Johan Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir (2)

Interesting. I’d be curious to know what kind of experience with age-worthy Pinot you base the ‘optimum’ drinking windows on. Are there particular Burgundian, California or Oregon Pinots you have tasted through their life cycles over a dozen years or more? Which are made in a style similar to these wines? You mentioned that your wines are ‘polarizing’ in the sense of different from other Willamette Pinots, so my curiosity is piqued. Very little California Pinot is suffered to age - both in the sense that most of it is not really rigged to age and that very few people have the patience to cellar California Pinot for a decade or two.

I ask at least in part because I didn’t quite know what to make of the 2009, sensing it was very closed and tight. I can’t recall a single California Pinot over the past 50 years that had a similar profile at four. Most of the great Burgundies I’ve had over the same period have been older wines - I didn’t get to taste them in their youth - and the younger ones have tended to show more complexity early. The only thing that comes to mind is the way in which traditionally-made Bordeaux (with a Cab/Cab Franc heavy blend), say in the late '50s or the '60s, used to be completely closed and tight until they opened up around 10-12 years old.

I find the notion of opening a wine four days ahead of drinking odd.

The “dumb” phase is much more typical of Cabernet Sauvignon and wines in which it is a large component, and characteristically (if not exclusively) a California phenomenon.

In my experience, “Dumb Phase” has more to do with the winemaking application than the grape varietal. Grapes such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon have a greater tendency to become “dumb” because they are so concentrated in phenolics. This can be reversed in the winemaking process by excessively aerating the wines during its aging in the cellar. Hence the great debate over micro-oxygenation and the role of Michel Rolland in the modernization of Bordeaux.

What I am trying to describe is the ability for a wine to withstand exposure to oxygen. Pinot Noir is lower in phenolics so it should theoretically be more delicate to oxygen. If you starve the wine of oxygen during its life (the reason why gravity flow is so important and why most Pinot Noir winemakers never rack their barrels until bottling and age on full solids) you can create conditions so anaerobic that even Pinot Noir can go through a “dumb phase”. Using whole-cluster fermentations, and aging in larger format barrels, which we do, are additional methods to increase a wines phenolic content and decrease oxygen exposure thus increasing its likely hood to be resilient to oxygen and possible go through a “dumb phase”.

This wine stuff is infinitely complicated.


In chemistry, pH is the measure of acidity in water based liquids - pretty well defined with not much up to interpretation or debate.
Can you define “acidity” how you understand it in this context then precisely please (an accurate definition that can be measured please :slight_smile: )? And what is behind this acidity you mean then?
(acidity, not what I would perhaps call “tartness” as in perception)

Just to clarify: I am looking for something science-y, nothing esoteric.

My best guess at this moment is that he means “titratable acidity” vs pH measured acidity.

I think the point he was getting at was that if these are meant to age, and he does not have the ability to taste an aged one prior to purchasing this one, at this price point it is not worth it for him, considering he has to age it just to find out if it will eventually conform to his tastes.

Cristom winery in the Eola Hills has the longest history of producing whole-cluster wines in Oregon. Their reserve level wines are some of the longest lived in Oregon. Their wines can have some wild swings in their expression as they age which I suppose can frustrate some folks and excite others. When they are expressive they are awfully hard to beat for price/quality. I find that they generally need 10 years in a good vintage to offer their worth.

I do not have much experience drinking Burgundy. Unfortunately they are too steep in price for me to enjoy with frequency. I have heard from my more experienced colleagues that producers who use whole-cluster fermentations tend to require more time to in the cellar before drinking. I am not sure why that is but it seems to be a consistent theme with this type of fermentation in other varietals and regions as well.

Bordeaux is an interesting region to consider here. People were picking fruit much less ripe, at higher yields per vine, and working the wine less hard back then. It is not an area of specialty for me but I would say that the more current vintage wines drink sooner than older vintages for the reason that traditional winemaking in the region evolved to accommodate the American Palate or should I say the critics palate?

As for the 4 day pre-opening of the 2008 Nils, I meant to say that on day 1 with some air it drank well and was expressive of fruit. On day two the palate was smooth yet dense and developed deeper earthy flavors. By day 3 it was reminiscent of a ripe style of Nebbiolo and on day 4 it just had the most length on the palate and seemed to give 110%. A rigorous decanting on day one of opening, say 3 decants back and forth, might do 4 days work in an hour?



Thank you for your participation today! This is what us “wooters” love most about wine.woot and it’s always a great pleasure to have a winemaker such as yourself, who takes the time to provide detailed responses and doesn’t get defensive when we pepper him or her with geeky questions and concerns about the wine. :slight_smile:

Ceteris paribus - other parameters assumed to be the same

If I buy two wines and one shows its best and the other one does not but they both are equally yummy just now, then the wine with further potential is of course more valuable to me.
If I buy a wine now that needs several years to get where another wine is now at the same price, then I would argue to buy the wine that is ‘best’ now already.
If for some reason I assume that in a few years I cannot get the same quality I get now a the same price, then I would argue to buy a wine that will age a few years to then be optimal.
Many variables.
The best point in time to buy a wine for most is possibly right at the beginning of the drinking window - can age quite some years but is ideal now.

