to the brim
by crushed & stirred
This is where I’ve been:
That’s a lot of barrels. And of filling barrels:
Which looks, up close (wayyyy up close), like this:
This is a shot I have always wanted to capture. The wood is the oak of the barrel – the hole, the bunghole, is the way to get wine in and out of the barrel. The steel rod is a tubular wand on the end of a hose ferrying wine from a tank. The matte purple substance visible within the bunghole is young wine, its level rising gradually inside the barrel. In this case, the wine is a vivid but turbid color because I mixed the contents of the tank before emptying it. If I hadn’t, the solids in the wine – the lees – would have remained at the bottom and I would have drawn a translucent purple liquid from the middle of the tank.
The above lees are being scraped out of a tank of wine that was drained off its skins before it was completely dry and left in tank to finish fermenting. When it was completely sugar-dry, we racked the wine off its lees and into barrel, scraping up the solids and putting them here:
See the cloudy lees going into the dark, clear wine? We’ve been using these lees from dry ferments to provide natural nutrients to our nearly dry wines. Once the fermentation has finished, the yeast have been killed off by the very alcohol they produced by digesting sugar – they’ve committed metabolic suicide, if you will. But they’ve left behind heaps of nutrients. Their last supper, still warm on the table, and we’ve been helping ourselves.
Then we had to stop. Because we ran out of ferments. And barrels. These are the tanks we have left:
We prepped and filled barrels ceaselessly. Every day, a stack of barrel-down work orders sat in the lab, waiting for the go-order. We filled so many barrels that I saw a few work orders with instructions to the effect of: fill best available barrels; rack to new oak. When it gets here. From France.
New oak barrels, still in their little cardboard hats.
Having the wine in barrel is satisfying. And barreling down is always a good task. Sometimes, when there are a million things to do in a busy day, time pressure makes filling barrels less peaceful or more chaotic. Like when you have 50 barrels to fill 20 minutes ago. I remember, somewhere in the fading harvest haze, a day on which I filled barrels for a full 12 hours. On a good day with a balanced workload, it’s downright soothing. It fosters rhythm and clarity. Knowing where things go. Keeping your lines untangled. Working in gratifying pairs of two barrels per rack. Being neat. Moving units. You and your tank and your pump and your barrels.
Barreling down is also a lot easier at DuMol because of air pumps, which are still a brave new world to me in winemaking. Unlike other pumps – impeller pumps being the most common – air pumps don’t run on electricity but rather compressed air, delivered via gas line. There’s no remote to turn on or off to regulate the speed of the impeller. On an air pump, you just open and shut your valve to control the flow of liquid. Piece of cake, and well worth the racket they make as they huff and puff like an iron lung.
air pump above, impeller pump below
As satisfying as it is to have the wine in its home for the next odd year or two, it can only mean one thing: the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is giving way to the season of frosts and fallow fruitlessness. Again.
Dry grape skins, post-pressing