As mentioned previously, our first shipment of grapes this fall was accompanied by our new 12hl (317 gal) press, affectionately known as the Beast. Well, last week we let her loose. She is more than double the capacity of our old press, and with the ability to be programmed, the operator is now free to press more grapes, rather than buttons. Pressing grapes is actually a complex, multi-step process. It must be done very slowly, building up pressure gradually so that juice extraction is maximized. With each stage of the pressing, there is an interval of relief to allow juice to flow through open channels in the pomace. Without this, the channels would close and much of the juice would be trapped in pockets. Our current process builds up hydraulic pressure in 10 bar increments (one bar equals one atmosphere, or 14.7 psi). We go up to about 90 bar this way. This is actually the pressure of the hydraulic fluid, not that on the pomace, which tops out at around 4.5 bar.
The first step is to bleed juice from the tanks beginning the day before, so that when the door is opened, there is not a gushing flood. The wet pomace is then shoveled out of the tank into half-ton bins that can be moved by pallet jack to the loading dock. The empty press basket is removed from the press by forklift and placed just below the loading dock to be filled. After pressing is complete, the process is reversed: the dry “cake” is removed from the basket and shoveled for a third time into composting bins. The pressed wine is divided into two parts: light press and hard press. Usually, only the light press is aged in oak barrels. If you look in our barrel cellar, most of the wine from each vineyard is marked as “FR” for free run (the wine which freely flows out of the fermenter during the bleed) and “LP” for light press. The hard press is stored in stainless steel kegs and used for a variety of purposes.
Use of the Press Wine
As you might expect, the press wine is rich, dense and as Robert Parker might say, “backward”. It lacks the aromatic complexity of the free run and is fairly harsh and unbalanced all by itself. It is also slightly sweeter than the free run. Some of the sugars locked up in the pulp are released by pressing, and often the press wine will resume alcoholic fermentation until this residual sugar is consumed. The dried pomace has some alcohol left in it as well: this can be distilled into Grappa or the french l’eau de vie de marc most notably. As our wines are aged in oak, they are constantly evolving. Our head winemaker, David Lecomte, monitors each wine assiduously in barrel right up to bottling. Sometimes press wine is added to the free run if he wants to add a bit more depth or structure. Various combinations are tried until his palate is satisfied with the final result. Care must be exercised because adding too much of the press wine could produce harsh tannins and reduce acidity. This is where a winemaker’s talents play a critical role. Only after many years of experience can a winemaker taste a immature barrel sample and know what needs to be done in order to achieve a final result that is worthy.
Check out the gallery below for illustrations of the various steps mentioned above:
Close to one-quarter of our entire fall harvest arrived last Saturday. Needless to say, it was a long day for us, but it was also filled with high expectations. We were not disappointed. The grapes arrived in top condition ready to fill our hungry tanks. In the Pinot Noir department, we received grapes from the Bien Nacido vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley and the Bacigalupi vineyards in the Russian River. Petite Syrah and Zinfandel arrived from Lodi as well.
Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton delivered pallet after pallet of grapes to the loading dock where Sikou Nakate and his trusty pallet jack were waiting to lift and pull each one-ton stack to the loading station. In the case of the Petite Syrah, whose clusters tend to run somewhat large compared to other varieties, the stems had to be snipped into smaller pieces so that they would go through the destemmer properly. Working in shifts, the sorting table was kept busy all day long, with only short interruptions in order to move from one tank to the next. Purple hands and sticky fingers were in abundance.
With our second crush of the season now finished, three-quarters of our fermenters are already full. It is now up to the hard-working yeast cells to transform all that sugary must into wine. We tend to them day and night making sure they complete their important task on schedule. This means regular pump overs, punch downs and temperature regulation. Our lab technicians are busy monitoring the progress and if all goes well, we will start to press and barrel down during the next two weeks. As you can see, timing will be very important so that tanks are available for more crop as it comes in. We are excited about breaking in our new press that will make this process more manageable. Stay tuned for updates.
Last Saturday we had one of our largest crushes ever — 20 tons of grapes! Thanks to our dedicated members, staff and friends, it was processed in record time without a hitch. In fact, they managed to sort the grapes with such precision and care that David’s high standards of winemaking were held in the highest regard. In the time lapse video below, you will see most of the day’s effort compressed into two and a half minutes.
