We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows… someone opens a bottle of sparkling wine by popping the cork, sending it flying into the air, while those beautiful bubbles spout forth like a geyser. Not what you should do or even want. Think about it, you’ve spent some cash on that bottle, and the more that spews out onto the ground, or your drinking partner, the less that you have to share and enjoy. Then there’s the safety issue. Seriously.
Depending upon which source you use, the pressure in a champagne bottle is somewhere between five and six atmospheres, or 70 to 90 pounds per square inch. To put this in perspective, that’s about two to three times the amount of pressure in your car’s tire. When opened carelessly, that cork could fly out of the bottle at a speed approximating 60 mph, causing a great deal of damage to people, glassware, windows or walls.
But if you take a few steps, opening a bottle of sparkling wine isn’t hard, and you’ll easily be able to master it on the first try. First, chill your champagne to about 45°F. At room temperature, the carbon dioxide [remember, that’s what creates those effervescent bubbles] pressure in the bottle builds up, causing the cork to burst quickly and a geyser to follow. A cold bottle of champagne is less likely to pop, plus a chilled bottle of bubbly is exquisite.
Now let’s open that bottle with a whisper, not a POP!
Sparkling wines have a tab to help open the foil on the bottle, but often the tab fails to make its way around the bottle, so you can use a wine key to cut the foil evenly, creating a clean line about the bottle. Once the foil is removed, then the cage covering the cork is exposed.
Use a napkin or a towel. First make sure the bottle is dry, so that it doesn’t slip in your hands. Turn away from people, glassware and windows. Place the towel loosely over the cage and cork, then untwist the cage counterclockwise. While you’re untwisting the cage, keep the towel and your hand over the cork to keep it from popping out prematurely.
With the cage loosened, you can begin to extract the cork by keeping one hand on top of the cork, and slowly twisting the bottle from the bottom. Do NOT twist the cork. You’ll begin to feel the cork pushing out naturally as you continue to twist the bottle from the bottom. Keep your hand on top of the cork, so that it doesn’t release too quickly.
Here’s the challenge [and it’s fun]. The slower the cork separates itself from the bottle, the more gently the hiss that escapes. Your goal is to make the softest sound possible—barely a whisper. Winemakers will tell you that a great bottle of champagne should only whisper when it opens!
Using a towel and going slowly make all the difference and will distinguish you as a true sparkling wine opening afficionado. Give it a try!
Once the cork is removed, wipe the lip of the bottle, use one of your white wine glasses, pour, and really look at the liquid in your glass. There are an estimated 5 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne. The smaller the bubbles, the higher the quality. Those bubbles mark life’s celebrations, large and small. Bubbles just make you happy.
Americans still consider sparkling wine to be solely for special occasions, but honestly, isn’t every day a cause for celebration. You don’t have to wait for an occasion, make one. A minor victory at work, a tough commute, maybe even a rough day. That bottle of sparkling wine chilling in your fridge might just be what you need to make your mouth happy, and you!
When last we left our bottles of méthode champenoise, they were hanging suspended in the air on a gyropalette arm, allowing the lees to settle into the neck of each bottle. Remember, méthode champenoise is the process whereby secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, creating those beautiful bubbles.
Bottle fermentation is the main reason that the bubbles are finer, last longer, and you get the wonderful flavors from the yeast. The longer you leave the wine in contact with the “yeast lees” the better, up to a point. This gives méthode champenoise, French style Champagne, the depth and complexity that sparkling wine created in large vats or tanks lacks. Or, as many champagne lovers exclaim, “A sip of heaven for your palate!”
Champagne has two distinct lives. The first is the slow development, dependent upon the presence of yeast during lees maturation [which occurs pre-disgorgement]. Yeast has the unique ability to absorb oxygen for an extended period [in some instances more than 50 years], which means that champagne kept on the lees will remain fresh for years and develop layers of complexity and flavor.
The second is post-disgorgement, when the yeast is no longer protecting the champagne from oxygen. During the disgorgement process, a small amount of oxygen will inevitably enter the bottle. Once this oxygen enters the bottle during disgorgement, along with the oxygen that will enter through the cork over time, champagne begins the slow ageing process.
