Summer in the Cellar
By: Denise M. Gardner
As the growing season turns into full swing, now is the time to get things tidied up in the winery and prepare for this vintage’s harvest season. The cellar offers the advantage of being relatively cool in the summer months, so it offers an oasis away from the beating sun or those rainy, humid days. Managing some time for the up-and-coming harvest is a good way to keep cellar work current. Otherwise, the summer months can appear rather dull in the cellar. Here’s a list of considerations for the cellar crew:
Give your wines a regular analytical check
For anything that is sitting or aging in the cellar, now is a good time to schedule quality control monitoring. Wines in barrel need regularly topped off (every other month or every other 2 months) and checked for free sulfur dioxide concentrations if they have completed malolactic fermentation (MLF).
There’s a lot of good information out there on sulfur dioxide. If you feel slightly uncomfortable with sulfur dioxide additions or analysis, please refer to these current informational pieces that can be a valuable resource to any winemaker:
- Wine Made Easy: Sulfur Dioxide Management Fact Sheet by Penn State Extension
- This Article Contains Sulfites by Chris Gerling at Cornell University Extension
- This Article Contains Sulfites, Part II by Chris Gerling at Cornell University Extension
Wines that are getting ready to be bottled should go through a full analytical screen and recorded into the lab record books. This will provide insight for the winemaker in terms of how the wine should progress or need altered prior to bottling:
- titratrable acidity (TA)
- residual sugar
- residual malic acid concentration and malolactic fermentation completion
- free and total sulfur dioxide
- cold stability
- protein (heat) stability
- volatile acidity (VA)
For more information pertaining to how to set up wine analysis in your winery, please refer to Penn State Extension’s website on “Starting a Lab in a Small Commercial Winery.” Information on how to utilize analytical testing labs to the advantage of the winery can be found on the Penn State Extension website, “Wine Analytical Labs.”
For those wineries that have not previously measured cold stability, read Virginia Mitchell’s report on “Cold Stability Options for Wineries,” which explains the importance of testing and how to best treat your wines.
For more information on wine stabilization (sulfur dioxide additions, cold and heat stabilization), please refer to our previous blog post on “Stabilizing Wines in the Cellar.”
Get wines ready for blending or finishing
Now is a good time to pull samples of those wines that you are planning on bottling prior to harvest. After getting a good analytical evaluation, make sure you check the wines for their sensory perception. Is the wine at the caliber of quality that you were expecting? If no, what can you do to fix the wine and get it ready for bottling? Utilize fining agents or product additions to tweak the wines and enhance the quality.
Also consider blending. Blending can be a tool to help mitigate problem wines. But blending can also help you create a spectacular wine out of several great varietals.
Always remember to prepare bench trials before making changes to the entire tank or barrel of wine. Make sure that several people evaluate the wine and give you their individual evaluation. Have people write down their perceptions, as opposed to talking in a group, to avoid the power of persuasion and to minimize tasting insecurities. This practice will give you a more honest, objective evaluation of the wine.
Prepare for Bottling
The summer months are the ideal time to get your wines bottled and ready for release. Most wines need at least 2 to 6 months of bottle conditioning (i.e., time in the bottle before sale) to stabilize and minimize the effects of bottle shock.
Bottling is a time intensive process and requires a bit of planning by the cellar crew. Prepare a calendar for bottling days to ensure that all supplies are received for bottling, that wines are fully ready to be bottled, and that there is adequate time to get everything bottled prior to the estimated start date of harvest. For information pertaining to bottling considerations – how best to sanitize and monitor sterile filtration integrity – please refer to our previous blog post titled, “Bottling Tips and Considerations.”
Now is a good time to go through all of the supplies that are currently available in the winery and record how much you have of each. Recording inventory each year is a good way to evaluate what supplies are being purchased, what is being used, and what supplies are typically left over. It is possible for wineries to find some redundancies through this exercise and identify places to save money.
