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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is a “gravity-flow” winery? Don't all wineries have gravity?

—Keith, Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Keith,

I know, right? Because gravity is everywhere. There’s no formal definition of “gravity-flow” or “gravity-fed” wineries, but it indicates a particular winery-design style, suggesting that the winery production will take place on at least two different floors or levels.

If you have your entire winery operation on one floor, every time you move a wine from a crusher or press to a tank or barrel, there will be a need for pumps, conveyors or other machines. Gravity-flow winery designs take advantage of gravity, allowing wine to be moved around much more gently. Too much force, too much rough-and-tumble handling, and a wine might become overextracted or too tannic, or experience too much oxidation. It’s also harder to leave grape solids behind if you have a hose on at full blast.

Ideally, a gravity flow winery could have a different floor for every stage of wine production—imagine the grapes coming in from the vineyard on the top floor and, as the wine goes from crushing to fermentation to aging to bottling, every time you move the wine along, you have the help of gravity to move it.

Winemakers like that gravity flow provides a gentler, less interventionist approach to winemaking, takes less work moving around pumps and hoses and requires less electricity. But gravity-flow wineries can be expensive to build, and require a winemaking team willing to walk up and down stairs and ladders. Their designs typically work best when built into an existing hillside, and some of the best wine regions are in valleys. And since the term isn’t regulated, I can put a press on a table and collect the juice underneath it and claim that I created a “gravity-flow” winery.

—Dr. Vinny

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