Tin Barn Vineyards | Amy Tsaykel

Aging: Of Bears & Barrels

In Uncategorized on 12/10/2009 at 6:37 pm

“Hibernation is a covert operation for more overt action.” ~Ralph Ellison

Wine in hibernation...

Seasonally speaking, late fall is the ideal time to lay things away to rest–from luscious jams and jellies to delicate plants and shiny bicycles. Wild animals know this, fattening themselves well before toddling away for hibernation.

It makes sense, then, that this is also the time when winemakers rack their must, or fermenting juice, into cooperage for a long winter’s nap. Much like tucking in a newborn, it’s a careful process.

It begins when the winemaker has deemed the initial fermentation complete, and drains the tank of juice. This is not merely a matter of opening a valve: “Digout” is a laborious effort to completely empty the tank of all skins and organic matter. It not only requires a pick and shovel, but plenty of elbow grease!


Fermentation: Making Big, Stinky Magic

In Uncategorized on 11/20/2009 at 2:30 am

Last week, the fermentation tanks were emptied. As shovels were heaved, vats were steamed, and juice flowed, our custom crush liaison Julia Iantosca took a moment to break down the mysterious, odiferous fermentation process for me. And, as usual, I raised all the questions you’re too embarrassed to ask!

Pretty juice, huh? What you can't see are the millions of unicellular fungi (yeast and other microbes) gobbling up nitrogen and ammonia. Nom!

What is Fermentation?

Sure, sure …. you know vaguely what it is.  But admit it: isn’t whole thing a little blurry? For anyone who didn’t pay quite enough attention in high school biology class , fermentation is the conversion of carbohydrates (such as sugar) into acid or alcohol.

What kicks off the whole process? Often it occurs naturally, with no prompting. But winemakers spur it on with yeast . The type of yeast used greatly influences the flavor of the wine. Once added, the yeast voraciously feeds on ammonia and nitrogen, converting the sugars in the grape juice into ethanol and carbon dioxide. When the carbon dioxide is released into the air, the alcohol remains.

(Will there be a test at the end? No, but you might enjoy regaling your friends with this newfound wine knowledge….)

Punchdown: Mixing It Up

In Uncategorized on 10/20/2009 at 4:22 pm

Now in the throes of harvest season, winemaker Mike Lancaster is constantly in the cellar. Lately I’ve noticed he’ll leave in the morning and return a couple of times throughout the course of a day. Gracious, I thought. Is he making wine or nursing a newborn in the ICU? What could require such constant attention?

“Punchdown,” he explained. 

Oh. I had no idea what that meant.

I’d witnessed a bit of the winemaking process firsthand.  For starters, I knew that it was nothing like this:

I’d first observed the Pinot Noir crush. Then, when the Syrah grapes came in from Coryelle Fields in northern Sonoma County, I’d stood with Mike and his business partner, Gray Fowler, as several tons of ripe fruit were squeezed to a beautiful, smoky-sweet pulp. But that was just the beginning.

Syrah crush: view from up above

Syrah crush: view from up above