Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bottled The 2006 Windsor Oaks Cabernet

Today I bottled the 2006 Windsor Oaks Chalk Hill Appellation Cabernet, which I fermented last July. The wine was fermented on French oak cubes and has been aging in a 7 gallon glass carboy since pressing.

Compared to wines aged in barrel, wines aged in glass don't receive the slow beneficial oxidation the barrel environment affords. In glass aging, oxygen is introduced into the wine when it is racked from carboy to carboy. This wine has had five rackings: the first after pressing, two racks during aging, one rack this morning, and then the final racking into bottle. I would not have racked a barrel-aged wine this often over 7 months – maybe twice.

Over the course of aging the wine I made three SO2 additions: one big one after the completion of malolactic, and two more small maintenance additions during aging. I checked the level of free SO2 in the wine this morning (using the aeration/oxidation apparatus I keep at the winery) and found that it was 29-30 ppm. I ordinarily want to bottle with a free SO2 of 25-30 ppm, so I chose not to make an addition today.

I don't get stressed out over SO2 really, as I have found that its use is at best an inexact science. The A/O measurement method has a real world precision of ±2-3 ppm, and nailing a precise addition is nearly impossible for a number of reasons. There is a school of thought that favors tying the desirable SO2 level to the wine pH, but I reject this approach for red wines in particular, as it discounts the protective effect of the wine tannins. I would sum up my attitude as "some SO2 is better than none, and too much is bad".

Provina president Greg Snell provided me with 375 mL bottles (rather than 750 mL) so he can have more samples to give away. To seal them I used a bag of high quality 2-inch corks leftover from a commercial bottling. These corks are a couple of years old, but the bag still smelled strongly of SO2 when I opened it, as if they had just been packed recently – I'm going to assume that the moisture content of the corks also has stayed reasonably constant (the moisture level in the corks needs to be 4%-6% for them to seal properly).

I put together a 3/8-inch copper pipe with a length of 3/8-inch Tygon tubing to make a racking hose, and this is what I used to transfer the wine from the carboy to the bottles. My goal was to leave about 1/8-inch of headspace between the top of the wine and the cork. I was not obsessive about an exact fill height, just eyeballing the level. As I expected, the corker drove some of the corks deeper than others – this, combined with the small variation in fill levels, meant that some bottles have no headspace at all.

Zero headspace is not a "best practice". The wine temperature is currently about 58° F. As it warms up, the bottles with no headspace are going to push out the cork – or leak. In an ideal world I would have warmed the wine up to 68°-70° F before bottling and maintained 1/8-1/4 inch headspace for the 375 mL bottle size. For a 750 mL bottle I would leave 1/4-1/2 inch headspace. I'm recommending that the samples with zero headspace get used first.

I chose not to worry about a couple of other things for this bottling: I did not wash or rinse the bottles, nor did I sparge them with inert gas before filling them. The former was a judgment call on my part – my calculation of the cost/benefit told me to not waste the time. The latter was more deliberate – I chose not to sparge because the wine could use some oxygen still.

My final yield was seventy 375 mL bottles. Note that I expect to get at least fifty 750 mL bottles (or one hundred 375 mL) from my more recent ferments, due to the improved pressing efficiency of the current version of the WinePod.

I did not set out to make a wine according to any particular style, but to simply do the best I could with the grapes and equipment to hand. IMO it turned out really well. The 2006 Windsor Oaks Cabernet ended up being a fruit-forward wine, with good varietal character, subtle oak and a great tannin/acid structure.

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