In springtime, the vineyard awakens…
The blooming buds announce the season's fruiting branches: the winemaking season begins, with faith and hope in the coming vintage. We lavish care on the growing vine. The flowering is almost invisible, but delights the nose with a delicate perfume. The vine becomes susceptible to disease, requiring biological and protective action.
…In summer, everything depends on how ripeness and quality evolve
Growth slows in July and stops in August to allow the ripening phase to begin. With dry, sunny days and fresh, cool nights, drought conditions progressively set in. Drought is infinitely preferable to heat waves, which scorch the grapes and concentrate the aromas too quickly.
In August, the components of the grapes appear, foreshadowing the body and volume of the wine.
But the weather conditions in September are what will determine the class and the elegance of the vintage. Tannins become more refined and less austere. The aromas of the fruit become more precise. The skin finally releases its color into the juice. The timing of these quality criteria varies from plot to plot and from one variety to another.
We therefore taste the grapes every day to determine the ideal time for harvesting each plot. Our challenge is to wait for total maturity without letting the grapes grow overripe. A passionate challenge indeed.
…Autumn, a time for harvesting and consecration
The moment has come and the team is ready. A long human chain of permanent and seasonal workers assembles in the vineyard. They have received their instructions and know what to do. They delicately harvest the bunches, and then, once in the fermenting room, carefully sort the clusters, then the grapes, one by one.
At Kirwan, only people can understand the job to be done in manual picking. Machines have no place in the vineyards. In the fermenting room, the grapes are brought in and placed in vats batch by batch.
We know the potential of each batch thanks to our experience and our scientific knowledge of the different plots, our analyses of the grapes, and the fact that we have been tasting them regularly. The stakes are high: the personality of the wine must reflect its origin; not the origin of the
« winemaker ».
In Kirwan, we do not even use the word, preferring "winehelper": the person at the service of the vineyard and the development of the wine. From the vineyard to the cellar, the liveliness of the harvest subsides, in preparation for a peaceful winter.
…Winter, or the continuity between two vintages
Pruning begins in December. The "winehelper" removes old wood from the vine stock, rejuvenating the vine by selecting two branches that will bear the future harvest. This process is done strictly by hand and requires considerable skill.
It is the wine-grower's favorite task, analyzing every vine and making the right decision for each one. Thus the whole team is already looking toward the next vintage.
The wine is born in tumult and grows up in calm Autumn, time for the miracle of vinification
The task is wonderful, a source of experience and full of responsibilities. Listening, measuring the vintage, we can adjust the vinification for each batch. The fermentation phase, or "entrée en fermentation", fills the room with a marvelous and intense aroma. Daily tastings help us determine how many times and for how long to practice pumping-over, as well as the right maceration temperature. Vatting lasts 18 to 25 days on average, malolactic fermentation included.
This process takes place simultaneously with alcoholic fermentation and softens the wine by reducing its natural acidity. The batches can then be quickly barreled.
In November, the free-run wine and press wine begin their aging separately. We can now begin selecting the batches to be blended.
In the winter's calm in the wine cellar,
the magic of blending begins,
The practice of blending is inseparable from Bordeaux wines. The reputation of these wines, elegant, complex and sure to grow finer with age, owes much to this savoir-faire.
As the Bordeaux region is complex, with its multitude of appellations and soils, winemakers through the centuries have chosen the most suitable varieties of grapes.
On a single estate, this winemaker has his preferences: Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit-Verdot on gravel-based soil, merlot on clay, Cabernet Franc on limestone soil.
Every year, the winemaker tries to reproduce the unique character of the wine and the personality of the vintage by creating the best blend. The "final" is the result of the wonderful chemistry between the soil, the climate, the vines and the winemaker's artistry.
This notion is very different from varietal wines, very much in fashion in the New World, for which technology serves to emphasize the varietal character with little concern for terroir. (This is different in Burgundy where the notion of terroir is fundamental).
In Bordeaux however, the technical approach to wine is used only to highlight the origin. Savoir-faire and experience are more important.
That is why several sessions with our advising oenologists Jacques and Eric Boissenot are necessary before the decision to blend the wines can be made. It is the moment of truth!
Every batch has been judged since vinification, but only the magic of blending can reveal the personality of the vintage. As of this moment, the wine becomes a unique creation.
The great wine of Château Kirwan enjoys 40% new wood on average. It will mature in barrels for 20 months. A long time, but short compared to the decades needed for the wine to reach its potential in the bottle.
In winter, we work once again on the previous vintage. After a year of maturing, the contours of the wine are defined, but fining the wine with egg whites will increase clarification and give the wine greater suppleness. The clear wine is drawn off and separated from the lees the old-fashioned way, by racking in candlelight. This process is one of the traditional practices that are essential to the evolution of the wine.
In the spring, the wines take shape and confidence
In May, as the cellars warm, the new wines taste better and better. The benefits of blending can be felt. One more racking before summer and the wines will remain untouched until fall. The last days of spring also mark the end of maturing period for the previous vintage.
The final adjustment is one last racking to blend all the barrels in the vats. At this point the wine's personality is clearly pronounced.