Is it all over now?
Last Thursday marked the last day of fruit coming into the winery (with exception to the late harvest dessert wines) for the 2013 Harvest. So now that all the grapes have been sorted, destemmed, pressed, or put into tank…now what. Is all the work over?
Far from it! Now is the time when key wine making techniques come into play.
With the juice and berries (for red wine) are in the fermentation tanks there is what’s called cap management that needs to be done along with inoculations, yeast nutrient additions, brix sampling, alcohol readings, along with a host of other lab work. Once the fermentation slows down and the sugar has been consumed, we then “barrel down” by letting free run juice go into barrels and then we press the remaining berries for more extraction of juice, flavor, and tannins to be blended with the free run juice later, and then we bottle!
How long does work like this go on for and what does that all mean?!
There are many cap management techniques, at Foxen we practice punch downs and pump overs. There are many different opinions on the ways to do these, but here at Foxen we punch down our Pinots, and we pump over our Bordeaux and Italian varietals. These processes are a very important step in the wine making process. As the juice and berries settle in the fermentation tank, the carbon dioxide pushes berries up to the top. With the berries exposed they can dry out, which can lead to mold or other nasty invaders. By punching down or pumping over you keep the “cap” nice and moist while also adding the needed oxygen for the yeast to survive and thrive off of. Our policy at Foxen is to do punch downs twice daily, in the morning and evening, and we pump over in the mornings for about 15 days or until fermentation slows or the brix reach zero.
So how can we tell when fermentation has slowed, and what are brix anyway? Brix is the sugar content of a liquid solution. One degree Brix is 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of solution. We know that fermentation is slowing by checking the Brix levels every day, and we know it has finished when the Brix reach or go below zero. Another way of thinking about this is the yeast has finished its work by consuming all the sugar and has now turned it into alcohol and carbon dioxide! Personally, here at Foxen yeast may be our favorite part of the wine making process. This wonderful little creature not only helps us make the alcohol in the wine, but it provides a lot of the lovely, complex flavors that we experience in the finished product.
Alright, so our fermentation has slowed or finished what is the next step? We need to get the juice and berries out of the fermentation tank and into barrel to continue the aging process. This step is known as “barreling down.” The first thing to do is to allow the “free run” juice to go into barrel then we have to get the berries out of the tank and into the press to squeeze out the remaining juices. By pressing the berries, we get more tannins, color, and intense or complex flavors into the wine. These two different juices will go into barrels to age and complete malolactic fermentation, then we will blend them together later on in a process called “racking.” Racking is moving the wine from barrel into a large tank to get everything evenly blended and then we will move them back into barrel to finish the aging process. The timing of this depends greatly on the varietal and style of wine. Our Rosé is in barrel for only 5 months, while our Bordeauxs will be in barrel for 24 or more months.
Now that all the wine is in barrel the work is over? Nope! We still have topping, barrel rotations, racking and barrel sampling to do (but we’ll save all that for another post). The beautiful thing about wine is that it is a living and ever changing thing and it requires patience, attention, and care from the dormancy of the vines, to the first buds, all the way through verasion, and into the Harvest season. Harvest may be the most exciting and intense three to four months of the year, but the work is never finished at a winery. Honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way!