Tag Archives: winemaking

Today’s Wine Word: Press

As you’ve probably heard, crush in Napa Valley was early this year. And for most producers, it’s been over for at least a week or two. Exhale…
But, for red wine, the work isn’t over quite yet. There’s still a little pressing to do. the winemakers are greedily getting the last bit of color and flavor out of the grape skins for their reds before sending them off to the barrel cellar.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that there’s quite a lot of confusion about the difference between crushing and pressing, so let’s get it straightened out. Here goes…

The Stemmer-Crusher

This machine is first stop for most reds when they come in from the vineyard. It removes the stems and breaks the grape skins open. When you’re finished crushing, you’ve still got the skins and seeds,which go right into the fermentation tank with the juice. As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor in red wine comes from the skins.

The press

The press leaves the winemaker with only liquid, however cloudy.

Think of the press as a giant strainer. Picture yourself dropping broken grapes into this strainer. Of course,some of  the juice runs off. Then, you push down with your fist to squeeze more liquid out of the skins. That’s pressing. There are a few different styles of presses a winemaker can use, but I won’t bore you with that unless you ask.  Continue reading



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Today’s Wine Word: Brix

What’s the word on every grower’s and winemaker’s lips right now? Brix!

How sweet is that? 😉

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Today’s Wine Word: Cap Management


Doesn’t sound very winey, does it? Is it about the proper way to arrange your chapeau or ?

Cap management is a term that’s used only during harvest, but it’s an important one.

As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor and tannin in red wine comes from the grape skins. With very few exceptions the juice of a dark variety runs clear.

TRIVIA! The few varieties with red juice and flesh are called teinturier (ten-toory-AY). The best-known example in the wine world is probably Alicante Bouschet, which is often part of a field blend and can also be used when the winemaker wants to ramp up the color.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: The thing is that the darned skins keep going up to the top of the tank, buoyed by the carbon-dioxide gas produced by the fermentation. If the “cap” of skins is allowed to stay at the top, color and flavor extraction isn’t good and it also tends to get hot up there. You don’t want it to get so hot that it starts killing the yeast. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Hangtime


I was tasting with a  client today and noticed that they already had fermenting Sauvignon Blanc samples out on the tasting counter. That’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc I’m referring to! And, the winemaker who handles the reds says they’ll bring in some Pinot Noir next week. All of this reconfirms that harvest is early this year. What does it mean in terms of quality? Who knows?

But it reminds me that the #1 topic at harvest time is “hang time.” The term is literal. It refers to the length of time the grapes hang on the vine before they’re harvested.

If you’ve grown tomatoes, you know that when the tomatoes first appear on the vine in early summer they’re hard, green and you don’t even think about tasting them because you know that they’re sour.  As the summer goes on they plump out, soften up and begin to change color and you know that the sugar is on its way up and the tartness (acid) is on the way down. Well, it’s just the same with grapes. Continue reading

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Sweet Wine For a Sweetheart of a Day

On this sweetest of days, let’s take a look at how sweet wine is made. It’s a fun topic because production of sweet wine can be wonderfully odd!

So, what will you drink tonight? Bubbles? Sweet wine? Red wine? All of the above? 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Today’s Wine Word: Angel’s Share


Photo: Helpman 77 on Flickr

The “angel’s share” got a quick mention in yesterday’s post, the term is actually appropriate to the season in at least two ways. One for obvious reasons and the other to do with actual wine making. 

You might think that after all that hard work during harvest that winemakers take a long vacation. Well, they probably would except that the Controller is breathing down their necks to get the new wine into barrels. The sooner it’s in the barrel the sooner it’s out, and the winery can begin to get some return on its investment! 

However, once the barrels are filled up they don’t stay that way. The wine is constantly evaporating, ever so slowly. Depending upon the humidity in the cellar the loss can be anywhere from 2- 5% or up to 15 bottles annually! And that accounts for all the angels hovering there in the cellar. The Angel’s Share is the tariff they impose to allow the wine to age. Aging is actually a slow oxidation so the winemaker has to build the Angel’s Share into her cost of doing business.

