So how does that happen? Every which way you can imagine. You can add yeast or let ambient yeast spontaneously ferment the grapes. You can chill the grapes before they start to ferment to let them "cold soak," so that color, texture, flavor and aroma elements in the grapes can gently steep into the grape juice before alcohol has been created. You can heat the grapes to encourage fermentation, much as you might put dough in a warm place to rise. You can add nutrients to feed the yeast and keep them healthy. Sugar to boost alcohol levels in the finished wine in cold years like this one. Acidity to boost acid levels if the grapes are too ripe (not much of an issue this year). Tannin to fix color and, yes, soften the texture of the finished wine. Enzymes to help the grape matter break down more readily, for enhanced extraction. Sulfur dioxide as a preservative. You name it.
No matter what you choose to do or not do in your winemaking, fermentation is all about sugar in the grapes and grape juice changing into alcohol, producing carbon dioxide and heat in the process. The winemaker simply wants to guide the process. Our process is to do that extremely minimally. This year the approach was this:
- Pick and process the grapes
- Let them soak at ambient temperature until they begin to ferment on their own
- Do one "pump over" - using a pump to suck out the juice at the bottom of the fermenter and spraying it over the top, to mix the juice and give air to the yeast
- Do nothing for days until fermentation is active enough so you get a little hit from the carbon dioxide of fermentation
- That means nothing - no punch downs or pump overs - just a little spritz of sulfur if necessary to keep things fresh
- Once fermentation is nice and active - after about 10 days - the first punch down is highly aerative to feed the yeast more
- Then punchdowns once a day for the six to eight days as the yeast convert sugar to alcohol and temperatures in the fermenter get into the 80sF if not 90F.
- Drain the new wine and press the grape skins to get everything out
- Let the new wine settle for a couple days, then put into barrel for the winter
In the end, we saw some nicely flavored and colored wines from Armstrong and Zenith. Good raw material you might say, fully ripe tasting but with alcohols in the 12.5% and bright acidity, wine that will change dramatically in barrel but already you know it's going to be good. 2011 is that kind of year.