Jack Stuart, one of the early Sangiovese producers, took issue with my too-off-the-cuff remarks about his first Sangiovese treatment when he was the winemaker at Silverado. There is such good infomation in this note, that with his permission, I'm posting his comments:
Thanks for your recent post that included comments about Benessere Sangiovese. I mostly agree with your style preferences. In fact, it’s not possible to make “syrupy” Sangiovese unless you add a lot of a sweet, rich wine to it.
And having tasted Biondi Santi Brunellos back to 1945 at Il Greppo some years back, those wines struck me as extraordinarily complex and perfumey, firmly structured, and ageworthy, but certainly not “big” in the unfortunate way some California winemakers are making their wines these days.
My only quibble with the piece is your remark that the early Silverado Sangioveses got “the normal Cabernet treatment all the way...extracted, fussy, lots of pump-overs and punch downs to bring out more body and color.” Absolutely not the case! First of all, there’s no way to give Sangiovese “the Cabernet treatment”—it would be like trying to do that with Pinot Noir. Our aim was to make a wine characteristic of the variety, unlike most of the mostly orange, herbaceous, thin, bitter, and overpriced Sangioveses that were being made here at the time. We used very little new oak, aged much of the wine in upright oak tanks, and did everything we could to develop classic color, flavors, and aromas. Power and weight were not our goals at all. If you could taste the 1994, for example, you’d see what I mean.
Our major project at Silverado was tuning the vineyard: learning how to train and prune it, how much crop thinning to do, how much leaf pulling, how ripe to pick (balancing acid, pH, and sugar), which selections had the characteristics we were looking for, and simply waiting for the vines to mature and become more reliable. By the late nineties John and I were getting most of what we wanted from the vines. I know he has adapted cap management in recent years, and I agree that those are good steps. I still taste the wines every year, and they are very good, though not as varietally distinct as I would like.
Here at Benessere, I’m using fewer barrels, NO American oak, trying French and Hungarian puncheons, and also using the seasoned uprights that have been here for years. We’ve got six different clones of SG, with different growth habit, berry size, crop loads, ripening and so on. It gives me a lot of tools to work with. As for fermentation, cap management and extraction, I’m trying to achieve red color and suppleness (not “richness” or “bigness”), along with varietal flavor and aroma, without the drying, edgy tannins Sangioveses often have when they’re young. That means destemming but not crushing, good sorting for leaves, stems and jacks, gentle punchdowns or fewer pumpovers, and pressing lightly. We press SG only to 0.2 bar, so all the wine is free-run.
My blends are usually 90 to 95 percent Sangiovese, with the rest Zinfandel or Cabernet or both. Might throw in a percent of Petite Sirah for color. Any bottling that has only 75 percent of is likely to lose its varietal character. The Luna you refer to may have gotten its cedar and green olive characteristics from Merlot.