Thank you for responding. I will do my best. Please keep the dialogue open with me if I fail to make sense or need to further discuss this in any way. My chemistry is rusty but I believe the answer goes something like this.

Another way to define pH is “the concentration of Hydrogen Ions in a solution”. The definition you are referring to is defining a solution as being either acidic (meaning containing enough free dissociated hydrogen ions in the solution to make the solution less than pH7) or as being basic (meaning the solution does not contain enough hydrogen ions to make the solution below pH7). It does not refer to actual acid concentration only the amount of hydrogen free to react in a solution which can vary for many reasons.

Titratable Acidity or TA as we call it, refers to the concentration of all acids in a solution regardless of pH, in this case it is wine. We measure the concentration of these acids by tirtating with NaOH to an end point of pH 8.2 to calculate the concentration. NaOH is a strong base and will over power any other molecules in a wine sample thus striping away any hydrogen available in the wine. This is how we measure an exact amount of acid in wine. Some people use to refer to “TA” is “total acidity” but that was eventually corrected when we discovered that not all hydrogen could be extracted by NaOH from certain acids that simply do not want to give it up. These acids are in such small concentrations in wine that they have almost no effect on a wines pH or concentration of acidity so we pay very little attention to them.

Generally speaking the greater the concentration of acid in a solution the lower the pH will be as the acids contribute Hydrogen ions. Different acids contribute more or less hydrogen based on their molecular structure. Tartaric acid contributes the greatest amount of hydrogen compared to any other acid found in wine.

In very complex solutions we must take into account what is called “buffering effect” which is defined as the ability of a solution to resist changes in pH. If a solution gains concentration of basic compounds the pH will slowly increase until it reaches a tipping point at which the pH can sky rocket. Until that tipping point the solution is essentially “buffering itself” to resist this change. There are two major pH shifts that can occur in wine that I must be careful of. At pH 3.65 wine reaches its tipping point and that is when the pH can go up quickly. If a wine is low in pH, say 3.3pH and it is cold stabilized (meaining i chill the wine to remove excess tartaric acid) the pH goes down further to say 3.1 for example. So why is that happening? Why is the pH going down if I removed acid? Isnt it supposed to be the other way around?

Now if I use whole-cluster fermentation for my wine I will increase the concentration of certain salts in my wine that will react with free hydrogen and increase my pH but not necessarily remove acid from the wine thus leaving the TA intact. This is why our Pinot Noir can have higher acidity in terms of taste yet still have an elevated pH value.

Anyway I only pretend to know what I am talking about.

Whew! I hope this helps in some way.

This wine stuff is infinitely complicated.



That makes total sense. Thank you. I knew I was not understanding so I am glad I asked. That is a tough one to answer. I wish I had 30+ years under my belt at Johan so that I could have enough vintages to know the answer to his question. Our oldest wine is only 2006 which is still young. I am learning as I go along. I hope the wines will be rewarding to cellar.



This is awesome! You are all asking great questions and I am happy to offer what I can in return. I hope to keep the dialogue going.



Yes that makes perfect sense. I knew there was more there so I am glad I asked. Understanding what each individual person is looking for is super important in matching a wine to the persons liking. Before my career as a winemaker I worked as a wine buyer for some retail companies and worked very hard to listen to my customers and guide them the best I could. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.


This is curious, and as you have stated, seems counter-intuitive. Do you have any suggestions why you observe this?

Thanks. A wonderfully geeky answer I thoroughly enjoyed.

Heading in the other direction, in your voice mail, you speak to bio-dynamics. This has been a topic for lively discussions in the past. Can you expand a bit on the how and why?

Ron just beat me to the punch a bit, but now that the day is half over, we can get into the nitty gritty.

As many here know, I (and Kyle, who I am sure has purposefully silent here) are not believers of the methods of Biodynamics as a general practice, or as a marketing tool. We do, however, believe that it often results in improved attention to vineyards, which clearly can improve the quality of the wine.

With that in mind, I repeat Ron’s question on why you choose BioDynamic farming techniques and what you feel it adds to the process, grapes, wine, etc. How much do you market these practices when discussing your wines? Do you feel that anything gained in the vineyard, grapes, wine, etc are actually a result of the BioDynamic Techniques (burying skulls and crystals in the ground, etc) or are they simply a result of increased attention to the vineyard?


I believe the downward pH shift that occurs with cold stabilization is caused by the concurrent removal of potassium with the tartaric acid as potassium bitartrate crystals. The removal of the Potassium has a larger effect on the buffering capacity of the wine than does the tartaric acid on its effect toward hydrogen concentration.