So, what is disgorgement? The purpose is to expel the deposit of sediment that has collected in the neck of the bottle as a result of the remuage, or the riddling process. Often the neck of the bottle is submerged into a refrigerating solution at -25°F. The sediment is then ejected under pressure and is released in the form of an ice plug. This allows for a minimum loss of wine.
In lieu of submerging the neck of the bottle into a refrigerant, a skilled disgorger will lift the bottle, bottle top down, and quickly and cautiously place the bottle, still upside down, into the arm of the disgorging unit. As the arm begins to lift the bottle upright, the crown cap is popped, and the sediment plug is released. This is the same principle but requires much more care on the part of the line operator.
*If the operator inadvertently lifts the bottle too soon, the sediment will be released and mixed with the wine, necessitating that the bottle be returned to a cage and begin the riddling process once again.
Disgorgement is a critical point in the life of méthode champenoise sparkling wine, the grand finale after many months and sometimes years of peaceful slumber on the lees.
Before the disgorged wine is fitted with a cork and wire hood, the bottle is topped to its prior fill level with liqueur d’expedition, a mixture of wine and sugar. The amount of sugar determines the sweetness of the wine and balances the acidity. The acidity is essential to keep the wine fresh and the balance is a fine line determined by the winemaker.
If the winemaker is satisfied with the wine as it stands, the liqueur d’expedition will simply consist of a mixture of sugar and the same wine as the bottle holds. But the winemaker may also create the liqueur d’expedition utilizing a reserve wine. This adds an extra dimension to the winemaker’s palette of flavors, perfecting the finishing touch to an exceptional bottle of méthode champenoise sparkling wine.
The role of dosage, or liqueur d’expedition, adds to the wine’s sensory development and varies from winemaker to winemaker and according to the style of champagne.
Immediately after, the cork is squeezed into the neck of the bottle under pressure, then held in place with a muselet [wire cage] to make an airtight seal. This new cork does allow for some exchange with the outside air, which is why the wine continues to age over the years. The champagne, or méthode champenoise sparkling wine, is then returned to the cellar to relax and begin the ageing process in the bottle.
What’s left… hmm, well, chill a bottle, remove the muselet, turn the bottle and remove the cork. Careful, despite what you see in the movies, you should never let the cork pop or blow off and release any of that exquisite wine. Pour, swirl ‘n sip. Do it again and taste the wine. Slowly. Taste again. With each small sip, you’ll begin to feel that creamy, soft, rich texture on your palate. Let those tiny bubbles burst across your tongue. Smell the brioche, green apple, or nutty yeastiness, even citrus. Swallow and begin to appreciate the layers of complexity that delight your palate with each sip.
An exceptional champagne will surprise and delight you. It’s a sensory experience that is meant to be shared. We hope that you’ll visit and join us for a tasting of our Serendipity: Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Rosé, SeREDipity, and Demí-Sec. We think that each is unique in their own right. Explore their varietal differences and pick your favorite!
Once the secondary fermentation is complete, and our winemaker deems the sparkling wine, “Champagne,” those beautiful bottles are pulled from their slumber. This takes place anywhere from a minimum of 18 months to 36 months +, as the wine ages in a temperature and light controlled environment. During this time period, these bottles lie horizontally in wooden crates allowing the yeast cells to maintain contact with the wine. It is the yeast that imparts a complex, brioche [or yeasty] flavor to the wine. Those yeast cells eat the sugar in the wine, and give off carbon dioxide and alcohol, creating the tiny bubbles that Champagne drinkers know and love.
But as the yeast cells complete their work inside each individual bottle, they die, leaving a
sediment, which is known as lees. During their extended time in the cellar, the lees settles down to the full length of the side of each bottle. Once the wines have reached perfect maturity, the bottles must be turned to displace this sediment. While the lees itself isn’t harmful, it would leave the wine, cloudy looking, hence visually unappealing, and could alter the exquisite taste.
Thus, the need to riddle the bottles, also known by the French term, “remuage.”
