Our Barrel Room, Cellar Room, & Member’s Pavilion, all have barrels lining the walls. I’m sure you’ve noticed on any visit the beautiful aesthetic they add to our property… but did you know they’re functional, as well? That’s right. Those barrels are all full of aging wine. Notice the cooler temperatures in those rooms, too? Yep— For the benefit of the wine! As someone pretty new to wine myself, when I first saw these barrels, I was amazed to find out they were actually developing to a finish all around me— but I thought that was all wine. Nope! It’s actually a strategy winemaker’s use to enhance different flavors & tannin levels in their wine.
So, because they can play such a big role in winemaking, I thought it would be helpful to give a few fun facts about barrels & how they relate to the wine process.
1. Oak is toasted before being used to age wine.
When I say toasted, I mean it. They literally toast the inside of the barrel like a golden marshmallow; exposing the barrel to an open flame without direct contact, until they reach their desired result. The level of toasting actually has a lot to do with the different flavor profiles present in the wine, as well. A lighter toast will often give notes of vanilla, marshmallows & coconut; medium toasts can offer notes of spices like cinnamon, cloves or brown sugar; & darker toasts tend to give notes of roasted coffee, wood smoke & chocolate. Oak from different regions can change the end result of the wine.
2. Oak from different regions can change the end result of the wine.
The two most popular oaks are American & French. Of course, there are others from many other regions of the world, however these are the ones most often used in winemaking. American oak tends to offer more intense flavors & less integrated tannin levels, while French oak often gives lighter tasting notes & gives more of an elegant tannin.
2. There is a difference between New & Old Oak.
When you see something similar to “Aged 14 months, 25% New” on a wine profile, this is exactly what it’s referring to. Oak can be used brand new, or reused over & over again. Oak barrels can actually last up to 100 years, so it’s not uncommon for them to be reused. However, as time passes & wine filters in & out of the barrel, the oak begins to lose its flavor. This isn’t always a bad thing, though— It can be exactly what the wine needs.
3. Barrel size matters.
Smaller barrels are more commonly used. This is because the smaller the barrel, the more contact between oak & wine, offering more room to breathe through the wood. Ultimately, this gives the wine a stronger essence of oak, in addition to the flavor profiles toasted barrels can bring. In contrast, larger barrels give less oak influence due to the smaller amount of wine that touches the surface of the barrel.
Hopefully, now you have a better idea of the influence oak can bring to the wine you’re drinking. Even having no influence (“Not oaked” on a wine profile) plays a role in your wine! Essentially, knowing this information can be useful the next time you’re tasting wine. Those wine profiles I mentioned are available for all of our wines on this very website, & should be available in some form or another at any winery you visit, as well. If you decide you want a lighter wine or a certain flavor profile you’re looking for, now you know what to avoid or actually pay attention to. You’re welcome!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Alright, so wine— How do you make it? Good question. Well, they don’t just pick grapes, & let them ferment for a few months… It’s actually a lot more scientific than you may think (& a lot more interesting, too). To make it simple for you (of course when I say you, I also mean me), I’ll break it down into five important steps: Harvesting, Crushing, Fermentation, Clarification, & Aging & Bottling. To make it even simpler, we’ll only talk about red & white wine today because, fun fact: The process varies with each wine type. Let’s get into it!
Step 1: Harvesting
Once veraison (the changing of grape colors) finally occurs, grapes are picked (typically white grapes before red, due to the reduction of acidity that time on the vine can bring) at the discretion of the winemaker. We like white wines at Wiens with lower alcohol/lower sugar at harvest, which in turn means higher acidity, keeping our whites light and crisp.