This past Sunday we arrived in the pre-dawn hours for our first crop of the season: 6 tons of Pinot Noir grapes from Carneros. Within the Carneros AVA, these grapes were harvested from two vineyards: Poseidon and Beckstoffer. They were in excellent condition and the sweet aromas made us feel like a part of each vineyard came with them! As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes on this quiet Sunday morning and felt the warm, bright sun shining on the pallets loaded high with moist grapes, you might have thought you were in the middle of a vineyard.
This delivery was more than just grapes, however. It included our new 5-ton press: we call it the Beast. It will allow us to dramatically increase the amount of grapes we can press in one day. Pressing is actually one of the most time consuming and labor intensive procedures. With our old press, which was quite a bit smaller and not programmable, it would take much longer to press a tank than to fill it with the crush. Below you will find our gallery of photos from the day.
As I sit here at my keyboard in Soho, our first crop of the season is being hand harvested at the Poseidon Vineyard in Napa. These luscious Pinot Noir grapes have reached the point of optimal ripeness and will soon be on their way to City Winery. The small yellow bins that you see above will be stacked high in a refrigerated tractor trailer and covered with a protective blanket of argon gas to retard oxidation. If all goes as planned we will have them in our hands this Sunday! Six tons are expected and will make for a gentle opening to our fall crush (We have been known to crush as many as twenty tons in one day!).
The Poseidon Vineyard, situated in the Carneros AVA at the northern end of San Francisco Bay, was first planted by the Molnar family in 1973 where the cooling winds from the Pacific temper the summer heat. This maritime climate is ideal for growing Pinot Noir grapes so that they ripen slowly and develop phenolic ripeness at the same time as sugar ripeness. Phenolics are a vast group of organic compounds that are responsible for the color, tannins and complex flavors found in wine. Over the years, the quality of this vineyard has been so remarkable that many of the big names in Napa purchase grapes from it, including Joseph Phelps, Heitz Cellars, Sterling, Pride Mountain, Acacia, and Mumm (The PinotFile, Volume 9, Issue 11, September 11, 2012).
Those of you who read my last post know how busy we have been preparing the winery for the biggest crush of the year. Time is of the essence so that when the grapes arrive they are crushed and placed into fermentation tanks without delay. Today we finished cleaning and reassembling our conveyors and made sure the tanks are fully cleaned and sanitized. As you can see below, these are big tanks (6,500 liters or 1,717 gallons) and require a person to actually get inside to do the job thoroughly.
Work schedules are being drawn up and provisions made to have the fermenting juice, pulp, and skins, aka the must, attended every day from early morning to late at night. For the next two weeks or so, it will be like incubating very precious farm eggs: keeping the temperature just right, making sure there is proper ventilation (or circulation in this case), and constantly monitoring the development. And this is only the beginning of what we hope will be our most phenomenal harvest to date!
San Francisco International Wine Competition
City Winery recently entered various wines to be judged at The San Francisco International Wine Competition, which is one of the most prestigious international wine competitions in the nation. This summer the event was held at the distinguished Hotel Nikko downtown San Francisco, and the panel of judges comprised of the leading wine experts in the country. The competition, just celebrated it’s 32nd anniversary of judging and awarding wine excellence saw over 4500 different wines from 26 different states and 29 countries. There were many different categories of competition, including the “Best in Show,” “Portfolio of the Year,” “Winemaker of the Year,” “Winery of the year,” “Best of Varietal,” and the “Best of Nation.”
City Winery is very proud of our winemaking process, where we source our grapes from some of the finest vineyards in America as well as the world renown Catena Vineyards in Agrelo, Medoza Argentina. Because we are a winery in the middle of the city we have great resources to bring the most elegant and bold flavored fruits to our dining tables. We are pleased to announce that our 2010 Kosher Syrah Mendocino was awarded with a gold medal, and 4 others came back with silver and bronze medallions. The silver award winning wines included our 2009 Cabernet Franc, known for being a tannic and powerful wine which has a distinct taste of dark berries, and our 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Bronze medals were awarded to our 2010 Pinot Noir and 2009 Syrah. We look forward to another year of continued wine making success, and sharing our love for making fine wine.
As August draws to a close here at City Winery, word is arriving that our fall crop is going to be extraordinary this year. The growing season in California has been nearly ideal so we are expecting to have our fermenters filled to capacity in the next few weeks. Crushing up to one hundred tons of grapes takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears so we reach out to many of our staff, members and friends to pitch in. In other words: ALL HANDS ON DECK!
