How a Sonoma Winery Makes a French-style Rosé

Raeburn Winery in Petaluma, California just rolled out the fourth vintage of its Rosé.

The grapes were grown in Sonoma County, but the wine comprised of 61% Pinot Noir, 36% Zinfandel and 3% Grenache grapes was crafted in what Raeburn CEO and Founder Derek Benham called a Provencal style Rosé, meaning it focuses on mineral tones and lighter fruits rather than being a fruit-forward, dark pink color like that seen in many wines of that type that come out of areas other than Provence in France.

Vintner Magazine caught up with Benham, who answered questions about the grapes used, the winemaking process and how Raeburn’s Rosé has evolved since its first bottling.

Derek Benham

VINTNER: The Raeburn Rosé is predominantly a Pinot Noir Rosé with Zinfandel making up the next largest proportion. What was it about these two grapes that led your winemaking team to highlight them in this edition of your rose? What, in your mind, made them the winning choice?

BENHAM: Our goal with every vintage is to use fruit with thin skin, ideal juice to skin and seed ratio, good acidity, and bright fruit aromatics. The cool conditions of Sonoma County Pinot Noir and Zinfandel (as well as Grenache) provides us the opportunity to achieve that fresh, crisp acidity while keeping the sugars low.  We find this to be the optimal balance for Raeburn Rosé. 

VINTNER:  I’ve found that California Rosés … taking a 30,000-foot view … often have different characteristics to them in terms of taste, nose and color to those that are bottled in France. From the description, your goal was to present a Provencal style wine. What were some steps that were taken during the winemaking process to arrive at the final product?

BENHAM: With each harvest, we target an early pick date (aiming for around 21-22 Brix) to assure bright acid and delicate fruit aromatics. Once in the winery, rather than the Saignée method, we opt to take the grapes through a low-pressure whole cluster press which allows the release of clean bright juice with minimal color extraction.  We’ve adopted this approach from the Provencal style Rosés and really like the outcome of an attractive light-colored hue and quenching fruit flavors. 

VINTNER: This year’s release marks the fourth vintage. Can you describe what the first vintage was like and how it differs from this year’s? What has contributed to the wine’s evolution and do you see it changing much from this year to next year?
BENHAM: We were very proud of the first vintage of Raeburn Rosé. However, as we evolved the wine with each passing vintage our increased familiarity with yeast strains (as well as introducing new yeasts) and bio-protection on the fruit allowed us to craft a Rosé with a more vibrant and crisp profile.  Every year we typically apply a similar approach both inside and outside the winery to ensure we’re crafting a delicious Rosé that is up to our standards. Though as we evolve so does the wine. We don’t want to get stagnant so we’re always open on trying different things along the way to help the wine improve.

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