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With or Without Stems

[Sources: Jasper Morris, IDTT Levi Dalton, Clive Coates, Charles Curtis, Burghound - Allen Meadows]
To destem or whole cluster, alberit important, remains only one part of the vinegrowing and winemaking that has been increasingly talked about. Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac, for instance, when talking about their stem policy, mentioned that during his father's time, they didn't destem at all, and this has made an important feature of the style of their wines.
Historical origin:
If we go back a few centuries, it's not easy to work it out what practices were popular due to the lack of record-keeping. Jasper Morris's hypothesis is that in the old days, Burgundians did NOT destem, partly because of the very short skin-contact fermentation period which usually lasted for 12-48 hours, after which juice was taken out, grapes were treaded, and fermentation continued in the barrel, in a way more like white winemaking, with only a bit of time to get some color from skins. It was in the late 18th and 19th century when people started to make red wine like those made today.
Then there's Abbey Tenturier (red grape with red juice) who talked more in-depth about winemaking, implying whole bunches. He said when cutting the grapes, try to the cut close to where the grooves are so that no big thick stems go into the vat.
Then came his successor as cellar master at Clos de Vougeot, Don Denise, in 1779. In the excellent book Burgundy Vintages by Allen Meadows, they say according to Don Denise, the vignerons at Cote de Nuits partially destemmed whereas in Cote de Beaune destemmed completely. In Jasper Morris words, after reading Don Denise's book, he said normally you'd destem --- possibly the first reference of destemming --- but you might want to keep a better portion of it just to add a bit of more substance to the vat.
Then going into the 19th century, it's not mentioned in Dr Morelot's in 1831. Then in Dr Jules Lavalle's opus magnum in 1855, he said there is no mention of destem or not and he talks about it in the historical section, implying it might be a talking point in the mid 19th century. But then he didn't mention destemming or not in the contemporary section...
Towards the end of 19th century, a chapter by Lamont talks about it, he starts off with the vexy question of destem or not: often involves discussions about what should we do - oxygen exams and tractors, tannins of the stems when discussing in favor or not. These turn out false facts because stems have no tannins but acids that exchange with alcohol. Anyway he recommends destemming, thus being the first hisotircal mention of destemning in detail.
How is destemming done?
You put something on top of the vat, and you have one set of reeds going one way, and the other set going the other way, which gives you something like a net without much of a hole. You can put a bunch the grapes on top of that and move them around with your hand holding onto the end of the stem. Grapes then fall through the holes and leave the stems in your hand. That's the traditional way of destemming long ago. Not much in use today, except one domaine starting to use it again...
In the 20th century, crusher destemmer came into being, which hardly anyone still use nowadays as hardly anyone crushes the Pinot Noir graoes any more at the begining of the process. Now you can destem, or keep whole bunch but you want to keep your berries intact. Most people do, one doesn't.
But at the end of 70s and the beginning of the 80s, crusher destemmers are more usual and mashing up the pulp while destemming is common. Various versons throughout the 19th century, steadily more complicated in the 20th century, until now so sophisticated that instead of calling them 'equboir' destemmers they call them 'equinnoir' meaning pulling off whole individual grapes getting nearly whole berries out of the vats, just during the last 5-10 years.
Why destem or not?
Destem entirely is the etho of the legendary Henri Jayer, who is absolutely admant about it. Said in his Burgundian accent to young growers asking for his opinion: monsieur, have you ever put the stems in your mouth and chewed on it? It's horrible, disgusting, harsh. Why on earth would you want those flavors in your glass of wine? (Interestingly, Allen Meadows once refuted with the rhetoric: but salt is made from stones, have you ever licked stones and loved it?) Henri Jayer's winemaking revolves around purity, flesh of fruit, and sensuality, which are reasons why we destem. Dominique Lafon's Volnays are all about that. There are still plenty of producers who say, I want to destem, no stems at all, end of story.
Why stem inclusion?
Christoph Roumier, who knew and got along well with Henri Jayer, likes to put some stems in, which Henri Jayer never quite understood why. Christoph says its about the complexity, changes in aromatics, etc.
If you were to work with (1) whole bunch with berries intact undamaged in vat with stem inclusion, which prior to now was an issue; (2) start fermentation with whole bunch then a certain amount of intracelluar fermentation going on (with a lid) then a form a carbonic maceration. Bright cherry fruit, could be a bit artificial, overall not what Burgundians look for, but a little bit could be a good thing; (3) then additional compelxity of aromatics and texture as well --- spicy peppery from an enzyme called Eugenol either from intracelluar or stems not sure, light raspberry and crushed strawberry (as opposed to whole strawberry or clean cut strawberry) flavors from a different enzyme called ufacinamate that could be quite floral like rose pedals. makes whole bunch quite interesting.
There are at least two effects of whole bunch - one physical, one chemical.
Physical: slightly fewer bunches of groups in the vats so not much room which cause some problems in 2017-2018 with a big crop, it spreads out skins more and slows down fermentation at slightly lower temperature which impacts fruit flavors, and gives slightly more glycerols in the wines changing mouthfeel. Be careful though of whole bunches at the top of the fermenting vat, the cap where the solids rise up being lighter than the juice, if you keep the stems there mold could form and volatile acidity could result. This influences how people put stems into the vats. Various theories. There is a majority of folks who do layers: start with whole bunches at the bottom of the vat, then layer up destemmed grapes, then another layer of whole bunches, etc. finish with either stems or no stems at the top. Nichole Lamarch invented a new system which makes everything up completely. Off her sorting table, you destem some grapes, leave others as whole bunch --- using a proportion rather than doing it all or none, and she has two 'giraffes' --- conveyor belts that go up around then drop the grapes down into the vats --- going on at the same time, one for destemmed grapes the other for whole bunches, so everything is completely mixed all the way through.
