"I had a long, late day at the winery, and then my two-year-old woke me up at 4:30 this morning. Very impressed with that....
"Being as gentle as you can with Pinot is a great philosophy. But a lot of that is based on the size of the winery. We're processing about 300 tons of Pinot Noir this year, so we can't do everything in a small-scale, gravity-flow kind of way. We do pump things, we do handle things as gently as possible, but we also have throughput that we have to get done.
"We drained a bunch of the small fermenters yesterday. There's a ton and a quarter of fruit in those, so we drain two barrels' worth out of each, and put the rest of the skins in the press to combine the lots. We're just keeping two barrels separate per fermenter, and that's really good for our small lots because we fermented it in a small lot, and we also get a couple barrels in a small lot. So we get to handle it and look at it separately through the year.
"If we drain directly to barrel out of the small fermenters, it will undergo malolactic fermentation in that barrel, and then it'll get a sulfite addition. Malolactic fermentation is a secondary bacterial fermentation, where a particular type of bacteria turns malic acid into the softer lactic acid. It's carried out in virtually all red wines, and is an optional winemaking technique in white wines. We generally add a malolactic culture, but especially if we're letting it go in barrel, we'll just let it go with the indigenous bacteria. If you add the culture, it definitely usually goes through faster--that's part of the whole idea of it, to get it reliably through, quickly. Then we can get it sulfured and into barrel.
"The big fermenters, when we drain them to tank, they undergo malolactic in the tank prior to going to barrel. If we get it through malolactic in the tank, then we can rack it, add sulfite and put it to barrel a little more cleanly and we don't have to worry about it going through slowly in barrel. I prefer it to go through malolactic in barrel, but it's a commercial reality. Malolactic in barrel can be very irregular from barrel to barrel, and you're essentially dealing with hundreds of separate lots then.
"If it's in barrel without any sulfite, you don't have any protection against spoilage organisms, be they yeast or bacteria. Lots of different spoilage organisms can grow in the wine at that stage. That's the riskiest stage of the wine's life, being in a barrel with no sulfite. If that does happen, we have to treat that barrel separately. They'll get racked in the winter and into the spring--we only rack the Pinot Noir once while it's in barrel.
"In a good year, if we're making our First Class Pinot Noir, we keep that in barrel through the next harvest, and we'll bottle that based more on taste and how it's maturing in the barrel. When it's picked up enough barrel influence, then we'll decide to bring it out and bottle it. That may be 14 or 15 months down the track. For our main Benton-Lane Estate Pinot Noir, which is 90 percent of our production, we really need to bottle that to make way for the coming harvest the next year, so we need to get that wine out of the barrels and out of the winery."
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