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The Fruit

Botrytis Cinerea, the botanical name for Noble Rot, is the catalyst in making the greatest dessert wines of the world. It starts chemical transformations in the grapes that produce a richness and complexity that wine made from merely over-ripe grapes can not match. It is a parasitic fungus that thrives in humid conditions. The spores are carried to the clusters by the wind. Filaments called hyphae are produced that penetrate the skin of the berry making it permeable. The tartaric acid in the fruit is converted to gluconic acid and glycerol, which will give the wine it's viscosity and texture. Botrytis also produces an antibiotic called botryticine which along with the alcohol stops the fermentation and helps keep the wine stable. As the grape dehyrates the sugar is concentrated making a juicy raisin that looks like a fuzzy wart. This process will take 3-4 weeks even under ideal conditions. By now the fruit is a mere shadow of it's former self. How can a business be based on such a fickle act of nature?



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At Topaz we own no vineyards or a winery. Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are bought from growers in Napa, Sonoma, and/or Lake Counties.

When to pick is the most important decision every winecrafter must make. It is even more critical in making late harvest wines. Harvest too soon and the botrytis isn't fully developed and the grapes will lack sugar and richness. Too late and the berries may become too dry and lack juice or a rain may turn them to mush. Picking is very labor intensive as you can't let the workers pick everything in site. They must be very selective and choose only botrytised bunches and then trim away any sound fruit from the cluster. They try to avoid undesirable molds or sour rot.

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At the Winery

The grapes are then processed, aged and bottled at Villa Helena, a small family owned winery in St. Helena. The fruit goes directly to the press, bypassing the stemmer-crusher, which would just make a sticky mushy mess. You also end up with much cleaner juice by not beating up the fragile berries. The juice is settled in a tank overnight. The clear juice is pumped off the sediment to barrels. Yeast is added and the fermentation will last 3-6 weeks. It stops when the alcohol reaches around 14% and the residual sugar is 10-13%. The wine is then racked off the yeast lees, SO2 is added, and returned to barrel. It will be racked every 4-6 months as the wine ages in barrel for 16 to 18 months. The wine receives a light filtration before bottling.  

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