Why would a vintner stir a wine while it's fermenting?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I heard in Chablis that when the wine is fermenting, some winemakers will stir the barrels in order to get it fermented more quickly. I want to know the difference between the wine that is stirred when in fermentation, and the one that isn’t.

—David W., Shanghai, China

Dear David,

Some winemakers like to stir a wine while it’s fermenting for extra contact with the “lees,” or sediment, which is mostly made up of dead yeast and bits of grapes. This extra contact with the lees is called sur lie in French. To maximize the exposure, a winemaker might also stir the lees, a process the French call battonage. You’ll most likely come across these terms in reference to white wines, to note their unusual nature—red wines are typically fermented with their grape solids, but white wines typically aren’t.

While I don’t doubt that in the right circumstances it might end up with a faster fermentation, battonage is hardly the practice of a winemaker in a hurry. Quite the opposite, in fact, as it’s a time-consuming practice. Most winemakers I’ve spoken with say that it adds a richer, fuller body and more depth of flavors.

That said, it’s not as simple as saying, “This wine has a rich body, so it must have been made with battonage,” as that’s not always the case. Extended lees contact is just one of the many techniques winemakers have in their arsenal to make the wines they want.

—Dr. Vinny

How to Taste Tasting Descriptors Winemaking Techniques Explained Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Why does wine taste better at a restaurant than it does at home?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why going out to eat changes the way we …

Jan 10, 2022

Dr. Vinny's Top 5 Questions of 2021

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert, Dr. Vinny, revisits some of the most popular …

Jan 5, 2022

Is the price listed on wine reviews the retail price?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where the price in a Wine Spectator wine review …

Jan 3, 2022

What’s your opinion of wine aerators?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how aerators work and whether or not they should …

Dec 27, 2021

Is it safe to drink a glass of wine that was left out overnight?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explain what happens when wine is over-expo…

Dec 20, 2021

Can cork-tainted wine be "fixed" by replacing the cork?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the difference between chemical compounds …

Dec 13, 2021