We're testing our new mobile-friendly website. Check out the beta version and let us know what you think!
Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I've heard the term "punch down" used as part of the process of making wine. What does this mean?
—Art B., Lake Oswego, Ore.
When grapes or grape bits are left in a fermentation vessel, as in red wine making, all the solids—grape skins, seeds, stems, pulp—rise to the surface. This mass of solid matter is called a "cap," and winemakers want to integrate the cap back into the wine. Think of the cap like a tea bag—if it's just sitting there floating on top, you're not going to get the color or flavor that you would if you dunk it in to steep. (Also, leaving the cap floating on top runs the risk of bacterial growth.)
There are two main ways to deal with the cap: pump-overs and punch-downs. Pump-overs are what they sound like: the fermenting juice is circulated, or pumped, over the cap. This doesn't break up the cap so much as it helps keep it submerged. A punch-down is when a device (think of a big potato-masher) pushes the cap down, breaks it up and submerges it again.
The how (and how often) of dealing with the cap depends on a winemaker's style. The more aggressive one is with breaking up the cap, the more a wine will be extracted, dark and tannic.
Just an FYI: if a winemaker invites you to help with a punch-down, you're in for a workout! It takes an extraordinary amount of physical effort to punch down that cap.
Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...
Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more
Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.
Passionate about wine? Wine Spectator magazine is looking for an enthusiastic copy editor in the New York office.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions
New! Ratings Flash