By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant
“The winemaker is a warrior. He has to fight the vagaries of nature, storms, insects, disease, rot, hail and bad luck. This is why every bottle is worthy of respect and every glass must be drunk with the honor it deserves. That soil, that man, that fight, are embodied in your glass” Anonymous but supplied to me by Kathrine Brink of Grapevine, Texas.
It has been said that a winemaker makes at least 2000 decisions, during the winemaking process, before a wine goes into the bottle. This statement was produced, 20 years ago, before items such as tannin additions, fining agents in the gelatin family that have specific target sites and micro-oxidation were added to our tool box. This article will make the assumption that the red wine has been fermented to complete dryness during the maceration regime of the winemaker’s choice and that it was a clean fermentation. One must keep in mind as we change a process in our wine making other parameters may need adjustment to accomplish a desired effect from the process. One must know, as a winemaker, what is desired as a wine style and implement that knowledge and the processes to achieve the desired wine style. This article will address a few questions to help the winemaker along the winemaker warrior’s path to victory. It is not intended to address every possible path a winemaker may take as that would involve writing a book and not an article.
Have Knowledge of What can be Done
Know what wine to make and have the style determined ahead of time. This will help with fruit selection, growing and the harvest of the fruit. What was the growing season like? Was the vineyard canopy managed for that style of wine? Was the condition of the vines monitored during the growing season? What was the fruit like and how was its development? What was the soil like and does this terrior support the style of wine desired? Does the trellis and training system support this style? These are some of the questions one will need to address before trying to make a wine in a certain style. If the foundation of the fruit is not underneath to support the style and desired wine goals it will be difficult to move the juice, must and wine into a particular direction. An example of this may be producing a full bodied red wine. If the vines are not properly managed to achieve a full bodied red wine one may be best off picking early and pressing the grapes to make a blush wine or white wine style.
Know the Limits
What has developed during the fermentation? In the prior example know the limits. If after fermentation of the red grapes the color, mouth feel, aromas and tannin profile are not supporting the precursors of what is to be achieved in the long run – know when to back off. To try and “overly manipulate” the wine and “beat it” or “force it” into a certain profile will not work in most cases. Make sure after fermentation that everything is present in the wine to work with. It is necessary that the fruit and fermentation give the winemaker this solid foundation. Wine is made in the vineyard!
Do We Want to Enhance any Characteristics?
After fermentation the winemaker should have a good idea between what is in the glass and the numbers from the lab if the resulting wine style is on track. Now the choice becomes how to enhance the positives one sees in a certain wine or to enhance certain qualities in several separate lots of wine – knowing they will be reviewed at the blending table. Will air bring forward a certain quality? Should free run be separated from press juice? What type of malo-lactic should be performed? Will it be best to have a malo-lactic fermentation? What culture should I choose? Should new oak barrels be used? Should older more neutral oak barrels be employed? What size of barrels should be used? One can alter the wood to wine ratio simply by changing the size of the cooperage. Should wood chips, slabs or staves be entered into the mix? Should the wine remain in stainless to settle longer? Should the wine be chilled to remove the tartrates early? Should the wine be warmed to drive off the carbon dioxide early?
Do We Want to Suppress any Characteristics?
Sometimes one can suppress a characteristic while bringing out another to be enhanced all at the same time. This is often the case with a reduced wine that may have some hydrogen sulfide [ H2S ] issues. While suppressing the H2S another element is brought to the forefront and perceived to be enhanced. Always review this situation with a quick aroma screen in the lab after fermentation. Aeration can often solve this issue and if not one can use copper sulfate or a number of legal chemical addition regimes. What other characteristics may need suppressing? Try a lab trial to see if the task to be performed will suppress what it should. Does that action bring forward another desired component in that wine? Is a fining needed early on? Is the wine balanced? Are the tannins supporting the wine? Are they refined or rough and aggressive?
Do we Want to Eliminate any Characteristics?
This can often be a real battleground. Trying to eliminate a characteristic from a wine is usually most difficult after the wine has been made. If a green character has formed in the red wine due to under ripe fruit selection, usually attributed to Methoxy-pyrazines, the battle can difficult and up hill. Oak chips in the fermenter are often a good choice and this decision needs to be made early on before the post fermentation decision. Micro-oxidation has shown some beneficial results. Finesse must be used with both of these potential solutions.
Sur Lie Ageing
Ageing red wines in the barrel or tank with suspended yeast cells can produced excellent results adding to the mouth feel of the wine through manoprotiens and yeast autolysis. The mouth feel is often lengthened in the finish and it fills out the mid-palate. The aroma will often be enhanced with a yeast autolysis toasty aroma. Is this something that will add to the wine style desired? If so – this may be a solid choice. Make sure the lees are “clean” however to minimize the risk in this potential risky step for higher pH reds. These yeast lees often contain higher loads of spoilage microbes to be wary and informed about.
How are the Tannins?
As soon after fermentation as you can – try and assess the tannin profile in the red wine. This can often be a challenge as the tannins are evolving and will continue to evolve during the ageing process. One must develop the skills to taste underlying tannins and become a confident predictor as to how they will evolve. A wine that may seem very supple early on may develop a more aggressive tannin profile later in its life, generally in the cellar during ageing. Become confident in tasting a wine and “reaching” deep into the wine to find those tannins. Are they good supple tannins or bad harsh tannins? What has that block or lot of fruit delivered in past vintages? Are they harsh seed tannins? Should seed deportation have been considered with delestage? [Make this decision prior to this moment but for this article we are looking at post fermentation] The sooner the winemaker can predict and react to the tannin profile the better the tannin management may be handled. Generally reacting sooner than later is best, as with most wine making intrusions.
This is a great tool when the fruit will allow it. The fruit must be very ripe and clean. Extended maceration is the process of the leaving the wine in contact with the must and skins after fermentation for approximately 30 days to be determined by the winemaker. The results can give more refined and pronounced good tannins with a lengthy supple fruit finish provided the fruit is very ripe, supple and clean. Color may be reduced somewhat but the color will be more stable in most cases. This may be a great tool for many winemakers and the results are more than gratifying. Risks are and can be high, so, if trying this for the first time – stay on your toes!
The above data is often reviewed by most winemakers every season during their battle in the vineyard and the cellar to make the best wine possible. Each year gives different situations making the challenge different from year to year. Take every opportunity to get to know your vineyard, soils, trellis, fruit clones, rootstocks, climate and growing seasons to adapt each year with the wealth of knowledge gained in previous years to bring forward the fruit to craft the wine desired.
As can be seen in this article many features of post-fermentation choices are directly linked to the fruit and what it yielded in terms of quality. It is not just a post-fermentation decision!
Taste the wines every several weeks to determine their progress. Think, during the tasting: What was the fruit like? How did the wine progress last year? Is the wine developing into the style desired? Are corrections needed? Will correction trials be performed in the lab? What are the choices from here? The winemaker is in the driver seat. If the wine is not developing into the desired wine or the desired component to a wine blend, it needs to be addressed. Always taste a wine thinking what was the past like and where is this wine going? With this type of tasting and professional critical thinking one will be able to step in at the needed times to enhance the product during the Post Fermentation Management Choices. This is what a winemaker does.