We've all heard the term, haven't we? Willamette Valley Vineyards even markets a Whole Cluster Pinot Noir and that name has probably worked quite well for them. It sounds, well, wholistic. The most popular whole cluster wine historically has probably been the the one we'll be vending here in a couple months, Nouveau Beaujolais. That one has been popular for a very long time.
So what is whole cluster fermentation? Well, it's just what it sounds like. Whole clusters of grapes are fermented as a unit. The fermentation tank is filled with these grape clusters before carbon dioxide is pumped into it. There is no pressing of the grapes. The weight of the grapes does that on its own.
No oxygen exists in the tank and no yeasts are added. This anaerobic environment provides for an intracellular metabolic reaction converting sugar into alcohol. Fermentation of this type breaks down malic acid leaving more fresh fruit and residual sugar in the wine.
Make no mistake - whole cluster fermentation includes stems in the winemaking process and anyone who has tasted green vegetation in wine should be shuttering about now at the thought. But this brings up an entirely different issue - does a wine really have to be all about fruit (and maybe a little earthiness) or can steminess be an asset?
Methoxypyrazine is the fifty cent word for the greenness in flavors and aromas brought on by the inclusion of unripe stems into fermenting wine. When it predominates it's a flaw. Machine harvesting grapes is responsible for much of that. So the hand harvesting of grapes done by smaller estates shouldn't be minimized.
What also counts is having a long growing season and a cooler climate environment that will turn green stems brown. Then those ripe stems add tannins and other hearty flavors. Some green stems are alright according to David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars. Maybe as much as 50% in a cool climate environment. They bring out the Syrahness of a wine adding peppercorn, bacon fat and green olive flavors to a wine.
Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for our weekly wine tasting and check out all of the new foods here!