There are nearly as many approaches as there are winemakers to the treatment of grapes on their journey from the vineyard to the bottle. Some ferment in oak barrels, others in steel tanks, and still others in southern France in concrete vats. Other choices are the temperature at which fermentation should occur. Should the grapes be fermented whole, crushed or as intact clusters? How many rackings? (Pumping the wines from barrel to barrel to clarify it.) To filter or not? All good questions, though none with uniform answers. In the end much depends on the vintage, so flexibility of approach is always a good indicator of a talented winemaker.
Robert Muse has adopted a philosophy of making wine which he describes as non-interventionist. “Years ago I took one of the winemaking courses taught by Jim Law of Linden Vineyards. He is rightly considered a master of Virginia wine – as demonstrated, I think, by a couple of sayings that I took particularly to heart. One of them was: “I only work in the cellar if it’s raining.” By which he meant, pithily, great wine is largely made not in the winery, but in the vineyard. Another saying of his was: “When you are making wine you should have the courage to do nothing.” By which he meant, don’t play with it, don’t manipulate it and don’t adulterate it with additives. Leave it alone. Best advice I ever had. If it’s pristine fruit it’s going to work its way through fermentation into good wine with its desirable characteristics intact.
“When grapes are allowed to speak for themselves, they speak of the place where they were grown. They speak of the climate, they even reveal things about how the vines were treated. But you can silence them through adulteration. There are catalogs of hundreds of things to add to a wine when making it. I believe strongly in resisting the impulse and letting the vines speak through their grapes.
“We make our Chardonnay using the classic Burgundy method of fermentation in oak barrels. This adds to the complexity of the wine. Some people think barrels will make the wine taste oaky. They are right not to like a wine with a distinctly woody taste – which, by the way, is a flaw that usually comes from oak dust or chips, not $1000 apiece tight-grained French barrels. But the best response to the abuse of oak is of course not to renounce the use of barrels in favor of an industrially produced wine manufactured in a tank farm. Oak barrels allow the wine to breathe and slowly develop flavors and a structure that cannot be manufactured in a laboratory. That’s why we make our Chardonnay in the traditional way.
“But having said that, there is a fine line between winemakers pursuing their own visions and trying to pour the results down the throats of others. Peoples’ preferences must be respected. Nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong. As an egalitarian people Americans are not wrong in wanting to hear that. At the same time, though, everyone should have an open mind – with it they’ll find a universe of new things to like in wine, many of them have been around for hundreds of years and express the artisanal elements of great wine. Paradoxically, one often reaches the tried and true – and at first thinks it’s something new – only after traveling some distance down the road of any journey of taste and preference.
“What we offer are handcrafted, balanced, classically-styled wines. We encourage our customers to experience them as an authentic expression of a particular place and spirit, and we hope very much that they enjoy them. If that’s not the end point of this exercise, what is?”
The white wines currently produced are a Chardonnay, a Roussanne and a blend of Rhone varietals including Marsanne and Viognier.
The red wine – Clio – is a roughly equal blend of the four Bordeaux varietals, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The proportions vary according to the year.
A rosé is made from Gamay grapes.
Calliope is a Grenache-based red wine.