The work itself is quite exhilarating for those who appreciate the art of winemaking. Seeing the freshly picked grapes as they arrive opens a new window into the enjoyment of wine. Suddenly you make a direct connection between these luscious, aromatic fruit and the flavors that make wine such a distinct and delightful experience. Tasting a Pinot Noir grape and comparing that to a fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grape immediately reveals the source of their differences. The Pinot Noir’s bracing acidity and crispness contrasts with the thicker-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is rich and chewy.
But the real miracle is to witness the transformation from juice to wine. The combination of crushed grapes and juice, known as the must, begins it’s metamorphosis as a beautifully sweet and intensely flavored mixture. As the yeasts begin their work, the sugars are replaced with a complex variety of compounds that add a wide range of new tastes and aromas. Gradually the must becomes more wine-like over the roughly two-week fermentation process. During this period, the must is tasted and analyzed twice a day in our lab. Adjustments are made in order to insure the best possible outcome.
The preparations for the crush are moving into high gear. The fermenters need to be thoroughly inspected and cleaned, as do all the conveyors, destemming machine and sorting tables. Pumps, hoses and fittings are being put in order for managing the must. New barrels are being acquired and must be tested for leaks and other imperfections. Existing barrels are undergoing a thorough inspection, then washed and set in racks for receiving new wine. Our basket press will be taken out of storage and similarly prepped. Once a crush begins, there are no timeouts, so everything must be in near perfect working order. In the event of an equipment failure, we review our backup procedures. As they say, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the order of the day.
The winery is a hub of great activity and anticipation as we strive to improve every aspect of vinification each harvest. David Lecomte, our head winemaker, is never satisfied with just maintaining the status quo, no matter how diligent. We have been upgrading and intensifying our laboratory analyses with new staff and protocols. This will allow David to prevent or more quickly correct any must issues before they cause a wine fault. A week ago we received a new bottling machine that will allow us to substantially increase our capacity. This is important for the harvest because it will free up barrels and rack space as the aged wine can be put into bottles more quickly.
September marks a new beginning for City Winery with its sister facility in Chicago now open and ready for its first harvest. Together we watch the ripening grapes in California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere with renewed excitement. With our combined knowledge and experience, this fall offers us an opportunity to make the best City Winery vintage yet.
This was a very exciting day for all of us here at City Winery. We reached out to many of our good friends and staff to mobilize for the arrival of twenty tons of Malbec grapes from Argentina. This is the most labor intensive aspect of winemaking, and it was “all hands on deck.” Even those not directly involved in the effort came to watch and photograph. It seems that there is something alluring, almost mysterious about seeing fresh grapes transformed from a simple ripe fruit into a product that many regard as a work of art. The draw is even more intense because of the location: right in the heart of New York City!
In this video, you will see the tractor-trailer arrive with its precious cargo, followed by David Lecomte, our head winemaker, doing a quick inspection before the first pallet is removed by forklift. Some of the pallets had to be restacked for greater stability. Once they are placed inside the winery, the grapes are unboxed and loaded onto a conveyor to the destemming machine. There is some interesting slow-motion footage of the destemmer in action. From there the grapes travel onto the sorting table and any remaining pieces of leaves and stems are removed. You will see the whole process taking place for both the kosher and non-kosher wines.
Finally, as the grapes begin to ferment in stainless steel tanks, there is the first of many “punchdowns” of the cap after about four days to ensure an adequate extraction of flavor and color from the grape skins. The fermenting juice and skins, called the “must”, undergoes a schedule of multiple “pump overs” every day to further aid extraction, mixing and to aerate the yeasts that need oxygen to thrive. It is no wonder that the making of a fine Malbec, or any wine for that matter, requires intense labor and attentive nurturing.
Note: For the highest quality video, please view on YouTube and select 1080p from the settings menu (gear icon)
This May at City Winery NYC we received a twenty-one ton shipment of Malbec grapes from the Mendoza Valley in Argentina. Since our Spring corresponds to the Fall harvest season in the southern hemisphere, City Winery has the benefit of two harvests this year. This allows us to make better use of the Winery and gives our members the chance to make wine twice a year if they choose.