Step 2: Crushing
Next, the grapes are brought to the winery & de-stemmed. This is another point in the winemaking process that varies from wine to wine. Both red and white grapes initially have clear juice. However, to make a wine red, the grapes need to ferment on the skins, extracting color, flavor, and tannin from the red skins. Because of this, red wine is often kept with the grape seeds & skins when fermenting (“whole berry” fermented), then later pressed & separated from the rest of the grape before aging. In contrast, white wine grapes are often pressed immediately, then put into fermentation tanks for however long the winemaker decides is proper for the wine being made. Ultimately, this step is basically up to the discretion of the winemaker in terms of sequence. The pressure applied when pressing & the time allotted in between steps can result in different tannin levels & tasting notes.
Step 3: Fermentation
Simply put, fermentation in wine is a process often catalyzed by yeast to transform sugar into alcohol. In this step, yeast causes carbon dioxide to be released, which can also affect acidity. However, in the case of red wine, this carbon dioxide causes the skins & seeds to float to the surface of the juice, requiring the winemakers to pumpover (a process resulting in higher intensity tannins) or punch down (resulting in lower intensity tannins) the wine multiple times a day to keep them in closer contact with each other. Fermentation also creates heat. Managing the heat produced during fermentation also plays an important role in the flavors and tannin profile of a wine. Wine can again be fermented up to the discretion of the winemaker.
Step 4: Clarification
This process is basically what gives you a nice, clean wine, free of withheld particles like the yeast & grape skins I mentioned before. First, they rack (transfer from one container to another) or siphon (using a tube relying on gravity & pressure from its placement to essentially perform the same task) the wine, multiple times to properly separate these fragments from the wine. Winemakers often add compounds that bond to these added elements & weigh them down to the bottom of their containers to make the process easier, this is called fining. Filtration can also be used (think of it like straining).
Step 5: Aging & Bottling
After clarification, winemakers can either decide to further age the wine in either oak barrels, stainless steel tanks, or their individual bottles, or to bottle & sell immediately. Yet another step left up to the winemakers to determine. However, these decisions result in nearly endless possibilities & tasting notes later presented in the wine itself.
So, there you have it—an extremely simple version of how to make wine… & that’s only pure white & red wines, not to mention blends, rosé, sparkling, fortified, aromatized, natural, etc.! Even then, there are still so many more steps in between these ones that give you the finished product. It’s both an art & a science, in addition to the passion that our winemakers add, too. Cheers to Joe & Brian for all they do to create a product that you know & love… & are (hopefully) starting to understand, as well!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Remember last week when I mentioned tannins? Well, I decided to research more about why they’re so important to wine, but this time, I hit the books. & let me start off by saying, tannins are pretty dang important! Before I explain why though, I should probably give you my best definition of what they are. & before I do that, I should probably let you know that if you want to know about wine, you need to keep reading.
Tannins are naturally occurring organic substances (called polyphenols) found in plants, seeds, bark, and fruit skins. Some more common foods with natural tannins include coffee, dark chocolate, and walnut skins… Recognize some similar tastes there? Well, that’s because they factor into why these foods (& more specifically, wine) can taste bitter or astringent. In the case of wine, tannins are found in the grape seeds & skins, as well as the barrels they may be oaked in.
So, they’re naturally occurring, but why do we need them present in the wine we drink? The quick answer is tannins help stabilize wine & prevent oxidation during the wine-making process—Keeping the different tasting notes you may sense to remain fresh & enhanced. Another fun fact about the winemaking process is that younger wine has higher tannin than that of an aged wine, the content drops as time goes by. The more you learn, right?
Tannins are actually a really important factor to the tasting process, so it’s a good thing to learn if you’re new to wine. & if you still don’t think you understand what they are, first of all, don’t feel discouraged, they’re subtle for a reason! Also, here’s a tip to help you out: The next time you’re drinking wine, try to notice if you feel a gritty or brittle sensation after you swallow. Do your lips stick to your teeth? Is your tongue dryer? Boom, you’ve found your tannins (Why? Bonus chemistry fact: The tannic acid creates proteins that bind to your saliva, causing a dry sensation in your mouth). As you start to look for it, it becomes easier to find… Like I said last time, keep practicing! & don’t forget to just have FUN with it!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Think of your own questions you want answered? Leave them in the comments or DM us on social media!