Happy Halloween, everyone! In honor of one of my favorite holidays, I thought it only appropriate that we discuss one of the cheapest and most effective wine ingredients available: GHOSTS.
Okay, they don't look particularly creepy, and what are they? Ghosts, also known as yeast hulls, are the cell walls of dead yeast. And it turns out, that they contain a lot of helpful compounds that can keep your fermentation or even your malolactic conversion from stalling out.
During fermentation, yeast throw off a lot of byproducts. Mostly alcohol, CO2, and heat, but also plenty of other compounds, like the aromatics mentioned earlier this year. Some of these byproducts are toxic to yeast-- alcohol for one, but also octanoic and decanoic acids. Ghosts can help fermentation by adsorbing these acids-- essentially pulling them out of the wine, and making the environment a little more friendly to the yeast that are working there. They also provide some of the nececssary components for living yeast to build healthy cell walls-- sterols and long-chain unsaturated fatty acids. Even after alcoholic fermentation is complete, their presence helps malolactic conversion for a lot of these same reasons-- octanoic and decanoic acids are also toxic to malo bacteria, so less concentration helps the bacteria do their jobs.
There's evidence that ghosts may also help prevent certain white wines, such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc from turning slightly pink in bottle, and that the addition of ghosts during fermentation can help promote tartrate stability. They can even help wines that have high levels of cork taint [a compound called TCA]. Adding ghosts can help remove some of this compound from the wine.
So there you have it-- one little ingredient with a myriad of uses. I hope the ghosts that surround you today are just as helpful!
Hi everyone! Now that we've finished pressing, and we're putting the wines to bed for the season, it seemed like a great opportunity to talk a bit about the tools that are most helpful to us when working with barrels.
First up is the stirring wand, pictured below. It's a curved metal rod with a rotating metal oval at one end and a handle at the other. It's a great tool for doing ingredient additions to barrel, and lees stirring. You simply pull the bung out of the barrel, and slip the oval end in. You use the handle to rotate the wand around in the barrel and you can pretty effectively mix up all the contents.
What do you do if you're fermenting in a barrel, or if a wine is still going through malolactic conversion, and you want to keep the outside world out? Use a fermentation bung! We have two types on hand here-- one with a flexible silicone cap that fits down the middle of a 5-holed bung (on the left below), and one that has just one hole with a smaller silicone plug that fits through the hole and has a foot holding it in place (on the right below). These move just enough to allow the gas produced during fermentation to escape, and come back into place to prevent anything from getting in the barrel. I tend to prefer the option on the left because it's a little bit more flexible and in my experience has less chance of blowing out.
Lastly, the workhorse of the barrel room, we've got the barrel rinser. Are we prepping a barrel that's been empty for a few months to receive wine? Are we cleaning out a barrel after a racking? Are we doing just about anything with a barrel? Yes? Then we're going to rinse it! This nifty little number easily slides into the downward facing bunghole of a barrel, and allows us to give the barrel a thorough spraying of water or ozonated water. In the photo below, you can see on the left where the rinser connects to the water supply, a valve to open or close the water supply, a small foot below to hold the rinser in place, and on the right the spinning head. It works by pressure, so it uses the pressure of the water itself to turn. Simple, elegant, and effective.
These are just a few of the tools that we use when working with barrels, but they're some of my favorites. Check back in periodically, and I'll show off some more of the tools of the trade.
Do you ever wonder why most wines come in glass bottles, as opposed to boxes, cartons, or mini barrels? We do, too! That's why we're starting a new blog series looking at the different packaging options available, how they're made, how they came to be used for wine packaging, and what the pros and cons are of using them. And with that, let's start with the obvious...
Glass remains by far the most popular packaging format for wine, with 85% of the market. The highest consumer acceptance is for glass with cork closure.
Glass was first used as a packaging option in the first century BC, but the technology was tightly guarded. It first came to be used as a popular wine packaging material in the mid-1800s once the process of blowing a bottle was automated-- until then, there was too much bottle variation for it to be effective as a packaging option for most wineries.
The raw materials of glass are: silica sand, sodium oxide (soda ash), calcium oxide (limestone), dolomite and feldspar, which are blended according to a precise recipe. Other metal oxides, which confer different colors to the final product, may be incorporated into the recipe in minute amounts. These raw materials are mixed together with about 25-30% cullet (broken glass), to lower the melting point of the entire mixture before it is fed into a furnace, blow molded, and annealed. The 750-mL bottle is the most typical size.
Glass is an impermeable and inert container— important for holding a product that relies entirely on its sensory profile. From a producer’s standpoint, there are two major decisions to be made with regard to wine quality when wine is packaged in glass. The first is the color of the glass; many wines will undergo chemical changes from exposure to UV rays. Certain whites (such as Pinot Grigio) can smell and taste “skunky,” and red wines can experience bleaching of their anthocyanins. For these wines, darker glass affords more protection.
Unfortunately, glass is a somewhat fragile package, and improper handling can lead to breakage. This is a downside for producers, retailers, and customers alike. A breakage event can impact more than just the bottles that have broken—seepage may destroy labels on undamaged bottles, diminishing salability. Additionally, broken glass is a safety hazard.
Bottles are also weighty, which limits the volume that can be transported at one time. Trucks are limited on load weight, and can only carry around 1,200 cases, even accounting for variations in bottle weight. Rail containers can hold three to four times that. Add to this that a case is not a particularly compact package, with about half the box comprising empty space, and the efficiency of moving glass-packaged wine is greatly diminished. From an environmental standpoint, the weight of the glass, plus the fuel required to move it can more than double the carbon footprint of the product— something that matters to many consumers in an age of increasing attention to climate change.
Most of you may be familiar with tannin as a structural and mouthfeel component of wine, but did you know it's also a fairly common wine ingredient?
Tannins can be used at just about any point in the winemaking process. They come from a few sources-- grapes themselves, oak, chestnut, nut galls, and other, rarer woods. You can find them in liquid or powdered forms. Their uses in wine are varied, and can be different dependent on their source. Regardless, they all protect against oxidation, which helps boost the longevity of the wine.
To this end, they can be added to white juice or wines. They may also be added to bind up with off aroma compounds. In the case of grapes that are somewhat moldy, tannin can be useful in binding with certain fungal enzymes that can speed up oxidation and browning.
For red wines, tannin added early in the fermentation process is considered "sacrificial." You add some to protect the color of the wine, giving proteins and other particles in the fermenting must something to bind to, rather than those already present in the grapes, thus leaving more of the grapes' naturally occuring tannin for the aging process. There's debate as to whether this strategy truly works. To be sure, though, a tannin cannot add color to a wine that is already weak in it.
Tannins can also be added prior to barreling down, while aging, or just prior to bottling. These tannins can be incorporated to help refresh the aromas of tired wines, add a subtle aroma or mouthfeel component (such as chocolate or caramel), or to give a bit more structure to the wine. They should never be used in a way that substantially alters a wine. They're a tool for refining, not for changing the character entirely. And before any addition, there's no substitute for a bench trial-- setting up a specific volume, dosing in the tannin, and tasting to see what works best for the wine.
And when in doubt, you can always ask a technical sales representative what they might recommend. These folks are usually former winemakers themselves, and want you to come away with a better understanding of the tools, as well as a nice wine.
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