Malbec was the dominant grape variety of Bordeaux in the 18th century. Unfortunately it fell victim to phylloxera, frosts and the vicissitudes of fashion. In France today, its use is best known in the Cahors region of the southwest, not far from Bordeaux, where it produces a rich, meaty and somewhat tannic wine in its youth. The grape has seen a remarkable renaissance in the Mendoza Valley of Argentina where it was probably introduced through pre-phylloxera cuttings. The wines are generally more ripe, fruit forward and less tannic than their French counterparts. The grape is known for its deep purple-ruby color, medium to heavy body and notes of cedar, blackfruit and earth. It is a great wine to pair with meat dishes, especially a summer barbeque.
Our Malbec originates from the vineyards of Dr. Nicolas Catena, one of the best known Argentinian producers who has partnered with the Rothschilds of Lafite, City Winery and others in order to bring as much respect for Malbec as Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys in other parts of the world. Since our crop comes to us as an international traveler, special care must be taken to make sure it arrives fresh and in peak condition. Once the grapes are harvested, they are immediately placed into special containers that prevent oxidation and refrigerated to maintain optimal ripeness. Three levels of protection are utilized: a few clusters are placed in their own small bag that prevents separation from the stem while allowing excess moisture to escape that otherwise could lead to rot. These bags are then placed in a low-sided box that prevents the grapes from crushing under their own weight. A layer of special paper impregnated with a small amount of sulphur is used to retard oxidation. The entire package is then wrapped again in plastic.
As you can see in the photos below, the crush begins with a team that unboxes the grapes. From there they are loaded onto a conveyor belt to the destemmer. The grapes fall onto the sorting table and undergo one final inspection before being placed into a fermentation vessel.
With so many layers of packaging, we found it necessary to setup tables just to open and unpack the grapes. One team of workers carefully removes the grapes so they can be readily placed into the hopper.
From the hopper, the grapes ride up the conveyor belt to the destemmer. From there they fall onto the sorting table where two teams of workers, one kosher and another non-kosher, inspect and remove any remaining stem fragments or leaves before the final ride into the fermentation tank.
For more information about the resurgence of Malbec via Argentina, Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, wrote this article in 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/28/dining/reviews/28wine.html. Here are a few highlights, including a review of the 2006 Catena Zapata, one of the many vineyards owned by Dr. Nicolas Catena:
. . . Over all, these wines were juicy and straightforward, emphasizing fruit flavors with occasional nuances. They were consistent, generally unchallenging and crowd-pleasing. In short, what’s not to like? That really depends on your point of view. Malbecs’ emphasis on soft, ripe fruitiness over more polarizing flavors and their velvety textures make them safe and reliable for people . . .
Like our top two, the other wines we liked showed admirable balance, and just enough accents to the core of fruit flavors to keep our interest. Malbecs from two of the bigger names in Argentina showed well. The 2005 Viña Francisco Olivé from Trapiche had bright, spicy flavors to offset its jamminess, while the 2006 Catena Alta from Catena Zapata was fresh, mellow and pure.
As the outdoor cooking season gets under way in earnest, with its plethora of grilled and roasted meats, malbecs would make fine choices. I tend to think of them the way I did of zinfandels, before so many zinfandels became top-heavy with alcohol. They are likable and powerful enough in their own right. And if you served them slightly cool, as Florence suggested, well, then you have a fine summer party wine.
F R O M A L L O F U S AT C I T Y W I N E R Y , E N J O Y T H E R E S T O F Y O U R S U M M E R ,
A N D D R I N K P L E N T Y O F M A L B E C !
Most of the wine produced at City Winery is aged in oak barrels for periods ranging from six months to over two years. When first placed into the barrel, some of the new wine is absorbed into the wood, especially if it is new. Gradually, air will be drawn into the barrel as this happens. Since wood is not an airtight container, some wine is also lost to evaporation. To prevent oxidation the barrels must periodically be “topped” with additional wine to eliminate any air space. The following video is a tongue-in-cheek look at topping barrels, meant to be entertaining as well as informative. Shot entirely on-location at City Winery.
Intro: A lone cellar intern contends with wine barrels that need topping. The consequences of letting the wine oxidize lead to an out-of-control chemical reaction that has everyone running for cover.
City Winery and its team are quite diverse, partially due to the winery’s situation in downtown New York City, but also based on the winery’s multi-purpose use as a winery, entertainment venue, restaurant and tasting room.