We chose to farm biodynamic because we were noticing a consistent trend in which we enjoyed wines produced in other parts of the world by wineries practicing biodynamics. Many corks later we noticed that many of our favorite wines were made this way so we decided to give it a try. Nothing seemed to be potentially harmful to the vines so we reasoned that worst case scenario nothing would be gained and we could switch back to organic if we needed to.

We are now in our 7th year farming Biodynamic and are happy with what we are seeing in terms of vineyard health and character of the wines. But then again our vineyard is getting older and we are executing our work with greater precision as we become better stewards each year. It is hard to say how effective the biodynamic preparations are with all the other variables complicating things. At this point I would encourage others to try it and make their own observations as to its effectiveness.

I am happy to answer any questions that I can regarding this topic.



Hey Dan, sorry for not making it more clear. For me, I have a full slate of storage and am trying to keep the wine buying to a minimum. If the buy-in was smaller I’d be more tempted to take a flyer on this set with the knowledge that I wouldn’t open a bottle until 2015-6. Problem for me is that I try to do that only for wines I already know and appreciate how they will evolve. If this was a ready to drink example at this price then I’d be more tempted as well. So basically it’s just that my particular situation makes me think long and hard at buying in at what will turn out to be about $37/bottle with then having to age it. Or I’d have to pay even more to get 2 sets so I could try one now to judge how I would approach it longer term.

So the ideal offering for me, in my specific situation at this moment, would be for these to be in the 2003-5 range so that I could learn about how they evolve with respect to how I prefer my Pinot.

I certainly am not saying this is a poor value or that it’s less valuable than a 2008/9 that’s ready to drink now. In fact, a Pinot that age could go either way for me if it was ready to drink - I’m one that loves the complexity wine develops with age. So rpm’s comments about his overall impression carry significant weight with me as I know his experience and palate quite well. I hope that helps clarify.

I am not entirely convinced that biodynamic practices work either so I am giving it a shot. I have to work much harder as a result so there is little to motivate me unless I see some improvement in the final wines. I am also opposed to using it as a marketing tool and try not to emphasize it too much. I feel like I remember there were many skeptics towards Organic packaged food when that became all the rage in the USA 15 years ago. I felt like maybe producers were doing the minimum to certify their food as organic and up charging their produce to get more money. But then I thought about those people who want to eat organic food only and asked myself how they would be able to tell whether or not their food is organic if it is not labeled. This is not a justification for labeling my wines as Biodynamic, it is merely a question of how to let people know without promoting it too loudly.

Although there is much left to the imagination there is some common sense in its applications. I am glad you mentioned the skull and the crystals. Both sound very good examples of how simple it is to understand and how grossly media has romanticized biodynamics.

Lets look at the Skull. So I assume you are talking about the cow horn. The cow horn has two major applications. In both cases it is used as a “house” if you will for micro-organisms. In one application we stuff the horn with fresh cow manure and bury the horn in the ground over the fall and winter. As it sits in the ground microbes will enter the horn and colonize feeding on the manure over the winter. They build up a massive population density thanks to the cow horn creating a “house” or hospitable environment to live in and multiply. We dig this horn up in the spring and apply the manure to our compost pile to inoculate it with microbes. These microbes then break down all of the pommace and waste from the farm that has over wintered to ferment during the spring and summer thanks to our happy microbes from the horn.

The Crystals. Lets look at the next application of the horn. I assume you are referring to the silica? We bury silica in another horn that goes through the same process but has a different application. This silica is applied to the vines in a spray which sticks the silica to the leaves. The idea here is that the silica attracts sun light and should increase the rate of photosynthesis of the vines. I am not sure if this actually works yet but I do it anyway because my vineyard is so darn cold and I need every advantage I can get.

Another application is the Horsetail tea. Horsetail is rich in potassium silicate and is a strong natural anti-fungal anti-bacterial substance. Farmeers have been using it for years buy buying it in a bag from a chemical company. We harvest wild horsetail from our area and cook it down like a tea to extract the potassium silicate. We then ferment the tea from the sugars in the horsetail to develop alcohol and build up a strong yeast population. This is then applied to the vines as a spray as a natural chemical and biological defense against invasive fungal and bacterial predators. This I have found to be incredibly effective so far.

These are just a few examples of what is involved in the farming. We also follow general organic practices. I do agree with your statement about greater attention in the vineyard and that is a valid argument that I agree with I’m just not convinced that the increase in quality I see is entirely due to that.



This is a curious statement in regards to being a California phenomenon. Why would that be the case?

I completely understand. Thank you for your time and consideration. Maybe someday I will have something older to offer on woot. In the meantime keep drinking.



I think you’ve gained some fans with that response. Even Kyle might agree with you on this one :wink:

Also, the pH vs TA explanation was excellent. Basically pH = -log(H+) while TA takes into account all the acid species and their individual pKa values for each proton (of multi-protic acids). How they affect wine perception is also an interesting topic, and I’ve heard opinions on both sides that pH and TA are the primary source of what we call “acidity” in wine perception.