Winemaking at Sunstone is necessarily hands-off. We strive, simply put, to translate the unique character of the estate into a wine that is as pure and as true to the terroir as possible. "One must always remember that winemaking cannot add anything to a wine, only subtract," explains winemaker, Nick de Luca. "Winemaking is an art not unlike sculpture. One starts with a block of granite—in this case the grapes—and endeavors to find the purest expression of form and shape held within. It is a process of removal, but very cautious and deliberate removal. Once gone, a particular character of the grapes cannot be added back."
Stylistically, the wines of Sunstone are marked by firm structure and a balanced, sophisticated mouthfeel. Organically grown grapes are a precious raw material. The natural tendency is for wines produced from organic grapes to have great "reductive strength"—or a predilection to yield wines that are backwards when young and brooding in their adolescence. It is the opposite of wines that are easily oxidized and fall apart readily when exposed to air. To this end, the young red wines are fed a steady diet of oxygen in the form of occasional aerative rackings—a process by which the wine is removed from barrel, splashed and then returned to barrel. "Periodic racking is like a brisk walk around the block. It invigorates a wine and quenches its need for air," says Nick. "Racking is just one part of a holistic approach to winemaking that walks a fine line between reduction and oxidation. Naturally made wines, like those at Sunstone, are an ongoing effort to better understand terroir and the needs of each individual wine."
A final aspect of producing naturally made wines is what the French call élévage—or, most literally translated, the education of a wine. It is a concept much neglected in the New World of winemaking, where wines are "made" and bottled. At Sunstone we see a wine's "education" as a process not unlike that of educating a young man or woman, with each lesson taught intended to aid the wine in becoming a fully developed adult. An often forgotten part of this process is known as "finishing," whereby a wine is prepared for its final experience in the winery—bottling. We frequently practice the ancient art of fining, adding small amounts of eggwhites, for example, to red wines to help soften tannins and pull the wine together. Likewise, white wines often see the addition of skim milk prior to bottling, a technique which helps to unveil a silky, voluptuous mouthfeel in the finished wine. "Finishing wine is one of my favorite parts of the winemaking process," says Nick. "It's much like a final polishing of the long labored over sculpture—to bring out the full luster of the raw material and the form which it has taken."