Suppliers’ “Free Shipping in July” promotions are just a month away! So being prepared with an accurate inventory can release some stress from the winemaker when it comes to ordering this season’s harvest supplies. Things to consider include:
- Yeast and Malolactic Bacteria
- Yeast Nutrients
- Any Enological Agents (e.g., Enzymes, Tannins, Polysaccharides/Inactivated Yeasts)
- Fining Agents
- Sugar and Acid
- Potassium Metabisulfite
- Cleaning and Sanitizing Agents
Make sure that all of the materials currently stored in the winery are being stored properly (i.e., dry chemicals away from wet chemical storage, food grade away from non-food grade, and the requirement that some may need stored frozen), according to the supplier’s recommendations, and that their expiration date has not expired. For some expired products, some suppliers may be evaluating their efficacy of the product past the expiration date. If you contact the supplier, you may be able to find an extended expiration date so that the product can be retained. Otherwise, expired products should be thrown out and re-ordered.
Additionally, going through an equipment inventory can be advantageous. Make sure all processing equipment is getting prepared to get a good cleaning and sanitizing regimen prior to the start of harvest. Unused equipment should not be a storage vessel for left-over, dirty rice hulls or mouse droppings. Use the summer months to check all of the equipment and make sure it is functioning properly. If there are problems with equipment, it is best to identify it over the summer and, hopefully, get serviced before the start of harvest. Don’t forget to check tank valves, pumps, inspect hoses for cleanliness, and all of the processing equipment. Using an inventory, or check sheet, is a good way to ensure equipment is up to par is a good way to keep track of everything’s condition. Also, evaluating barrel needs and tank space available for harvest can be added to the inventory sheet.
If you have a wine lab, now is also a good time to check the chemical and supply inventory in the lab. Remember – free shipping in July is just around the corner! Document expiration dates of chemicals and make a list of new chemicals, analytical standards, or equipment (e.g., hydrometers, pipettes, pipette bulbs, sampling bottles, etc.) that should be purchased prior to harvest.
Take time to evaluate and write SOP’s
Standard Operating Procedures, SOP’s, can help minimize the chaos during harvest. Having up-to-date SOP’s in the cellar and lab will help minimize the number of times people will always have to ask “the boss” for help.
If you don’t have SOP’s, consider starting small and documenting protocols for things like lab analysis. Plenty of resources (e.g., websites, text books) are available and can be used to create a standard protocol that works for your winery.
After tackling lab analysis, consider writing an SOP for harvest operations. Think about writing an SOP for each piece of equipment that your harvest team will need trained on. Take the crusher/destemmer for example:
- How is the crusher/destemmer hooked up?
- How to prepare the crusher/destemmer for fruit arrival (include cleaning and sanitizing procedures).
- Do you have validation measures to ensure that the equipment is properly cleaned (a visual evaluation? Some sort of analytical testing?)?
- Do you have a record system that documents the equipment has been properly prepared, cleaned, and sanitized? If so, where is that documentation and how does your staff document this step?
- What is the protocol for running the crusher/destemmer? What safety features should all employees be trained on? Document all safety procedures.
- How is the crusher/destemmer cleaned and sanitized after each lot (varietal) of fruit that is run through the equipment?
- How is the crusher/destemmer cleaned and sanitized after each processing day? Where is the equipment stored and how is stored?
Winemakers can also document processing decisions. For example, if you know that you are going to process Vidal Blanc every year, consider writing an SOP specific for how the Vidal Blanc is processed. Write out each step, the quality control checks (i.e., checking fruit chemistry or monitoring fermentation) and what processing aids are typically added to the Vidal (e.g., yeast, enzymes, etc.).
Winemakers should also have an SOP ready for when fruit arrives to the winery in less than ideal conditions. For information on what winemakers should consider, please read the two articles on Penn State Extension’s website titled “Producing Wine with Suboptimal Fruit.”
Having a fully functional and trained cellar crew is a good foot forward as the harvest months approach. While preparation is tedious, it can save some time and resources during the busy harvest season… and hopefully, minimize the chaos!