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Preparing to Bottle

This time of year, when vineyards are quiescent,  many of us use the downtime for bottling.  At Vinmetrica’s sister company Little Oaks Winery, we are making final preparations for bottling in early Spring.   This involves several activities, and a little coordination for proper timing.  So we thought we’d share a little about what we do as bottling draws near.

This year we’re bottling our 2022 Viognier, 2022 Rosé of Sangiovese,  and our 2021 Sangiovese. We’ll be producing about 180 cases all told.  The grapes are from Monarch Hill Vineyard in nearby Escondido, our main source of quality grapes for 10 years now.  The Viognier and Rosé, about 80 gal each,  were fermented sur lie for 4 months, then cold-stabilized for 2 weeks before racking and storage at 55ºF.  The ’21 Sangio was fermented in poly tanks, and after MLF completed,  aged over the past year in 50:50 new:neutral Hungarian Oak barrels.   We are pleased with the results, made possible in no small part by attention to monitoring important parameters.

TESTING  We can’t stress enough the importance of tests that need to be done to make the best wine. Vinmetrica has products and services for each of these that can help:

1. Free SO2 management: All along from the time that fermentations are complete, you want to stay on top of the free SO2 (fSO2) levels. Remember that after a fermentation finishes, fSO2 will almost always be close to zero.  In that state your wine begins to undergo oxidation, which if allowed to proceed too long will impart undesirable flavors.  In addition, low sulfite levels can lead to unwanted bacterial growth.  When adding sulfite to adjust fSO2, remember also that initial additions just following fermentation may disappear due to binding and oxidation.  That’s why you should check, adjust, then check again daily until fSO2 levels stabilize.  Use a sulfite calculator to guide your additions (Winemaker Magazine’s or FermCalc, e.g.).  After that, you should check/adjust at least monthly, more often if you are using polypropylene tanks that are quite permissive to oxygen intrusion.  And we recommend that you check and adjust free SO2 once more within 2 days of bottling. The recommend levels of fSO2 is 25-40ppm at bottling as this is enough to slow oxidation and inhibit microbial activity.

2.  At some point prior to bottling, make sure malolactic fermentation (MLF) is complete, if that was the plan. You want malic acid levels below 100 mg/L, preferably below 50.  If you didn’t initiate MLF, or if it has not occurred, then you should sterile filter or otherwise stabilize the wine against MLF starting up in the bottle.

3.  You may want or need to know the levels of alcohol by volume (ABV).  This can be done with our ABV kit by you, or by us in the Services Department.

4.  You want to be pretty sure that the residual sugar (RS) is low, unless you planned otherwise. At residual sugar levels around 2 g/L (0.2%) or higher, your wine can spontaneously restart fermentation unless it has been properly stabilized. 

GET READY  Make sure you’re ready with the stuff you need for bottling:

1. Bottles have been tricky to procure the last two years, not to mention pricier than usual.  Don’t wait too long to order them!  And of course you need caps or corks, and perhaps capsules. Ensure you have enough of these for your wines’ volume.

2.  If you’re commercial, make sure your wine’s label has  TTB approval. The TTB’s standard wait time is 15 business days however as of this newsletter their wait time is down to only 5 days!

3.  Better get out that bottle filler and corker and make sure they’re clean and working in time for bottling day!   If you are filtering your wines, as we do make sure you have 0.45 micron filters on hand for sterile-filtering. At Little Oaks Winery we hire a mobile bottling truck that can process our approximately 200-250 cases in about 3 total hours.

4.  We like to have a full compressed nitrogen tank on hand for flushing out the bottles before filling.  If you plan on doing this, make sure it’s ready to go.

AGE and ENJOY  You’ve made it this far, let the wine stabilize and age to ensure best results:

After bottling, wine can usually be enjoyed right away however we suggest allowing the wine to recover from the agitation of bottling. This will generally occur in about 2-3 weeks. Most whites and rosés are ready to drink almost immediately. We always recommend bottle aging your red wines. We bottle age our wines for approximately 12 months but do perform periodic taste tests on the wine throughout this process.

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