Welcome back, everyone, to our primer on wine color! Last week we talked white and rose, and this week we're going to talk red and "orange."
We know that red wines get their color from the skins of grapes, but here's the trick: during fermentation, the skins rise to the top of the fermenting liquid, so in order to extract the color in the skins, we somehow have to get them back into contact with the liquid. This is where punchdowns and pumpovers come in. These are the methods we use here at Aridus. Punchdowns literally involve pushing the grape skins back down into the fermenting liquid. We use a tool that looks like a giant plunger, which I'll feature in an upcoming "Favorite Tools," post.
Pumping over is just like it sounds-- we hook up a pump to the bottom of the tank, and use a pump to move the fermenting liquid over the top, where it's sprayed all over the skins either by hand, or through a device that spins and gently disperses the liquid. I'll feature this in an upcoming post, as well.
A few other alternative methods of dealing with skin contact during fermentation are available to winemakers. One is the use of rotary fermenters, which literally turn and in doing so, mix up the liquid and skins. Of course, this requires a specialized tank that is set on rotating gears. The most common places to see rotary fermenters are in medium to large wineries in Australia. They've generally fallen out of favor due to the perception that they produce an overly tannic wine, but as with all tools, it's how you use them that matters.
Another option is delestage, which has the potential to be the most gental of all options for skin contact. This involves draining the fermenting liquid from the tank completely, leaving just the skins behind. Once the tank is fully drained, the fermenting liquid is then returned to the tank on top of the skins. This method is similar to a pumpover, but in certain wineries, it's possible to eliminate the use of pumps entirely, draining the tank via gravity, and using a forklift, emptying the liquid back into the tank using gravity once again.
One of the more interesting inventions in the wine world for color extraction is auto-vinification, which is used widely in port production. Since gas is also a byproduct of fermentation, auto-vinification utilizes the pressure of the CO2 that is generated to push the fermenting liquid up and over the top of the cap. During the height of fermentation, this can mean an almost near-constant pump over action, which is great for port producers who are looking for lots of color extraction over a short period of time.
Finally, we've got "orange" wines. What are these? In essence, they're white wines produced in the same manner as red wines. Depending on the variety of grape, this could result in a wine that does indeed have an orange hue. However, there are many white grape varieties that do not have highly pigmented color compounds in the skins, and so the wine remaind a yellow or golden color. A more accurate term for these wines would probably be "skin contact whites," and they can be made using any of the methods discussed above. These are a relatively small portion of the market, and as you can imagine, they vary in flavor, texture, and color just as much as any red wine does from another. In fact, this is a very old style of wine, and the tradition of making white wines in this way has continued unbroked for thousands of years in regions like Georgia (the country), and parts of East and Central Europe. We have a skin contact white available in the tasting room-- it's our Orange Muscat, and it's one of my personal favorites. It's not sweet, and it's not as floral as your typical Muscat-- the skin contact allows for other complex flavors and aromas to develop. I like the peachy, tea-like aromas and flavors that I get on it. Stop by and try it if your interest is piqued!
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