Winemaking-Dry Red Wines

Post by Dennis Dunham, Winemaker

2009 Dry Reds are into Barrels!

It’s that time of year when the steam is whistling out of the bungholes and the smell of red wine and toasted oak mingle together in an “oh so pleasing way”.

That is to say, this is the time of year that 2009 dry red wines are going into barrels and 2008 dry red wines are coming out and…..Yes, “bunghole” is an official wine industry term that refers to the hole in the top of the barrel.  This is how the barrel is cleaned, sanitized, filled and emptied.  A bung is placed into the bunghole to seal the barrel.

In the following paragraphs I am going to describe what we have done, thus far, to get the 2009 dry red wines ready to barrel.

Red Wine Fermentation

The red varietals generally ripen, and therefore are harvested, in September and October.  Upon arriving at the winery the stems are removed and the berries are slightly “crushed” or split open on their way to a stainless steel fermentation tank.  The red wine fermentation begins immediately with the addition of yeast and an initial temperature in the mid 70’s.  As the fermentation gains momentum, heat is produced and the temperature is allowed to reach 90f before cooling back down to ~80f.  This promotes proper extraction of the young tannins and pigments found in the skins of the red varietals.  During this time of the fermentation the wine is pumped from near the bottom of the tank to the top of the tank in an effort to keep the liquid in contact with the skins which tend to float.  Tannin extraction and the beginnings of tannin development is happening at this time.  When about 75% of the sugars have been fermented, we press the dry reds separating the skins and seeds from the wine.

Simple so far, right?  Hang on there is more.

Once the dry reds ferment to dryness (0% residual sugar), we conduct a malo-lactic fermentation.  We add malo-lactic bacteria which metabolizes malic acid (a harder acid) and converts it to lactic acid (a softer acid) and diacetyl (this gives a buttery, rich mouthfeel).  We monitor the malo-lactic fermentation for completeness and when the malic acid is gone, we are ready to put the wine into barrels.

To summarize: We harvested, crushed, fermented, pressed, and fermented again (malo-lactic).

Barrel Aging

This is the part that tends to confuse a lot of people, but it is really very simple.  We put wine into oak barrels for two reasons:

  1. The young tannins we have just extracted during fermentation tastes “astringent” and a little “harsh” at this time.    Young tannins, which are smaller, taste astringent.  These young tannins polymerize over time in the presence of the oxygen which is slowly allowed into the wine by oak barrels.  As they polymerize, the tannin develops into a “softer”, “velvety”, “warm” mouth-feel that provides structure and balance to dry red wines. TranslationBarrels make the tannins taste better.
  2. New oak barrels contribute flavor to the wine.  The production of oak barrels involves toasting the inside of the oak barrels.  This is done in a very particular way by a cooper to develop flavors in the wood.  The wood is actually caramelized during this process which causes wonderfully rich flavors to come out of the wood.  Some of these flavors attributed to toasting the oak are caramel, coffee, and chocolate. Translation: New barrels smell and taste good.  These aromas and flavors go into the wine.
Production Assistant, Matt Westerfield, working on barrels.

This brings me to the point of my post!  We have just finished putting the 2009 Dry Reds into barrels.  They will be in the barrels for ~12 months (precise time will be based on tasting).

As we were putting the 2009 vintage in, we pulled the 2008 vintage out of barrels and will be bottling them in a few weeks.  The 2008 Red Wines are amazing, and we certainly believe the 2009 vintage has just as much potential.


*Would you like to be one of the first to know when we release our new 2008 Dry Reds? Click here to join the Oliver Winery mailing list.

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