Each week, we update you on the latest goings on at the winery. But we thought it’d be nice to take a glance back at some of the unique traits of our winery with a few fun facts about us. We hope you find these facts about our winemaking as interesting as we do!
1. When lees (that is, deposits of dead or residual yeast and other particles that precipitate to the bottom of a tank of wine after fermentation and aging) is removed from a wine at City Winery, we recycle it to the kitchen, where white lees is used to make pizza dough and red lees is used to make pretzels. Really dark lees can also be used to paint barrels.
2. City Winery’s Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton was a horse jockey for 20 years before joining the wine world!
3. We don’t “crush” grapes at City Winery. Instead, we simply destem and sort grapes before they are placed in tanks. This helps us maintain the integrity of the fruit as much as we can in order to optimize fresh aromas in the wine.
4. Press wine makes up about 25% of City Winery’s red wine production.
6. The Winery’s Barrel Room uses a house wine tap system to funnel up wines from the winery’s wine cellar. The system employs 11 taps and enables the winery to serve fresh wines on site.
7. At City Winery, we top barrels every 2-3 weeks to prevent oxidation. During the topping, we use the same variety of the wine being topped.
9. One barrel of wine fills 21 cases — that’s 252 bottles of delicious wine!
10. Because City Winery is located in Manhattan, it cannot be situated on a vineyard. Instead of growing our own grapes, we source grapes from some of the finest vineyards in California, New York, Chile and Argentina.
What else would you like to know about City Winery? Let us know in the comments below.
The diversity of the City Winery winemaking team reflects the diversity of New York City, where the winery is situated. Our head winemaker has been in the industry since he was 16 years old, while the assistant winemaker fell into the wine world after retiring from his 20-year career as a jockey.
To make things even more interesting, the winery’s cellar hand doesn’t drink wine (or any alcohol for that matter) and grew up in Mali and France. And finally, the kosher assistant winemaker jumped into the wine world as a home winemaker, out of a love for the drink.
So, just who are these unique individuals behind City Winery? I spoke with each of the core team members to learn just how they found themselves in the wine industry. Here are their stories.
Head Winemaker David Lecomte took on his first job in the wine industry as a teenager. David grew up in Tain-l’Hermitage, France, a town in the northern Rhône valley. His hometown economy was supported largely by wine production, followed by fruit farming. David said that a wine job, as a result, was just a common job in his area.
So, at 16 years old, David took on a summer job in the vineyards of Delas & Fils Sons, and after two years, he worked his way up to a winery position. Since then, he’s worked with Dragon Seal, Jean Luc Colombo, Chapoutier & Fils, Afton Mountain Vineyards, Premium Wine Group and Herzog Wine Cellars; and in 2008, he joined as the founding winemaker at City Winery.
David’s favorite part of working as a winemaker is when he has a huge diversity of crop coming into the winery. Having a diversity of metrics helps keep him on his toes, as he’s constantly thinking of how to work with each individual wine.
The biggest challenge of winemaking in an urban environment, though, is utilizing a small space to its fullest without compromising the winemaking. Even more problematic is the fact that it is impossible for the winery to be located near the vineyards, as it’s in the heart of New York City. For a classical winemaker, it’s a big challenge, but David says he has grown accustomed over the years, especially since he is “surrounded by great people” who manage the vineyard relationships in Oregon and California, where he is unable to see the grape vines and make on-the-fly decisions.
For the majority of his career life, Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton was a horse jockey, focusing on racing on the east coast of the United States. His love of wine began in his early 20′s, when he happened to compete on the west coast for a few years. A couple of owners, trainers and associates of his were interested in the wine world, and they all toured around Napa wineries together. It was there when he first began to take an interest in the winemaking process.
Furthermore, Bill has always enjoyed cooking, and his general interest in wine has always been intertwined with his passion for cooking. In fact, Bill believes that “A meal without wine is like a meal with a missing ingredient.” He enjoys every dinner with wine, “even if it’s a pizza,” he says.
Once Bill retired from his career as an athlete, he attended the Florida Culinary Institute to pursue his passion for cooking. At the end of the program, he took a course on food and wine pairing, reigniting his interest in wine.