Chemical: more stems make color lighter, as color will theoretically physically leach into the stems to be drained away. Probably true. On the other hand, whatever color you do have is better fixed with anthocynins in stems. Not sure, early years from Domaine Dujac were very light colored wines but less color with Jeremy Seyess. Madame Bize-Leroy's wines 100% whole bunch yet unbelievably dark in color. Acidity: people like to use stems as they make the wine taste fresher but also admit more stems lower the acidity because there are potassium in stems, the alkaline nature of which negates the acidity in wine. Charles van Canneyt who makes Hudelot-Noëllat wines doesn't use whole bunch because he doesn't like how it changes the pH balance of the wines. He mentioned in 2018 how he couldn't imagine anyone using whole bunch in hot vintages without acidifying artificially. So probably lower. Tannins probably increase a little bit -- might not be significant. Certainly can get bitterness --- light tannins --- if you are using underripe stalks. Alcohol level, it seems whole bunches and stems removes some alcohol level. Michel Noellat of Domaine Musigny could be as much as 0.5%, a good thing for higher alcohol wines. Thibault Lignier-Belair mentioned that with whole bunches the marc --- the residue left behind after you remove the juice out of the vat --- does smell more alcoholic than not. Additionally, whole cluster wines appear drier on the finish in youth, which does fade away over time.
How to choose which bunches to put into the vat?
Jordin Gordo GM at Domaine d'Arlot chooses by eye. Often times, done at the sorting table. Bunches coming along, those to be destemmed go into the destemmer, you pre-select the best looking bunches to one stream - fine comact bunches with bit of brown on the stem than green ones to the stream for whole bunches, the rest destem more. Thibualt Lignier-Belair: select off the vine with an exprienced team. All of the stems? Going back to what's recommended in the 18th century, you really want to just cut where the mouth is. Then small stems each of which holds a few grapes, and pedicelles that connect into each individual grapes. Perfectionist David Duband --- the special refinement chez Duband is the ‘pedicelle’ treatment of his grands crus, introduced following a successful experiment on part of the 2006 Charmes-Chambertin. The pickers snip the berries off the bunches, thus removing the bulk of the stem, but leaving the tiny individual stalks, or pedicelles, which join the individual grapes to the bunch. The resulting wines are soft and sometimes a touch smoky or spicy, but with a very pleasing sweet spot on the palate. He did it for 4-5 years then decidede it was not worth. Might have taken it too far but makes sense.
How to make the decision 0% stem, 100% stem, somewhere in-between?
If 100% stems, and if no skins broken yet, the question becomes where do you get juice from? For instance, Jean-Louis Trapet says after 3-4 days he'll do a little bit of foot treading and they will break up a little bit of skins off the top to get the juice circulating to start off fermentation. Or by putting a little at the bottom of the tank, treading those and pouring the rest on top. Those who use a proportion varies the amount according to the vintage. Less ripe, fewer stems to avoid herbaceous flavors; riper then more stems used. Mostly people including De Montille choose to use the old vines, with Pierre Bart of Domaine Bart in Marsannay being an exception. He uses stems of young vines by putting it: I use stems for the stem flavor, which is more in young vines. and less potassium in young vines leading to less impact on acidity on wine. Could also be according to soils, several people prefer no stems on strongly limestone soils. Thibault Lignier-Belair doesn't use whole bunches on Haute-Cote de Nuits cuvee La Corvee de Villy which is straight out of a rock, nor on osne-Romanée Aux Réas straight onto limestone hardly any clay for the same reason. His cousin Louis-Michel Lignier-Belair mostly destem, a few stems in Vosnes-Romanee 1er crus where more clay in soils. Perhaps wines are richer and fuller on clay-based soils and you break that up with a bit more liveliness and energy with stem inclusion. Some say some villages don't like to use stems. Jeremy Seyess says he doesn't think stems work very well in Pommard. He's not alone. Ben Laroux while making wine for Comte Arnaud, did not put any stems in Pommard but did in Volnay, which is a bit strange, because Volnay has more limestone and Pommard has more clay. But Jeremy says in Pommard it seems to come out more vegetal in style if you use whole bunches. Volnay and Chambolle appear to work well with stems. Christoph Roumier has stems for quite a long time, even though his wines are not exactly lit with stem characters.
From a consumer side as a sommelier, in general destemmed wines have a predictable nature: the wine will taste like how they tasted very much like a month or a year before factoring in usual aging; but stemmed wines esp. with a lot of whole cluster berry ferments: pretty aromatic character they can be mute one day and dancing the next. Just completely different from the same wine from the same case tasted a month before. From a pairing/selling point of view, stemmed wines with a lot of whole cluster can be difficult to define and trickier to sell and pair with dishes whereas the destemmed wines are more familiar when you reach for them. Also this idea that wines with more stem content will have greater ageability. This will make ferments with crushed berries, lots of skin phenolics possibly stems better candidates for aging, though there are exceptions. Ultimately stem and berry choices often go hand in hand, the decision to use or not to use stems or whole berries is usually linked to other concepts like soil type, vintage strength or weakness, vineyard vigor, stem ripeness, and personal preference. Philosophical reasons to use either: most winemakers in the destem camp believes that terrior is transmitted primarily through the skins, that to get great Pinot or Syrah those elements are going to show themselves in the skins so they see skins as the primary conduit as terrior expression, a whole cluster fermentation can be seen as muting the vintage or muting the skins’ inputs from the site that year. This idea is though based on the assumption that the juice inside the skins is less important than those on the skins and it leaves you wonder when it comes to a plant how should you fully appreciate its many facets of expression...
What happens throughout the vinification?
