"When I do barrel work, I use a pneumatic pump that is extremely gentle. There's a diaphragm that's pushed back and forth with air, and it gently moves the wine. Sort of like a one-way valve--there are balls inside, and when the wine pushes one way it can go forward, and then the balls fall down, so when it's in reverse stroke, the wine doesn't go backwards.
"We have the wine go dry in the tanks, and after it's pressed it's inoculated [with a malolactic bacteria culture] and goes straight down to barrels. It's a lot easier to inoculate one big tank than it is to inoculate all those little barrels. I want to be sure that it goes through malolactic fermentation in a timely way. I want it to start in the barrels. I think it integrates the new wood with the fruit flavors. I don't want anyone to be able to tell where the wood ends and the fruit begins in my wines.
"As the wines get further along, they change less and less every day. When they're going through malolactic, we're monitoring the barrels daily, and we'll run a chromatogram weekly to monitor the progress. I don't use any sulfite until after malolactic fermentation.
"You have the chance, without any sulfite, of having Brettanomyces or other spoilage yeasts getting a foothold. That's why we have to taste every barrel. If there's one funky barrel that's not the end of the world, but if it gets blended into a tank of wine, that is the end of the world. So it depends upon the funky. If the funky is just a sulfide issue and it just needs air, then it can be fixed. But there are some kinds of funkies you don't want to let happen since that spoils the wine. But that doesn't happen if you're paying attention.
"Our job during the aging process is to give the wine just the amount of oxygen it needs, but not too much. Wine aging is a very slow oxidation. Every time you rack there's oxygen introduced, and every time you top the barrels there's oxygen introduced. But during the aging, the wine will tell me when it needs a racking--you can smell it and taste it.
"A racking is when we pump the clear wine off the sediment. When it's first finished fermenting, it looks like unfiltered apple juice. There's all the solids from the grapes and the solids from the yeast and the malolactic bacteria, and over time the big things fall out first, and we rack the clearer wine off. Sequentially, over the couple years in the cellar, the wine gets clearer and clearer, and the sediment that we're racking is also getting finer and finer. I tend to rack quarterly in the first year, and in the second year it becomes very discretionary. I can rack it several times or not at all, depending on how the wine is evolving.
"It's just experience that tells you when it's ready for the bottle."
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