From there, Bill happened upon an ad in a Long Island newspaper, posted by a winery searching for harvest help. He was employed with that winery, Castello di Borghese, for two harvest seasons. Afterwards, he accompanied the winemaker from Pindar Vineyards (in Long Island) to be his assistant winemaker at Childress Vineyards in North Carolina.
Bill heard about the opening of City Winery and began contacting the winery before it opened. He was fascinated with the idea of urban winemaking. At the time, the winery didn’t have an opening, but during the harvest of 2009, it brought Bill on as the assistant winemaker.
Bill’s favorite part of winemaking is that “every year brings a different challenge. Two years are never the same.” Furthermore, he loves to see the end product after the process of seeing it go from a juice to a high quality wine. On the flip side of the coin, Bill agrees with David that the most difficult aspect of urban winemaking is dealing with space constraints. When you’re restricted to a small space, the winemaking process becomes much more complicated, he says.
Kosher Assistant Winemaker Yanky Drew says his passion for wine goes a long way back, especially since wine is used quite often in Judaism.
“As a kid, I always tried to turn table grapes into wine,” he says. “As you can guess, I was not too successful. But when somebody was making wine, I was there to help. My real turning point was at Yarden Winery in the Golan Heights in Israel. I tasted their Gewürztraminer in the tasting room and was instantly hooked with the barrel rooms, vineyards and so on.”
Yanky’s passion for wine drove him to be a home winemaker, tweeting and reading tweets about winemaking. And it was through Twitter that he came to know of City Winery. “I met the previous City Winery Mashgiach, Ilan Tokayer, may his memory be blessed, through our shared tweeting. He then told me about the vacancy [at City Winery].”
For Yanky, winemaking is all about the love of the process. “What I enjoy the most about the wine world is people who have a real passion for winemaking and produce great wine for all to enjoy,” he says. “I also appreciate when wine tastes like the variety that it is, in other words, true to its variety. What I like the least about the wine world is producing and selling wine just for the business aspect of it — and people who don’t care to make good wine, only to make money.”
Cellar Hand Sikou Nikate was born in Mali, Africa and spent half of his life there before moving to France, where many of his family members live.
While Sikou doesn’t drink alcohol, including wine, he enjoys the winemaking process and working with wine.
Prior to working at City Winery, Sikou worked at a Japanese restaurant in France. He heard about the position at City Winery through a friend that works at the winery. While he didn’t have a specialization in wine before applying, the winery was a great fit for him, he says. He enjoys the people and the work.
Sikou began working as the cellar hand at City Winery during the harvest season of 2009.
The City Winery winemaking team works hard every day to make sure the winery is producing top-notch wines. With diverse backgrounds, each of the team members adds his own unique flair to the process.
Let us know if you have any questions about the crew in the comments below!
Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton punches down the cap with a punch down tool.
“Maceration management is the most complex and critical stage of red winemaking,” City Winery winemaker explains. He continues:
“The best way to manage maceration is to adapt yourself every day for every tank and to see each tank as its own person or batch. Every day, every tank is behaving differently. Not coming in for one day would cause me to lose sight of what’s going on.”
Maceration is the process through which the solid part of the must — including the grape skin, seeds and pulp — comes in contact with the liquid content — the grape juice and young wine — to impart the desired color and amounts of tannins and aromas to the juice.
During this stage of winemaking, it is important to facilitate the right amount of solid and liquid contact, so that maceration is optimized.
There’s only one pesky thing that gets in the way: carbon dioxide. As sugars in the juice are converted to alcohol during fermentation, carbon dioxide is created as a byproduct. The gas rises to the top of the vessel, pushing the solid materials — including grapes, seeds and pulp — to the top of the container, creating a solid block of fruit, known as the cap (as pictured above).
Right: Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton uses his full body force to punch down.
Left: Carbon dioxide escapes through the cap as Winemaker David Lecomte punches down.
The cap has a tendency to dry out if it’s not redistributed into the juice, causing maceration to slow to a halt.
Lecomte says that one tank produces 20-22 times its volume in carbon dioxide during fermentation. At City Winery, we use a carbon dioxide extractor, which constantly pulls CO2 out of the tanks and into the winery. To keep the winery ventilated, we keep the dock door open when the extractor is on.
The wines are constantly changing during this period. With such rapid change in the wine, maceration management takes over during this time of year, pacing the staff’s work flow, as pumping over and punching down needs are high.