In the time-honored traditional method, Champagne bottles are placed into wooden racks, known as pupitres, with the neck tilted downward, allowing gravity to push the sediment toward the cork. Every day, the bottle is riddled [twisted] in both directions and tilted at a more severe angle until all of the lees is collected in the neck of the bottle at the very top next to the crown cap. Remuage proceeds by carefully orchestrated rotations of the bottle, right and left, a quarter turn, an eighth of a turn, or a sixteenth of a turn. This effect combines the lees in suspension, slowly descending in stages towards the neck. Riddling is critical for obtaining a perfectly clear wine.
A person who is responsible for manually turning each bottle is known as a “riddler,” and the best riddlers can riddle as many as 40,000 bottles a day. However, many wineries, including Nostra Vita, now utilize machines to perform the riddling process, or automated remuage.
The advent of the gyropalette [an automated rotating cage for the riddling of Champagne bottles] has revolutionized the riddling of all sparkling wines. It is a now widely accepted and a seriously used tool in the rigorous quality-control processes applied by Champagne houses throughout France, Europe and the United States.
At our production facility, each Champagne bottle is removed from its wooden crate and hand loaded into stainless steel cages, 504 bottles per cage. Each cage is then loaded onto the gyropalette and the cages are suspended in air. This machine performs the same task as the riddler, but on many more bottles at the same time, and in a much shorter time frame. At specific intervals, the loaded cage twists, slightly shakes and progressively moves the bottles to a vertical position, again, ultimately with the neck of the bottle pointing downward. While an experienced riddler can complete the remuage process in 6-8 weeks, the gyropalette takes 7-10 days, a fraction of the time, in a much smaller space.
Overall, not only has the invention of the gyropalette made the remuage process far more efficient, it has also made labor easier for the cellar workers, many of whom suffered health problems due to the repetitive nature of their task. To watch a gyropalette at work, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMy8j3IblZ4
Next up: Once the bottles have completed the remuage process, we then prepare for disgorging the lees plug formed in neck of the bottle.
I’m not a fan of New Year’s, mostly because I spend the days ‘n hours leading up to that ball drop reviewing, reflecting and ruminating about what I’ve done, where I’ve been, what I’ve accomplished, and how many “oops” moments I’ve had over the past year. Yep, it does often tend to send me into a tailspin.
After much consideration, my conclusion is that 2022 will be the year of “curiosity.” The background for this is that I select a word or phrase, something that sticks with me that I pick up during the current year, then I make a valiant effort to apply it to the upcoming year. Curiosity seems appropriate, so for 2022, I pledge to be curious, not judgmental.
But my takeaway stems from this year’s holiday luncheon. As I looked on at all the familiar faces gathered around the table, I thought, “I am so lucky.” I work with an outstanding group of people, and we all share a passion for creating exceptional wines. Every person gathered that day brings a variety of strengths, and quite honestly, I cannot imagine doing what we do without each member of this team.
If you’re ‘curious,’ I’m going to take this opportunity to briefly share with you a little something about each of these individuals, who I have dubbed extended family.
Eloy Arroyo, Ranch Manager. But honestly, that really doesn’t describe all that Eloy does. He has the innate ability to look at any problem, walk away, and then return with a solution, and that solution is one that no one else discovered. He’s wise, thoughtful, hardworking, responsible, intelligent, and we are so lucky to have him work with us.
Frank Simko, Electrical Engineer. To know Frank, is to love Frank. He’s filled with stories, advice, and can solve any problem, electrical or otherwise. He’s the type of person that will stay longer and not charge you, just because he’s interested to see how it will all work out in the end. Loving, kind, generous, he’ll tackle any problem head on, smile while he’s doing it, and never utter an unkind word.
Anisa Keyser, Cellar Door Manager. She has been guiding, influencing, and keeping us on track since the beginning of NV. Kind, gentle, thoughtful, wise, insightful ‘n dedicated, she is the voice of reason in every situation, and always has our best interests at heart. Anisa is thorough, remembers every detail, and strives to ensure that our wine club members’ orders are correctly filled. She only relaxes once everything is done, and every individual is content.
