Beaux Frères cellar technique is characterized by minimal 'handling' of the material. After an initial "cold soak," fermentation is typically allowed to occur spontaneously (usually within five or so days). We rely primarily upon indigenous yeasts, though we will intervene and inoculate with cultured yeast strains under certain conditions. The cap is punched-down the old-fashioned way, by hand, typically twice per day - once in the morning and once in the evening - or more frequently as may be necessary during fermentation. This process, though labor intensive, allows us to remain intimately familiar with the various cuvées, monitoring their progress and affording us the opportunity to intervene in time if necessary.
After fermentation has completed, we empty the tank into our press and the new wine is then moved without settling to oak barrels, a high proportion of which are three-year air dried oak barrels from a variety of producers and forests in France. We try to match the producers and the toast levels to showcase the unique qualities that each vintage brings us.
Malolactic (also called 'secondary') fermentation is allowed to occur naturally. Beaux Frères cellars being quite cool, this can occur at a rather relaxed pace by comparison with the 'norm'. We feel that a long, slow malolactic fermentation gives greater complexity of flavor, transforming raw young wine into a thing of liquid beauty.
BARREL AGING & REDUCTIVE WINEMAKING
We receive numerous questions about the way in which we make Pinot Noir. It's no different than what thoughtful Burgundian's have been doing for decades. Pinot Noir is very fragile and needs to be protected from excessive exposure to oxygen. Hence, the winemaking style, once in barrel, is called reductive, meaning its exposure to oxygen is intentionally reduced to the bare minimum. The traditional racking process of transferring a wine from barrel to barrel in order to aerate it is not practiced at Beaux Frères. Our only racking occurs at the end of the 10-12 month period our wines spend in barrel, when it is racked out of barrel into a holding tank, from which it is bottled. This is the only time the wine is exposed to air, and even then it is minimal since we transfer the wine under an inert gas to protect the perfume as well as fruit intensity.
All of this is aimed at preserving the character of our terroir, the personality of the vintage, and the quality of the wine. We also age our wine on its lees for this entire period. The wine is never clarified after fermentation, but is moved quickly into barrels with what the French call gross lees. The percentage of new French oak utilized varies according to the strength and concentration of the vintage. In 2001, it was approximately 50%. In years of great richness and ripeness (2002 for example), it is closer to 75% (or more). The young wine stays in contact with its lees for 10-12 months, and its only exposure to air is when the bungs are pulled and the barrels topped due to evaporation or we taste the wine to follow its evolution. Our underground wine cellar is refrigerated, humidified, and kept extremely cold as we want the wines to evolve slowly, without any bruising because of extremes of temperature or unnecessary movement. Aging on lees, the cold cellar, and the fact that there is no movement of the wine (racking) until bottling results in a build up of CO2, a natural by-product of the secondary fermentation, called malolactic (which converts sharper, more tart malic acids into softer lactic acids). This CO2 serves as a natural preservative and allows us to use far lower levels of sulphur than most wine producers in the New World.
The finished wine is eventually racked (pushed under inert gas rather than pumped) into stainless steel tanks to amalgamate and achieve a consistent blend, then allowed to settle as a natural clarification process. The wine is then bottled using gravity in the Winter season of the following vintage.
Our experience in talking to the best winemakers in both Burgundy and the United States consistently has shown us that the less Pinot Noir is moved, the more its fruit will remain intact and the greater the potential for a complex perfume. The trade-off is that our young wines are often backward, young, and immature when first bottled. Sometimes they are even effervescent and disjointed. But after well over a decade of experience, we have observed that our wines develop exceptionally well in the bottle, which is our primary objective. Some time spent swirled in the glass or vigorous decanting will blow off most CO2. Moreover, the wines become far more complex, nuanced, and layered with bottle age, one of the magical things about unmanipulated, uncompromised Pinot Noir.