Winemaking 101: Cleaning the Barrels

Preparing the 2012’s for a long winter’s nap

Last week Assistant Winemaker Bobby Donnell was busy getting the last of the 2012 Cabernets ready for their winter slumber as he prepares the winery for the incoming 2013 fruit.  He and winery interns have been finishing up racking the wine, which is the process of removing the wine into stainless tanks, cleaning the barrels, and then replacing the wine back in the barrels so it can rest until an additional racking next winter.

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Bobby does the “smell test,” alert for any off odors from any barrels.

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Wine sediment from the barrel washes out during the initial rinse phase of cleaning.

As the wine ferments in the barrels, the sediment (the “lees”) settles to the bottom of the barrel and tartrates gradually build up inside the barrels (tartrates are the harmless crystalline deposits that separate from wines during fermentation and aging).  During the racking process, Bobby will pump the wine into tanks and add a little sulfer dioxide to protect it.  He’ll then do an initial cleaning of the barrels with water, washing out the sediment.  The rinse is followed by a high pressure steam treatment.  The steam nozzle seals the bung on the barrel and when the steam hits the cool air inside the barrel, the air expands rapidly. As the air cools, it creates a vacuum effect, pulling wine and tartrates from the pores on the inside of the oak barrel.  The wine is then placed back in the clean barrels, and settles in for its long winter’s nap.

Interview with Joel Aiken in The Terroirist

Read the Interview with Joel Aiken in The Terroirist

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Best quote from Joel in today’s Terroirist interview: “It’s easy to make a 16% alcohol, low acid wine that people like with the first sip, but these wines are boring to me and lose their appeal after about half a glass. The best wines I have experienced all needed some time in the bottle and glass to show their greatness.”