Tim Cook, Asst. Cellar Door Manager. He’s the face that you’ll most likely encounter when you walk through the door. He’s inquisitive, friendly, knowledgeable, and easy to chat with, and knows everyone, even if they’ve only visited once. He has a ‘can do’ attitude that we all respect and appreciate.
Jan Klevan, Wine Guide. This woman understands wine, pays attention to the details, and has a razor-sharp wit. She’s the type of person that has the expertise that you need in any situation and will gladly share her prior experiences with the team. *That, and the array of delicious treats that she brings in to share keep us all happy ‘n well fed.
Chad Osborne, Wine Guide. This gentleman is charming, witty, and articulate. He is a master at keeping us all entertained and ensuring that your order is delivered in a timely manner. A connoisseur of all things delicious ‘n tasty, he loves wine and has developed quite a palate over this past year.
Katie Bloudoff-Indelicato, Sales Manager. Ahh, dedicated, driven, meticulous, personable, computer savvy, there is almost nothing that this young woman can’t do. She’s often the one that we turn to with issues, and she generally has a solution. Together with her team, she’s pushed sales up ‘n up ‘n up over the past year.
Kyle Bloudoff-Indelicato, Asst. Winemaker. We have had the privilege of watching this enterprising young man develop into quite an accomplished winemaker and manager over the past couple of years. Turns out, he is also mechanically inclined, which is a plus to a small business when your various pieces of equipment tend to take break during the workday.
John White, Sales. He is the wise voice that parses every conversation or sales pitch and always produces a superior presentation. Never one to anger, or lose his patience, he has valuable insights to share and inspire the rest of us.
Sergio Hurtado-Arroyo, Cellar Worker. Hard working, intelligent, he has keen insights, isn’t afraid to ask questions, and never ceases to amaze the production team. He never gets flustered, can look at problems as opportunities to create solutions, and has a delightful sense of humor.
Dee Mayfield, Bookkeeper. Dee came in at a time when the owners were drowning in paperwork, and calmly, patiently, learned their system, then made it better. She never loses her cool, always asks the relevant question, and brings the most delicious bread to share.
Hayden Sparks, Sales. One of the newest members of our team, he is finding his way, quickly. Recently, he has demonstrated his dedication, determination, reliability and, willingness to take on additional responsibilities. As he begins to reach and conquer his monthly milestones, we’re excited to see where this takes him.
Miguel Fernandes, Vineyard Worker. Hard working, responsible, and dedicated to ensuring that the vineyards receive the love ‘n attention that are needed to create those exceptional wines. Quiet, Miguel is kind, gentle and knowledgeable when it comes to repairs and keeping our fields healthy.
Maria Gutierrez, Winery Worker. This young woman is ambitious and is always early for each shift that she works. She never seems to tire, and her sense of humor and laughter are infectious. She keeps us on our toes.
Leticia Fernandes, Vineyard Worker. This young woman has a dual role. She is often out in the vineyard, but when the bottling line is going, you will see her running parts of the line with a sense of calm and authority. If there is any downtime, Lettie will grab a broom, shears, and proceed to keep busy, always filling a need.
Chris Campos, Electrician, Handyman Extraordinaire. When Chris retired, he became busier than ever, because his woodworking skills are legendary, and because he’s old school—if he tells you that something will be done on a certain day, it is, and beyond your expectations. He’ll ponder any task, go home and research a solution on his time, then astound you with the results the next time his truck pulls up into the parking lot, usually long before you arrive.
May 2022 bring you the gift of curiosity, so that you, too, are reminded as to just how lucky you are to be surrounded by people who share your love ‘n passion. Happy New Year!
Mise En Place:
Whisk the egg mixture into the melted chocolate in 3 additions until combined. (The mixture may get very thick.) Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture in 3 additions until it is fully incorporated. It is important that the chocolate mixture is not warm to ensure that it combines smoothly with the whipped cream without seizing up.
