The Grape Whisperer
A Conversation with Master Winemaker, Carlos Lee
When people visit Blackwood Lane Winery and experience their wines for the very first time, it is usually followed by a remark and a question: “This is the best wine I’ve ever had!” and “how do they make it taste so good?” While Blackwood Lane owner and master winemaker, Carlos Lee, keeps aspects of his traditional winemaking techniques top secret, he was happy to sit down with me to talk about his harvesting philosophy and the importance of quality versus quantity.
The Art of Patience
Carlos and I are lounging comfortably in the member's section of his terraced patio in the late October sun. As he looks out over the lush vernal surroundings, he states, “we are the last ones harvesting.” He points to some vines growing nearby explaining, “those leaves are still green. We let them hang because they are still photosynthesizing. Once the stems are no longer green and they become drier, they are ready for harvesting.” He continues, “not everyone waits like we do. Our vineyard in Osoyoos is located on such a nice plateau, so it’s high above the others. The result is while the others are mired in fog and humidity our vineyard remains dry and sunny. It’s a special vineyard!”
Smaller Yields; Fruit Forward Flavour
Carlos explains that he controls his crops. “Our harvest is less abundant, more scarce. We let the grapes almost become raisin-like, so the yield is smaller, but the fruit is richer in sugars and flavours.”
Respecting the Grape
When the fruit comes to Blackwood Lane, Carlos relies on age-old, traditional techniques to create his world-class wines--an ancient art that is sadly diminishing with the rise of an emerging “quantity vs quality” mentality. To make truly great wine, one must know what grapes like. Carlos points out that some grapes want to be crushed and some don’t. He expands on this point saying, “crushing is the easiest part. We don’t rely on mechanical fermenting. We do everything by hand.” Indeed, Carlos still employs the traditional punch down method, which is very gentle and organic way of fermenting wine. Further to this, he doesn’t add any sulphites at any point in the process, nor does he add sugars or chemicals. His wine is 100% organic and vegan!
Wine Made Naturally
Carlos explains that with the punch down method, the grapes tend to ferment themselves. “The mechanized “pump over” method that many other wineries use introduces a lot of oxygen into the wine which causes oxidation and gives the wine a brownish appearance. As a result, they add chemicals and colouring to their wines. However, Carlos ferments the wine gently using the traditional punch down method which results in the grapes producing their own carbon dioxide, which covers the grapes like a blanket, protecting them from oxygen. This is a natural process, and as Carlos exclaims, “this fruit is designed to become wine! Grapes can essentially ferment and protect themselves. The role of the winemaker is less intervention and more attention to detail.”
For Lovers of Wine Only
Carlos’ harvesting and winemaking process is truly a labour of love. And like any true love-affair, patience, time, passion and a respect for the subject are the key ingredients. As the sun begins to set over Blackwood Lane, Carlos invites me in to experience, first hand, the fruit of his labour-- or is it the labour of his fruit?