How did all this flavor get in my wine?

As wine lovers we’re always on the lookout for identifying the complex flavor profiles, aromas and textures in our favorite wines. From the vanilla and dark cherry in our Pinot Noirs to the silky texture and apple notes in our Chardonnays, each sip can become an adventure for your senses. But how do winemakers get this wide range of characteristics from grapes alone?

The short answer is that all of these delightful aromas and flavors are a direct result of both the grape-growing and winemaking process.

The region where wine grapes are grown, weather conditions, and the geologic composition of the soil (known as terroir) can all have an influence on a wine’s flavor profile.

Once wine grapes are harvested, decisions are made at every step of the wine making process — from fermentation to aging — to coax these complex sensory elements out of the grapes.

Here are a couple of examples to give you a better idea.

Cherry, as well as other red fruit flavors and aromas (like currant and plum) are largely a result of the climate where the grapes were grown.. Cooler climate regions, like our estate vineyards in the Russian River and Anderson Valley, tend to promote these flavors, while warmer regions impart sweeter, rounder fruit characteristics such as ripe blackberry or strawberry jam.

Vanilla and Caramel
The vanilla aromas you notice in wines like our Pinot Noir are a result of aging in oak barrels. Oak is also responsible for other “spice rack” aromas like clove and cinnamon as well as the caramel flavors and aromas you get in wines like our 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

Apple and Cream
The lush mouth-feel one finds in Chardonnay is a trait resulting from a process known as malolactic fermentation. In this process, tart-tasting malic acid (which is responsible for flavors like green apple and apricot) is converted into lactic acid, (richer, milkier in texture). This process reduces the tart qualities  of malic acid, making the wine more supple on the palate, while at the same time enhancing the sweeter characteristics of the apple flavors.

So the next time you pick up a glass of wine and marvel at the range of aromas, flavors and textures found within, remember that many of these qualities arise from very deliberate decisions made by the winemaker — from vineyard to tank and barrel.