"Working by Hand" (Winemaking)

Winemaking: Grenache-At-A-Glance
Most common styles
Still, fortified, sparkling (rare).
Winemaker choices and option
Virtually all winemakers make use of available options (skin contact, malolactic, lees-stirring, choice of fermentation vessel, etc.).
Aging
All options used – stainless steel, concrete, oak (barrels, vats, barriques, oak alternatives).
Aging potential (yes/no). If “yes,” give range
Yes. Most are drunk young, but the best bottlings do have the potential to age over 20 years
Presented solo or frequently blended with
Can be vinified as a mono-variety and there are some great red examples, especially with older vines and lower yields and as rosés. That said, most Grenache is used in blended red wines, where it can be the dominant grape or a choice blending element.

Leave fermenting wine must (grape pulp and solids) in contact with skins during and/or after fermentation.

What it does

With Grenache, cold soaking pre-fermentation increases color levels when coupled with lower subsequent fermentation temperatures (15° to 20° C/59° to 68° F). Deeper, rounder tannins in Grenache are typically accomplished only with destemmed fruit.


Comment

Grenache is not a highly pigmented grape to begin with; it drops color fast and browns earlier than many other varieties, even in bottle. Due to its thin skin and pale color, it is a popular ingredient in the production of pink/rosé wines (a cornerstone of those examples coming from France’s Provence).

What it does

Proponents of stem retention (literally leaving a percentage of stems and stalks in the fermentation vessel) favor it for several reasons: paler color (stems absorb color), lower acidity (stems contain potassium, which combines with tartaric acid and precipitates, reducing overall acidity level), and increased tannins (about 15% or more, depending on the percentage used in concert with the fruit).


Comment

If this is done, the winemaker must insist that the stems be ripe/brown (lignified) or they will contribute a green, bitter, hard, astringent character to the wine, making it quite unpleasant. With Grenache, when successful, it results in heightened aromatics, balancing sweetness of fruit and a savory element derived from stem retention.

California’s producers frequently label their wines “Old Vines,” “Heritage Vines” – even “Ancient Vines.” Since none of these terms are legally controlled by the TTB, they mean whatever the producer decides. Over 50 years of age is commonly accepted, although some winemakers scoff and suggest at least 80 while others may dip as low as 30.

The choice is whether to use them or not.


What they do

Old vines produce lower yields, equating to more concentrated fruit.


Comment

The organoleptic results are always worth it – greater concentration, deeper, richer flavors, and mouth volume. The cost of farming and the amount of harvested fruit per vine and per hectare, however, may not be. It is a personal and emotional decision, and also a commercial one. The practical reality of Grenache’s proclivity to overcrop can self-regulate as the vines get older and yields naturally start to decline. Old vine Grenache is a treasure globally and in California, in the best spots, it is no different. 

The wood employed for most wine barrels for aging or actual fermentation. Barrel decisions include type of wood, amount of toast (when barrel staves are bent over an open flame), size (smaller = higher ratio of wood to wine = stronger oak influence) and barrel age.


What it does

  • Heavily toasted barrels impart more intense, roasted, torrified flavors (caramel, molasses, coffee, and burnt sugar).
  • Oak bestows a waxy, velvety texture and can add a sweet toffee flavor to the wine. 
  • New oak contributes much more flavor than older, previously used oak which, depending on the wine and grape variety, may be a better choice. 
  • Small (barrique-sized) barrel fermentation at warmer temperatures and over shorter increments of time impart a richer, smoother texture to a wine than one not fermented in barrel.


Comment

Today, there is a movement toward keeping oak in check, i.e. minimizing “over-oaking,” or using no oak at all. Unoaked wines (fermented in stainless steel, concrete or other neutral vessels) are increasingly popular, allowing the “purity” of the fruit to shine through. As with Pinot Noir (some winemakers occasionally refer to Grenache as the “Pinot Noir of the South,” i.e. delicate and prone to oxidation if not well handled), Grenache is easily overwhelmed by oak, so larger, older barrels are invariably preferred –  if oak is employed at all. Many a Grenache never so much as “kisses a toothpick.”

Fining and filtration are each used for clarifying and stabilizing a wine. Fining, a practice as old as winemaking itself, specifically removes tannins and proteins, ensuring future clarity. Filtration, a microbiological  technique, has the advantage in that it can clarify a young, cloudy wine faster and more efficiently than fining. 


What it does

Fining agents are used to clarify a red wine to the point where only a light filtration or no filtration is needed prior to bottling. Filtration not only clarifies visually, but by removing suspended particles renders a wine’s fruit characteristics sharper and more vibrant. Filtration plays an important role in the microbiological stability of a wine by eliminating the risk that microbes will ferment undetectable quantities of residual sugar. 


Comment

At times, producers choose not to filter as they feel it strips the soul of the wine away. Many who do not filter will do a light fining. That said, some eschew both practices, with those who opt not to fine believing that racking off a well-rested clear wine suffices.