One of my first practical viticultural experiences was what I thought to be an own-rooted Zinfandel vineyard located on family property along the Sacramento River in California. We didn’t own the vineyard, but we were given the opportunity to take care of it in exchange for the grapes. Seems like a simple enough thing to do, after all we were family, and our cousins were planning to remove the vines because Uncle Bob had died and there was no one else to take care of them.
Opportunity was knocking. Knocking my head against the wall as I reflect back on the experience. What a massive learning curve I had ahead of me. It turns out that there was one row of this ‘French’ grape called Carignan, or as my cousin would show his mastery of the French language, Carigan (“car-i-gan” instead of “care-in-yen”). In fact the whole family called it Carigan, but it didn’t matter, because that really wasn’t its name. Upon further research for this piece, its origins are not French, so it could be argued it’s not really Carignane either. Mazuelo is its name, and its origins in northeast Spain are obscured by its one-time notoriety in southern France. It enjoyed wide popularity in southern France as it made its way into blends and actually was mass produced there which tended to flood the European market with inexpensive wines.
What’s in a name? Familiarity comes to mind, because Mazuelo is a very old grape variety. One theory is that the Phoenicians introduced it to the island of Sardinia in the ninth century BC. As the Romans expanded their empire it made its way west to the Iberian Peninsula, where dozens of synonyms, including Carignane, Mazuelo, Cariñena, and Samsó are listed. Samsó is also a synonym for another red variety, Cinsault.
In the case of many of these synonyms, grape varieties are sometimes referred to by their geography, and Cariñena is a town in Spain. Then derived names like Carignan (France), Carignano (Italy) and Carignane (United States) make more sense. But of course, there needs to be some official reference to the grape, and the name Mazuelo is used in Spain for official reporting purposes. For this reason they use Mazuelo as it is evidently the least ambiguous synonym.
This is a red grape, which I am quite familiar with both in the vineyard and in the winery. In the vineyard, it is vigorous and highly productive, a positive attribute for its intended uses. However, on the negative side, it buds late and ripens late, making for its most successful times in the warmest and driest climates. It is prone to powdery mildew and downey mildew. Seemingly bunch rot is reported as not as much of a problem, but the clusters are huge. My experiences were textbook learning of where it should not be growing. This family site was fertile and had a high water table since it was right next to the Sacramento River. I recall pruning this vineyard in ankle deep water. The high water also made it impractical to use fungicides that reduce fungal spores in the winter months. Moving into springtime, the site also had higher relative humidity, and powdery mildew became my nemesis. Since Mazuelo was upwind of the Zinfandel vines, I battled the mildew issue in both varieties from bud-break all the way through until harvest! I later learned that good fungal spray programs are necessary. I learned that sulfur alone, will not suffice. This was reinforced when we planted an organic block of Mazuelo at the University of California – Davis. Not until then, did I really learn my lesson. There was the story of Typhoid Mary in the literature, and the block was really good at infecting everything around it. While the organic block showed no hope of recovery and was eventually removed, in other non-organic blocks of Mazuelo I started to use systemic fungicides at regular intervals throughout the season. I switched product types and group numbers to reduce the possibility of the powdery mildew developing resistance. We were also spraying at intervals according to the powdery mildew index reported from our local weather station.
Since Mazuelo is a high-yielding variety, producing upwards of 14-15 tons of fruit per acre, it makes it an attractive variety for large producers. In 2009, Spain reported only about 6,000 acres planted, and France just over 50,000 acres in Languedoc-Rousillon. It has been made as its own varietal specific or incorporated into the bulk blends typical of the regions it is grown. In Spain, it is a permitted variety in the Rioja DOCa, but in recent years it has been used less frequently, and there is a general tendency away from using it in Europe. It is working its way out of bulk wines, but being coveted as varietal wine from older head-trained vines where the yields are lower and the quality is higher as a result. Syrah and Grenache seem to be replacing Mazuelo in the bulk wine market.
In winemaking, it seems I have had experience on many fronts. Early on, the winery I worked for produced Carignane. We bottled it as a varietal, and when we wanted to color up our rosé style wine a bit more; there was Carignane, as a blender. In this case, it was so pigmented, a little went a long way. It is a very minor component in bulk wines in California but at one time was the third most planted varietal in the state. Currently over half the acreage (~1,300 acres) in California is in the hot, dry southern San Joaquin Valley. I see its name come up on blend reports quite often despite its small acreage. In the field we also see a little Mazuelo going a long way because of its high yields. Its high acidity makes it attractive in blending in natural acidity to varieties like Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. For Mazuelo to display good color requires growth at the best-suited vineyards. Less color usually is seen from Mazuelo grapes coming from higher crop loads.
Another thing I learned, Mazeulo does not do well with new oak. The two wines I produced never developed with new oak. Something I cannot explain scientifically, but it’s one of those winemaking experiences that is not worth trying only to get burned for a third time. Sometimes the winemaker needs to step back, and let the grape perform in a way that is easy and expressive at the same time. Neutral or stainless examples of Mazuelo are what I have had my best experiences with. The tannins in Mazuelo can be firm as well, so some producers in the south of France employ a carbonic maceration technique. The carbonic process produces a youthful fruity wine, but doesn’t last long, typically less than a year in the bottle. Full-bodied reds are possible and what I prefer since this is a grape that pairs well with beef and lamb. The best examples can be paired with rich poultry dishes. A complex flavor profile to say the least; red and black fruit flavors are the predominant fruit characteristics, but I have experienced some other complex flavors such as tobacco, pepper, and chocolate.
