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Jim Ball Vineyards

March 9, 2015

Jim Ball and winemaker Greg LaFaollette discuss the various barrels being sampled for the JBV Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and pick out the various flavor profiles that each barrel brings to the glass.

JTB: So Greg, we just met in Chicago and went through some barrel samples from some pretty interesting French barrels. Tell our friends about those barrels.

GL: Few people realize how profoundly barrels can influence flavors. Barrels can either support, be neutral to, or detract from wines. And as we saw with the neutral there were a lot of fruity aromas. A little more fruit, but the palate just wasn’t fleshed out the same way that it was with the wood. And the good vineyards not only can take from the oak but demand from the oak. So we’re looking at about a 1/3 new oak component, essentially. And as our program matures we will have obviously this year we’ll have more of once used barrels to obtain so much of these barrels from 2014 which means they’ll be twice used. In other words, just cycle out the oldest barrels until neutral and have no real impact on aroma. The DuNah vineyard is strong enough so that we’d like to have essentially 1/3 new oak, 1/3 once used oak and 1/3 twice used barrels.

JTB: Those Cavin barrels were amazing in the power that they brought, particularly the second and the third...

GL: They were both medium toast, but one had an extra deep penetration, which means the char or toast put into the barrel when its made goes deeper than most.

JTB: That’s right. What those brought, though, were amazing and I found myself gravitating toward that medium toast deep penetration. That was a wonderful addition.

GL: And also one very important component is the forest. The Cavin were primarily selecting the Jupile forest.

JTB: In the Central Massif …

GL: Exactly right. And Jupile is a very tiny forest. There’s not a lot of wood that comes out of there, so it’s not like some in France are really really large. Another forest is Lavon which is very open and drained. Its barrels are very strongly woody. Then you’ve got the Voleray forest which has some sweetness to it. There are Beltrange forests which can have some spiciness. But Jupile seems to be adding about a depth, that we can see a lot. So I think with that in mind showcasing the vineyard is important for the wood. It can’t stick out, it can only add to. And there are a lot of barrels and coopers that diminish the aromatic qualities or make it more woody or just overall override the vineyard voice. With the barrels that we are selecting very carefully and with a lot of tasting, we’re finding wood that is companion to our vineyards.

JTB: What are some of the other coopers that we are using for DuNah?

GL: We are using a new technology and a new cooperage called Phoenix. It’s a new technology that uses computer guided infrared toasting. So it’s not at all very traditional but it seems to partner very well with most vineyards. And so we’ve been relying on that. We’ve also used some Picard Symmetrie and that’s provided some very pretty notes overall.

JTB: Last year we tasted through a couple and I remember two things stuck out. One was very bacon fatty and another one was very mushroomy.

GL: Yes the Billon is very bacon fatty and the Phoenix help to provide a lot of forest floor and mushroom qualities.

JTB: If those are the Phoneix barrels, let’s bump those by a little bit or at least the amount that we take from those barrels. Because I love that note.

GL: I do, too, and that’s primarily what I used for my reserve Pinot is called Cuvee Barlow. We also used a couple of barrels in yours last year and were really really successful.

JTB: Well, let’s not disclose all our secrets! On the the cellar - let’s do some tasting!

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