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!

Are the grape skins mere waste at this point? Hardly. Tender from a long soak, they’re actually at a prime point for further extraction. That extraction must be careful, however–too much pressure could induce bitterness or other imperfection. It’s the perfect job for a bladder press. Lined in soft canvas, the bladder press gently squeezes optimal goodness from the skins.

A peek inside the bladder press, where grape skins are pressed one last time.

The resulting juice is mixed into the must, and lab tests are conducted to ensure that the proper balance of nutrients are present. Then the juice (which we still can’t yet call wine!) is put away into barrels and “racked” for storage. During this time, it’s periodically monitored. But mostly, winemakers let nature take its course.

Some batches, like those involving thin-skinned white grapes and delicate  varietals such as Pinot Noir, will awaken again with the spring for bottling. Others, however, age in their barrels for a couple of years.

While we’re waiting, we might as well have a drink….

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