Keep whole stems and leave them all the way through, which is what most people do. Etinne Marchand Grillot in Gevrey Chambertin, starts with stems then punches down the grapes puncturing the grapes then takes all the stems out and continue without. A couple destem compeletely then add stems back in. Jean-Marie Fourrier says it reduces the chances of any volatile acidity, any acitile spoilage if you add stems back in rather than keeping them out. Surprisingly, Jean Nichola-Meo started doing it recently on two different wines for completely different reasons: being the inheriter of the Henri Jayer tradition if you like since Henri Jayer looked after his vineyards until he involved. For a long time there was absolutely no stems in Meo Camuzet wines. Since 2012, he started doing it on two cuvee. One is a negociant label in Nuit-saint-George Goutte d'Or because that wine was so rich fruity and juicy he wanted some stems to break that up and make it fresher and livelier. The other one is on domaine Corton Perrieres, which he had since 2009 and found really harsh aggressive gravelly and tannic in past few vintages. He finds putting some stems back in freshens up the initial attack and makes it easier to get into the wine and soften the feel of tannins. Same thing on two different wines for 100% opposite reasons.
What are stems used for? Flavors or else?
Thomas Boulay in Volnay uses stems in several of his wines: I like to use stems but don't want them tastable in my wines, whereas Domaine Buffet do seek stem character deliberately quite forceful.
Producers, lieux-dits, and their choices.
Pommard Clos des Epeneaux, Comte Arnaud - no stems in Pommard, did use stems in Volnay.
Pommard Grands Clos des Epenots, Domaine de Courcel. 100% Wholecluster. Pick late, all stems, for the balance.
Pommard is a clay-based village with the river running down through the middle bringing clay soil down the hills and about. Opposite to neighbor Volnay. On the south side where Rugiens is classic Pommard the richest deepest most clay-based wines. Clos des Epeneaux is 90% Petit Epeneaux and a little bit of Grand Epeneaux. Monopole of Comte Arnaud. Clos des 'Epeneaux' only this vineyard uses this spelling. It is one of Pommard's greatest wines, 1999-2013 made by Benjamin Leroux. 2010 in Jasper Morris opinion the very best vintage among those. To the north lies Grands Clos des Epenots in the Petit Epeneaux (not in Grand Epeneaux) is a monopole belonging to Domaine de Courcel. Domaine de Courcel pick later than anyone else and use all the stems. Theory being wonderful flavors of very ripe grapes and the stems maintain a sense of balance, gives structure texture fresh enery preventing from being overripe.
Vosne-Romanee Domaine Alain Hudelot Noellat - 100% destem.
Vosne-Romanee Domaine Bruno Chavelier - 100% whole bunch
Volnay Taillepieds Domaine De Montille - 2/3 whole bunches because 2/3 old vines, 1/3 new plantings.
Volnay Clos des Chenes Domaine Michel Lafarge - always destemmers, does some of them now entirely by the 19th century system 'claie' across the top of the fermenting vats, then rubbing stems through that.
Domaine d'Arlot: when they put Jacques Devauges (previously worked at Domaine de la Vougeraie and then with Frédéric Magnie) in charge, he said he was not gonna change anything, except playing around a bit with percentages of stems. Reduced from 100% to 10% in first year. Jordin used some stems not in all wines not in every year, she is in favor of stems but not if she thinks they are not ripe enough.
Jean-Grivot in Nuit-Saint-George: despite enjoying other people's wines with stem inclusion, he couldn't get hiself around to, so prefers not to use stems.
Lalou Bize-Leroy: all stems.
DRC: mostly stems, vary, 2018 all stems, less in other vintages. Often juxtaposed on the house style of Henri Jayer as a domaine that uses all whole cluster but Aubert notes that they use both methods and what they decide to use is oft a function of the vintage. If there’s phenolic ripeness: use stems, if not, destem.
"Destemming is not so much of a question for us any more, we experimented a number of times with small batches of 100% stems, 0% stems, in a sunny/rainy year. Destemming, after various experiments its obvious in a sunny year when you have phenolic maturity then you can keep the stem add the potential for aging, in a rainy when maturity was reached at the very end when the stems/skins don't have complete maturity then its important to take some stems away, and the answer to destem or not is always in the middle (never the extremes just like any other questions in Burgundy) we have experimented enough to know more or less how much to keep/leave out. Each vintage its the question of how much, they say we don't destem, which is wrong, we don't destem when we think there is no need to, and we destem when we have to, i think to keep part of the stem even in a rainy difficult year with less maturity is important because what’s important with the stems are they enhance the delicate characters fine perfume - what I call rose petal character - in the bouquet."
Meo-Camuzet: no stems except for what were mentioned. I’ve experimented with stems - one vintage a small cuvee with 80% stems to know how to vinify that and to know how it tastes in a Meo-camuzet environment. This is definitely not my preferred style but I’ve experimented with it - 30% vs 0% same cuvee. I can speak about what it is to vinify and what goes after, etc. Now we’ve introduced with great caution a small % of stems in some wines, generally no more than 10%, does wonders to bring a bit of tannins, volume, texture to wines, never too much that’s why max 10%. Softer tannins combined with color, stability of color, at this level you, don’t lose color you don’t have the same kind of pale wine you could end up with at 80% stems, def add some austerity, fresh (mint) aromatics, complexity. At this low % it doesn’t really change our style but its a tool for complexity. Higher % is something I respect but not what I prefer.
Domaine Dujac: no stems. Do. Dujac sorta hang their hat on the whole cluster house style and this is in particular the ideology of Jacque Seysses. Today his son Jeremy works the unique tight road of honouring the ethos of his domaine and the idea of his father while at the same time doing some slight changes at the center.
Elevage: Jacque was influenced by his friend Aubert de Villaine, he decided to do 100% stems and 100% new oak then you came along and changed that. Reality?