Those darned angels create work, too! It’s not healthy for the wine to have an air space at the top of the barrel – it’s an invitation to bacterial activity and consequent spoilage. And this creates another Wine Word: The cellar crew needs to add more wine to each barrel, periodically, and the procedure is called “topping” or “topping up”. Most will let a little wine spill over the top to make sure the barrel is absolutely full. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Extended Maceration



Well, this is the week for tongue twisters! We talked about malolactic fermentation for Chardonnay and now we need to give red wines equal time by visiting extended maceration.

As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor and texture and tannin in red wine comes from the grape skins – the juice runs clear. 

So, for red wine is made by fermenting the juice and skins together. But, for many winemakers, the week or so that it takes for the wine to complete fermentation isn’t long enough to get all those goodies out of the skins. There are three ways to go when the winemaker want more skin-contact time: 

1. Do a cold soak: The winemaker delays the onset of fermentation for a few days by keeping the juice cool. It’s not uncommon to blanket the crushed fruit with dry ice, which not only cools the must down – it prevents oxidation. This technique helps to get the goodies, including the relatively supple tannins from the skins, up front, before there’s any alcohol in the mix (alcohol extracts seed tannin, which is harsher than skin tannin). Many who do a cold soak follow up with early pressing (getting the wine drained away from the skins) to minimize seed tannin extraction. My Diamond Mountain client favors this approach because her vineyard (and mountain appellations in general) tends to produce very firm tannins. 

2. Extended Maceration: Once the wine is made, let the skins and wine rest together for days or weeks. More on this below. 

3. Do both. I have a valley floor client who goes with this. Valley floor vineyards aren’t often as tannic as hillside situations. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Malolactic Fermentation


Well, there’s a mouthful of a wine word! Not to worry – it’s easier to understand than it is to pronounce it. And, now seems like a good time to take a look because, even as we speak, lots and lots of wines being made in the northern hemisphere are bubbling their way through what’s often called the second fermentation – the malolactic fermentation, or ML for short.

For the microbiologists out there I’ll say that it’s not really a fermentation – it’s a conversion.

The real point? Do you like your Chardonnay buttery? If so, it’s very likely that the brands you prefer put their Chard through ML or partial ML.

The conversion normally follows the primary, alcoholic fermentation.

It’s routine for reds, for the sake of stability and to soften the acid. When it comes to whites, it’s more of a question mark and when the topic comes up it’s usually in reference Chardonnay. Here’s how it goes:

It may take the wine maker about three weeks to make his Chardonnay. Then, lactic-acid bacteria is added to the new wine. It causes the tart malic acid – the green apple acid, to convert to soft lactic acid – the milk acid. So the wine feels softer and rounder on your palate. ML also has a byproduct, called diacetyl, which adds a sort of viscous, oily sensation to the texture and smells and tastes buttery.

TRIVIA! Diacetyl is the substance they add to microwave popcorn to make it buttery! Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Cold Soak


Lots of that going on in the wine world right now. If you’re picturing yourself in a bathtub full of cold water, you’re not too far off. The term is literal, but there’s no water involved.

The cold soak is a technique that delays the onset of fermentation by keeping the must (crushed grapes) cool (yeast likes it warm).

If the grapes come in at night or on a very chilly morning, it’s just a matter of keeping it that way and with stainless steel tanks, it’s very easily done.

When the grapes come in warm, the most common way to chill the must down is to blanket it with dry ice (the solid form of carbon-dioxide).

The cold soak usually applies to red wine. It’s a good way to get some color, flavor and tannin from the grape skins without extracting bitter seed tannin. There’s no avoiding seed tannin entirely because alcohol is a solvent, so as per a recent post, it’s important that the seeds are mature – not too bitter – before they’re harvested. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Brix

Well, this is a timely question: Susan wants to know what “Brix” means.

The small instrument you saw at the beginning is called a refractometer. It’s a prism-like instrument that measures the soluble solids in the grape juice, 90% of which is sugar. 

Have you ever tasted just-picked wine grapes? Soooo sweet!

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