Pinot Noir is one of the most elusive, fickle mistresses in our industry.
Lynnette Hudson, (aka ‘The Groove’) attempts to shed some light on this winemaking process, through the diary entries she’s been keeping over the last six weeks.
March 28th: Gorgeous morning, perfect for the first day of picking. The Pinot Noir grapes taste great, with good seed ripeness.
March 28th: When the grapes come in we sort through them carefully for any imperfections. We’re looking for very clean fruit, no botrytis, good flavours and good ripeness. Sugar levels were 24.2 Brix. For non-winemakers Brix is a measurement of sugar and 1 Brix = 10g/l of sugar. Different countries use different systems for measuring the sugar at harvest. New Zealand uses Brix but Australia (for example) uses Baume.
March 30th: The Pinot was put into fermenting vats and has been chilled to stop fermentation. This is called a ‘cold soak’. Why do a cold soak? It helps extract fruit aromas and flavours as well as water soluble tannins. Different types of tannins are also extracted once the fermentation starts as the alcohol level increases. Typically I do a cold soak for 5 to 6 days but every winemaker has different ideas.
This photo shows pumping over which involves sucking the juice from a long skinny sieve (which holds back the skins) and spreading juice from below over the grapes at the top. This mixes the vat and keeps the berries fresh on the top.
April 3rd: Whole bunches of Pinot have been put directly into a vat. I am using between 30 and 40% this year and destem the rest of the bunches on top. Whole bunches in the fermentation give distinctive aromas and flavours to the wine. They also build structure, produce fine grain chalky tannins and enhance texture and mouthfeel.
April 5th: We have fermentation. The first lot of Pinot picked on Friday 28th started fermenting on Thursday 3rd after six days of cold soak. I heated the grapes up to 18 degrees to encourage the good natural yeast to start fermenting. As you can see in the photo the skins are rising up due to CO2 production, a by-product from the yeast fermenting. The cap (skins that rise up) is plunged twice daily to aid extraction of colour and tannins from the skins and to keep them fresh. The number of plunges daily does depend on the variety, season and winemaker.
April 8th: I have been neglecting my blogging duties – that tends to happen when you make wine; those grapes and yeast are very needy! My fermentation is cranking now and this photo is of a density meter, basically a digital hydrometer which reads how much sugar is left to ferment. The first couple of days were slow and the temperature was around 20 to 23 degree and 3 or 4 Brix of sugar were converted to alcohol. The meter shows that 15.6 Brix still remains and that the ferment is starting to race. Within the next 24 hours 8 to 10 Brix will be converted to alcohol by the yeast and the temperature as a result of the fermentation will rise to 31 – 33 degrees. It can go much higher but depends on the volume of grapes. Bigger volumes can generate very high levels of heat, over 35 -36 degrees and the yeast will start to die. Today the ferment was 2 Brix which basically means the ferment has peaked (as most of the available sugar has been converted to alcohol) and the fermentation is slowing down, producing less heat. The fermentation will go more slowly for the next few days until all the sugar is converted to alcohol and the yeast die.
April 14th: Beauty in a vat; a fully fermenting vat of Pinot Noir, gorgeous froth as a result of the yeast converting sugar to alcohol and producing CO2 and heat.
April 14th: Unlike the last photo which is bright and beautiful this photo shows the skins later in the process. First there is a cold soak then the fermentation and then post fermentation maceration. Maceration is the name for the time that the wine sits with the skins after the fermentation has finished and no sugar is left. There is less CO2, the cap drops as does the temperature. Lots of the colour has been extracted from the skins and the alcohol now helps extract the alcohol extractable tannins. This results in more fine grain, mouth coating tannins and typically post fermentation maceration lasts for about a week. The total time that the wine is in contact with the skins is around three weeks. Again this is winemaker dependent.
April 19th: Now it’s the fun time. The first vat has finished its fermentation and for about the last 6 days the skins have been sitting in the wine (post fermentation maceration). I’ve been tasting the vats every day. I take a sample in a small bottle; let it settle for a few hours and taste. By doing this daily it allows me to see the development of the tannins. The alcohol helps leech out more tannins and with time they form longer chains (polymerisation). This gives softer more silky tannins in the wine and produces more complex, savoury flavours. In the next day or so I will press the wine, separating the wine from the skins and then the wine will go to barrel.
April 23rd: Pressing time. After 22 days from when the grapes were first put in the vat wine has been created and now it’s time to separate the wine from the skins. As you can see from the first photo I am pumping the wine sitting with the skins into a different empty vat using a sieve to hold back the skins. In the second photo I am bucketing the skins into a small vat which can be rotated into the press. There was 2.2 tonnes of fruit in that vat; a great workout. Once the skins are all in the press, it gently squeezes out the wine. I taste regularly and once it tastes firm due to the extra tannins being squeezed from the skins the press, is stopped. The wine is now ready to go to barrel.
April 30th: All Tongue in Groove Pinots are in barrel. Once the wines are pressed into a vat they settle -the solids drop to the bottom. Often the wine is then ‘racked’, which means the clean wine is siphoned off the sediment and into barrel. However I choose to go to barrel with full solids, so I mix the vat as I pump the wine, this means the solids are evenly distributed throughout. This adds richness to the final wine and gives milk chocolate/ mocha aromas and flavours. The wine will sit in barrel for the next 16 months or so.