Pruning is the first hands-on step of preparing the vine for the growing season ahead. During pruning, we methodically cut and remove the thin branches—called “canes”—that remain from the previous year. However, we do not cut the canes off entirely. Instead, we leave just enough to carry a few “buds.” And it is from these buds the next vintage will be born.
As the weather warms up in early spring, the vine’s remaining buds break open—a stage of growth known as “bud break.” First, the buds begin to swell then pop open to reveal the first green growth of the vintage. Soon, you will see baby leaves and the beginnings of new canes, and in time the tiny precursors to grape clusters begin to form. The growing season is now officially underway.
After bud break and initial shoot growth, the “flowering” period arrives in the spring as the baby clusters shed their hard caps. This shedding reveals tiny blooms, which are designed to self-pollinate. Successful pollination results in fully realized grape clusters and “sets” the crop for the coming harvest. We always want mild, steady weather during the flowering period.
Veraison is the process whereby the young berries turn color, from green to purple. This phase marks the fruit’s transition point from the growth phase to the ripening phase. The grapes are now developing sugar. The acidity is diminishing, and the pH is rising. The skins are beginning to soften and the seeds start to harden. In this way, veraison marks the home stretch to harvest.
As the grapes reach peak ripeness, the much-anticipated moment has finally arrived: harvest. The passion invested in the vineyard over the preceding nine months now comes to fruition. At night, we hand-pick the fruit block by block to ensure the delivery of cool fruit to the winery by dawn. The miracle of the growing season has finally been delivered—a new vintage is now born.
With our red varieties, we perform a “cold soak” for three to seven days prior to fermentation. Cold soaking is the act of racking the de-stemmed berries to a tank and allowing the juice to mix with the skins for a gentle extraction of color. Once we achieve the desired color, it is time to initiate fermentation with our native DAOU Mountain yeast. This is the pivot point between grape juice and wine. As the yeast feasts on the grape sugars, it converts them to alcohol and CO2 gas. The gas blows off, and the yeasts continue to work until nearly all of the sugar is consumed and the wine is considered “dry.”
At DAOU, we have our own advanced way of managing fermentations to achieve an uncommon balance of color, flavor concentration and phenolic richness. As Winemaker Daniel Daou puts it, “We have spent years developing our own special technique.” At the conclusion of fermentation, the new wine is racked to barrels, where it undergoes secondary “malolactic” fermentation. This is the natural process of converting a wine’s malic acid into lactic acid. Without this conversion, the wine would taste sharp and angular. By contrast, lactic acid provides a soft, smooth and elegant mouthfeel.
From here, the true barrel-aging process begins, lasting anywhere from 18 to 31 months before bottling. Come springtime, we rack the wine off the “lees”—the remaining grape solids and expired yeasts that settled to the bottom of the barrel—and return it back to the barrels to continue aging.