Neighborhood Vineyard 2008 Syrah ended its primary fermentation last week. Primary ends when the yeasts eat up all the available sugars and the must becomes "dry." Our consulting winemakers (Brent&Sarah) told me that its not the best practice when making Syrah to let the wine sit on the skins for too much longer than necessary as it makes the wine more tannic and can impart more bitter flavors. So Christophe used a collander and a potato masher to squash our mixture of fermented skins and juice into a steel keg. The wine is now, actual wine, very harsh and tart with a yeasty smell and taste from the recently completed fermentation. It also has a milky white color, reminiscent of a glacial river, which I imagine is dead yeast cells still in suspension.
Now that the wine has been pressed off into the keg, it will be allowed to sit for many months and the expended yeasts and any solids settle out to the bottom. This layer of sediment is known as the lees, and will not be disturbed when the wine is siphoned out of the keg and into bottles. The wine will now undergo secondary fermentation in the keg. Also known as malolactic fermentation, this process was jumpstarted by a second innoculation of a special bacteria which insure a quick start to the process. Malolactic fermentation is another biologcial/chemical process where malic acid is converted to lactic acid, which happens to be much easier on the palatte. Cheap wine is normally allowed so sit in large stainless steel tanks while it undergoes secondary fermentation, and often chips of oak wood are added to impart oak flavors to the wine. More expensive wine spends this part of its life in large oak barrels. Since out batch is so small, we've dispensed with the barrel and used some of Brent and Sarah's excess and experimental oak balls which should add a bit of the normal oak flavor. So now its time to wait and let the wine slowly mature and soften and become not just drinkable but enjoyable.
We started out with 150 lbs of grapes. Which made a must of approx 14 gallons. Now the wine is down to j. That comes out to about 25 bottles of wine. Which is roughly 3 grape vines per bottle of wine. At each step in the proces the wine becomes more of a mysterious and precious commodity. I'm now beginning to understand how a truly remarkable bottle of wine is the final step in a long laborious process that started years ago in the vineyard and could have met with disaster at almost any step of the way.