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Winemaking


Ideally, the earlier in the day the better for harvesting grapes, for a number of reasons.  First, obviously, because it is cooler and fruit preservation is much better when it is cold.  It also increases the chances of avoiding the warmest part of the day if transportation is involved.  Finally, the earlier the grapes leave the vineyard, the earlier they get to the winery.  Since crush days are usually very long days, sometimes stretching well into the night, being able to get an early start is a definite plus.

Once delivered to the winery, the grapes are weighed and brought to the crush pad, where they are de-stemmed and either lightly crushed or not at all.  Prior to de-stemming, M.O.G. (matters other than grapes) are sorted out, if needed.  Potassium metabisulfite is then added to neutralize any potential spoilage organisms coming in with the grapes (wild yeasts, mildew, mold, etc.).

 

Red wine
For red grapes, must (grape skins, pulp and juice) adjustments are performed at this stage (mostly TA/pH adjustments) and the yeast starter is pitched into the must along with the required yeast nutrients and enzymes.  Fermentation will last anywhere from 5-10 days depending on how hot the fermentation gets (80-90°F), how vigorous the selected yeast is, how much nutrients are added and how high the starting sugar level is.  Red fermentation takes place in 1/2-ton plastic harvest bins.  The bin's low aspect ratio (height/width) allows very good contact between the skins and the fermenting juice, maximizing color/flavor extraction.  Many larger wineries prefer these fermenters for their premium wines for that very reason. 

Fermentation caps (grape skins pushed up to the surface by the CO2 generated from the fermentation) are punched down 3-4 times a day to prevent the cap from drying up (prone to VA generation) and maintain a good skin-juice contact.  A daily oxygenation pump-over is performed to promote a healthy fermentation.  This modern technique ensures that the yeast gets an adequate oxygen supply, minimizing the production of off flavors/odors sometimes generated by oxygen-starved struggling yeast, and ensuring a strong finish, reducing the risk of stuck fermentation, especially for very ripe fruit.  Besides softening up the tannins, this procedure also minimizes vegetative components certain varieties, such as Cabernet Franc, can develop.  To further mute this vegetative character, oak cubes are sometimes added to the fermenting must, taking advantage of the strong integration function played by the fermentation.

When the alcoholic fermentation is down to the 5-10°B, malolactic (ML for short) bacteria is added to transform sharper malic acid (as in green apples) into softer lactic acid (as in dairy products) and stabilize the wine against spoilage agents preying on malic acid.  The reason to inoculate for ML at this point rather than after alcoholic fermentation has completed, as is often done in warmer areas, is to take advantage of the fact that at this stage wine temperature is still fairly high (70's) from the alcoholic fermentation, and ML bacteria does not perform well under 65-70°F.  Since average temperature in this region can drop down to the 50's during crush, especially in cooler year when harvest is later, if we waited until after alcoholic fermentation was over, the wine would be too cold and ML fermentation would be struggling, would last for a much longer time and sometimes would never finish.  Furthermore, the time when ML is winding down is a very vulnerable time for wine (sitting duck for spoilage) and the sooner we can add the protective sulfite required to protect it against these spoilers, the better.

After the fermentation runs dry (i.e., no more sugar left - all transformed into alcohol) then we press, first draining the free run from the must and then pressing the remaining skins into separate containers.  The press fraction is usually more extracted than the free run but it is also harsher and more prone to spoilage (containing a larger fraction of dead yeast cells, also called lees).  Once we are sure that the press run is healthy and we feel the free run would benefit from this addition we blend some of the press run back into the free run.  What is not needed goes into our Titan house blend, aptly named because it is the most extracted part of the press and, after softening it out with some fining, a very concentrated, but smooth wine emerges.  Rather than blending all these press fractions together in a large container, we fill up one barrel at a time and each barrel is a distinctive blend and will be assigned a different Titan number.  Therefore, each Titan release will be unique and never be more than 25 cases (i.e., 1 barrel) and we expect it to go fast, given its high quality/price ratio.

From then on, aging proceeds for at least 18 months in various containers (new/used oak barrels, stainless steel tanks/drums, etc.), depending on the level & type of oak exposure Jacques decides each wine requires at the various stages of its development.  Oak from various sources (French, American or Hungarian) and toast levels (medium, medium+ and heavy) are used to complement specifically the fruit in each wine without overwhelming it, balance being the operative word here.

The wine containers also spend some time outside exposed to the coldest winter temperatures to precipitate any excess tartaric acid and stabilize it against potential tartrate crystal deposits later on in the bottle.  We let our wines smooth out on their own, racking them only as needed to gradually clarify them and only fine them near bottling time, if we feel further softening is called for.  We also do a coarse filtration at bottling.

 

White Wine
White grapes are pressed immediately after crushing.  Sometimes crushing is by-passed altogether, doing whole-cluster pressing, to reduce the juice exposure to crushed skins and minimize the astringency occasionally resulting from such contact for some varieties. 

The resulting juice (no skins or pulp) is then chilled and allowed to settle to clean up the juice by racking it off the precipitated sediments into the stainless steel fermentation tank and eliminate possible sources of astringency or off flavors/aromas.  The juice is then allowed to warm up, adjustments are made (again, mostly TA/pH) and the yeast/nutrients/enzymes are added and once fermentation is underway, the fermenting juice is chilled back down to about 50°F (crucial for full aroma development).  Here, due to a cooler temperature, fermentation can last 2-3 weeks.  The trick here is to ferment as cold as possible without stalling the fermentation, so a fair amount of temperature adjustments are made.

Once the sugar/alcohol level reaches the desired level, then the wine is chilled to stop fermentation and sulfite is added to kill the yeast and prevent any ML activity.  This chilling also cold stabilizes the wine against future tartrate crystal deposits in the bottle when cooled down in the fridge before serving.

Minimal racking is done, only to remove as much of the lees and precipitated tartrate crystals as possible early on, because white wine is much more susceptible to oxidation than red wine.  Fining, if required to clarify/soften the wine, is done shortly before bottling.  Tighter filtration than for red wine is performed at bottling, which occurs much sooner than for red wines, usually during the year following harvest.

 

Bottling
We use our own semi-automated bottling equipment rather than use an automated mobile line because it gives us more flexibility when we bottle.  Rather than bottle the wine when the mobile line is available and when we have accumulated enough wine to meet the minimum daily bottling quantities required by such lines, we bottle each wine when we decide it is ready.  Furthermore, we also believe that bottling is a celebratory event we would like to share with interested customers (in return for free wine of course).  So keeping each bottling at a reasonable size and having the ability to schedule them on weekends when most people are available was also a factor in our decision.