So what did this family vineyard experience with Mazuelo teach me? Everything I have learned in the field and the winery I could not have just read about in textbooks, because I needed to experience it. It was a frustrating learning experience — all the time, all the sulfur, the lack of a decent sprayer, and the massive quantities of water used to wash both the Zinfandel and Mazuelo grapes (yes, there was that much sulfur!). In the end, all I got was about one or two plastic brutes to ferment to a stinky, seemingly undrinkable, “what am I going to do with this?” moment for me. I found a taker and whether she was just being polite, or just because she was my mom, she said I was the best winemaker she knew. Thanks, Mom. You raised me to keep my head high in all moments and that family support was a big part of keeping me making wine. That was the most important experience. Be sure to take your experiences and build on them, that’s what Mazuelo did for me.
Mazuelo Recipe (5-gallons/19-L)
100 pounds (45 kg) fresh Mazuelo fruit
10% potassium metabisulfite (KMBS) solution. Weigh 10 grams of KMBS, dissolve into about 50 milliliters (mL) of distilled water. When completely dissolved, make up to 100 mL total with distilled water.
5 grams Lalvin D254 or
Premier Cuvée yeast
5 grams di-ammonium phosphate (DAP)
5 grams Go-Ferm
5 grams Fermaid K (or equivalent yeast nutrient)
Malolactic Fermentation Starter Culture (CHR Hansen or Equivalent)
Other equipment or needs
15-gallon (57-L) food-grade plastic bucket
5-gallon (19-L) carboy
(1 or 2) 1-gallon (4-L) jugs
Inert Gas (nitrogen, argon or carbon dioxide)
Ability to maintain a fermentation temperature of 81–85 °F (27–29 °C) Thermometer capable of measuring between 40–110 °F (4–43 °C) in one degree increments
Pipettes with the ability to add in increments of 1 mL
Ability to measure residual sugar at the completion of fermentation
Step by Step
1. Clean and sanitize all your winemaking tools, supplies and equipment.
2. Crush and de-stem the grapes. Transfer the must to your fermenter.
3. During the transfer, add 15 mL of 10% KMBS solution (This is the equivalent of 50 ppm SO2). Mix well.
4. Take a sample to test for Brix.
5. Fill headspace with inert gas and keep covered. Overnight in a cool spot.
6. The next day, sprinkle the Fermaid K directly to the must and mix well.
7. Prepare yeast. Heat about 50 mL distilled water to 108 °F (42 °C). Mix the Go-Ferm into the water to make a suspension. Take the temperature. Pitch the yeast when the suspension is 104 °F (40 °C). Sprinkle the yeast on the surface and gently mix so that no clumps exist. Let sit for 15 minutes undisturbed. Measure the temperature of the yeast suspension and the must. You do not want to add the yeast to your cool juice if the variance in temperature exceeds 15 °F (8 °C). To avoid temperature shock, you should acclimate your yeast by taking about 10 mL of the must juice and add it to the yeast suspension. Wait 15 minutes and measure the temperature again. Do this until you are within the specified temperature range.
8. When the yeast is ready, add it to the must. Do not mix it in yet.
9. You should see signs of fermentation within one to two days. This will appear as some foaming on the must surface and it will appear that the berries are rising out of the medium. This is referred to as the “cap rise.”
10. You need have on hand the ability to push the grapes back into the juice to promote color and tannin extraction. This is called “punching down” and this should be done three times per day. Use a clean utensil or your hand to mix, making sure the berries get completely immersed before the cap starts rising again.
11. Keep the temperature between 80-85 °F (27–29 °C). Monitor the Brix and temperature twice daily during peak fermentation (21 down to 10 °Brix), more often if the temperature shows any indication of falling out of this range. If needed, warm or cool the must to keep it in this range.
12. At about 19 °Brix, dissolve the DAP in a small amount of distilled water add to the must. Mix well.
13. When the Brix reaches zero (about 6–10 days), transfer the must to your press and press the cake dry. Keep the free run wine separate from the press portion for now. Label your vessels to keep the press portion separate.
14. Transfer the wine to your carboys or 1-gallon (4-L) jugs. Your press fraction may only be a gallon or two (4–8 L). Make sure you do not have any headspace. Place an airlock on the vessel(s). The fermentation may perk up a little here as the primary fermentation completes. When activity slows, measure the residual sugar through tasting, or by sending a sample to an outside lab. The wine is considered dry if the residual sugar is less than 2 g/L.
15. Inoculate with your malolactic (ML) bacteria. Check the manufacturer’s instruction on how to prepare and inoculate. Cover the tops with an airlock to allow CO2 to escape.
16. Monitor the ML fermentation using a thin layer chromatography assay available from most home winemaking supply stores. Follow the instructions included in the kit.
17. When MLF is complete, Add 2 mL of fresh KMBS (10%) solution per gallon (4 L) of wine. This is the equivalent to ~40 ppm addition.
18. Let wine settle in a cool place.
19. After two weeks, test for SO2, adjust the SO2 as necessary to attain 0.8 ppm molecular SO2. (There is a simple SO2 calculator at www.winemakermag.com/sulfitecalculator). Check the SO2 in another two weeks and adjust. Once the free SO2 is adjusted, maintain at this level. You’ll just need to check every two months or so, and before racking.
20. Rack the wine clean twice over 6-8 months to clarify.
21. Once the wine is cleared, it is time to move it to the bottle. This should be about eight months after the completion of fermentation.
22. Make the project fun by having a blending party to integrate the press fraction back into the free run. You may not need it all, use your judgment and make what you like.
23. If all has gone well to this point, it can probably be bottled without filtration. That said, maintain sanitary conditions while bottling. Once bottled, you’ll need to periodically check your work by opening a bottle to enjoy with friends.