Racking, Pruning, Bottling

January 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

January 3rd, 2014

In my experience, it’s a common question: “What do you do over the winter?”  Vines are dormant, grapes are pressed and fermented, so what do all the vineyard workers and winemakers do in the cold months?

We Rack The New Red Wines.

After a season such as 2013, our cellar is full of barrels of aggressive red wines with coarsely particulate tannins and often reductive odors.  We have found this to be a good thing for wines which will be bottled after at least 12 months in barrels.  These wines are showing characteristics that will lead toward better ageing; however, if kept away from oxygen, the tannins will remain coarse and gritty, and the wines won’t reach their full potential.  Additionally, the presence of heavier lees in the barrels can lead to issues with reduction.  With the integration of oxygen at this stage, however, color is stabilized, tannins are pushed toward a finer texture, and the wine as a whole shows better aromatic integration.  So we must introduce oxygen.

Thus, after malolactic fermentation has completed for our new red wines, we “rack” all the wines out of barrel and into tanks.  Once in tanks, the ph is adjusted (if necessary), the barrels are cleaned, the wine is given a dose of SO2, and then “returned” to the barrels which are then tucked back in the cellar.  This is also an opportunity to do some early blending, and to make decisions about where the hard press wines will be used.  All in all, with hundreds of barrels to go through, the winter racking generally takes us at least six weeks, and sometimes more.

Barrel of 2013 Cabernet Franc waiting, in the snow, to be racked.

Barrel of 2013 Cabernet Franc waiting, in the snow, to be racked.

We Prune.

Pruning involves removing each vine’s growth from the previous year – essentially “resetting” the vine an identical stage as the previous winter, so that new growth adheres to the trellising system, new fruiting wood is chosen, and so that we can manipulate the potential yield for the upcoming year.   This is done by hand, vine by vine, and involves removing a large amount of wood from the vineyard.  It’s a lot of work, and it’s some of the more skilled work to be done in the vineyard.  Pruning dictates a lot of things for the upcoming year, and as such it is very important that it is done with an eye toward quality.  While we generally delay final pruning until the weeks before Spring budbreak, our vineyard crew is essentially pruning for the entire winter – we start with “rough pruning” and selection of new canes, and then move toward “final pruning” as the days begin to warm.

Rough-pruned Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rough-pruned Cabernet Sauvignon.

We Bottle.

Winter is also a period of blending and bottling for us.  Generally, we are working toward getting the new season’s (2013’s) “early” whites ready for bottling – the Sunset White blend, Chardonnays, Roses, Viognier – as well as some of the larger-bodied red wines from the season prior (2012) which includes blending, stabilizing, and filtering, not to mention the logistics of glass, labels, corks, capsules, etc.  We try to do most of our bottling between December and June, as this tends to be the sweet spot for the wines, and it also helps to keep us free during the most vineyard-focused portions of the season, so we can keep our focus on ripening and harvest when the time comes.

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