"My father when he likes something he goes Yes or No he’s fairly binary but there’s nuance to that. Coming from outside looking at Burgundy, there’s a certain idealism and definitely never that view that gets carried through that Pinot Noir needs to be improved color wise by blending - there’s some practices apprehensible for which people got sued and lost about the whole negocs disappeared in the wake of some of these scandals of blending --- he came from outside and some of the best wines he had are unbelievably pale like Rose and I can imaging Pinot Noir in 30s are pale like that. He said the perfume was incredible and never cared about color that much only cared about how it smelled/tasted like. That led to as a whole light extraction in the winery, the benchmark was DRC who was 100% whole cluster, he thought why not do the same, Gerard Potel (Do. de la Pousse d’Or, with whom Jacques apprenticed with) was a big whole cluster user in Volnay, and so he did and it worked people liked it and it stood out.
"Dujac wines are the first wines I recognize blind in a lineup." Its a strong house style, and its served the domaine well for a long time - being recognizable. But our dream as a winemaker is express terrior to have winemaking disappear behind terrior, and I felt like our style was a little heavy handed: my father did destem heavily in some vintages like 1991 as he felt the condition required it. 2000 is a very "Dujac" and 100% destemmed. So not everything is about whole cluster - its a component. It’s one of the decisions you can make together with cooperage, timing of malo, and other small things. As vines grow olders, I think they are extracted more easily - the grapes we are getting now are not the same as in 90s, 00s, as vines grow more mature - more tannins, etc. I’m punching down much less than my father did, and I think most people thinks the wines I’m making are more tannic than the wines made in the 90s/80s, that’s not a factor of being extracted but a factor of grapes being more extractable. So I felt like I could really have the terrior show better by nuancing the winemaking a little. I do not want a revolution as my father’s wines are good there’s no need to change anything. A slight revolution is necessary and desirable. So by destemming 10-15% you are moving away from whole cluster character, still have some but not your defining feature."
Emmanuel Rouget: no stems.
Thibault Liger-Belair: prefers stems but not uniformly.
Louis-Michel Liger-Belair: prefers no stems but certain cuvees have 15-20%.
Rousseau: no stems.
Roumier: stems, more stems over time, Musigny and Charmes-Chambertin are almost entirely stems due to tiny quantity needed more of them to fill the vats, the rest perhaps half stems, vary vintage to vintage.
Anne Gros: 100% destem.
AF Gros: no stems.
Dominique Lafon: I even experiment with % of whole cluster, 1 little bit, 50%, etc in small tanks just to learn but I’m not as comfortable working with stems being destemmed. It’s like I see where I’m going if its destemmed, but I don’t where I’m going if I use destemmer and whole clusters. Whole clusters is so much in fashion in Burgundy. Some clients would ask if you are whole cluster, I’d say sorry I’m not that into fashion I destem. But then in Cote de Beaune the tradition is always to destem, as a joke I always say Cote de Beanne could be more wealthy than Cote du Nuit because you couldn’t afford a destemmer. Lafarge destems, Don Genon?? destems, De Montille always destems, mostly people I met in beaune destem. Roumier destems, Grivot destems, Rousseau destems so leaders of whole clusters then are Patrick Bize, DRC, Dujac, then Jean-Piertat at Domaine Do Laveou?? But we are all friends so we compare and talk about techniques.
Henri Jayer: widely considered an anchor of the destemmed crushed grape camp, died in 2006, famous for his Pinot Noir late 70s, 80s, 90s. Wasn’t just destemming, he actively supported anti-stem stance and encouraged winemakers to follow suit. Jean-Nicolas Meo: "He did not like stems at all, and frustrated with peers who use stem extensively. Nowadays stems are very much in fashion, but not the case in 90s. The debate between the two is really as old as red wine. Why? His teaching was important but more important is his philosophy: he likes very sensual wines, also on viticulture already quality oriented. You must be reasonable in the vineyards eg harvest when its reasonable not just convenient. In terms of winemaking, he had his ideas and in 1989 we followed his instructions but I really felt in love immediately with his style of wines this is exactly what I wanted to do and liked. He is very sensitive to the pleasure in the mouth, the brightness of the fruit, the texture and he loves to eat at good restaurants in an informal club with vintners in France. They went and delivered their wines to the biggest restaurants in France: Manot, Blanc, Foigot. He really loved his job and I think it really is in his style of wine - nice elegant pleasurable to drink great with food."
Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent in Oregon: everything I make with PInot Noit is destemmed: what I want to do is to make wines that taste like places - the Burgundy concept that it’s the place that matters. If you are trying to do that as a winemaker then that will tank your decisions. In Burgundy you have old vines much better for terrior expression than what we have in Oregon young vines. And PN as vine gets older gets much more expressive. In Oregon our sense of terrior is at a disadvantage: we don’t have everything and if we try to plant old vines they will die from phylloxera and we will have to start over again. So for me being a terriorist I want you to taste that place and what the winemkaing to showcase what terrior is about: texture, secondary flavors and aromas - compost, spice, mushroom, flowers, earth, how they interplay with texture on your palate. Whole cluster: whole berry fermentation aka intra berry fermentation but all the flavors of terrior are on the outside of the berries, so you are doing ferment inside using all the stems soaking up all the tannins changing acid profiles and alcohol profiles - all the bright strawberry fruit, and cedar flavors from the stems. So you are using a choice that does everything that covers the terrior. I’m not opposed to that - Dujac does a fantastic job of making wines and I love those wines and I love Steve Doerner’s wines at Cristom’s where a large percentage is whole clusters. But for me it is in the way of revealing what’s different - to me it’s not capturing the things that tell the story most clearly. So what I want is essential the crop of grapes not super level which essentially gets them super ripe fast, I want a moderate crop level.
A part of Mark’s argument is that he thinks terrior is supremely in the skins - the skin experiences the vintage - the sun the wind and they can express it better than inside the berry and the stems don’t have that kind of voice or individuality that skins do.
