WINTER IN THE WINERY – WHAT HAPPENS AFTER HARVEST?
What does a winemaker do after the busy harvest season draws to a close? Well, the winter months are much busier than you might think. Young wines, much like infants or toddlers, need plenty of care and consideration throughout these so-called “slow months.”
We took a walk around the cellar with our Assistant Winemaker Emilie McKinny the other day, to hear about what keeps she and Rob busy in the long cold months of winter. “Rob and I are always looking to see what’s next. We want to keep the cellar as healthy as possible and there is always something more we can do to accomplish that,” said Emilie.
Emilie came to R. Stuart in 2018 after working in various wineries that spanned the globe – countries such as Chile, New Zealand and Australia. She also spent some time developing her craft in her home state of California and worked as a harvest intern at Beaux Freres and Brittan wineries here in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley. This is where she fell in love with Oregon and our beloved Pinot noir. After working alongside Rob for a couple of years now, they have formed a wonderful partnership to create and produce the wines you all know and love.
“Rob is such a veteran winemaker and I’ve learned so many valuable lessons from him while working at R. Stuart. He has put so much trust and responsibility in me and it truly feels like a partnership,” said Emilie. A lot of big decisions are made during these winter months. Whether it’s logistical planning, wine allocation, or taking care of the wines in barrel, Rob and Emilie are constantly finding ways to be as efficient as possible while creating the best wines they can.
Here are some of the things that typically happen in the R. Stuart cellar during the winter months:
Cold stabilization helps to prevent “wine diamonds” from forming at the bottom of the bottle or in your glass. These little diamonds, or crystals, are actually potassium tartrate and are naturally occurring. They have no real taste or effect on the wine; however, they can affect the clarity and are generally not desirable. Cold stabilizing our wines prevents those crystals from forming. Since our winery is already quite cold, “it actually helps us cold stabilize our wines when ambient temperatures in the winter months are below 45 degrees fahrenheit,” Emilie says. Other wineries have to use cold stabilizing tanks to get their wines to this temperature, but we’re able to do it with the natural weather patterns- pretty cool right?
Not all our wines need to be filtered, but if they do, it usually happens in the winter in preparation for bottling. “Filtering gets rid of any potential undesirable microorganisms that might occur during malolactic fermentation, prevents spontaneous second fermentation from starting in the bottle and helps to clarify the wine,” said Emilie. This process often takes a long time and can be very tedious; however, it’s an important step in creating our Big Fire and Love, Oregon Pinot Noirs. None of our Reserve or Single Vineyard wines are filtered or fined.
Over time, wine evaporates from the barrel and creates space for unwanted oxygen, which can affect the quality of the wine. If a wine becomes oxidized, it will begin to taste tired, or even like vinegar – and that’s definitely not a good thing. To prevent oxidation, we fill our barrels with more wine to take up that empty space where the wine evaporated – known as topping the barrel. “Since we do this every couple of months, it’s a great opportunity to check in on each barrel and see how the wine is coming along,” Emilie said.
For a winery of our size, it’s unusual for us to own our bottling line (many wineries contract with mobile bottling line companies) which gives us the very desirable flexibility in deciding when we bottle. Emilie said, “bottling helps us keep up with inventory, create new space in the cellar and get the wine ready to sell.” When its bottled, the wine is moved from the vessel it’s matured in, to the bottle, labeled and ready to be sold. We usually let our wines rest for a couple of weeks in the bottle before we release them for purchase. “This resting allows the wine to settle into its new environment [the bottle] and come through what’s known as “bottle shock.” Then it can be enjoyed the way we intended it to be,” said Emilie.
Cleaning, Always Cleaning
“Because we work in food and drink production, we are held to certain strict sanitation standards by the state. It feels like we’re always cleaning,” said Emilie. From cleaning barrels and floors to making room for the next vintage of wines to general maintenance, there’s always more for Rob and Emilie to do. Not only is cleaning of the utmost importance for sanitation purposes, but organizing the cellar is always a good way to keep up on logistics and planning.
Truthfully, there is no “slow season” when it comes to winemaking. The pace might slow down a bit after harvest, but the work and consistent care for the wines is always there. Rob and Emilie are both grateful for these winter months as they allow time to plan for the year to come, and make important decisions to keep the wines as healthy as possible.
Emilie said, “Although the winter months seem long and the work can get repetitive, this time allows me to do more research and continue to educate myself. I’m always talking with Rob about new ideas or potential projects.”
At R. Stuart, we’re always doing what we can to improve and continue making the best, high quality, wines for you to enjoy.