September 25, 2009

Barreling Down

When fermentation comes to its death throws (it does not stop suddenly, but rather continues in a weakened stake, the new wine throwing CO2 off for a while) it is time to drain the tank, shovel out and press the skins, then settle the new wine into barrels for their winter nap. I’m amazed out how much of what is in the tanks is actually not wine, but spent berries. The free run wine is only a small fraction of what is in the tank. This is generally reserved, pumped to another tank to wait for the lees (sediment) to settle out. This new wine is generally slightly bitter and green (young tannins and sharper acid), but interesting.

Once the berries are sent to the press, the gently pressed wine is tasted for its tannins, which are higher than the free run wine, but may be included in the lot, and thus pumped to the tank. Or it may be too tannic, and will be set aside for a different lot. The hard press wine is always set aside.

A day of two latter, we will come back and rack a tank, that is, transfer it once again to a different tank, this time leaving behind any sediment that has fallen to the bottom. This is the start of making a wine clear and clean. Once racked, the wine is ready to head to one more container, this time French white oak barrels. Only about 25 percent of the barrels are new, the rest divided up from previous years. In the barrels, the wine will undergo secondary fermentation, transforming the green, tart malic acid, which makes the wine taste young, into lactic acid, giving a softer feel to the wine. Oak also allows the wine to slowly breath, and the barrels will regularly be topped up so that the wine does not oxidize too much.

Meanwhile, all the mistakes get sent to Tank Zero. Tank Zero is what we euphemistically call the drain. How does wine end up there?

  • While dragging hoses between too close barrels, a valve gets tapped and wine shoots in the air, on the barrels, and on you.

  • After mixing the tank, detach the tank mixer without closing the valve, then attempt to close the valve while the mixing rod is still in. Note: Shirt will turn purple.

  • Forget to correctly measure the volume of wine you are transferring to a smaller tank. Wine shoots out the top, and into Tank Zero.

  • Keep a pump running even if the wine is not flowing through it. The wine trapped in the pumping chamber will burn to a cotton-candy-carmel crisp. Take a part the pump and dump all the wine in the hose.

  • Become slightly distracted while filling barrels. If you look away at just the right moment, a geyser of wine will shoot out the top, stan the barrel, and flow to the drain.

  • Turn on a pump before checking each connection, or the end point of your hose.

Of course, all of this is generally done right as the winemaker walks around the corner and see you, so that your actions are recorded and humorously discussed at lunch.

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