Now that harvest is over and all the new wine is happily going through ML or has already been sulfured our winemaking attention is turned towards making blends for bottling. We do this year round however it always seems to reach a peak around this time of year because bottling has been drawing off blends we made way back in June and July while harvest was happening. Now with the holidays upon us distributor stock is at a year round low because people buy up wine at Thanksgiving and Christmas for family meals and get togethers. This makes January a big bottling month to try and replenish the reserves.
In thought, putting a blend together is not that hard. You take all the lots of wine that you’ve already previously approved to go in your blend, put them all together, mix well, and voila! Your blend is complete. However when your lots are in 3,000+ barrels, different sized tanks, and in some cases at different wineries for harvest storage it becomes part tasting, part logistics, a pinch of timing, and a whole lot of organization to make the blend come together. Currently I’m putting together 4 blends. We’ll call them Blend A, B, C, and D for the purposes of this post. Blend A is a Chardonnay, vintage 2009 that I’m directing but it is being completed at a sister winery. Blend B is a Merlot from 2009 that I’m assembling here at Asti however the bulk of the wine is arriving from harvest storage on trucks today, some is already here, and some was at another sister winery during harvest and now that needs to be moved back over. Blend C is a Cabernet from 2009 that has been sitting around in barrels for the last 10 months and now is being pulled out, blended up and filtered for bottling in a few weeks. Blend D is a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc that bottles for release soon after the vintage is over so we are in the process of deciding which lots make the cut and which will be let go. All of these blends have their own timeline, needs, and requirements before bottling. All but one is being assembled at the same winery, using the same equipment, tanks, filters, etc.
Thus you begin to see the complexity of assembling blends. It’s a bit like juggling in that you must know when to pick up a blend, throw it in one direction, and while that blend is off on its way, the next one is ready to be caught and thrown out again before the first one circles back around ready for the next step. All this, while keeping each blend from getting in the others’ way.
After wines are assembled they need to be stabilized and filtered. Stabilization occurs first. We stabilize wines for both heat and cold. If a wine gets too hot it can haze up or throw sediment from proteins that are found naturally in them and no one likes a cloudy or hazy wine. The proteins are positively charged and we add a negatively charged fining agent (usually Bentonite, a gray clay found naturally in the earth) that will attach to the proteins and then drop out of the wine to collect on the bottom of the tank.
Next we will cold stabilize the wine which involves chilling the wine down below freezing to precipitate out any Tartrate crystals that would fall out at that temperature. This is for all you folks that like cold wines or who rapidly chill wines in your freezer. Tartrate crystals look like small bits of glass in the bottle but won’t harm you in any way and in order to avoid any confusion or undue stress we try to remove as many of these as possible prior to bottling. After the wine has dropped all the Tartrates that it is going to we filter it to remove both the crystals and the protein fining agents.
Now the wine is ready for the very tight filtration just prior to bottling. We call this stage Bottle ready!