"I’m not convinced that the skins from one vineyard tastes that different than from another vineyard. Very convinced that the phenolics in the skins and the fact that its responding to the light, wind, temperature."
Sashi Moorman of Domaine de la Cote, Sandhi, Piedrasassi, and others in Cali and Oregon: The winemaking techniques have changed in Burgundy because the grapes have changed. They don’t need to do punchdowns to extract more colors because they already are getting color. People forget Gia Cod who promoted these 30/60-day cold macerations just to get color because people were strugging to get color - people used enzymes to get color, and most vintners today who are great farmers will never tell you they have problems with color any more. That will be quite strange to growers in 70s when Hubert de Montille was doing all these punchdowns because he couldn’t get enough color in his color. It’s the climate, clones, and farming techniques that have changed. There’s been a reverse in Pinot Noir grown in France vs in California - the farming has increased and the execution of farming is on a whole other level today than 20 years ago. That’s allowed Burgundians to make wines that allows less extraction during fermentation so they can be more gentle and I think in California it’s allowed us to harvest grapes earlier.
MW Kate Mclntyre of Moorooduc Estate at Mornington Penninsulan in Victoria, Australia: works mostly with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with some wines whole bunch and others destemmed. But she doesn't usually mix the methods during fermentation because to her to choice to use whole cluster or to destem is a function of clone or terrior. Two vineyards she works with in particular - the garden vineyard (whole cluster) and the robinson vineyard (destem) are fermented using opposite methods and advertised so.
"We experiment with whole bunch fermentation on ongoing basis. We tend to keep them separate - we make a lot of diff batches of fruit made separately into separate batches of wines that get blend together at the blending trials. Destemming perhaps the most recognized way of making Pinot today - using destemmers quite easy to separate the grapes and the bunches - more pure fruited character esp with Pinot Noir a lot people enjoy pure cherry fruit or berry fruit spice coming through which is the flavor profile you will get, also much easier to run a ferment when you destem because the way we manage our ferments is that we destem to open vat fermenters then move liquid around the skins, as the tendency for grapes is while fermenting the CO2 comes outside and the grape skins get pushed out to the surface so we want juice to be in contact with skins as much as possible to extract more color and tannin out of the skins into the wine. Without stalks or whole bunches, its easy to do pump over and punch the cap to mix it up get the juice and skins mixing.
[Erin Scala: I heard when you have stems in its easier cuz you have to do less cap management then less bubble coming up less chance of explosion] If you do not want the skins to move around much you can get compacted caps and then explosive cap, but its not usual practice to not move the cap around at all, by plunging and opening up the cap, letting the heat get out you can manage temperature much easily. Whole bunch fermentation as we do it is in a static fermenter where you put bunch straight in. We do 100% destem or 100% whole bunch, we do not do the lasagna sort of the effect that some do. You can not move the fruit around once its in. The only way to move around is to get in there and walk on top to crush some fruit and release juice --- that’s the case until a long way into fermentation until you’ve smashed up enough of fruit to be able to give it enough of a stir. takes 7-14 days to stop manipulating it. Stalks can space for the gas to escape so whole bunch fermentation usually takes longer to get started and goes at a much slower pace but you can control the pace by how much you walk on it because breaking the berries releasing more sugary juice into the system giving the yeast more to play with. Press whole bunch in a whole presser? Yes towards the end of it, whole bunch fermentation never goes through till the end of it, you press it off until its slowing down but when we put it into the press and there’s still whole berries/bunches, the press cycle much slower has to be much gentler to get the juice out cuz all the stalks involved in there unlike when you do a whole bunch press with white wine Chardonnay eg, the Pinot that has already fermented is kinda squeeshy so you cant squash it to get more out of the whole bunch ferment once its mostly through. but to put it in a press early on will make much harder to make juice out of the berries cuz skins resist the gentle pressure of the press. Why not lasagne? for us the most important thing about whole bunch ferment is what it does to texture of the wine - we don’t want to have excessively green stalky perfume, the French talk about the ripeness of the stalks - you taste the stalks if they are ripe lignified, it just doenst happen in Australia I believe it does happen as much as they say in France cuz as grapes ripen you get lignification coming down to woods/stalks but in our experiences they are always green when we pick them and when you chew on them they taste green what we discovered though is that when the pips of the grapes are ripe and they are brown nutty not astringent any more, then what’s when the stalks are ripe enough to do a good whole bunch fermentation. When lasagna, you have stalks soaking in the liquid from the very beginning of the fermentation, when you do 100% whole bunch ferment, its quite dry to start - the juice drops to the bottom not a lot of contact with stalks early on, we press off before the ferment finishes so we dont have a lot of whole bunch fermentation maceration either, that’s when if the stalks are in contact with the liquid - sugary juice or alcoholic wine - for too long then bitter/green tannins get pulled out of the stalk and we try to avoid it. Lasagna is like tea bag being long soaked whereas whole bunch is like a quick sink and life. And the long soak is more alcoholically and an acryic?? solution will pull different characters out of stalk than an alcoholic solution.
100% whole bunch for Garden vineyard: ripe savory fruit you accentuate those characters with 100% wholebunch, richness of fruit that means it can handle the extra savoriness and tannin, and we only have one clone in garden vineyard - NV6, if we destem it its a little full-squre/boring so wb brings extra complexity/depth to the wine;
Destem for Robinson vineyard: pretty, elegant, 777 clones + NV6 clones, we love the prettyness and linear quality to the wine and in a normal year it doesnt stand up to whole bunch fermentation. In 2013, our Robinson Pinot Noir has 20% whole bunch material in it because it was a rich ripe year we experimented with wb with new parcels some from Robinson vineyard. When blending/bottling we played a bit with whole bunch material and found that in that rich vibrant year wb gives it more structure/depth/better though some people believed its taken away the purity that Robinson is known for. Difficult balance/decision to change the style.
Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars: we always ferment with 100% stems - I’m a stem fanatic with Syrah - I think stems really give structure elegance which will be missing if no stems. For everything we do, it’s pretty much 30-100% quickly moving to 50-100%. Our lenya from Walla Walla is always 100%. John Lewis - our reserve Syrah from Laqueen? is always 100%. The greatest thing I realize about Syrah is its this wife’s tale - people say you cant ferment Syrah on green stems - I was sitting with Tigen from Turley maybe 4-5 years ago he was tasting my Syrah and asked %, I said it was 40% I didnt add more cuz totally green but it tastes good. He said that’s the trick - you have to taste it, does’t matter if its brown/green, or lignification, stems are either bitter or sweet and the more sweet they are the more stems you can use. For the past 5-6 years, I go to northern Rhone I ask do you green stems or lignified stems and everyone they tell me they taste them, they ferment on green stems all the time and we find the exact same thing. In the Rocks (AVA) the stems are almost always fully lignified, we will never go over 50% in the Rocks because Syrah can be this herbal almost green pepper thing like what you’d find in Jamet - the perfect example of it - and if you use too many stems you get this really bad canned green thing bad asparagus. Unfortunately once it goes it that way you can’t dial it back always remenants of that flavor no matter how much you blend in there, always sticks out. We have been renegade?? with Syrah usage, some people tell me ohh playing with Syrah stem usage 60-70%, I’ like that’s not a trial, throw 30% in there and see how it goes. So we tend to try 50%, 75%, and see what happens.
John Lockwood of Enfield Wine Co. in Cal uses them too for aromatics: for Syrah I definitely started from the template of 100% whole cluster all the time, cuz aromatics more complex than destemmed Syrah. We had a customs and crush filler and some client destemmed some Syrah and I smelled it - all the aromatics I want in the Syrah are in the stem bin not in the grape bin.
Ronnie Sanders of Vine Street Imports: juxtaposing two stylistically different winemakers in a similar way in Australia Tyrrell (T) and Two Hands (TH): First T probably picks 3-4 weeks before TH does, really early. Michael’s method of winemaking TH: shorter warmer fermentations - he wants more extraction, destems everything; opposite to T: cool fermentation, hardly destems anything, wines on skins for long periods of time 30-60 days for completely different texture and aromatics than TH. Syrahs from T vs TH coming from the same vineyard are totally different. T’s wine is the hottest thing in the market with the newer genetion.. still kinda a continuity of the other in a way. Before (mid 90s) T wines were lower in alcohol, didnt have the stem for sure. The first people in Barossa valley to use stems may have been Tyrrells or Franzier McKindly from San Mioly, and its a fairly new thing. With Tyrrells who works three vintages at Arcadian and if you were to ask Tyrrells - he’s a great winemaker - he worked with winemakers at TH, works with at Shrader? wines, at Pouya? - who was the one that influenced him the most in styles of winemaking - he’d say it was Joe Davis in Arcadian, also known for lots of stems.
Jamie Goode's piece on Wholebunch

Premature Oxidation

Premature oxidation, or premox, is usually associated but not exclusive to Burgundy, refers to the phenomena that wines age before their time. For instance, a typical white Burgundy at the village level is best at 8-10 years old, 1er crus could last longer. Nowadays we probably occassionally accuse a wine of premox when there's also some other problems with it, or when it comes to 15-20 years old with a lesser vintage then why it shouldn't be? Regardless there is this real phenomenon of true premature oxidation.
Premature oxidation affects all white wines in all regions. It doesn't really affect red wines on the grounds that red wines have tannins --- polyphenols which pretect them, barrring exceptions. It's also found in white Rhone wines, white Loire wines, white Bordeaux wines, etc., perhaps a little less prevalent than Burgundy as it's more typical to put away white Burgundy for long-term aging.
Valerie Levine, a Bordeaux researcher, with professor Dubodier, wrote in a paper that, it'd be wrong to think premox affects white Burgundy more than other wines due to some mysterious influences from that region. In fact, premox affects all white wines, still and sparkling, dry and sweet, all grape varieties, all origins. The issue is identical to all white wines everywhere during the same courses with the same effects. Riesling appears to be less affected, perhaps due to higher acidity, more residual sugar thus perhaps higher sulphur amount, but premox examples definitely exists. White Rhone wines, for another, is known to be enjoyed very young, or very old, because in between the two periods, it appears to be oxidized. People still often talk about it as the hype about white Rhones without any perjorative comments white Burgundys get.
Key Causes of premox and Why did it happen so suddenly?
Everything seems to have fallen a cliff circa 1995-1996.
In the Vinyards
Nothing appears clearly contributable to 1995/1996. But there are changes between what was happening before in 1970s and now. Viticulture is definitely better now --- everyone is ploughing the vineyards that allows roots to go down deeper. Some prefer to grass over, which seems to be a good idea in general with some caveats to be mentioned later. Yields among good producers are pretty well managed, certainly much lower than those big names in 1970s. In general, it's hard to say someone is doing anything wrong in the vineyards. BUT there is one major change, which is global warming. Wines are clearly riper, possibly helped or exacerbated by smarter or modern viticulture, meaning more sugar, lower acidity. Thinking back to white Rhone wines that experience an awkard period of seemingly oxidized flavor profiels, if there is something about a warmer climate and riper grapes which leads to this phenomenon, then perhaps with global warming, the white Rhone characters just spread northwards to white Burgundy.
A possible negative of grass cover is that grass can compete against grape vines for Nitrogen, which if abundant in soil ensure the existence of the positively tauted substance glutathione as opposed to Sotalol known to cause oxidation whereas glutathione protects against oxidation. Glutathione is supposedly stable during fermentation, it gets used and regenerated again. Therefore, maintaining the amount glutathione all the way through is of great importance by avoiding excessive yields, drought conditions, grass cover, or superficial root.
