Once the Grapes are in…

Exploring VA Wines

By Doug Fabbioli

Once the Grapes are in…

Sometimes winemaking is one giant game of Tetris. There are so many moving parts, and each one is vital to the process, but it can be challenging to get them all happening in the order that’s necessary for a good outcome. Harvest is an exhausting time, without a doubt, but once the grapes are in, it gets really strategic.

Fermenting the red wines is always a major part of finishing things up. Each fermenting bin holds up to 1-1/2 tons of grapes which are punched down twice daily to keep the skins wet and the flavors extracting. I’ll add yeast to get the fermentation started, a dose of yeast food a few days later to keep the yeast healthy, and then a malolactic inoculation to get the secondary fermentation started as the first fermentation stage is finishing. The timing is different for each bin depending on how far along the fermentation has progressed, so every one of them must be carefully monitored.

Once the sugars have been converted to alcohol, we press the wine to separate the juice from the solids. At that point the big challenge is space: being able to keep each lot of wine separate even though most of the tanks are already filled with white wines. Once they do finally get into their tanks, the reds need to rest there a few days to allow the heavy solids to settle out before the wine is pumped into barrels. This movement from bin to tank to barrel—on repeat—is what gives us the space to press off more reds and keep the process moving.

Over in the cold room, once the barrel-fermented Chardonnay and Petit Manseng have finished fermenting they are ready for topping up and the next steps in their process. At this point we will start the stirring routine for “sur lie” with these wines, which means stirring the lees into the wine. The lees are the sediment of grape solids and dormant yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the barrel. Stirring this back into the wine over a period of time helps with clarity and gives the wine a creamy texture.

As if all that weren’t enough, a neighboring cidery is having trouble keeping enough product for their customers so I have been supplying them with Ladies Man cider. To keep the cider flowing, I am bringing in apples and raspberries to ferment during this time, on top of all the wines. That adds to the space challenge as well the mental focus challenge. The ability to multitask really comes in handy at times like this!

And to top it all off, I am only about six weeks out from my next bottling date. I have already ordered labels and am in the process of ordering the rest of my packaging materials. The trick will be finding space in the cellar to blend, filter, and prepare the wines for bottling even though most of my tanks are still filled with fresh wine from this year’s harvest.

So far I have always found my way through these challenges at this time of year, but it’s not very restful. I will admit that I tend to push the envelope in my work space pretty regularly, and other winemakers may not be in the same boat. Between you and me, I think I’m going have to build a new building soon, but please don’t tell my wife!

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