When DAOU Family Estates recently announced the release date for its 2019 Soul of a Lion — a red blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot — it pointed to the technical knowledge of Winemaker Daniel Daou, who mentioned the wine’s high levels of phenolics.
Daou said in the company’s announcement that his winemaking methods involve paying attention to phenolics — chemical compounds that affect the taste, mouthfeel and color of wine — and that he has developed a proprietary phenolics management system that combines rigorous data collection and analysis with sensory observations to optimize color, taste and mouthfeel.
Vintner Magazine reached out to Daou, who provided more information about how DAOU Family Estates manages phenolics in its products.
VINTNER: What was the inspiration for developing a system to manage phenolics? Clearly, they’re important to how wine tastes, but what led Daou to isolate and emphasize them?
DAOU: DAOU Mountain is blessed with arguably some of the highest phenolics the world has ever seen for Bordeaux varieties, allowing us to deliver wines that have texture while maintaining the elegance, classiness, and balance that you often don’t find in California wines. Our wines are not heavy; they’re fresh and elegant due to the combination of calcareous clay soils and our climate on DAOU Mountain.
VINTNER: Please describe the process for developing the system. What were some discoveries you made along the way?
DAOU: It is very difficult to manage the tannins correctly when you have high phenolics. The first harvest was a challenge. We only made 500 cases out of 26 acres because the tannins were high. The challenge for winemakers is that we cannot taste wine during fermentation and decide if the tannins need to be drained or if the wine needs to be drained off the tannins to stop generating more tannins. So, in a situation where phenolics are not very high, winemakers don’t have to worry about that. In our case, we need to figure out when is the right time to drain off the skins to stop creating more tannins so the wine is less tannic and more balanced.
To do that, I tasted close to 700 wines and measured the phenolics in all of them. Based on my research, I correlated a set of phenolic measurements that match my palate in terms of wine that is elegant, that is balanced, but that is also very textural. I developed the phenolics management system because I didn’t want to make wine as everybody else did. That forced me to reverse engineer my palate so that while the wine is fermenting, I’m able to measure the wine based on what my palate will like.
The reason you cannot taste the wine during fermentation is that first, you’ve got carbonic acid, which totally messes up your palate, and therefore you cannot taste. Second, you’ve got hundreds of grams of residual sugar, and we all know what residual sugar does: it basically masks all the faults of the wine, and therefore you cannot taste it. Last but not least, it’s must. The system allows me to anticipate what my palate is going to like in terms of creating a super-balanced wine while retaining its elegance and its power at the same time.
VINTNER: How is the data collected, and how is that information used to make modifications during the winemaking process?DAOU: At DAOU, we measure phenolics three times a day to ensure balance and meet a target profile, based on my palate, while the wine is still fermenting. The phenolics measurement system draws links between the sensory experience and the chemical composition of wine. This gives us a tool to minimize the margin of error during fermentation, permitting better consistency in winemaking.