A little over 40 days ago the first of the red wines were pressed and placed in demijohns under an air lock. Oak chips had been added to the demijohns. The Chambourcin had American Oak chips added at the rate of 3 grams per litre. In addition some American Oak dust had been placed in the must during fermentation. The Pinot Noir pressed a couple of days later had 3 grams each of American and French Oak added.
American Oak imparts a sweeter flavour and is higher in Oak aromas and adds more vanillin flavour.
French Oak imparts more subtle and spicy flavours.
Now 40 days later the wine has settled out a lot of sludge which is a mix of dead yeast cells, small pieces of pulp and grape skin and other bits suspended in the wine. This first racking is designed to take the wine off this sludge called, gross lees, so that it doesn't impart any bad flavours from this debris. After this racking the wine will continue to settle suspended particles but these fine lees are unlikely to be detrimental to the wine. Usually I don't rack again unless there is a significant build of lees. Most other winemakers rack every few months but my preference is minimum intervention.
This week is ideal for racking because the Bio Dynamic calendar shows the moon in the correct place for this type of work. It is the period where the moon is in descending or waning. During this period there is the least amount of turbulence in the wine.
Racking is merely siphoning the wine into a fresh demijohn using food grade tubing with an attachment which sits in the bottom of the demijohn keeping the tube away from the lees.
The end result is a little less volume of liquid than in the input demijohn. This is where the extra small containers of topping up wine come in handy. They are handled gently to ensure none of their sludge enters the fresh demijohn. This first racking leaves behind a significant amount of sludge.
As part of this process the wine is sampled and tasted. I add some French Oak chips at 3 grams per litre to the Chambourcin to balance the wine but the Pinot Noir is excellent even at this early stage.
In future I'll use French and American Oak in a 50/50 mix as standard practice as it seems to provide the best result with the least amount of fussing.
Both these wines are in the only two 34 litre demijohns we own. There is just on 40 litres of Chambourcin in total when the topping up demijohns are included. The decision here is to transfer it to two 20 litre demijohns and reduce the number of containers from 5 to two.
I'm strapped for enough topping up material for the Pinot Noir and am faced with a dilemma. Use smaller containers and have a several batches or add another wine to the Pinot to top up the single large demijohn which is the former Chambourcin 34 litre which is now empty and cleaned.
I opt for using some Merlot in the Pinot. It is only a small percentage and Merlot and Pinot make a good combination. The 8% adulteration will not have negative consequences and having a single large container will make later handling simpler.
As usual there is plenty of cleaning after the event but it is satisfying to know that these wines are progressing nicely and early indications are that it will be one of the best vintages to date. The experimentation over the years is paying off with various techniques and practices becoming standardised as a preferred flavour and style evolves.
The remaining red wines were pressed two weeks after these and will now be racked in April during the appropriate moon cycle.