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Winemaking Techniques: Everything Old is New Again

Co-Founder Scott MacFiggen, Sosie Wines Foot-Stomping Grapes
Co-Founder Scott MacFiggen, Sosie Wines Foot-Stomping

See why some winemaking techniques will never go out of fashion.

Winemaking Technique #1: Foot-Trodding

“For our white wines, grapes are typically put directly into a press so the juice can be extracted and fermented. This only provides an hour or two of skin contact. For our Roussanne, we prefer more skin contact so we foot stomp the grapes until there is enough juice to cover them. We then wrap the bins, add some dry ice and let them sit overnight. In the morning, we press the grapes. We do this to extract more color from the skins but also to extract tannin and phenols which adds texture to the finished wine.” — Co-Founder Scott MacFiggen, Sosie Wines

Jeff Cohn, Co-Founder, Jeff Cohn Cellars, Sonoma - Amphora Aging Container
Jeff Cohn, Co-Founder, Jeff Cohn Cellars, Sonoma – Amphora Aging Container

Winemaking Technique #2: Amphora Aging

“Aging the wine in a terra cotta amphora showcases the true purity of what a vineyard is all about. You can almost feel the connection the wine has to the soil. It has a more Rhône feel to it, with a hint of Italian influence.” — Alexandra Cohn, Co-Founder, Jeff Cohn Cellars, Sonoma

Willowbrook Wines Harvested Grapes in metal bin
Willowbrook Wines Winemaking Process

Winemaking Technique #3: Wild Yeast Fermenting

“We make wines that speak of ‘sense of place.’ Unlike commercial yeasts, native yeast is specific to that vineyard and this helps shape our wines accordingly. Native yeast creates a much more luscious, generous wine which enhances flavor profile and richness. It’s a minimalistic approach that has maximum impact.” — Winemaker Trent Kelly, Credaro Winery, Margaret River, Australia

“I used to always use commercial yeasts, but now, I always go native, unless the grapes are distressed or the fermentation stalls. I like the complexity that comes from native yeasts. Commercial yeasts are usually using a single strain and this will dominate the wine. With a native or wild fermentation, we get non-wine yeast in small doses, and they can add layers and complexity.” — Joe Otos, Founder/Winemaker Willowbrook Cellars

Belden Barns Serendipity Block 2 Vineyard, Sonoma, CA
Belden Barns Serendipity Block 2 Vineyard, Sonoma, CA. Photo Credit: Vance Jacobs

Winemaking Technique #4: Field Blending

“We took our best pocket of vineyard and inter-planted it with nine separate Pinot Noir clones. Knowing full well that none of the clones ripen at the same time, we limit the picking of Serendipity Block to one day. We then ferment the entire lot whole-cluster (100%) and age it solely in neutral oak. In this way, we try to capture the essence of Serendipity Block at one moment in time with limited winemaking influence. This nature-over-nurture approach has yielded a spectacular wine.” — Founder Nate Belden, Belden Barns, Sonoma

Co-Founders Tom and Kerry Eddy, Tom Eddy Wines, Napa Valley
Co-Founders Tom and Kerry Eddy, Tom Eddy Wines, Napa Valley

Winemaking Technique #5: Wine Caves

“If you are lucky enough to own property with volcanic rock (like we are), then drilling a cave is the first option because it’s less expensive than building a winery, and it’s better for the winemaking.  Caves are naturally cooled and so no expensive refrigeration is required for barrel storage.  The humidity is typically ideal for aging since evaporative losses from barrels stay under control.  Besides the cost and quality benefits of cave barrel aging, it’s just plain fun to have a cave in which to do tastings on a hot summer day and to use for hospitality events.” — Co-Founders Tom & Kerry Eddy, Tom Eddy Winery, Napa Valley

Erik Miller, Founder of Kokomo Wines, gets a workout punching down his grapes..

Winemaking Technique #6: Hand Punch downs

In winemaking, when fermentation begins, the grape skins and solids rise to the surface because of the carbon dioxide gas that fermentation creates. “Punch down” is the term winemakers use for breaking up this cap of skins and solids that forms over fermenting red wine. They don’t want the cap to dry out, as this would not allow the juice to have the skin contact it needs for the extraction of tannins and color.

The idea is to submerge the cap to increase skin-to-juice contact. In small artisan wineries, this is often done with hand punch downs. With this winemaking technique, the cellar worker holding some kind of paddle device climbs a ladder and literally punches down and breaks up the purple cap. It can be hard work.

Hand punch downs are usually reserved for high-end red wines, since they demand more labor and attention. There are others ways to make sure the juice and skins remain in contact. One is called pumping over or delestage. This is a process that pumps juice from the bottom of the tank to spray over the cap. Another method, used for larger tanks, are mesh screens that are pushed down through the cap.

Brie and Bill Cadman - Tulocay Harvest
Brie and Bill Cadman – Tulocay Harvest

Winemaking Technique #7: Bottling Wine Unfined and Unfiltered

Sediment is NOT a flaw in the wine.  In fact, it is often the result of an artisan winemaker choosing to bottle wine unfiltered to create deeper color and richer texture.  This is a handcrafting technique used in high-end wines made for aging. “Today, most folks expect their wines to be absolutely clear. But highly filtered, crystal-clear reds? Forget it! That’s like having your peanut butter creamy. Only wimps eat creamy peanut butter.” — Tulocay Winery Founder/Winemaker Bill Cadman

The California Wine Club President Gerri-Lynn Becker checking grapes at Dancing Coyote Winery.
The California Wine Club President Gerri-Lynn Becker checking grapes at Dancing Coyote Winery.

Winemaking Technique #8: Foregoing Amendments

In addition to using native yeast for fermentation, Lost Slough wines implement natural winemaking techniques by limiting additions. “We rely on what is naturally occurring in the grapes for nutrients and acid,” explains Winemaker Chad Joseph. “In commercial winemaking, it is common to adjust the acid levels or add nutrients to make sure you have a healthy fermentation. But what we do is encourage the natural microbes that are in the wine, and because of that, we get a lot of unique flavors. Your members are getting an opportunity to taste wines similar to what most wine tasted like 100 or more years ago. This is an opportunity to explore ‘traditional’ winemaking, in the real sense of the word.”

About The California Wine Club

With The California Wine Club, you’ll open the door to handcrafted, small-batch wines that are nearly impossible to find outside of the winery’s doors. Our wine club features five wine club levels, and each shipment introduces wine club members to different wineries and brings new wines to discover. As mentioned above, each shipment is accompanied by Uncorked, our beautiful guide to the wineries, the wines, and California’s wine scene. Wine club membership also includes a Personal Wine Consultant at your service and discounts of up to 50% off winery retail for each bottle when you reorder your favorites. Plus, members enjoy $1 ground shipping on every case and half case reorder to most states.

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