Divide the chocolate mousse among four 4-ounce ramekins and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
Whip the remaining 3/4 cup cold heavy cream to stiff peaks. Top each chocolate mousse with whipped cream and serve. (For a softer texture, allow the ramekins to sit at room temperature while you whip the cream.)
Enjoy with Nostra Vita's Serendipity Demi-Sec.
Ahh, it’s the most stressful time, I mean, most wonderful time of the year. As the holidays approach, we all grapple with what to get our boss, neighbor, co-worker, or that family member that has everything. So we’re here to help lessen your stress level with a few gift suggestions for the wine lover on your list, and hey, who isn’t?!?
Wine is a beverage meant to be shared. It’s a sensory experience and tends to bring people together to form a connection. Think of special holiday meals, family get-togethers, a quiet moment with a significant other, or a lively gathering with friends—wine ‘n food make any event extraordinary. This holiday season, here are a few gift suggestions that will make anyone on your gift list go, “Wow!” You can relax, and they can simply remove the cork, pour, swirl, sip, savor ‘n enjoy.
Red Wine Lover: 2018 Petite Sirah & 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon.
This Petite Sirah is big, bold and powerful, yet nicely balanced. Note the complexity as your palate savors the robust tannins. It has a rich, deep color, and full-bodied flavors of blackberries, spice, chocolate, and just a hint of black pepper.
Our Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its dark color, full body and ample tannins. This wine is dry, with medium acidity, and beautiful, complex flavors. Note the aromas of black currant, dark spices and a bit of spicy oak.
White Wine Lover: 2020 Chardonnay & 2020 Viognier.
Our Clements Hills, Lodi AVA Chardonnay is nicely layered and creamy in texture. Dry with moderate acidity and alcohol, its flavors range from apple to lemon and pineapple with notes of vanilla. Crisp and sassy, this wine has a smooth and decadent finish.
This Viognier has a vibrant acidity and exotic aromas of citrus blossom, apricot, and pear. The taste is rich, round, and well balanced with intense flavors. It’s a versatile wine—pairing well with a variety of foods as well as standing alone.
Champagne Lover: Serendipity 5-Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Rosé, SeREDipity, Demi-Sec.
Blanc de Blanc: Sourced from 100% Chardonnay grapes from our Clements Hills vineyard, this wine is dry and has a creamy texture. A toasty bouquet of yeast from aging in the bottle means that the suppleness mid-palate finishes with a bright, crisp impression.
Blanc de Noir: It has a rich, creamy texture with a vigorous mousse. Light peach in color, the aroma has distinct notes of hazelnut, cacao, and citrus zest. This wine’s viscosity is balanced with a sharp acidity that cleanses the palate.
Rosé: Smell the aromas of sweet jammy apricot, peach, hints of orange skin, and notes of butterscotch and yeast. Gently aged before its release, it offers a vibrant acidity, and the effervescence lingers on the tongue.
SeREDipity: A blend of French varietals Chardonnay and Alicante Bouschet. Distinct due to its deep, magenta-red color, vigorous mousse, and the delicious aromas of raspberry, chocolate, and strawberry. Luscious fruit, refreshing acidity, and smooth finish make this the perfect addition to any holiday meal.
Demi-Sec: A special addition to our Serendipity lineup, this sweeter, finely balanced sparkling wine has a smooth, creamy finish. Enjoy the crisp citrus notes with a lovely peach undertone.
Sweet Wine Lover: 2020 Bella Blanca & 2019 Orange Muscat.
Our Bella Blanca is seductively aromatic with pronounced floral and stone fruit aromas, and flavors of peach, apricot, and citrus. The sweetness is well balanced with acidity, making this wine flavorful and perfect for sipping in the afternoon.
Our Orange Muscat is aromatic with an orange blossom aroma and spicy notes. Taste the sweet orange finish with a hint of apricot. Slow fermentation allowed this wine to fully develop in flavor. Sweeter in profile, it has a bright, fresh flavor. Truly “gold” in a glass!
The gift that lasts throughout the year: 1-year Wine Club Membership.
Good wine brings people together to make lasting relationships and memories. We believe in the power of community and invite you to become a part of ours. There is no fee to join, and wine club releases are quarterly: March, June, September, December. Pick your club level: 3-bottle, 6-bottle or 12-bottle, and begin your wine journey!