In the Winery
Before going into the press, grapes could be crushed first, which was common practice in the old days. If white grapes were crushed before pressing, a little bit of skin contact would be present. It wouldn't change the total acidity (TA) but would certainly change the pH by a little bit. Jean-Marc Roulot is a great believer in this so that he wouldn't do it in vintages with disease pressure, as with even a little bit of skin contact, the off-flavors would seep in. But otherwise he is a big fan of crushing the grapes before sending them into the press. Crushing the grapes has been very much out of fashion, but coming back a little bit. And growers might interprete crushing differently. Some refer to crushing the grapes as filling up the press --- horizontal pneumatic press --- with as many whole-bunch grapes as possible, then they tread them down a bit to add more in which case crushing them a little bit, but this is not really crushing. As days go by in the hydraulic Vaslin press, which is quite brutal as it would mash the grapes and skins up, giving a phenolic paste, a phenolic taste, sometimes leafy, in wine could result. This was typical in young white Burgundys in the late 70s. Nowadays people are very much against it, but rather seeking purity, cleanliness, freshness. Would this phenolic foil have protected white Burgundys against oxygen? There came these pneumatic presses, circa 1996, which is debatable. Jasper Morris holds the view that they trickled in since 1970s and by 1996 it reached the majority adoption. A couple of people switched backt to the good old hydraulic presses and some who have been the last holdouts of hydraulic presses now have switched to pneumatic presses. For instance, Coche-Dury have had one hydraulic for a really long time, so has Patrick Javillier. Pneumatic presses have also evolved and improved a lot over time. In the early years, there was no protection, thus a lot of oxygen surrounded the cage of the press. Nowadays it's more proctective.
During the crushing process. There are oxidases in the wine. There are two types of phenols in grapes: flavoids and non-flavoids. In the flesh are the non-flavoids which do not show oxidation easily or evidently, and will come out of the press early on with first few presses. A number of producers now do a fractional press in which they protect the early non-flavoid phenols that come out with the first batch of juices against oxygen, then flavoid phenols will come out with pips and skins later on as you press later, press more, and press harder. A number of people get rid of those as you get a bitter character with these phenols, turning the juice grey green greasy brown, not clean or clear. But it's not a problem at this stage as it will all settle down to be removed from the final wine.
After pressing, some people transfer directly to fermentation vats with thick layers of solids, most people transfer to a vat for settling where the bottom layer is thick brown dirty paste, the middle layer cleaner, and the top layer is clear juice. Francois Jobard used to send the whole lot down to the barrel for settling, for instance, and he did it for some fairly phenolic wines that age very well. Others will clear out the thick mud at the bottom, and check the rest into the barrel. Other will take just the clear juice and perhaps filter through the rest to possible incorporate some. Still others only use the clear juice, which could be dangerous, like throwing baby out of the bath water, as all the antioxidants from the remaining juice, the grape skins and pips are gonna be in the solids in one way or another, thus endangering the clear juice at the risk of oxidation. Until very recently the vast majority of people would have, as soon as the solids settled overnight, after 24-36 hours, put the juice into the barrel and let the fermentation happen. More and more people now, having listened to Dr Levine who maintains that fermentation should go through cleanly and quickly without stuck fermentations, clean up the process by beginning the fermentation in tank to ensure a healthy and consistent start and progression, soon after which sending the juice to barrels for continued fermentation, as opposed to inrregular fermentation patterns in barrels if done the other way around.
After alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation follows. In Burgundy, this used to happen in the following Spring, now mostly happen around Christmas, along Dr Levine's recommendation against waiting too long as no heavy sulfuring can be done until after malo is done. If left unsulfured for long, it might cause premox.
Lees stirring, or batonnage, is essential, and interestingly it was a technique rediscovered by Prof. Du Bourderrier in Bordeaux after reviewing what have been done in the 19th century and became much more popular in Burgundy. It was introduced as an anti-oxidant as the lees have anti-oxidant properties, thus it is essential to have wine sitting on lees. But if the lees are instead sitting inert at the bottom of the barrel it's probably not interacting with the wine nor doing much good. By stirring it up, it allows its anti-oxidant property to come into play. However, just like many other things --- new wood, deleafing, some people take lees stirring to extremes, a huge overplay of the lees stirring card, several times a week, which would in turn allow too much oxygen in and risk polymerizing the lees to the extent that the negatives outweight the positives. Excessive lees stirring was definitely a problem in Burgundy for a long while and most people have backed down. When asked why some people still do that, Henri Boillot replied, ``still ancient gulls``. Some who went for overly reductive winemaking --- Coche-Dury, PYCM, Jean-Marc Roulot --- are backing off a bit, speaking of it as a caricature. Broadly speaking, bigger barrels which have become much more common in Burgundy, mean less wine-wood ration, less oxygen ingress, more lees contact, slightly more reductive than oxidative. The key is that after the first year, to take the wine out of the barrel to the tank, while making sure the transfer all the lees, and this is where the reductive character comes in.
Dr Levine's recommendations included eight items. The first was going back to vineyard, making sure glutathione was properly placed. Eliminate the extraction of phenolic compounds, which she was in fact quite keen on increasing them during the pressing as it would preserve the anti-oxidants. She thinks it important to protect the must in wine efficiently, with gas and sulphur dioxide. (Though some people as mentioned above allow a few things to oxidize early on.) Strong on alcoholic fermentation starting and finishing quickly and completely finished, which requires must clarification, sufficient nitrogen and just the right amount of oxygen, as well as reducing the time lag between alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. She also mentioned stirring lees (taken to extremes) and innoculation for malo could prove effective. Then age wine in an environment as reductive as possible (bigger barrels and tanks).
