Winemaking Process for our Malibu Wines
Harvesting grapes for wine is a meticulous process that requires patience, expertise, and attention to detail. AJA Vineyards is settled in the Malibu Coast AVA, within the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains, so we produce high-quality California wines that showcase this region the best! The season begins with the bud break, which occurs around March or April. As the shoots start to grow and leaves start to emerge, we ensure that the vines are trained properly and growing healthily. By the end of June, the berries are fully formed surrounded by luscious leaves, but are still unripe.
The next step is veraison, which takes place in July. This is when the berries start to change color, from green to red or purple in the case of red grapes and from green to golden or copper in the case of white grapes. We do a “green harvest” to remove any secondary growth, which helps the primary growth retain nutrients. This is an essential step in the grape-growing process as it indicates the onset of ripening.
White grapes are usually harvested in mid- to late-August through mid-September, while red grapes are harvested throughout September and October. We rely on the perfect microclimate in Southern California to ripen the grapes to their fullest potential before carefully selecting each one by hand. White grapes are typically picked at around 22-23° brix to ensure that the natural acidity is retained, resulting in a bright and crisp wine. For red grapes, we wait until they reach a slightly higher brix degree of 24-26° to retain ripeness and balance the tannins. By hand-harvesting our grapes, we can ensure that only the finest quality grapes are used in our wines, resulting in a product that is truly reflective of the unique terroir and character of our vineyards.
Our White Wines
White wine making here at AJA Vineyards involves a combination of barrel fermentation and tank fermentation. Typically, we ferment our white wines in steel tanks to preserve the fresh fruit flavor. We utilize oak fermentation to give the wine texture and body. Our estate whites are finished in oak barrels to produce a more robust and balanced wine. The oak barrels provide a different flavor profile and aroma to the wine, which can add complexity and depth.
All of our wines retain a lot of that fresh fruit flavor from the steel tank fermentation. This maintains the wine’s crisp and vibrant character, which is a hallmark of many white wines. The combination of tank and barrel fermentations is a balancing act that requires careful attention to detail to achieve the perfect flavor profile and aroma. This carefully thought-out process between our Proprietors and winemakers is what sets AJA Vineyards apart from other California wineries.
Finally, after bottling in the beginning or middle of March, the white wines are released on April 15th of each year. This allows the wines to settle and mature, enhancing their flavor and character before they are enjoyed by customers. It also helps that it’s our proprietor Amanda’s birthday. We take pride in our white wines and their uniqueness.
Our Red Wines
Our red wine varietal’s grapes are crushed and fermented with their skins on, which imparts a rich flavor, texture, and color to the wine. While whole cluster fermentation is not often done at our winery, we will consider it and include the stems if they appear to be healthy and beneficial to the wine’s flavor profile. In order to achieve the desired flavor and color, the fruit is cold soaked before fermentation begins. During this process, the skins are left in contact with the juice to extract all of the natural tannins, coloring agents, and flavor compounds. It is important to give the wines at least 48 hours to cold soak and start fermentation with the native yeasts. If the wine does not seem to ferment with their native yeast, we will use yeast strains from the nearby regions, or from regions that best showcase the wine.
After the fermentation is complete, the wine is left to mature in oak barrels for 18 months – though often no more than 50% of the barrels are new French oak, as higher percentages can impart an overwhelming oak taste. Once bottled, the wine is left to rest for a further 18-30 months, during which time it will develop a more complex flavor profile, maturity, and further deepen in color. The extended aging process allows the wine’s flavors to integrate and develop, resulting in a more refined and pleasurable drinking experience. The care and attention given to the winemaking process, from start to finish, ensure that red wine lovers can enjoy a glass of wine that bears testament to the winemaker’s hard work, passion, and dedication.