There are a few tools in my harvest toolbox that I just can't do without. Sure, the press and the punchdown tool are invaluable, but sometimes it's an ingredient that really saves the day. And one ingredient that is really a workhouse around here is the enzyme.
What is an enzyme? As much as the image above might lead you to believe it's a pile of birthday present ribbon trash, it's actually a protein that helps catalyze a reaction-- that is to say, it helps speed up a reaction. We use a few different enzymes for a few different purposes. Most of the enzymes that we use in winemaking are derived from fungal sources-- cousins to the yeasts that we use for fermentation.
For white wines, we like to use enzymes to help with clarification. Grapes, like most fruit, have a percentage of pectin in their pulp. This pectin makes them slightly gummy and can get in the way of the juice settling properly. The enzyme effectively acts like a bunch of little dudes with scissors, and breaks up the long pectin chains. With those out of the way, the juice and solids can separate more quickly and thoroughly. As you can imagine, this also helps us later on down the line when it's time to filter-- with less large particles in the wine, it saves us a lot of time and filter pads.
For red wines, we're looking for a similar pectin breakdown, but we also want to enhance the extraction of color compounds and tannins into the wine. So we're looking for somethign that will also help break down the grapes skins a little bit. This can get tricky, because if you use too much enzyme, you can wind up just turning your red wine ferment into a disintegrated mess-- you still want the skins pretty well intact so you have something to press against when you press at the end of fermentation. That's the trick with enzymes-- you want to use just enough so they're effective, but not so much that you turn your fermentation into the consistency of applesauce. We're talking on the order of about 20 grams per ton of grapes.
That's the great thing about enzymes-- a tiny bit goes such a long way. If you come out to the winery during crush and see us pouring a little bit of this and that into the auger, feel free to ask which is the enzyme. Because we're almost surely using it.
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