Top of the Line: 1-year Serendipity Wine Club Membership.
Treat yourself, or someone you love, to the ultimate gift--Serendipity Sparkling Wine, our méthode champenoise, or French-style Champagne. Each bottle is lovingly handcrafted and requires both time and care to create a premium quality product known for its creamy flavor and effervescence. This is a 1-year commitment with no fee to join, and club release are quarterly.
For Club memberships, please visit our website: www.nostravitawinery.com to learn about the club levels and perks, give us a call at 209.334.0274, or stop by and we’ll be happy to tell you all about our wines and the wine club.
We would like to wish you, and yours, a very happy holiday season from all of us here at Nostra Vita Family Winery. Raise a glass and share a toast with someone special… we’ll be thinking of you.
Ingredients: (Makes 12 Deviled Eggs)
Mise En Place:
Measure out all ingredients before cooking process begins
Enjoy with Nostra Vita's Serendipity 2017 Blanc de Blanc.
Ingredients: (Makes 2 Cups)
Mise En Place:
Measure out all ingredients before cooking process begins
Enjoy with Nostra Vita's 2007 Petite Sirah Dessert Wine.
The 2021 harvest is complete, but the work is just beginning for our winemakers, particularly our sparkling winemaker.
While all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The process used to make Champagne is referred to as méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle. This means that the second fermentation occurs in the individual bottle in which the Champagne is later sold. Champagne has been made in this way for over 300 years, and it is an elaborate process in which every single bottle becomes an individual fermentation tank, so to speak.
*You should know that Champagne can legally only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region in northern France. However, some brands in the United States have been ‘grandfathered’ in and continue to use the term Champagne.
Still, the méthode champenoise process follows strict guidelines developed in France and requires the winemaker to handle each individual bottle many times. Prosecco, and some other sparkling wines, including flavored sparkling wines, get their bubbles by having the secondary fermentation occur in a giant wine tank [referred to as the charmat method]. The least expensive sparkling wines have carbon dioxide pumped into the giant tank [much like a soft drink].
But the French style of Champagne is truly a labor of love. Once the wine, in this case 100% Chardonnay, has gone through dry fermentation [or primary fermentation], the winemakers must determine which type of yeast to use for the tirage. Live yeast must be grown approximately 48 hours in advance, and cell counts are monitored throughout this time period. Not enough live yeast cells, and, most likely, you’ll have “flat” sparkling wine, or wine without those beautiful bubbles. And selecting the appropriate yeast will affect the taste, color and quality of the sparkling wine, or Champagne.
The live yeast and sugar [those yeast cells need their nutrition, too] are blended to form a liqueur de tirage, which on the day of bottling is added to the still wine.
Bottling day, my favorite, because the production facility has a ‘heavenly’ aroma, we begin before dawn, and the excitement is energizing. Once that wine goes into the bottle, it is topped with a crown cap [a bottle cap], and then it begins its journey.
Champagne bottles are heavier than traditional wine bottles because of the pressure. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the secondary fermentation process [yeast cells eat the sugar, and give off carbon dioxide and alcohol], and the gas remains trapped within the bottle. The trapped gas needs a thicker, heavier vessel to withstand all that pressure caused by the secondary fermentation.
The bottles are then stacked on their sides and placed either in cages or wooden crates. The crates are stored in a light and temperature-controlled environment. As the secondary fermentation proceeds, the yeast cells die, but the “Champagne” continues to age in the cool cellar for a minimum of 18 months, three years, or more. As the yeast cells age with the wine, they split open and spill into the wine, imparting a complex, yeasty flavor to the Champagne. The best and most expensive Champagne spends a great deal of time on the yeast.
