of 1998 Les Pavots. Then we made up the assemblage and barreled it
as one wine. So you dont have your Merlot aging separately from your Cabernet Franc
and your Cabernet Sauvignon. Its a trick they do at the great Bordeaux Chateaux.
APJ: Does this happen before or after malolactic?
MA: Theyre kept separate until after the malolactic. After malolactic, we make
the classification. If its got too much dry tannin or a "dirty socks" or a
"creamed corn" or some other kind of reductive character, it will be kept
separate for a while. If it doesnt get better, its declassified and wont
become Les Pavots. The whole classification process takes a couple of months.
APJ: And no acidification at all.
MA: No, we want that silkiness and richness in Les Pavots, and acidification can harm
that. The Colgins arent acidified either. Bryant isnt acidified.
"Acidifying can hurt a wines collectibility. The consumer doesnt
want it. Lower pH wines never do as well."
The great Napa Valley wineries are realizing that acidifying
can hurt a wines collectibility. The consumer doesnt want it. Lower pH wines
never do as well.
APJ: So you think not acidifying can help a wine be more accessible early on?
MA: Oh, you bet. I call it the hedonism factor. We just bottled the 97 Colgin and
oh my God, you could just drink gallons of it now. Its so soft and rich...and yet
its got structure...
Part 9: Report on the 1998 vintage
APJ: Overall, how does the 1998 look from your vantage point?
MA: I would say its kind of in between the 96s and 97s. It has a
little bit of dry tannin. But the tannin issue can be resolved with some extra rackings, I
think. And the Les Pavots also has a lovely black licorice minerality with a wonderful
The acidity on the 1998 is higher too. We like that. We never
acidify the Les Pavots. Were very concerned about that kind of manipulation. So if
we get lower acidity, so be it. But this vintage looks higher.
APJ: When did you pick?
MA: The 1998 Les Pavots? Very late. A lot of the picking was done before Halloween, but
we actually picked some in November.
Come to think of it we picked some Chardonnay in November too.
One block of Belle Cote.
APJ: Whats the latest vintage youve ever had?
MA: 1998 is the latest Ive ever worked. 91 was the latest up until that
Part 10. Clone vs. terroir. Which is more
APJ: You talk about clones more than some winemakers. I gather you feel this is very
MA: Very. Without the pedigree, youve got trouble. And you know, a lot of people
assume that one clone is about the same as the next.
But let me give an example. One of my favorite Chardonnay
clones is an old Wente selection. Its the Shot Berry. Its been moved around in
the North Coast. So now you have the Dutton selection. And the Sees. And the Upper Barn
But these are all variations of the same theme -- its
this one selection, an old Wente clone that came out of Livermore in the late 50s. It came
from Corton Charlemagne and was moved around to different growers.
I can pick it out wherever I find it. And it just makes these
muscular wines that are very pleasing to the olfactory senses. Cant beat it.
So Ive come down to a few selections which I know make
the most collectible wines. And I dont want to make any compromises.
Now on the other hand you have this clone from UC Davis called
Clone 4 Chardonnay. It makes the most innocuous wines, even when grown on some of the best
soil types. You taste the wine and -- well, you dont taste the terroir. The clone
sanitizes it somehow. So I stay away from it.
APJ: So which is more important? Clone or terroir?
MA: Oh, terroir is more important. Because even a simple old Wente Chardonnay grown on
rocks makes a profound wine. A good example of that is Peter Michael Pointe Rouge.
Its grown on really thin soils that are 2,000 feet above
sea level, with a south-facing exposure. If it didnt have that south-facing exposure
and the 2,000 feet and thin soils...well, lets just say that Chardonnay would taste
totally different if it were growing on some river bottom.
So maybe the importance is 60% terroir, 40% clone.
Theyre both important. And the winemaker is the icing on the cake. Ive got to
make sure those flavors arent lost.
APJ: Youre pretty humble about the winemakers role.
MA: Thats the way it is. Our new slogan now at Peter Michael is "French farm
You know, when you go to Burgundy, its very humbling to
see these beautiful vineyards -- and these very simple little wineries that have no
refrigeration. Thats French farm wine. Its all about a simple ideal of letting
the clones and the soil work together and you sort of nurse them along.
APJ: Apart from the wines youre made yourself, whats your model of a
APJ: What do love to drink?
MA: Paulliac. Well, some St. Emilions, too. But you know where I learned the most about
how to make Cabernet? From Pinot.
MA: With Pinot, you have to be so fine-tuned with the vineyard, with the cultivation of
these grapes. You have to be right on time when you pick. You have to be very gentle when
handling the fruit and destemming and so forth. You use cold soaks.
And thats what I try to do with Cabernet too. My model
has been watching how Burgundian make their Pinots -- in the vats anyway. Of course you
employ more mechanical help, because the Cabernet vineyards are much larger.
APJ: Pinot Noir is a punishing discipline.
MA: Cabernet can punish you too if you dont do it right. You can over-vinify it
very easily. Extended macerations can be beneficial or harmful. Weve discovered that
sometimes longer is not better.
Michel Rolland likes long macerations -- 5-6- weeks is it?
Well that doesnt work for Les Pavots. It gets more tannic.
But for Harlan? It works wonderfully. Those are soft, rich,
supple wines, yet spend very long times in the vat.
APJ: What California Cabs do you like?
MA: Well, you know, Colgin and Bryant arent such bad products! I like Maya,
Harlan -- Ive been a big fan of Araujo ever since day one. Theres a profound
silkiness you get in those wines. Thats been my model.
My wife works at Mondavi, so we get a good deal on Mouton. And
let me tell you, the 96 Mouton. Oh man, its wonderful juice.
But I drink more Burgundy than anything else.
APJ: Who are your favorite Burgundy producers?
MA: It would have to be Dujac -- Leroy when Im feeling rich. Ive always
been a big fan of Meo-Camuzet. Their wines can be incredibly complex.
For more information about Aubert Wines, click
here to send them an email.
See also our Mark Aubert Update, written
in August 2001.
To find out more about Peter Michael Winery, click here to visit their web site.
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