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Voices of the Vintage: Damian North (Part 2)

Winemakers share their impressions of the season

Posted: October 12, 2005

In Part 1 of his harvest overview, Damian North talked about picking, just as his Pinot Noir was being harvested. Here he talks about fermentation, as his tanks were beginning the transformation from juice to wine.

"This year I'm doing fewer cold soaks. We have incredible color development in the Pinot Noir, so there's less need to extract that color early. We've got such color and flavor development I'm finding less need to cold soak, so I'm inoculating a little earlier.

"We've got two different fermenters that we use for Pinot Noir. We have lots of small, one-and-a-quarter-ton open fermenters, and we also have some much bigger, 15-ton static fermenters that we use for some of our bigger batches. We tend to get a bit better color and flavor extraction in the smaller fermenters. I pick those for my better-quality parcels of fruit when they come in. The disadvantage is they're a lot more work, because we need to do everything by hand. When those fermenters are at their peak, we're plunging them by hand three times a day. I filled up 36 yesterday, I already had 10 before, so I've got about 46 of those in the cellar--that's a lot of plunging. By the time you get to the end of doing the first round, it's pretty much time to start the next round.

"In the larger fermenters we use quite an innovative technique called Pulse-Air, which injects large bubbles of air into the bottom of the tank, which rise up through the cap and break it up. It doesn't tend to break up the skins and the seeds as much as pump-overs do, and it gives us that gentler extraction we're looking for. The more you plunge or Pulse-Air, the more extraction you get. If we think we're getting too harsh extraction, we can back off on that. We can also manage the temperature to some extent.

"We tend to ferment here in the cooler-to-medium range, which works well to emphasize those fresh berry characteristics. We can chill the tanks, but in the small open fermenters it's a little trickier--we do have a portable chilling plate we can put in there to chill something down if it starts to overheat. A lot of those aromatic compounds that you're looking for have very low boiling points, and heat literally boils them off.

"We do some wild-yeast ferments, but it really varies from year to year. It depends on the condition of the fruit, and whether we get nice wild yeasts or nasty wild yeasts. What we'll do is trial some out early and see how they go. If we can build up a nice wild yeast culture we can use, we'll go with some. But most of the ferments are inoculated. I really do like the complexity you can introduce with wild yeast, but you are taking more of a risk as well, so we have to balance that risk across all the batches of wine.

"We're analyzing each day for temperature and sugar, and tasting for flavor development and tannin extraction. And then that leads into the question of when to press off. I like to press pretty much straight at sugar dryness. The final decision as to when to press is based on taste, so if it needs an extra day or two post-dryness, we'll just keep tasting it and decide when to press. The tannin profile in the wine--if I think it's getting more bitter, then we'll press earlier. Sometimes a little bit of extra time on skins can soften the tannin profile, but it's really done on a batch-by-batch basis."

Next week, once his ferments have finished, North will conclude this series by talking about how his wines are managed once they're in barrels.

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