So far, nothing appears indicative why things suddenly fell off a cliff in 1996, except for perhaps the adoption of pneumatic press. There exists a few things about bottling that might point to the same direction.
Oxidation is the question of too much oxygen or too little protection in the form of sulphur. Bottling line should leave each bottle of wine with an even fill at the same level between cork and capsule. However, the amount of dissolved oxygen is left unknown. This was not done in early days and after running tests, it was found that despite an even fill, different bottles appear to have received fairly uneven amount of dissolved oxygen --- oxygen hidden inside the liquid available to come out later on. Nowadays a lot of people have tightened up with constant tastings and tests so much of it has been resolved. Failure of closure was another possible explanation. Prior to 1996, practically everyone around the world had been using corks. Cork industry rose to prominence as much more wine had been produced. Along came the greater pressure on the cork industry, more cork trees were planted, at greater density, at inferior locations, some were too young, some were taken too far down the bark, reharvested too soon since the last harvest. The degradation of the quality of the cork had been to blame, which did become an issue. Therefore, the introduction of screwcaps followed, and became fairly standardized after 2000-2002 for a great majority of white wines and a certain number of red wines as well especially in New Zealand and Australia. Early screwcaps were not as good as they are today, and if you knock them, you might break the seal and let oxygen in. Then DIAMs entered the picture. Other brands available too though DIAM dominates. These are completely reconstituted completely inert cork, much more impermeable, no cork or oxygen issues whatsoever. Sealing the outside with wax prevents oxygen ingress as well, even though it is limited for top end wines, limited productions, and magnums, and could cause issues for sommeliers when serving, extra work for producers as well. In summary, current options are: alternatives to corks, waxing the seal, and better corks. Some producers have also moved to longer and wider-diameter corks, which could be difficult to remove (wide) or cause too much contact with wine (long).
Sulphur usage. Professionals in the trade are used to taking sulphur in young wines. ``Wet wool`` aromatics has a bit of sulphur mixed in. Since then when everyone got worried about sulphur as every bottle has to include it on the label. The sulphur legislation was not because of sulphur in the wine but sulphur dusting on leather sleeves or cafeteria counters and people had allergies to sulphur. In the old days, people might have >100 ppm total sulphur in wines, which could have been 50-60 ppm free sulphur, which we care about as it is free sulphur that protects the wine, whereas the total sulphur refers what one can taste, smell and feel. Over time, people brought it down to ~35 ppm total sulphur, at 18-20 ppm free sulphur. The general process of bottling wine eats up a lot of free sulphur, typically 15-20 ppm. Thus at the level of 18-20 ppm, all the free sulphur went to the bottling and nothing left to protect the wine in the future. This phenomena increased during the 1990s and it was more typical during 1996 than 1994. Since, people have gone back up from the low sulphur regime to add a little more sulphur, apart from the natural wine movement that advocates removing sulphur. Refining how sulphur is used during the maturaion process or throughout the process is another way to approach it. People typicall protect the grapes on arrival at the winery with a does of sulphur as it is also antiseptic and antibacterial, which happens less now. Some avoid using it on red grapes, some avoid on reds but use for whites. A lot of people refrain from using sulphur until after the malolactic process. Then they would sulphur (or not) case by case by analyzing and tasting barrel by barrel, rather than uniform throughout the cellar. The less sulphur put in at this stage, the less sulphur is needed later on. Some maintain that there is no need to sulphur at bottling if you get the wine propertly dosed up one month early before bottling, so that the wine is property protected yet not tasting aggresively like sulphur in the bottle. Cork treatment is important as well. It was exactly around 1996-1997 when cork treatment experienced two changes. First, in earlier days, hydrogen peroxide had been used to treat cork to get rid of possible TCA taint, introducing chlorine flavor. The problem would be if let into the wine, it would attack free sulphur and turn it into sulfites, ridding it of its protection, as well as bleach the cork turning it into grey. Second, some people experimented with parafin, which sticks to the side of the bottle quite well, and sicilon, which is slippery. These are two extra reasons why during 1996 it became extra bad for the premox problem.
What are vintages that suffered the most? Oxidized Burgs knows the best!
1995 was a weird year... Both Bordeaux and Burgundy 1995s have tended to age in an unpredictalbe way. The leaves on the vines changed color and died immediately after the harvest --- lifelessness about 1995s.
There was a period when every bottle of 1996 arrived dead on spot, and now many are not. Viciously high acidity, so wines wouldn't go through malo naturally, for which to happen many people kept the must warmer than normal so longer without sulphur, which could have contributed to oxidation. Occassionally there comes oxidized red 1996s as well.
1997 and 1998 are probably oxidizing in a correct way so far.
1996 and 2005, according to Oxidized Burgs are the worst vintages, followed by 1999 and 2001. This is the period before DIAM. 2008 and 2002 have had some issues too.
In 2002, if you bottled just before the new harvest, or racked off the barrel into a tank up on the ground floor, in August of 2003, which was a ridiculously hot year, which might affected the stability of many 2002s, as 2002 is the vintage when there was a little bit of oxidation on red Burgundys too.
2005 was a weirdo, as some producers sensed a time when the must was oxidizing more quickly. It's a powerful vintage for both colors but certain bottles seem to oxidize very ealry on. Since then it's been a vintage that has shown it's phenomenal in a way that not necessarily the whole wine is oxidized: color or nose might be slightly oxidative but on the palate its freshness shines through with real tension and drive in odds with the oxidized veneer. Jasper Morris believed there's some chance that 2005 would come back alive from premox.
Is premox possible just a phase it's going through, just like how red wines could go through stages of closing off and coming back again?

Delayed Malolactic Fermentation

Ancient Vines



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