White Pinot Noirs - What are your thoughts?

Old workmate of mine back in the day making world class wine in Anderson Valley for Maggy Hawk. Attached is the wine sheet but also a cool video of how they make the White Pinot Noir. No SO2 or dry ice.

https://www.maggyhawk.com/wine/anderson-valley-white-pinot-noir

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Thanks Gabe. The video brings up a couple of points that I glossed over. Picking at night is a good idea to keep the grapes cool and avoid skin rupture and unintentional maceration (and also this limits extraction of skin-derived proteins, which down the road cause heat instability/haze, and thus limits the need to bentonite/clear the proteins): but man, I hate to put that request on the picking crews. Generally our mid to late-Sept. morning temps are cool enough in the Eola Amity Hills and also, we are picking before full maturity so the berries are pretty firm. But that’s a good potential issue for Elise to consider as conditions warrant and/or if she is looking for a riper pick/style. The other main variable is time in press. The more time, the more phenolic extraction. When I said I use a champagne press cycle I should note that I override the preselected time consuming 0.2 bar increments reducing it to two (0.2 bar and 0.8 bar).

Related to temps, I also forgot to mention that I don’t feel the need for a particularly cool fermentation temp as long as I stay in the low 70Fs, max.

The other issues that Maggy Hawk points to are no SO2 and dry ice on the juice, and hyperoxidation in tank. I don’t see the need for SO2 and dry ice either. SO2 at crush is suitable for reds, but not whites IMHO. The science is pretty solid that SO2 will increase phenolic extraction from the skins (bitter and astringent notes) and more aldehydes which we definitely want to avoid in a white wine.

I’ve always felt that hyper oxidation is risky. The risk is that certain aroma compounds will volatilize in the process. The benefit is to cause browning and having those compounds fall out before bottling. SO2 post MLF will bleach color and therefore if you are making a low or no-SO2 wine, hyper-ox is important for sure.

Sebastiani used to make the “Eye of the Swan” a pale rose Pinot Noir. Called Eye of the Swan because the old man August bred water fowl and he thought the color resembled the iris of swans. Quite a decent wine.

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This sounds interesting! Do you know why these things happen? What causes SO2 to extract more phenolics and increase the production of aldehydes?

Yes indeed. Many fruity primary aromas are prone to oxidation, so one is bound to lose some of them in hyperoxidation. That’s why I’ve understood that hyperoxidation is most often used with aromatic whites that can lose some of the primary aromatics yet retain enough to keep their varietal character (like Riesling) or with non-aromatic varieties that are neutral enough to begin with so that they don’t suffer much from losing some of their youthful fruity qualities and typically develop additional complexity from aging in oak (like Chardonnay and certain styles of Chenin Blanc).

I can imagine white Pinot Noir might suffer quite a bit from hyperoxidation, unless it is made into an ageworthy style that is then kept in oak barrels for some time.

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Well first off, I am not an organic chemist, but this is what I see in the enology literature (my starting point are my class textbooks, supplemented my continual learning opportunities).

First off we are talking about a very narrow and short period where pre fermentation juice can involve oxygen. (Once alcoholic fermentation AF kicks in, the must and very young wine will be super-saturated with CO2 and any amount of punch downs, splashing, delestage, etc will not change this to any significant degree, by the way. During elevage, we do need to be very aware of oxidation of fruity compounds and I think that is what you are referencing in your second point.)

At the juice stage SO2 inhibits aldehyde dehydrogenase so that acetylaldehyde is not converted to ethanol, and also SO2 binds acetylaldehyde in a form that cannot be transformed with ethanol (so 2 ways that AADH increases). Aldehydes are a normal by-product of AF — and after AF here again SO2 binds acetylaldehyde and this is very different topic. It makes the wines less aldehydic in terms of sensory/aromatics/taste (so less bruised apple type notes). So at this stage it’s beneficial in this respect.

On fruity compounds: at the juice stage many fruity compounds such as Beta-damascenone (important in Pinot, Chard, Riesling, Sauv Blanc, etc) for example involves oxidative cleavage of a precursor (neoxanthin) in grapes and juice. The precursor subsequently needs enzymic activity and acid-catalyzed hydrolysis before expressing as Beta-damascenone. These again would be inhibited by SO2. So in this sense and at this juice stage oxygen is needed, but my textbook just has a general statement that hyper-ox can reduce various flavor compounds that are prone to volatilize (again oxidation of these compounds is an issue after AF). No detailed explanation. So I tag this as a “IMHO” – seems like hyper-ox may be a bit too much (hyper-ox + O2 tank with diffuser for X time period). I would definitely want to set up a control before trying it. All the hyper-ox literature that I see is mostly on the positive aspect of causing heavy polymerization of juice browning compounds which then drop/precipitate during AF; without reference to/exploration of the potential downsides.

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I make a White Grenache Noir, so not exactly the topic, but I make the wine as-if it was a White Pinot Noir, so I think I can add to the conversation. I use the same fruit as I use for my red wine, so end up with a richer style of wine, which is the intent.

I press gently to a settling tank and add SO2 to the juice while it settles for a day or so. I then rack to a neutral French barrel and go through full primary and ML fermentation. After MLF is complete, I add SO2 and try and stay around 20-30 mg/L Free SO2 during aging. The wine ages on its lees for about 8 months when I rack it off the lees to tank and bottle unfined and unfiltered (and not cold stabalized).

In the 2022 vintage, my White Grenache Noir has virtually zero pink to it. In the glass, it looks like a white wine. For 2023 (that is still in barrel), it had a bit more color after pressing than the 2022 (it looked like a rose), so I’ve taken additional measures to remove color. I stirred the lees more often and for a longer time frame (I usually stop stirring once ML is finished in Dec/Jan, this vintage I stirred until March), and I also added the lees from my Grenache Blanc tank. Between the extra stirring, additional lees from the GB, and the SO2 adds during aging, the wine now has just a slight hue of pink to it. It is white enough that I’m happy with calling it a white wine.

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Love your Grenache wines, John, Will need to try the white! The big issue here is that Pinot by comparison is thin-skinned and easily bleeds color. For sparkling, with an early pick, the berries are more firm so it’s less of an issue.