My wine is barreled down and will enjoy a long winter's rest, and while it was pretty much a simple natural process, it was no small task to get it in that barrel. In my last, post I already described the first decisions, so I will pick up where I left off, which was with my feet in the bin of grapes having completed a cold soak. Next, fermentation, press, and barrel...
Too inoculate or not? Luckily, my grapes began fermenting naturally with wild yeasts. If that does not happen, a wine maker has to decide what strain of yeast to use and then introduces it to the grapes. Nicole has been fortunate that each year her wine kicks off on its own. She prefers a slow entry into fermentation, which is why she does a cold soak, but once it starts (and, yes, you know it, because it smells a little funky, makes a little bubbling noise, and the cap starts to rise), it just takes off. There are some things to consider, and taste is not the least of them. Many wine makers prefer to inoculate because they want a particular strain of yeast because it can effect the flavor of the wine.
Punch Downs Continue: Once fermentation starts, we did punch downs 3 times daily. There are a wide variety of ways to complete this process, but the goal is to keep the cap wet and to extract flavor from the skins, seeds and stems. The more gentle you are, the lighter the wine, more or less, and the more aggressive, the richer the wine. In addition to punching down the cap, which we did with our feet, arms, and with a device that looks much like a plunger for a French press coffee maker, we also did a couple of pump overs, which takes the juice and literally pumps it over the top of the cap. This is a good way to make sure the juice is really well blended. We did this process twice and only for a few minutes, but others did it often and for longer time, which just extracts more flavor and introduces more oxygen. It is all about what kind of wine you want to make, and each of these decisions will shape the outcome of the wine. I was looking for subtlety and delicate flavors, but we will see how I did next fall when we bottle.
Adds: Is it natural? The question of additions is a fascinating one for me. This is when the whole conversation about wine gets complicated and philosophical! In a time when natural is the trend (again), and this is a trend that I support wholeheartedly, we are forced to ask some questions about the very notion of natural. What does it mean to make wine naturally? Once we train a grape vine on a trellis, we have intervened, right? So, natural, for this wine monger, means that we don't add anything that would not naturally occur in grapes fermenting. It was a hard decision to add a little water during the cold soak, but we needed it, and as Nicole explained, it is like giving back to the grapes what the sun took away during the draught. Ok, I was ok with that. Other adds that wine makers have to decide on: nutrients for the yeast to continue to feed on sugar, sugars to produce the necessary alcohol, acids in a year that has high ph levels. These are the ones that all seem reasonable to me, as they are elements of the grapes, but were not naturally available due to growing conditions. In the end, wine needs to taste good, so if we have to use some techniques to adjust, I am ok with that. It is the addition of things that aren't naturally occurring in grapes that I find questionable.
Into barrel she goes: Once the primary ferment was done, we had to decide on how to press, whether to combine free run juice and the press juice, and what kid of barrel. All of these decisions felt monumental! I used a basket press, combined the juices, and barreled down into a twice used barrel. And, there my juice will sit to go through the malolactic fermentation. Then, we bottle. (yes, that means I have new decisions about design! This is al so fun!)