For our winemakers, each stage is equally important and until that bottle is disgorged, they wait, watch ‘n worry. Bottle fermentation tends to diminish the fruitiness of the wine that will generally be found in the charmat method of sparkling wines. The changes that occur inside each bottle as they sit in their crates contribute to the beautiful aroma and flavors, often referred to as toastiness, nuttiness, caramel, brioche or, simply yeastiness. A good bottle of méthode champenoise will become smooth and creamy on the palate. The bubbles tend to be tinier, effervescent, and the taste is unique. And as attributed to Dom Pierre Pérignon, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
We hope that you’ll join us as we begin the process of tirage, so that we, too, may ultimately ‘taste the stars.’
For viticulturists [grape growers], the season is winding down, right? Well, sort of, because although, at least for some of us, our grapes are in, or almost harvested, there’s still work to be done in the vineyard once the crop is off, as the vines must be cared for in order to rest during the winter months. Good vineyard practice necessitates that post-harvest recovery is critical to ensure the vines’ health, as well as the continuation of high-yielding grapevines for the upcoming season(s).
But for the winemaker, the season is now underway at a frenzied pace. Once those beautiful grapes make their way to the winery, it’s all hands-on deck, and wineries in ‘n around Lodi become hubs of energy. This time of year is a delight for those of us who are enamored with the sights ‘n sounds of fall. There’s a delicious aroma that wafts on the breeze, whether you’re walking through a harvested vineyard, or have the privilege of strolling through a production facility.
If you love red wine, then here are a few basics. The juice ferments with the grape skins, taking the red color, tannins, and flavors from it. That beautiful color that you’ll see in a glass of red wine comes from anthocyanins (red pigments) found in those sinfully dark grape skins. The must, which includes the pulp and the grape skins, begin to ferment, whereas small, sugar eating yeasts consume the grape sugars and make alcohol and carbon dioxide (C02). During the fermentation process, the juice gets stirred frequently to submerge the skins.
Those beautiful skins are forced to the top by the C02, and form a cap, so winemakers use a wine cap punch down tool to break up the mass of skins and solids. They don’t want the cap to dry out, because then the juice wouldn’t have the needed skin to extract the necessary tannins and color. These floating caps are “punched down” to increase the skin-to-juice contact. Cellar workers often climb ladders and literally punch down and break up the purple cap multiple times a day. *It takes a fair amount of effort and can be physically demanding work.
Punch downs are usually reserved for high-end handcrafted red wines as they demand more time, effort and attention. Winemakers utilize this practice as it extracts the flavors more delicately and tend to produce complexity in the red wine. Once the fermentation process begins, it generally takes anywhere from 5 to 21 days to ferment most of the sugar into alcohol. This can be a critical time in the winemaking process, and the team pays close attention to the aromatic red grape skins.
Once this portion of the fermentation process [referred to as primary fermentation] is complete, the winemakers will drain the freely running wine from the tank. The remaining skins are pressed to extract the residual juice and wine. This pressed wine may be blended with the free run wine at the winemaker’s discretion.
This wine may be settled into barrels, or tanks, in order to continue with a second “fermentation.” Malolactic fermentation is a bacterial process which converts the sharp-tasting malic acid into a creamier, sometimes chocolatey or vanilla lactic acid. Barrel fermentation imparts some of the oak aromas and tannins to the wine. Wooden barrels can affect the wine noticeably, while unlined concrete and clay tanks can have a softening effect on the wine by reducing the acidity.
As red wine rests, chemical reactions occur within the liquid itself. Red wines will often taste smoother and nuttier as they age. The time from harvest to drinking can vary from months to well over 20 years, dependent upon good structure with high levels of acid, tannin or sugar. Winemakers will tell you that this depends upon the quality of the grape and the target of the wine style, and all of this can vary based upon the approach used in production.
A winemaker may blend grape varieties together or even different barrels of the same grape varietal to make a finished wine. Blending takes skill and experience as each winemaker is challenged to use their sense of texture on the palate rather than just the nose. If this all sounds simple, it’s far from elementary. The process is complex and any number of factors in the field can disrupt or change the outcome of the wine. But as anyone can tell you, once you taste, smell and feel the one—that special creaminess, smooth texture on your tongue, and that heavenly aroma in your nose, there’s nothing like the vintage that you saw from vine to wine. It’s unforgettable. Here’s to the 2021 vintage!