Posted by Barbara Kronenberg-Widmer
The weather here in Tuscany has not been as stable as we expected—we had some heavy rainfall, but luckily none of the threatening hail. Since last Friday afternoon, we have been picking on all estates, and during the periods without rain, we have been pulling some leaves off the unharvested vines. This will accelerate the ripening of the remaining grapes, help prevent them from rotting and help make picking more time-efficient.
At Brancaia in Maremma, we have already harvested all the grapes, apart from some Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The major workload and decision-making has now moved into the wine cellar. In the Chianti Classico, we have harvested half of the Merlot so far, while the entire Sangiovese crop is still out in the vineyards. The quality of the fruit from various parcels is all very promising.
For someone watching from the outside, the picture must seem very relaxed, but for us, the tension is growing. The risk of missing a sign or misinterpreting a sign in the vineyards is rising day by day, hour by hour. One could compare harvesting wine with a poker game on a millionaire's level—one only knows for sure at the end of the "game." All the work and all potential revenues are still at stake. At least with poker you can start a new game immediately—with wine growing you have to wait a full year to be able to prove that you can do better. Producing wine is not only a science based on terroir, experience and personal preferences. It is also a philosophy. Every single winemaker has to stay true to their philosophy and remain full of passion during long days and nights without enough sleep.
At Brancaia, we try to treat the juice, the young wine, as gently as possible and avoid pumping. Therefore, the picked grapes arrive at the top of the cellar, where we can let them fall vertically into the vats by gravity.
During fermentation, yeast produces a lot of heat and carbon dioxide while transforming sugar into alcohol. We keep the heat under control through computer-controlled, double-walled vats. In the first two days, we prevent the temperature from exceeding 71 degrees, in order to extract a lot of fresh fruit aromas. Then we allow the temperature to climb to about 86 degrees until the end of must contact. The bubbles of carbon dioxide make the skins "float" on top of the juice. A lot of polyphenolics and color are contained in the skins—the extraction of this color is of course crucial for red wine. In order to extract the color and all the goodies in the skins, we gently operate a piston, punching down through the fermenting mass three to five times a day. Again, we try to avoid pumping.
The actual fermentation—the transformation of sugar into alcohol—takes around six to eight days. Must contact time requires another eight to 15 days.
There are no fixed recipes on how to carry out this procedure. Every day, every vat is tasted, and there is no purely scientific way of deciding. I make the decisions myself, with the sound support of my closest team members, by tasting.
In the Maremma, we will start to pull the first young wines out of the vat soon. I look forward to sharing my impressions with you next week.
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