3 Ways to Manage Maceration
There are three methods for maceration management: punching down, pumping over and rack & return. Lecomte explained each method thoroughly — here’s an overview:
1. Punching Down: The first way to integrate the cap back into the juice is punching down, a method very common in the Burgundy and Rhône wine regions of France. Punching down is when the cap is manually or mechanically pushed back into the juice from the top. Feet, a punch down tool or a hydraulic piston can be used to punch down. At City Winery, we use a punch down tool (as pictured above).
Punching down can only be completed when an open-top tank is being used. The team places a wooden beam across the lip of the tank and gets to work with the punch down tool, using the beam to step on for balance.
During the beginning phase of maceration, so much carbon dioxide is produced that the cap is strong enough to walk on. We wouldn’t recommend trying that, though, because one slip into the juice could be fatal. Death is highly likely if a person falls into a fermenting tank of wine, because the carbon dioxide is so strong that it is impossible to breath, even in the case that you get your head above the cap quickly.
Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton pumps over wine.
2. Pumping Over: Pumping over is when liquid from the bottom of the tank is transferred to the top of the tank to submerge the cap. Generally, this is done through two methods. In the first method, a hose is connected to a spout at the bottom of the tank and pushes wine through a pump and into a second hose that sprays the wine onto the cap (as pictured above).
In the other method of pumping over, the wine is emptied through the bottom spout into a tub, so that it can aerate. As the tank is emptied, a hose connecting to a pump siphons the juice through to a second hose that sprays it onto the cap. In both instances, the same tools are used, but the only differing step is aeration.
If a wine has slightly reduced, the team will first aerate it before pumping over.
When a wine has reduced — which is detected by the smell of sulfur, rotten eggs, onion or boiled cauliflower, depending on the level of reduction — it needs air. In this case, the team will use the air method (as pictured above) when pumping over.
3. Rack & Return: The last type of maceration management is called “rack & return” and it’s a new method that’s starting to appear in the Bordeaux wine region of France. This method is uncommon, though, as it requires the availability of two tanks. Racking is the process of carefully moving wine from one place to another. In this case, half of the wine in a tank is moved to another tank and then returned to the original tank at a high velocity using a pump at full speed, causing the cap to break up.
With pumping over, wine can only be pumped as fast as it is flowing out of the tank — that way, it’s replacing the tank at the same rate. For example, today we’re using a pump at 40% its capacity — it can pump up to 120-gallon per minute. This is all based on the flow of the wine from the tank.
With the rack & return method, though, all of the juice in the second tank can be pumped at full speed into the original tank, overwhelming and breaking up the cap. This method enables a winemaker to extract the most character from the solids in the must and can be employed when pumping over isn’t enough. This method, though, would very rarely be used at the end of fermentation, because too much extraction would occur, pushing the wine into a bitter, aggressive state.
Variables to Consider in Maceration Management
Maceration takes about 2-3 weeks, and it’s a balance — the winemaker wants to extract as much potential from the solid materials in the wine as possible. If he extracts for too long, though, the wine can become bitter, harsh or too aggressive, because it begins to extract tannins from the seed, and not just the skin.
If he extracts for too little time, though, the wine may not be as complex as it could be, generally producing a more fruit-forward, than complex, wine.
In general, pumping over and punching down occurs once or twice per day, but can take place as much as 3-4 times per day at the peak of fermentation.
So, how does a winemaker know when he should pump over or punch down? Or whether he should use air to oxygenate the wine during the pump over process? Lecomte says there are a number of variables, of which these are just a few for starters:
- Whether or not the juice has started fermenting
- What the pH level is
- What the Brix reading is
- Whether the wine will have difficulty finishing the fermentation process
- Whether another shipment of grapes is to arrive and needs to be placed in the tank
- What the winery’s pump capacity is
- What the winery’s cooling capacity is
- Whether the tank is an open or closed-top tank
- What the temperature of the juice is
- How many Brix have been lost within 24 hours
- What other wines in the winery are higher priority and must be tended to first
- How much time and how many staffers the winery has available
Lecomte explained that while two wines can have the same Brix reading, for example, they may be behaving completely differently, so the day-to-day maceration management of each will be different. All of the variables listed above — and more — must be taken into account when dealing with each tank.
Maceration is a complicated process, and this post is merely an introduction to how the City Winery manages this phase of winemaking. Let us know if you have any particular questions in the comments below!